We’re still pretty “new” as far as beekeeping goes. Newbies, if you will.
See what I did there?
Of course we’ve had ups and downs over the past few years, but overall I consider us successful beekeepers. The first year we didn’t take any honey from the bees, but the past two years we were able to harvest 70 pounds each year.
Excited, elated, blown away by every delicious drop of liquid gold we collected was an understatement!
Knowing what it takes for the bees to make even a spoonful of honey, plus the labor we put in, and the stings we took means that our honey supply is incredibly precious. Whether storing it long term for ourselves, selling it, or giving away gift jars to friends and family- we want our honey to be packaged with love and care.
Plus, I’m a sucker for pretty labels and interesting jars… and I’ve found some great ones!
So you’ve extracted your liquid gold- now what?!
From the extractor we strain the honey with a double sieve right into a food grade, very clean, “honey-only” use 4-gallon plastic bucket fitted with a honey gate. We got these large plastic buckets from our local grocery store’s bakery for either free or $1 each, and all we had to do was cut a hole in one of the buckets to install the honey gate. Depending on how well you cut the hole, you may need to seal it with food-grade silicon caulk to prevent leaking.
I couldn’t imagine bottling honey without this gated bucket- so incredibly valuable for such a reasonable price!
When ready to bottle, we set the bucket of honey on the kitchen table and the honey gate hangs over the edge of the table and we can just zip through filling the jars.
Bottling, Packaging and Storing Honey: General Guidelines
1. Always choose a clear container. People want to see what they are getting, and you’ll certainly want to show off the beautiful golden color of your honey- it’s a shame to cover it up! …even if it’s just for yourself.
2. You can’t beat glass. Even “food grade” plastic can leach chemicals and odors into your honey. And in fact there is a lot of research that shows it probably does. To me, a glass jar is a sign of quality. And since our honey is very raw it tends to crystalize fast, so having it in glass means I can heat it right in its container and I don’t have to mess with transferring it into something heat-safe. I would never heat up plastic honey bottles for fear of even more chemicals being exposed into the honey.
3. Know your moisture! It would be devastating to find all of your honey had spoiled in storage. If you don’t have your honey down to the proper moisture percentage (17-18%), it can ferment and spoil. Yes, honey will last forever, but only if it is processed and stored correctly. For under $30 you can get a decent refractometer and prevent future heart-break.
But don’t the bees reduce the moisture to the correct percentage? Indeed! When the honey is capped you can be fairly certain that the moisture level is appropriate- the bees know what they’re doing. The danger comes when you extract frames with parts that are still uncapped… which is sometimes hard to avoid.
Many of the high volume beekeepers in our local association will store their honey supers in a small room with a dehumidifier for a week or so before extracting, to ensure the moisture level is reduced. The bottom line? Don’t you dare bottle that precious honey until you’re certain the moisture content is correct!
And by the way, if you do find that your honey has fermented, you’ll want to research “how to make mead.”
Packaging and Storing Honey:
Jars and Bottles for Personal Use and Long Term Storage
We keep it pretty simple when it comes to our own personal honey storage. What I want in a honey storage container is: something that first and foremost will adequately protect my precious gold, something that is easy to store, easy to use, and affordable.
Quart-Size Canning Jars
You can’t beat a good old-fashioned mason jar! These are my personal favorite. We already have them, they are cheap enough, and they are both the perfect size for keeping in the pantry for everyday use, and not too big to easily reheat if I want to un-crystalize a jar. Each quart jar will hold approximately three pounds of honey. Find them –> here.
This is how we store all of our honey- both for long term storage and for every day use.
If you want to use recycled jars from the store that previously held things like salsa and spaghetti sauce- just be mindful that the lids can often retain stains and smells. I also have found that while canning jar lids come close to fitting these types of jars, they often don’t fit perfectly. I don’t prefer to use this type of jars for these reasons. Save the recycled food jars for something else.
1/2-Gallon Glass Jars
While there are 1-gallon glass containers available, you should know that a gallon of honey weighs about 12 pounds. That’s pretty heavy, and not something I want to lug around and risk dropping. The half-gallon canning jars are a great middle of the road option- a completely manageable size, affordable and readily available. This is the largest glass vessel that I would probably store my honey in. Find them –> here.
Long-Term Honey Storage
The most important thing for long-term storage is that the honey is sealed well in an air-tight container, as honey can absorb moisture from the air.
For unprocessed (not pasteurized or heated) honey, the National Honey Board recommends keeping the honey stored at 50 degrees F or less, out of direct sunlight, and also in a place where there are not large fluctuations in temperature.
Using Larger Containers or for Long-Term Storage
Now, I’m not someone who is totally against plastic in every form all the time, but I’ve given long-term honey storage a lot of thought, and am unwilling to store my precious honey in a plastic container. Yes, even food grade ones. Maybe that makes me a bit pretentious, but I’m perfectly okay with that.
I did mention before that we use food grade 4-gallon buckets for short term honey storage between extraction and bottling. The honey isn’t in them for more than a few hours, typically. This I am okay with.
If you choose to store large amounts of honey long term in plastic (and no judgement here if you do!) just make sure of two things: that the vessel is indeed food grade (you may want to research the difference between “food safe” and “food grade”), and 2. that it has a wide opening for when your honey crystalizes and you need to scoop it out.
There are stainless steel drums available for storing food items like honey, and they would be a nice choice if you have a LOT of honey you’re keeping, but I still like the idea of smaller vessels- especially because if something goes wrong, you may only lose a jar, and not 20+ gallons!
Jars and Bottles for Selling and Gifting
When I give a gift jar of our honey, I want it to look as gorgeous and as special as possible. And for selling honey, especially at a farmer’s market, farm stand, or local food store- you want your jars to stand out amongst the others!
16-oz Old-Fashioned Muth Jars
These jars make my heart skip a beat. If we were ever to sell our honey, I’d definitely be considering these classic jars (which were actually developed for honey in the 1800s!). Use these if you want to set your honey apart, add a bit of an antique touch, or give someone a really special homegrown gift! These also come in 8oz and adorable little 4oz-ers as well. Find them –> here.
Half Pint Wide Mouth Jars
I saw these at a cafe selling local honey and was immediately drawn to these squatty, unique looking jars- they aren’t your regular mason jars! I rarely see this size and shape in brick and mortar stores, but I think it is a really nice size, and a great shape for selling or giving honey gifts, complete with everything you love about using canning jars for packaging honey. Find them –> here.
Pint and a Half Jars
Canning jars are great for honey- they have a certain rustic-ness to them plus they are just so easy to fill, to store, and to use. These 24oz jars are a unique shape, which is the main reason I like them for gifting and selling honey. They are wide mouth and straight-sided, which makes them easy to spoon honey out of. These particular jars are becoming more widely used, so I have no trouble finding them at most stores. We actually use these as our drinking glasses! Find them –> here.
Quart-Size Smooth Sided Glass Jars
I often see these available in our local stores around the holidays- presumably they come out for holiday crafts and gift giving. I love that they don’t have “ball” or that harvest icon all over the sides. These are totally smooth-sided and perfect for honey because it is able to shine through in its full glory. This is my jar of choice if I am gifting a quart of honey! Find them –> here.
29-oz Tureen Glass Jars
A little more pricey, but they are just. so. cute. They actually look like little pots of honey that Whinnie the Poo might eat out of! Very different from what you normally see, and a very nice jar for giving a special gift of honey. This would also be a great jar to have sitting on your counter, ready to dip honey from! Find them —> here.
One Pound Queenline Jars
These jars were developed specifically for honey and they have a lot going for them. The flat and wider design of these was developed in order to let light really shine through and highlight the beauty of the product. The scalloped edges are reminiscent of a traditional Skep Hive and very whimsical, and the flat front is a great area for your beautiful label! Find them —> here.
Packaging Honey: Labeling for Sale
If you’re going to sell honey- whether just out of your home, at a farmer’s market, or in a store, there will be certain labeling requirements that you must follow. Find the National Guidelines here. Your county extension office is a great place to contact for any requirements that are specific to your state, so make sure you look into this! Or try googling, “honey label requirements [your state here].” (For gifting, do whatever you want.)
Packaging Honey: Make Your Labels Stand Out!
The most important thing? Make your labeling look gorgeous and professional- make it stand out!! You absolutely don’t have to spend a lot of money or have a degree in graphic design to do this. Whether you are selling or gifting, having nice labels is a great way to let people know that your honey is extra special.
Use a Rubber Stamp
This is by far my favorite idea for labeling honey!
You can get a super cute, customized rubber stamp that will last years, and cost you pennies per use for labeling your honey jars. This is an incredibly economical way to label your honey! My favorite stamps are from Substation Paperie. She currently has a handful of different options available and I adore them all- good luck choosing just one!
Click on pictures to see stamp listings!
My favorite (and the one I got!) was the “Backyard Honey” stamp – because that is what our honey truly is: produced right in our own backyard! Using a stamp for your labels also lets you pick and choose whatever other materials you’d like for your packaging.
I used a bunch of inexpensive things I had laying around to make some adorable rustic labels and decorated honey jars!
The packing paper on top of the jar tied on with jute rope or twine is one of my favorite details because it’s cute and rustic and… free (I just save it whenever I get a package in the mail). You can also stamp directly on this paper.
Raffia is another affordable material that comes in great neutral shades from straw-colored to terra cotta orange and dark brown.
The paper for the wrap-around label is a lighter-weight (like a 20#, 24#, or 28#) brown kraft printing paper (too thick and you can’t wrap it around the jar). The paper for the square stamped hanging tag (my favorite!) is a thicker (80#) kraft card weight paper.
The circle labels on the front of the jar are 2-inch kraft brown sticker labels. I love these for their ease of use! This size is also the one that fits perfectly on the top of a regular mouth mason jar lid. (If I were going to make these en mass, I would create a little guide to help me line up the stamp better.)
How to Sell Honey
Our local beekeeping association held a class all about bottling, labeling, and selling honey- run by two 30+ year old beekeepers with a lot of experience in moving a lot of honey. They gave some GREAT advice. Invaluable advice if you’re interested in selling honey. Here are the cliff notes:
Know something about honey or bees.
This is such a gold nugget. When you’re talking to a potential customer, being knowledgable about honey can make all the difference in not only making a sale, but gaining a repeat customer. People want to buy honey from someone who is passionate about their product, and about bees.
Glass or plastic: personal and customer preference.
Some people will only buy honey in glass, and some will only buy it in plastic- personal preference. You’ll have to feel out the market. Start with what you like, and if you’re selling honey at a good rate for you, then don’t change anything.
If you want to only use glass but your customers are asking for plastic, consider doing enough research that you feel comfortable educating them on why you only sell in glass.
Uniform jars and labels.
Having consistency in your bottling and jars makes you look more professional and your product more appealing.
Flat bottles will sell more honey.
This is not my opinion or hard fact, but advice given by the veteran honey sellers. The flat jars with the scalloped edges (these Queenline Jars here) were designed for honey and the way the light shines through them is beautiful. They do look nice, I agree!
Fill your table up.
Don’t put only a few jars on the table and keep the rest in a box hidden underneath- fill that table up and put as much as you have out there! If you don’t have a lot of product, utilize things like wooden crates, baskets with flyers, etc. If you attend a weekly market, change things up on occasion to make the table look full or different.
…of bees, of you working the hives- people like to know that you are the one doing it.
No comb honey? Make cappings honey!
When bees cap honey they put microscopic layer of propolis on the honey, and “old timers” like comb honey or honey with wax in it, saying that it “gets them through the winter.” There is likely a lot of truth to this! That propolis is powerful stuff.
Instead of comb honey, put some of the capping in the honey- it is a similar effect and people like to have “real” honey with everything in it, even the bees knees. Call it something unique! Or something boring that tells people what it is… like, “Honey with Comb,” or Old-Fashioned Comb Honey,” or Old-Fashioned Capped Honey.”
Do something to stand out.
The veteran honey seller has a huge doofy bee hat. He says that people know him by it, and that they ask to take pictures with him. He claims it has been one of the best things he’s done for free press and advertising. An inexpensive beekeeping hat and veil is also a great option!
People are much more likely to buy a product they can taste first. Using popsicle sticks (just make sure they are the food safe kind and not for crafts only) or these tiny plastic sample spoons is a super cheap and easy way to sample your honey products!
Diversify your products.
Do something different, like offer lip balms or hand cream made from your beeswax or honey. Try a few recipes out, find one you like, demo it on friends and family first, and then offer it to your customers. Beeswax Alchemy is a fantastic book for learning to make products with beeswax! Beeswax birthday candles would be a great idea!
Get creative in naming.
Instead of “raw honey” consider calling it something like “extra virgin honey.” Just don’t get too too creative… I once saw someone selling honey and calling it “bee vomit.” That’s probably fine for your friends, but may be a little over the top for selling.
If you have your own tips and tricks for bottling, storing, labeling, or selling honey- please share in the comments, we’d all love to hear them!
This post may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click through them and end up purchasing an item (any item, not necessarily the one I recommended even!) I may receive monetary or other compensation. The price you pay is unaffected by using this link, and buying stuff you were going to get anyways through an affiliate link is a great way to support your favorite blogger and fellow homesteader! Thanks!