Our 9 hives of bees have been very busy making honey–so much honey that we’d run out of supers (honey boxes) to add to each hive. Every super we had was full of honey! So we had to remove many of them to extract the honey so we could put them back on (empty) so the bees can make more.
Most of the hives had three supers above the brood chambers. We used an almond based formula to ‘push’ the bees down into the lower chambers and out of the honey so that we could harvest them with less interference.
Here Jim is checking the honey frames to make sure they’re full and ready to harvest, and also that there is no brood in them. Brood is when the bees start laying eggs in the frames rather than storing honey in them. This frame looks good.
We did find a few frames of brood. We just returned them to the hive. Joel hauled the supers, each with 30-50 pounds of honey, over to the truck, where Jim strapped them on for the trip into town to our mentor’s honey house.
Here Jim is using the first machine, which uses a steam-heated blade to cut the excess wax and honey off each frame. All the cuttings fall into a bin below the cutter, which is heated to separate the wax (which sinks) from the honey (which floats). This honey is pumped to join the rest of the honey further down the line.
When the excess has been cut off the frames, each needs to be scored by hand to make sure any ‘caps’ have been opened. Usually there were two of us at this station. From here, we loaded the frames into the extractor, which holds 60 frames. We had 28 supers, each holding 9 frames. The extractor is a huge centrifuge that spins, flinging the honey out of the frames and against the circular outside wall, where it pours down and pools in the bottom of the extractor. This was then pumped out into a holding tank.
In this photo you can see much of what I’ve mentioned so far. The steam-heated knife machine is to the far right. See the row of frames on that table? Joel is loading these honey-laden frames into one side of the extractor while Jen is taking the empty frames out of the other side and putting them back into the supers. (That evening they put them back on the beehives to give the bees someplace to put the new honey they’re still busy making!)
If you notice along the top of the photo, you’ll also see the white plastic pipe that’s used to bring the honey from below the steam-heated knife to mix with the extracted honey. At the bottom left of the photo (behind Jen), there’s another pump which then pulls the honey through a filter and into one of two large heated holding tanks.
Even though the honey house has quite a few confused bees in it, they’re not aggressive. You can see we’re not worried about being stung at all! Bees are only aggressive when they’re protecting their queen, who was at home in her brood chamber. They’re also aggressive if you happen to startle them or squish them. Jim and Joel each got stung while lifting a super that had a bee on the handle. Wasps and hornets have a grudge against the world and will sting anything they can nab. Not so bees.
In this final photo, Jim and I are filling containers from the two tanks. He’s filling buckets from one while I fill small jars from the other. The jars give us the best return per pound, as we sell these at the farmers’ market. We’ll also be selling 7-pound buckets, and have some ideas up our sleeves for adding extra value to the honey.
Altogether, what I’ve recounted to you took place over three separate days. On Saturday we pulled the supers off and took them to the honey house, where they spent the night in a heated room. Yes, even though we’re having hot summer weather! The more liquid the honey is, the easier it is to work with and more of it can be removed from the frames. Sunday afternoon we extracted the honey and pumped it into the tanks, where it sat for two days so any impurities that made it past the filter could float to the top. Tuesday evening we returned to fill containers.
We’ll be doing another (smaller) extraction later in the season, making sure to leave enough honey to feed the hive over the winter. I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour through honey extraction.