HARVESTING FALL HONEY FOR BEGINNING HOMESTEADERS ~
We’ve been bee keepers for years in an effort to preserve both our land and the bees in a sustainable way and to foster highest yield for our organic farm. We’ve posted before about the amazing yield and beauty of our sugar bush, with sap flowing in Spring and filling our house with sweetness for the remainder of the year. Our honey harvest is equally sweet and rewarding and is a key part of our fall activities. While maple syrup don’t engage ‘critters’, our raising of bees for honey and wax (for our candle and medicinal products) and our raising of worms for composting for our soil, really is all about the ‘critters’ doing what they, by God’s great design, do best. Bees make honey and wax and red wiggler worms make castings (worm poop) that is so high in value for soil, it’s quite mind blowing when you study up on it.
This weekend was honey extraction weekend for us at our farm. We do honey extraction at the end of our season and DO NOT remove all the honey from the frames. We go through the process I will outline below, and the honey that is left on the frames that doesn’t spin out in the extractor, we let the bees forage on and take back to the hive. We do this by leaving the frames outside near the hive and out of the rain and the bees will literally ‘rob’ those frames and put that honey back in the hive. We then take those frames and store them for next year, leaving the wax/comb on, so the work next year for the bees is that much easier. We leave our fall hives with two supers on the bottom full of honey for the winter and also one smaller hive body above with frames with honey on them as well.
The process we go through to harvest our honey is as follows.
First, we get our bee suits on and head out to the hives with first priority to power down our solar netting that protects the perimeter of the hive location from bears. We have with us our hive tools and also our extra boxes we save from when we buy our nuc colonies. These are the boxes we use to place the hive frames in to carry into our summer kitchen.
Second, we gently open the hives up, one at a time, and scrape off all the comb that may have built up on top of the frames and set all that comb in one of our portable boxes. This allows us to easily pull out the full frames loaded with honey and place them in the other boxes we have ready to hold the loaded frames.
Third, we work one frame at a time, taking it out, brushing off all the bees, and then placing it in the temporary box and IMMEDIATELY shutting the top of the box so bees can not get in or get out. We do this until all the full loaded frames are in the temporary boxes.
Fourth, if there are frames that are not fully loaded with honey, we will leave them in the hive (as long as that box has ten and no less). I will bring out extra frames to fill in the empty spaces as bees need that exact set of dimensions between the frames to do their magic in the hive.
Fifth, we take the temporary boxes back to the house and get out all the other equipment we need. Notice in this picture that you will see the temporary boxes with the full frames in them, the cutting/uncapping box that the full frames go in and the honey knife that cuts the wax cap off and lets the temprorarily holds the frames until you get them into the extractor. Then you also see the extractor that holds the frames so you can spin the honey out. Both the cappings box and the extractor can have honey drip out and down, as both have valves to drain off the honey into containers.
Sixth, you take out the frames from the temporary box and place them one at a time into the uncapping box. First, you set the edge of the frame on the wooden cross board and you take your capping knife that is hot and cut off the outer edge of the capped honey. This will open up the cavity and have the honey drip into the box and also allow it to spin out when it is in the extractor.
Seventh, you get at least four frames uncapped and ready for the extractor. I do four or more simply from the standpoint that our manual hand-cranked extractor holds four frames at a time.
Note above that when you uncap the frames, the wax will fall to the bottom as well as some of the honey. There is a valve at the side that allows you to harvest this honey. You are also able to capture the wax and clean it later, storing it for use for candles and salves, etc. We leave as much of the wax in place as it makes it that much easier the next season for the bees to build out the frames. If you remove all the wax on the frame, the bees the following spring have to build out all the wax BEFORE they can begin to populate that frame with honey. So, we use the uncapping wax for our other products but do not take ALL the wax.
Eighth, you transfer four of the frames into the extractor. You want to make sure that the frames are warm at around 95 degree room temperature. This allows the honey to be warm enough to flow but not so warm that the wax melts. If your room is cold, the honey will not spin out of the frames into the extractor and drip down into the catch basin below. This is why we do this near our wood stove. We also use a hair dryer to warm the frames while one person spins and the other braces the extractor and heats the interior.
Ninth, you spin the extractor with a partner until a majority of the honey is out of the frame and in the catch basin. In this process you will do one side of the frame and then stop the motion, flip the frame, and put it back in, then spin out that side of the frame. This allows you to get the honey out of both sides of the frame.
Tenth, when the frames are done, we place them BACK in the temporary boxes still located near us and then set them back out by the hives. The bees will come and then ‘rob’ those frames and take all that honey that did not spin out, and bring it back into the hive.
Eleventh, we store those frames, after the bees have robbed them, in the garage for the winter. We do not keep extra boxes on the hive itself in winter because that ‘space’ in the hive, in negative 30 degree weather, creates too much cold within the hive and will kill the bees. Thus, you want to have less boxes/supers, but amply full of honey, and wrap the hives in November with special hive insulation leaving openings for bees to go in and out. We also set hay bales around the hives to protect from wind, rain, snow, and blowing ice in our frigid Northern winters. (But we do that in November).
And last, back to the extractor…..we open the spicket valve at the base of the extractor and pour the honey into jars. Note there is a filter/screen between the two parts of the extractor. The upper extractor element holds the frames. The lower element has a screen then a big basin that captures the final honey. In this basin is the spicket that stays closed until you want to pour all your honey into jars.
Here is the final product of a half a day worth of work.