The sweet spot for harvest is timing the fluctuations of two changing factors. The first to consider is the hive population as it relates to the metabolic demand of the hive. To do this we have to look at the hive as a single organism and examine the factors involved. Factor one is the population of the adult bees in the hive and factor two is the amount of brood being raised at the moment. Metabolic demand of the adult bees is dependent upon the temperature of the bees themselves and the warmer they are the more food they will consume. In addition the more bees that there are the more food that they will consume also. At the end of July, both the temperature and the population have reached their peak. The metabolic demand of the adult bees in the hive is highest at the end of July. This situation lasts until high populations begin to diminish through winter attrition. Remember that this is TEMPERATURE dependent and as winter sets in, the bees become colder and the metabolic rate slows down. This can be described graphically as a flattened or truncated bell curve. (A bell curve with a flattened top.) The flattened top stretches through the month of June, July and August.
In looking at the other factor (brood,) it is generally an accepted rule that it takes a frame of honey to raise a frame of brood. Brood raising increases during a nectar flow, and since our flow runs from late June through August, brood raising is heaviest at this time. With these two factors combined, metabolic demand of the hive is highest during the month of July and into August.
Let's turn our attention to the nectar flow. Nectar flow can be described as a bell curve starting in late April and ending in late September. As many of you know, the bell curve starts at zero and ends in zero. The peak of this bell curve is in mid-July. If one simply overlays the bell curve of nectar flow on top of the bell curve of metabolic demand, one can easily see that the portion of the nectar flow curve that stands above the metabolic curve represents our honey crop.
It is interesting to note that the metabolic demand curve does not move much from year to year. The nectar flow curve shifts right or left depending on the season and environmental conditions. It can widen out or it can shrink back down.
The absolute PERFECT time to harvest is where these two graphs cross each other. Since the nectar curve shifts right or left, widens or contracts, traditionally this curve crosses between the first and the tenth of August. You will note in looking at your imagined curve that there is still a nectar flow going on. After the crossing of these two lines, the metabolic demand is exceeding what the bees are bringing in. The wise beekeeper in picking their harvest date will focus on the factors that shift the graph right or left. We are now approaching the three week from August mark.
Now is the time to decide how to manage your queens if you haven't already done so. There are many styles of queen management. I prefer to have no brood in my extracting room. My queen management style is to put the queen in the bottom box of the hive with an excluder over the top of this box so that time there is no brood above the excluder. I do this because I want young brood hatching out in preparation for winter. For those that are not planning on wintering, placing the queen in a cage can eliminate ALL brood in the hive time.
I do not advocate removing or killing the queen. Loss of pheromones results in lower productivity of the hive and emergency queen cells that make end of season management more difficult. This will also reduce your honey crop.
For those beekeepers in the Anchorage and Valley areas, you should know that our extracting services will be operational, and we will be accepting your boxes from the end of July to the first of September. After the first of September, we generally break down our equipment for the end of the season. We have commercial grade uncapping machines, several large extractors and a fairly efficient filtering system. We run the honey in individual batches, and the honey return to the customer is the same honey that arrives in their boxes. If you choose to use our services, it will be necessary for you to manage your queens so that there is no brood present. Our uncapping machine does not differentiate between a frame of brood and a frame of honey. The frames are loaded into our uncapper one at a time by hand, and we are able to pull frames aside that have brood on them. These frames must be uncapped by hand, and extra charges will be incurred. If you wish to provide your own buckets, that is something we can accommodate. A full schedule of charges and requirements are listed on our website on the Services page.
We hope that this letter finds you well and that your harvests are abundant,
Steve and Donna