A Couple of Surprises on Honey Extraction Day
A Late June Honey Harvest
I usually don’t take honey off this early. Most beekeepers do though, since early summer honey is light and sweet and some of the best you can harvest. I’m usually just so wrapped up in work and the garden that the thought of putting in a day to extract honey puts me off completely. It’s an item on the to-do list that I push back until autumn because I usually can.
This year is different though — I’m leaving on Monday for a month-long trip and my honeybees will need to fend for themselves. I want to leave them set up to have enough food and enough space to store new honey in and that means emptying some of their stores.
Making Space for New Honey
In my last beekeeping video I showed you the state of the colonies. Both Primrose and Bluebell were full to the brim with honey with no space for any more. Even though I have a million and one things to do this week I made time to take honey out of some of the frames so that they could continue storing more.
I suppose it’s like milking the cow even though you don’t need milk — the bees need more space and I didn’t have any empty frames to give them. I had to extract honey from frames already in the hives to give them more space. I started this process by putting on clearing boards which is a way of moving bees out of certain areas of the hive.
I put off picking up the honeycomb until the day I’d set aside for honey extraction. Again, loads on the to-do list and I couldn’t find the time. It’ll be alright, I told myself. Upon opening Bluebell I realised that not all had gone to plan. Both boxes of honeycomb were devoid of honey. The little buzzers had hung around, eaten everything over the week, and then moved down into the main part of the hive afterwards. Seriously girls?!
I do have to say that I was a bit relieved that they’d cleared the honey out of the brood chamber. It was one I was trying to take off the hive completely and they weren’t supposed to fill it with honey in the first place. So I was saved a messy job there.
The Honey Shed
Primrose’s bees had done what they were supposed to do and when I opened up the top of that hive there were no bees and lots of honey. So I set off from the apiary with two full supers and the old brood box from Bluebell. It was direct to the honey shed I went.
I actually don’t have my own honey shed — I borrow a friend’s. I feel very fortunate for the lend since he’s invested in an electric extractor which does short work of spinning honey from the comb. I leave it on for four minutes and it whips the honey out of nine shallow frames at a time. Easy peasy.
The Honey Extraction Process
There are a couple of different ways to get honey from the comb and various methods and tools to use. The way one beekeeper does it can be different from another.
This is the way I do it. First I uncap the honeycomb using a type of metal pick. Then I put the frames into the extractor, turn it on, and let the machine do the hard work. After four minutes I’ll unload the empty frames of honey, re-load the extractor and repeat. At the end, the bottom of the extractor is filled with honey and bits of honeycomb and a few bees.
I’m always surprised by the bees since there are none when I begin. Definitely no live ones, that’s for sure.
At the end I open the honey gate at the bottom of the extractor barrel and let the honey pour out. Usually I’ll filter it through a mesh but I’d forgotten to bring one with me. This time I went home with two pots of unfiltered honey that I’ve set aside for bottling up when I get back from my trip. Honey lasts indefinitely so I’m not worried about it spoiling during that time.
Another surprising thing about my honey this year is that there are two types. A lighter amber honey that made up the majority of the harvest, and a dark and thick honey that must have been put down earlier in the spring. I extracted the darker stuff last and have it in its own pot. It has a much stronger flavour than the golden honey and will also likely crystallise (harden) over time.
The honey is now extracted, the bees have space to build, and the count-down to my holiday has begun. If you’d like to read more about my bees, browse through this section on my blog or head over to YouTube to see my beekeeping videos.