PHOTO: Patrick Connelly/Flickr

As spring nears its end, giving way to summer, you might ask: Is it time to harvest honey yet? Well, that depends. Here are the factors that tell you whether to make the year’s first harvest or wait a while longer.

This year’s weather patterns have been unusual around most of the country. Now, before you claim to be bored by “talking about the weather,” know that changing weather patterns will affect beekeepers around the world for generations to come. In fact, shooting at the moving target that is the weather looks to be the new norm for modern beekeepers.

That said, the spring harvest might come a little later or earlier in the year, depending on how harsh the winter was, how much rain or other precipitation fell and how quickly temperatures rose in the spring. All these factors combined predict the year’s honey flow and it’s variability. Only you know your bees and your specific microclimate—and if you’re a beekeeping novice and need help knowing exactly when to harvest, contact your fellow local beekeepers or your mentor for guidance.

Spring honey harvests happen for two reasons. First, if a beekeeper has been especially prudent and not harvested the previous fall, and a colony has come out of the winter strong, a spring harvest might be in order. (The colony also might have perished during the winter, leaving behind copious amounts of honey.) But before you “pull” honey from all the frames, consider a few alternatives: Leave a few frames for your spring’s nucleus colony, or keep a few as spares in a deep freezer for when a future hive, or one of your other colonies, needs feeding. As all beekeepers eventually learn, the best food for bees is their own: honey.

The second reason a beekeeper might want to harvest so early in the year—when intuition says the bees are just building up stores—is to focus on a specific varietal. Special blooms during certain times of year create beautiful, tasty artisanal honeys. The only way to capture that is to harvest before other florals bloom, when you know exactly what variety of honey exists in the hive. In larger apiaries, this is possible by harvesting just a little bit over many colonies—providing a substantial harvest while leaving ample amount for the bees so they can continue to grow their population and remain strong.

As you consider harvesting honey in the spring, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How strong is my hive (or hives) for harvesting right now?
  2. What was winter like? What is currently blooming, and do my bees have an active food source right now?
  3. What did I see in my last inspection? Is there honey to spare?
  4. Is my honey gain worth the bees loss right now?

Done responsibly, a spring honey harvest can be a delightful treat—a taste of a fleeting season that inspires hope, light and the return of life.

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