Ivy honey - all dressed up for the market

How to take a crop of Ivy honey

‘Why would you want to?’ says you. Well the news on the streets is that it’s only a matter of time before it will be announced that research into the health benefits of ivy honey has discovered it to be the best thing since Manuka – I’m serious. Click here for more about ivy honey.

Ivy flow
Strong ivy flow (23.10.14) note the yellow pollen loads. Click photo for full size image

However, taking a crop of ivy honey is problematic for several reasons:

  1. It sets in the comb even more quickly than rape honey so is difficult to extract;
  2. It is the last honey flow of the season and the bees build up on it and rely on it for their winter stores;
  3. By the time you take it off it could be too late to feed before winter sets in.

So, here’s what you do:

  • As you are taking off your main crop of summer honey, note those colonies which are strong, vigorous and under new queens. This last is important because a new queen will still have a large brood nest and is likely to expand it further under the stimulus of the  incoming ivy pollen and nectar so the bees will put the honey into the super. The brood nest of an old queen will have contracted considerably since the summer flow – she may even be off-lay and the bees will pack the honey around the brood nest.
  • Make sure your selected colonies are well-fed – give each 5-7 litres of Ambrosia or strong sugar syrup. More if they need it.
  • Keep your eye on the ivy flowers and watch the hive entrance for yellow pollen –  click the picture below for a close up of pollen load. You may get a whiff of ivy honey around your hives even before you spot the first flowers open. Now is the time for action.

Ivy Pollen

  • If they aren’t already in single brood boxes – clear your marked colonies down into single boxes. This is important – if they are on double boxes or in single boxes over a half, they are less likely to fill your super.
  • As you probably know, ivy honey sets even faster than rape honey, it will set as fast as the bees can ripen it and sometimes faster! You could try and extract it but the chances of you doing a clean job of it are slim – there is going to be granulation, your extractor is going to be impossible to balance and it is unlikely you will extract more than about 30% of your crop.
  • Instead of fouling up your lovely drawn-supers, for each strong colony set up one super of frames equipped with 1 or 2 inch starters only. That is a strip of foundation 1 – 2 inches deep.
  • If your bees are strong and there is a good flow, the bees will draw out the starters and fill a box each with ivy honey. If they don’t – nothing is lost, whereas if you had put on drawn supers, yes they will put ivy honey into them more quickly but if there is a only a paltry flow your supers are loused up for nothing.
  • Don’t be tempted to put on two supers:
    1.   Giving the bees such a large void above the brood nest when the weather is getting chilly at night is not kind;
    2. You will increase the likelihood of having to feed them.
  • If it does turn out to be too cold to feed syrup and the bees are very light when you take off the ivy, ApiFonda sell fondant bee feed in 15kg packs which can be inverted directly over the top bars inside an eke. Details here http://www.swienty.com/.  I haven’t tried this and it seems a bit clumsy but if all else fails and you are desperate for that crop of ivy, you could try it. Pack old jumpers or sacks or screwed up newspapers around the box of fondant to fill the void in the eke or the poor bees will be cold.
  • Alternatively – leave it till the spring.
  • To ‘extract’ the honey, cut out the entire combs and put them into buckets. Put the buckets into your warming cabinet with the thermostat set to 40 degrees centigrade and leave till the honey is completely melted. The wax will not melt at this temperature but combs will collapse and float to the surface. This should only take 24 hours but leave for another day if necessary. You can then either lift off the cap of collapsed combs with a slotted spoon or a skimmer and run the honey first through a coarse sieve to remove the large pieces of wax and debris then through a fine cloth to clean it ready for bottling/sale.
  • Be careful not to heat it so hot you melt the wax – that is not the aim.  Beeswax melts at about 64 degrees and temperatures in that range  will cook the honey and irreparably  denature those lovely enzymes and aromatics.
  • You can shove the lot through your heather press but  don’t squeeze it warm, like I did, because the wax will come squirting though the bag in a horrible paste form. Instead, stir the bucket first and let it cool a bit, then pour the lot carefully and steadily into the press – the warm honey will run through the bag without assistance but let the wax cool a bit more in the press before you apply pressure.  Watch it closely.

An alternative to stealing what is effectively the bees winter stores and possibly demoralising them completely, you could leave it on till spring and chop it out then. If they didn’t need it, it will still be there and if they did need it, you can be pleased you didn’t take it.

Click here for Bee Trees – Ivy

Click here for more about those lovely enzymes

Click here for Michaelmas and Geese, Ivy and Wintering Bees

Click here for ivy honey cold cure recipe

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10 thoughts on “How to take a crop of Ivy honey”

  1. I am looking forward to a large crop of Ivy honey this autumn and have been reading the comments regarding its extraction. Mostly say don’t put it in your extractor but use a heated cabinet or a heather press.
    My extractor is in my heated conservatory and is therefore like a heated cabinet so if I maintain the temperature of my conservatory and therefore the extractor at say 45 degrees centigrade am I being a bit nieve to assume that extraction will be proceed as withe any other honey?

    1. I can’t imagine how you can get your conservatory to that temperature!
      But if you can, you could start at 35 for a couple of days then raise it to 45.
      However, it might be cheaper in the long run to buy a heated cabinet with what you could save on your electric bill.

  2. A cousin of mine has a problem with this particular honey. It hardens so much that poor bees starve to death. He noticed the problem before, but only recently learned it was due to the ivy honey.

    1. They certainly can struggle with it – it sets like rock. If they have uncapped frames – spray with water, the honey dissolves and they hoover it up then.

    2. I think ivy honey is a nightmare. I try and feed the bees with their sugar ration before the ivy flow starts. But it is not easy to get it right. I invariably find combs completely filled and rock solid with a mixture of ivy honey and sugar at my first spring inspection next year. The brood chamber can be nearly filled, restricting the queen’s egg laying at this critical time.

      My only solution is to remove some filled brood frames and
      replace them with empty drawn combs. Then I fill my large honey extractor with cold water, uncap the frames with ivy honey/sugar
      and let them soak for a few hours or overnight. The ivy/honey mixture soon dissolves and the frames are ready for reuse. It is best to either put the extracted frames above the crow board for a cleanup or dry them carefully. Either way, the bees find them very attractive.

      Any better ideas?


      1. I agree – it can be a nightmare.
        However it’s a great source of autumn pollen and nectar for the bees which helps them build up for the winter.
        As you say, frames sometimes need to be removed to give the bees space in the spring but these can be used to make nucs later in the year. Spring is also the time to take a crop – not the brood frames but strong colonies can be set up in the autumn as outlined above
        Further research is currently being done into ivy and ling heather honey to see if they have medicinal properties similar to Manuka. And lets not forget – there is a growing market for ivy honey. Personally I don’t like the taste of it but a lot of people do and they are willing to pay extra for it which helps sweeten the grief of having to handle it.
        A blessing and a curse then – like a lot of things in beekeeping.

  3. Hi there. Just a quick question about harvesting ivy honey. I was advised to cut out all the comb from the frames, put it in a large pot and place this pot in a water bath to melt the wax and free up the honey. This worked well and all was liquid at around 60 degrees. I imagined on cooling the wax would float to the surface and solidify leaving the honey underneath. Instead I found that a gunge floated to the surface and has always remained a gunge which makes getting to the main honey more difficult. If you try and scrape off the gunge it mixes it again with the honey below, so back to square one! Any advice on what I should do now? I do not have a heather press but could I warm it all through again and strain it through some cheesecloth? Thanks for your help.

    1. Hello David,
      If you actually melted the wax it would have released any pollen and/or old cocoons that were in the comb into your honey and I’m guessing that’s your gunge. I found that 45 degrees was plenty to melt the honey without melting the wax.
      If I was you, I would heat it again but only to about 45 degrees – don’t go melting the wax again – then coarse-strain it. After that you should be able to run it through a fine cloth without clogging it.
      If you heat honey much above 50 degrees you will cook it.
      Good luck!

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