Spinning Honey

It happens every Fall – honey extraction! After babying the bees, feeding, monitoring, re-queening, splitting, and just plain worrying about them, now is the moment of truth.  How much honey did they deposit in the combs for me to rob from them? I won’t leave you in suspense – I extracted 160-180 pounds from two strong hives. The third and fourth hive were building up slowly, so I left them alone to extract next year.

I have a meadow that surrounds my hives; This is goldenrod and zinnias
Freshly extracted honey coming out of the extractor into a filter that removes dead bees and bee parts
Setting up the extractor which looks like a large metal trashcan in my potting shed
Part of the bottled harvest
Boxes of honey frames ready to be extracted
Weighing a bucket of extracted honey

Big Event

The biggest event to happen in a beekeeping year is honey harvest. I try to put it off until the end of summer to get the pick of all the nectar that has been collected all spring and summer long to make a mixture of wildflower honey. A multi-day affair that has to be done in the heat of summer, it is the culmination of all my work (and the bees!) that started last year when I installed my bees. Go to A Bee Nuc or Package to see how to install bees in hives.

Bee package which includes a queen and 12,000 to 15, 000 bees as a starter
Bee package which includes a queen and 12,000 to 15, 000 bees as a starter

My two over-wintered hives and two captured swarms were humming along with our wet weather bringing on a consistent supply of nectar. It is always an anti-climax when we finally remove and extract – kind of like Christmas – lots of build up and anticipation, and then it is over very quickly and we are mopping up the mess. And mess it is, with sticky honey spilled, and extracted frames with residual honey left to be cleaned up by the bees.

Extracting & Spinning

After removing the bees, by brushing them off the combs (easier said then done!), we are ready to spin out the honey with our extractor. Many of my friends ask to help me with this difficult task, but it is such a long slog in hot sweaty weather, where you are more likely than not going to be stung, I strongly discourage them.

A perfect capped frame of honey
Perfect capped honey frame
Pulling out frames of bee covered honey, photo by Amy Sparwasser
Brushing off bees so I can extract, photo by Amy Sparwasser
Pulling off a box of full frames of honey, photo by Amy Sparwasser

To remove the wax cappings (the wax that covers and protects the stored honey), a heated knife is used to melt away the wax, and a fork that looks like a hair pick is used to further open up the cells so that the honey can be flung out.

 

Using an uncapping fork to remove wax covering
Using an uncapping fork to remove wax covering
A perfectly capped frame of honey

Think of a large metal trash can with wire shelves inside that spin around and you have an honey extractor.  A motor attached will turn on the merry-go-round inside, flinging the honey deposited in the cells onto the side of the trash can, dripping down to the bottom where it will exit through a gate valve into a mesh sieve for bee parts and then into a collection bucket.

Fresh wax cappings are very tasty and we dive right in and start snacking.  Grabbing a dollop of warm fresh honey comb that is dripping with honey  is luscious!

Wax cappings full of honey
Wax cappings full of honey

 Aftermath

After extracting the bees are very active

Once the honey is all extracted, I take the frames and set them up in front of the hives so the bees can wring every last drop of honey from them. The bees, once they discover the free honey, go crazy and buzz around the yard.  I am sure to not have guests over when this happens as it can be quite unnerving if you are afraid of bees!

We set up the sticky extractor and all the tools in front of the hives also so the bees can finish cleaning. The wax cappings are set out along with everything else for the bees to clean, and then I take the wax in to process in preparation for making beeswax soap and candles. Go to Beeswax-Honeybee Gift to see how I process and use beeswax.

Weighing my wax harvest

Giving the honey a few days to settle, I start bottling the honey when the weather is still warm, over 75 degrees. If honey gets too cold, it won’t flow properly into my jars.

I filled bear shaped containers this year
Opening a gate valve to the bucket releases all the honey; It takes some dexterity to fill the bottles
Cart full of honey filled frames
Cleaning the honey bottles in the dish washer before filling
Bottled honey
Bottled honey

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