The first-first thing I want to say is, read the directions. It’s such a basic step and one I too often neglect in my zeal to try a new thing! We’ve processed quite a bit of honey over the years but this was our first time using an extractor and, may I just say, hallelujah! Can I get an amen?!!
Since we moved to Utah, we’ve had a really hard time keeping our hives alive (I’ve finally decided to wrap my hives in winter and make sure I feed them several times in early spring – dratted winter that lasts until June!!!) but this year we had one make it and start thriving early. We had one honey super nearly filled so, since we were down in the bee yard hiving our swarm into a nearby hive, we decided to pull off the nearly filled honey super and process the honey out. In the past, we’ve tried the cut and squish method of honey extraction, whereby you cut the comb out of the racks and manually (yes, as in, with your hands) squish all the honey out into a mesh sieve or colander so the honey can drain through and the wax and “stuff” gets filtered out; you do the same step when using an extractor but there’s less mess to filter through.
You can also use an uncapping tank (essentially a big box with a mesh screen for your cappings to rest on while they drain off all their excess honey); they’re cool but unless you’re doing many hives, they’re kind of big and unnecessary. Once you’ve gone uncapped all your frames, you can collect all your wax bits into a big pot, put them on the stove and slowly bring the temperature up to about 145 degrees so that the bees wax will melt. Once it does, you let the mixture cool and the wax set up at the top; underneath will be the rest of the honey that was trapped in the midst of all that wax.
I always saved this “cooked” honey to use in baking since I was adding it to something that would go in the oven anyway.
Otherwise, I leave all my honey raw as it is not only fabulously good to eat but also fabulously good to use as medicine; it’s powerful stuff in it’s raw state. May I just say that the best part about honey extraction, whatever method you use, is the smell; I always say that if righteousness has a smell, it’s the aroma of your warm kitchen, filled with warm beeswax and warm honey dripping off your warm counters and sticking to your warm shoes and finding it’s way into your warm mouth. Your kitchen becomes sacred ground.
Obviously, the squish method is messy and you end up wasting a bit here and there. Harvesting honey with an extractor is quicker, less of a honey bath for you and doesn’t destroy the comb (one of the best reasons to use an extractor because your bees don’t need to spend time rebuilding comb, but instead can focus on making more honey). The first thing you’ll do is uncap the honey in the frames either with an uncapping comb or with some sort of hot uncapping knife/tool. We’ve used both and they both work just fine; I like the hot knife better just because melting stuff is cool! The purpose of this step is to expose the honey underneath the wax capping the bees put on the honey storage cells to keep the honey clean and fresh. If you want the honey to come out, you need to “pop the lid” on the bees ingenuity. So, I’m actually showing you the photos of these steps in reverse for some reason probably having to do with composing this at 1am. Your cappings should sit in a colander to drain honey off for awhile (or you can use the uncapping tank if you have one); then heat them, cool them, remove the wax from the last bit of honey at the bottom of the pan. Enjoy!
Growing weary of the squish method, this time, we borrowed a two frame Dadant from some friends down the street. I was surprised by how big the unit was for just two frames; with it’s stand it was as tall as my four year old and twice as wide. Considering how much centrifugal force these extractors exert, it’s no wonder they’re sturdy! Give me manual over electric any day, first of all. If I were doing ten hives worth of honey, then I can see the wisdom in an electric crank but since I only have a few hives and a very strong husband/son duo, we’re sticking with the manual; fewer parts to break down and cheaper to use.
You need to uncap one side of each frame – your honey super frames are shallower than your brood frames and will fit nicely into the extractor…
and then you simply slip the frame into the basket inside the unit – this one held two frames.
Then, you close up the top, turn the crank and after a few minutes, you open back up the unit and do the same thing for the other side of the frame. Make sure you remember to uncap that other side or you’ll be scratching your head trying to figure out where all the honey went. To extract both sides takes around five mintues-ish. The honey flows to the bottom of the tank where there’s a spigot which you open in order to capture the honey in a bucket below.
You can put some kind of filter over the bucket opening beneath the flow of honey in order to take out loose bee parts and propolis and the occasional stick that gets stuck to the frames, if you want to. Bees are really very fastidious (part of the bee life cycle is to act as a maid for the entire hive in order to root our any litter) and you usually don’t come across much gunk in the honey frames and I like to have as much propolis in my honey as possible so I never really bother to filter it more than once, although many people do. After you’ve done all your frames, you can just put them back in your honey super and put the super right back on the hive. The bees will clean up the honey mess, repair any broken comb, no doubt curse your name once or twice and then start gathering more nectar to make a new stash of honey.
The honey we got from this pull was from early spring and so it didn’t have the robust quality of late summer/early fall honey but, oh, was it delicious!!! We’re blasting through it, putting it in everything from our morning dandelion drink to cinnamon roll frosting. We have sudden Winnie the Pooh moments where we dash to the kitchen to make toast and honey. To help with seasonal allergies and internal germ killing, I have the kids take a teaspoonful of raw honey every day. Yeah, it’s definitely their favorite medicine.
Incidentally, while we were down there robbing honey from this hive, we checked on the swarm we captured and put into the other hive. They’d built some beautiful burr comb (it took us awhile to get back down there and add in the rest of the frames the bees needed to build on so they just made their own) – thought you’d like to see those pictures. I am just fascinated by bees and find them truly, truly beautiful. I’m reading several bee books at once right now and have bees on the brain! What about you? Are you a bee lover or a bee hater? Or just someone who’s not sure what they think about keeping 80,000 stinging insects in their backyard?
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