I take a box of honey off the top of my hives when it's full, which works out at about every 5-6 weeks during the season so I may take up to three 'crops'. This means that the bees always have enough and I can judge whether the honey is spare by the numbers of bees and amount of space they have, as well as cross-referencing these factors with weather and amount of forage around. It sounds complicated but it really isn't...basically the bees' needs must always be met first, as they store honey for their own use throughout the year, but especially over winter. For this reason, I don't take any honey after the end of July as this gives the bees a clear 2-3 months to refil the frames with decent honey. I also leave room above the top board (the crownboard) as they can then build 'wild' comb if they need the space. Late flowering garden plants and ivy are important for the latter part of the year.
Harvesting little and often also means the honey varies over the season. These two batches were only a month apart:
|Himalayan Balsam honey on the left, regular|
floral honey on the right
Some beekeepers advocate a policy of not removing any honey and in some hives it is not possible anyway without severe disruption to the colony. My bees are housed in National hives which are designed to have honey removed from them, and I feel if it is genuinely surplus and the bees are fit and strong, it does no harm to the colony and a jar of raw honey can have huge benefits as a tool for persuading people against the bland, homogenous 'honey' available generally.
It's delicious straight from the spoon or on toast, can be medicinal - it's great to have honey and lemon to soothe a sore throat, or to help reduce your sensitivity to pollen for hayfever sufferers. It's a seasonal treat to be enjoyed and savoured and the price should reflect this. There will be a far smaller harvest from hives that keep their honey, but the bees will be healthier and happier.