Harvesting honey the easy way...

August 26, 2013 0 Comments

Gathering honey 15,000 years ago 

Across the world, man has been fascinated with honey for thousands of years as shown in this cave painting discovered in Valencia, Spain and dating back approx 15,000 years. In the painting, an individual is shown collecting honey in a basket from a nest in a tree or cliff whilst suspended on 2-3 ropes or vines. Fast forward to today and honey is still collected in almost exactly the same way by many societies in parts of Africa and Asia where the ability to collect honey is often seen as part of the ritual process of transitioning from a boy into a man.


Collecting honey the hard way In particular, the famous honey collectors in Nepal still harvest honey from colonies of cliff dwelling giant honey bees hanging from twisted rope ladders in an identical manner to that shown in the cave painting from all those thousands of years ago. Collecting honey high up in a tree or cliff face whilst being stung by thousands of angry bees may be a stern test of bravery, but it's also extremely dangerous and painful for humans as well as being potentially fatal for the entire colony of bees! So at least 5000 years ago in Egypt and probably elsewhere, people started to keep honey bees in man-made hives that imitated the shape of local nests as both a food source and a means of pollenating their crops.

Keeping bees in a skep

In Europe, that usually meant straw skeps or cut-down tree trunks. However, harvesting the honey was still a painful process for both man and especially the bees, as in many cases the entire colony would be killed by smoking with a sulphur candle to enable the beekeeper to remove and crush the combs to extract honey in a stingless harvest. The introduction of bee-hives containing frames in the mid 1800's amongst other things enabled beekeepers to potentially remove the frames of honey without causing harm to the colony of bees within.

Essentially hive design is largely the same today with a large box at the base containing the Queen bee and brood with separate boxes on top called supers containing smaller frames used to store the collected nectar which gets processed by the bees into honey.

Like almost all beekeepers in the UK (both amateur and professional bee farmers), we at Bee Good do our best to care for our bees responsibly, sympathetically, ethically and  sustainably.  This means we will only ever take surplus honey from our colonies after having ensured that our bees keep enough of their own stores to see them safely through the winter and off to a good start in the spring.


Harvesting honey with almond oilThis year has been pretty reasonable for the bees after a long, hard winter and so having done a brief audit of the colonies we harvested surplus honey from those that had it using a very simple and rapid technique involving a pillow case wrapped around a Queen excluder that is sprayed with almond oil and placed above the super we wish to harvest.

Bees absolutely loathe the scent of almond oil and immediately move out of the super down into the main part of the hive to get away from the vapour. This process does them no harm, but lets us clear a super of bees in under 5 minutes so that we can remove it without disrupting the hive too badly. Once the supers are removed from the hive, they can be taken away and the honey extracted, before being returned to the hives so that the bees can clear them up and repair any damage to the comb. We then take these surplus supers away from the colonies and store them over the winter ready for next year.