After a long hard summer looking after your bees, stopping them swarming and checking them every week, you may be fortunate enough to have a super or two of honey to extract. YUM, YUM! The warmer honey is, the more easily it runs so after you have taken the honey from the bees it is best to extract it straight away. If you are unable to do this then the next best thing is to store the supers in a warm room until you can.
Your honey handling room (usually the kitchen) should be spotlessly clean with toilet and washing facilities available. Where honey is extracted for your own and family consumption, and not sold, the odd bee wing in it is not a disaster, whereas honey for sale, if unsatisfactory in any way can theoretically bring a visit from a Trading Standards officer to scrutinise every part of the business. The honey room layout should be planned so that there is a rational easy flow from one task to the next. Honey and wax will inevitably reach every corner of the room, floor, door handles, taps – and anything else touched by hand or foot. A good tip is to keep a bucket of warm soapy water handy for washing surfaces as you go along, plus another container with water for washing hands and utensils.
Once you have everything ready you will first of all have to uncap the honey. Cappings are removed from comb in a number of ways. They can be cut off using a warmed knife, scratched off using a multi tined fork, the cappings can be melted open by using a hot air gun (this gently peels back the capping to expose the honey) or they can be taken off using a special uncapping machine.
This is how I do it. Lift each frame from the super and then cut through the wax cappings in a downward direction so that the hand holding the frame cannot be struck by the knife. I rest the frame on a nail which is hammered through a wooden batten which sits on top of a plastic washing up bowl.
Once the cappings are removed the frame of honeycomb containing up to three pounds of honey is placed in the extractor with others. They are arranged around the centre like spokes on a wheel. (Don’t forget you can borrow a manual extractor from the Association).
Frames of honeycomb are valuable and we want to keep them undamaged. They can be put back on top of a hive either this season or the next and the bees will fill it again. Extracting properly keeps the frame in good condition.
When the extractor is full, if it is electric, the motor is switched on, increasing the speed slowly so as not to damage the comb. The same principle applies if it is a manual extractor as the handle is turned slowly at first gradually building up the speed until you can hear the honey hitting the sides of the extractor, before running down and gathering at the bottom of the tank.
When you have finished extracting the honey from the frames it needs to be run through the honey tap and filtered as it runs into your storage bucket (with a honey tap preferably fitted if jarring the next day). Special filters can be bought that fit on top of the bucket, coarse filtering at first and then fine filtering. Another good tip is to purchase stainless steel equipment if you can afford it. The plastic equipment just doesn’t last and it is worth spending a few pounds more for quality that will last.
When you have run your honey through the filters and into the storage bucket you now need to leave it for about 24 hours in a warm room so that ripening can take place. This means that bubbles and any bits that managed to get through the filter can either rise to the top or fall to the bottom.
The next day you should have your clean jars ready and it is a simple operation to run the honey from the bucket into the jar. Put a lid on each jar and that’s it. If you are going to be selling the honey you need proper legal labels but if for your own consumption, simply enjoy as it is.
Unlike running water, running honey makes no noise so double check that all honey taps etc are closed properly, otherwise, like my first attempt, you may end up with honey all over the kitchen floor!
Harvesting Single Frames Of Honey
You don’t need expensive extractors to enjoy honey from your bees as it is quite simple to reap a harvest from individual frames. One of the benefits of harvesting single combs at different times throughout the season is that you get to sample honey from multiple flora sources because the bees are collecting from different nectar flows at different times during the season and you will be amazed at the differing flavours.
Also, you may only have a couple of frames of honey and if you wish to harvest them you can do it like this. The comb is completely cut from the frame into a bowl and thoroughly mashed until the comb cells are broken up and it has a nice even consistency.
Spoon or pour this honey wax mixture into a large jar as shown in the photo. Place a piece of shaped metal mesh over the mouth of another similar jar.
Now take the jar with the mesh and turn it upside down, setting it on top of the filled honey jar and duct tape the two together forming a honey hourglass. When a good seal is made, flip the honey hourglass over and put it in a warm place and wait for an hour or two.
Your honey will flow right from the honeycomb into the jar, leaving behind the beeswax and you can fine filter it later. Yummy!