How Honey is Extracted from the Comb
After toiling long and hard over the summer, honeybees will have stored up a supply of honey that will last them through the winter and beyond. In fact they will often overproduce when it’s been a good summer for nectar-rich flowers and trees. It’s this surplus that I harvest from my hives and I’m conscious to leave plenty of their own stores for them to use.
Even so, this surplus is often thirty or forty pounds of honey per hive and is more than enough for me. Beekeepers in warmer climates and with larger and more productive bees can even expect up to extract eighty pounds of honey per hive each year. To put that into perspective, a large jar of honey often contains one pound of honey.
I see my role of beekeeper and the hives as producers as a relationship of give and take. I provide the honeybees with a suitable home and make sure that they’re in business both health-wise and food-wise. At the end of the summer I take a bit of honey for their rent and they carry on without any ill effects. It’s a win-win situation!
I now have three hives but since the third is just starting out I’ve decided to not take any honey from it this year. It’s a small colony that started as a wild swarm and I’ve only just moved it from the small hive it was living in before, called a nucleus, to a full sized hive this summer.
They’re doing great in their new home and I expect that I’ll have more honey than I can contend with in 2015. Saying that, I’m already thinking about placing a fourth hive next to this new hive. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, beekeeping is an addictive hobby.
I’ve gone through the process of extracting honey in last year’s post but I’ll just quickly run through it again. First you need to clear the bees off of the frames of honey you want to take off the hive. Imagine how upset they’d be if you tried to take the honey off while they’re busy working and crawling all over the comb.
It would be a nightmare, so what you do is place a clearing board under the ‘Super’, or box of frames, that you want to clear of bees. A clearing board has little doors that bees can exit through but not come back through. After a day or two, the beekeeper arrives back to find the Super(s) cleared of nearly all the bees and ready to be taken off to their garage, shed, or kitchen, to be harvested.
My friend Mr. E allows me to use his honey shed to extract my honey and in return I bring him a bottle of whiskey. Whiskey and honey are a fantastic combination by the way and you can make some brilliant Hot Toddys with your raw honey. I have some experience in this.
The first step in extracting honey is to uncap the honeycomb. Bees fill the little hexagonal cells with honey and then seal them up with beeswax until they need to dip into their stores.
Traditionally beekeepers use a hot knife but it’s far easier to use an uncapping comb which gently pulls off the caps. It also minimizes damage to the comb structure so that the bees can take it back and begin using it right away.
The next step is to spin the honey out of the comb. You can do this with a manual hand-powered extractor but you can also purchase mains-powered extractors that make short work of the job.
A beekeeping friend of mine I met over the weekend spins his by hand and told me it took him about two hours of cranking to get all of his honey out. In contrast, it takes the flip of a switch and about fifteen minutes total for the same number of frames. I know which way I prefer.
The honey at this point will be filled with bits of beeswax and other debris so once it’s spun out, the honey needs to be drained through mesh to separate the larger bits out. I save all of my beeswax from this step to use in handmade beauty products such as my Manx Beeswax Lip Balms and Body Balms.
Next the honey needs to sit for a few days so that any remaining wax particles have the chance to float to the top of the honey. I use a relatively basic method for this step in that I simply skim this layer off and then fill sterilized bottles with the rich honey underneath. I don’t heat or process my honey in any other way so it’s pure, rich, and a hundred percent raw.