At the previous farmer’s market, a woman approached our table, picked up a jar of honey and said, “I suppose all this rain keeps you from harvesting your honey.”
I replied how we harvested this honey earlier in the summer, to which she said, “Well, I guess I was expecting fresh honey.” She returned the jar of honey to the table and moved to the next vendor.
The question didn’t surprise me, nor did her response. We are frequently asked if we harvest honey all year long. The expectation seems to be we go out and harvest our honey like a gardener might pick ripe tomatoes prior to bringing them to the market that same day.
Honey is produced by the bees seasonally, then harvested by the beekeeper during the summer months, extracted and stored in bulk. Honey, the only food that never spoils, is always, “fresh.” We bottle our bulk honey given the customer’s needs and preferences the day before we show up at the market.
The bees work in the early spring and bring in loads of nectar and pollen. The bees, “cure,” the nectar by evaporating the excess moisture out of it, and when it reaches 18% moisture, they cap it in the comb and we call it, “honey.”
As the spring yields to summer, and as more plants begin their annual bloom, the abundance of nectar encourages the bees to store it for future needs, like the coming winter. A good beekeeper, with astute management skills, can convince the colony to store up extra honey, above and beyond the colony’s anticipate needs. This extra honey becomes the reward for the beekeeper for all his or her work. This is the honey we harvest and sell at the market.
We generally harvest the excess honey in the summer, then the bees continue to forage through the fall, gathering nectar for the coming winter. The million-dollar question becomes how much honey we can harvest and how much we should leave. As every year is different, astute management skills are developed by experience; experience often comes from making mistakes.
Like any agricultural crop, honey has a seasonality to it. As the Good Book says, “To everything, there is a season...” Ecclesiastes 3:1