Spinning Honey

Setting up the extractor which looks like a large metal trashcan in my potting shed

Big Event

It happens every August – 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 50 pounds from one of my three hives. Two were Nucs and one was a package. Go to A Bee Nuc or Package to see the difference and advantages. The other hives didn’t have enough to extract as the bees need collected honey to survive the winter.

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 nucs and one package 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.

Installing a Nuc involves transferring frames from a working mini hive into a larger hive body home
A Nuc is a miniature working hive

Extracting

After removing the bees, see Robbing the Bees-A Honey of a Day to see how to do this tricky part, we are ready to spin out the honey.

A perfect capped frame of honey
A perfect capped frame of honey

To remove the wax cappings, 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.

The 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 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.

Bottled honey
Bottled honey

 

 

Extracting the Flavor Of The Year-Honey

IMG_1084

Flavor of the Year

It is official. According to Firmenich, a private Swiss conglomerate that has produced perfumes and flavors for over 100 years, honey is the flavor of the year for 2015. Recognized for its unique flavor and versatility, Firmenich believes that this should elevate honey flavor to “classic” status like vanilla and chocolate. I read this news the day that I extracted my honey and thought it appropriate when I was absolutely covered in it.

Bee Swarm in my yard
Bee Swarm in my yard

The Big Event

Honey extraction is a process that requires patience, time, and tolerance for bee stings.  After babying the girls- feeding, monitoring, re-queening, splitting, and just plain worrying about them- now is the moment of truth.  How much nectar did they deposit in the combs for me to rob from them? And “robbing” is the right term because the girls work hard at it. According to the National Honey board the average worker bee will produce 1 1/2 teaspoons of honey in her lifetime. And one hive has to fly 55,000 miles to produce one pound of honey! For more amazing honeybee facts, check out The National Honey Board. 

Bees on honeycomb
Bees on honeycomb

This year was a banner year for me, over 120 pounds of honey from 2 1/2 hives. The “half hive” swarmed early in the spring, so wasn’t as strong as my other two, but there was still enough to harvest some honey. The two strongest were Nucs and that is the way to go for me from now on. Nucs are simply frames of honeycomb that a mated queen bee is already laying eggs, and brood is hatching. In contrast, a bee package that I order in the mail comes with a queen that hasn’t yet been introduced to the thousands of worker bees that accompany her in a “package”.  Go to A Bee Nuc or Package to see the difference and advantages. Nucs hit the ground running, and packages need to build up.

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
Installing a new Nuc package into a hive body
Installing a new Nuc package into a hive body

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 quickly and we are mopping up the mess.

Installing a package in the spring
Installing a package in the spring

Extracting

After removing the bees, see Robbing the Bees-A Honey of a Day to see how to do this tricky part, we are ready to spin out the honey. I never do this in the house as you will be bringing in unwanted guests (hanger-on bees), so set up an area in our garage. Wiping down everything with soapy water and laying down large plastic drop cloths and we are ready to go.

A perfect capped frame of honey
A perfect capped frame of honey

Using a heated knife to remove the wax coverings and a fork that looks like a hair pick, the cells are opened up so that the honey can be flung out.

Using a heated knife to remove wax cappings
Using a heated knife to remove wax cappings in our garage
Using an uncapping fork to remove wax covering
Using an uncapping fork to remove wax covering

Think of a large metal trash can with wire shelves inside that spin around and you have a honey extractor.   An attached motor will turn 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.

Honey is deposited in a mesh sieve that filters out debris
Honey is deposited in a mesh sieve that filters out debris

Honey pours out into a large clean food grade bucket that has a mesh paint sieve to filter out all bee parts and debris.

The 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

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 not to have guests over when this happens as it can be quite unnerving if you are afraid of bees.

We set up the extractor and all the tools in front of the hives also so the bees can finish cleaning.  I use the wax to make beeswax soap and candles. Go to Beeswax-Honeybee Gift to see how I process and use beeswax.

2 lb block of beeswax
2 lb block of beeswax

Filling up the buckets was exciting and we were surprised after weighing one to see that it contained 68 pounds of honey! We quickly filled another with the thick amber honey. Honey flavor and color depends on the terrior and pollens that bees collect, and has different “notes”, kind of like wine. This years honey is definitely darker in color than last years and has a wonderful flavor.

Weighing honey
Weighing honey

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.

Bottled Honey
Bottled Honey
Bottled honey
Bottled honey

 

 

Beeswax-Honeybee Gift

Beeswax pillar candle from  https://www.etsy.com/shop/PeaceBlossomCandles
Beeswax pillar candle from
https://www.etsy.com/shop/PeaceBlossomCandles

A beekeeper for over 15 years, I have accumulated pounds of beeswax as a welcome byproduct of my honeybees.  A substance formed by insects, it is simply amazing that it has been in use for millennia, even found in tombs of the pharaohs, and caulking the ships of Vikings. Think of it as the duct tape of ancients! Here are some interesting beeswax facts.

Beehives and giant birdhouse at Ladew Topiary Gardens
Beehives and giant birdhouse at Ladew Topiary Gardens

 Beeswax Facts

  • By consuming honey, honeybees produce beeswax. It takes about 8.5 pounds of honey to produce one pound of beeswax. When the bees make one pound of beeswax into comb, it will hold 22 pounds of honey.
  • Honeybees collect nectar from approximately two million flowers to make one pound of honey. If you do the math, nectar is collected from 17 million flowers to make one pound of beeswax!
  • Secreted in the form of a scale about the size of a pinhead by worker bees, there are eight wax secreting glands located under its abdomen. It takes 800,000 of these scales to make one pound of beeswax.
Beeswax scale pictured on the bottom row as clear flakes -from Wikipedia
Beeswax scale pictured on the bottom row as clear flakes -from Wikipedia
  • The beeswax scale when first secreted is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, nothing like the golden brown aromatic final product.
Beeswax cakes from my hives which has been melted down and cleaned
Beeswax cakes from my hives which has been melted down and cleaned
  • Beeswax obtains its natural color of golden-yellow due to propolis, which is basically tree sap that bees collect to seal up their hive, and from pollen brought into the hive.
  • Beeswax obtains its distinctive aroma from the storage of honey and pollen in the honeycomb. The proximity of the honey gives the beeswax the strong smell of honey.
  • Over time, beeswax will develop a whitish coating called bloom. This is the result of softer oils rising to the surface and can be removed with a soft cloth or hair dryer. The appearance of bloom is  proof that you have 100% beeswax.
  • Some various uses of beeswax are: candle making, batik art, leather products conditioning, waxing wooden windows and drawers, quilting(thread strengthener), cosmetics, furniture polish, soap, and fly tying.
  • Beeswax is very stable; samples of thousands of years old beeswax is identical to new wax.
  • The oldest known notebooks used sheets of beeswax  for pages. Recovered from ancient Mediterranean  shipwrecks, stylus marks pressed in the wax pages can still be read after centuries on the sea floor.
  • Of 100 volatile constituents in beeswax, only 41 have been identified.
  •  Beeswax forms the oldest known dental filling.  A fragment of beeswax was found in a 6500 year old jawbone, being used to plug a gap in a tooth, predating the first recorded amalgam filling by around 5,200 years.
  • It is a wonderful furniture polisher and is what the professional antiques industry uses to beautify its furniture.
  • In the 11th century there are records of huge quantities of beeswax being used by the Church, usually in the form of candles. Every monastery and abbey had an apiary to meet this need.
  • Beeswax candles burn brighter, longer, and cleaner than any other candle. In the process of burning, the candle gives off negative ions that are known to clean the air and invigorate the body.
A perfect frame of honeycomb that is capped with wax, ready to be sliced off to remove honey filled cells
A perfect frame of honeycomb that is capped with wax, ready to be sliced off to remove honey filled cells
Removing beeswax cappings with a heated knife. The darker area is an older honeycomb that was formed earlier. The comb darkens with age.
Removing beeswax cappings with a heated knife. The darker area is an older honeycomb that was formed earlier. The comb darkens with age.

Other Uses of Beeswax

Food Storage

I found a new product called Bee’s Wrap, which is a beeswax/cloth food storage solution and is found at www.beeswrap.com. This is an innovative product which claims to be the new “old fashioned” alternative to plastic wrap. Environmentally friendly, beeswrap is a reusable cloth impregnated in beeswax that with the warmth of your hands, can be formed around pieces of cheese, bread, or cut pieces of fruit, keeping the moisture in. Once in the fridge, the cold keeps the wrap stiff and in place. Ingenious! Fully washable, the cloth can be reused over and over. I am using this for all my cheese and fruit from now on.

Beeswrap around a chunk of cheese
Beeswrap around a chunk of cheese

I wanted to see if I could make something similar with my store of beeswax. It is a ton of work to grate beeswax, but if you want the DIY method, here it is:

DIY Beeswax cloth
DIY Beeswax cloth

Basically, I cut a piece of unbleached muslin and placed it onto an aluminum foil covered cookie sheet. After evenly grating a chunk of beeswax over the fabric, I placed the cookie sheet into a preheated 170 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Making sure that the beeswax melted completely to fully saturate the fabric, I pulled the sheet out, removing the fabric from the foil immediately. When cool, I used pinking sheers to cut around the entire piece so it doesn’t fray.

I loved doing this but since this was so much work, I think that this was a good case of buying it rather than making it! Buy at Beeswrap.com.

Arts and Crafts

Beeswax can be dyed different colors and used in different applications, like modeling or sculpting. For tips on dying beeswax with natural spices, like turmeric and cinnamon, go to http://www.wikihow.com/Add-Color-to-Beeswax.

Dyed beeswax for modeling purposes
Dyed beeswax for modeling purposes

Beeswax ornaments for Christmas will literally last forever and add a faint scent of honey to the room along with pine scents from the tree.  To make an ornament, beeswax is easily melted and poured into molds and inserted with a hanger to make a beautiful Christmas ornament.

Beeswax bunny ornament
Beeswax bunny ornament
Dyed beeswax ornament rolled in cinnamon
Dyed beeswax ornament rolled in cinnamon

Candles

Beeswax candles from my hives
Beeswax candles from my hives

Candles are the most common use of beeswax for crafters, as it is easy to pour the wax into molds or roll sheets into tapers. Beeswax candles are environmentally friendly with no chemicals discharged such as benzene, styrene, toluene, acetone, and particulate matter, which paraffin candles emit polluting your indoor air.

Beeswax Candles
Beeswax Candles, on the right natural colored, on the left, bleached

Soap/Cosmetics

I love making soap using beeswax. For posts of soap making with beeswax, go to Orange Citrus Soap with Beeswax, and DIY Soap. Beeswax adds a welcome honey scent to the bars.

DIY Soap with Beeswax
DIY Soap with Beeswax

Body Butter

Body Butter is expensive to buy and I have found a very simple recipe, that prepared with just five ingredients, an immersion blender, and about 45 minutes of your time, you can make enough butter for the dry winter months ahead. Go to Luscious Honey-Scented Body Butter to see the step by step process. If you need beeswax, I found a source at http://www.beeswaxco.com/catalog/12/Bulk-Beeswax where you can buy a one ounce bar for just $2.00. For any of these projects, a small amount of beeswax goes a long way.

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Finished body butter ready to use
Finished body butter ready to use