Thursday, October 18, 2012

Honey Harvest

I told you before that it's common for bees to rob other hives during this time of year. Given the prevalence of Pirate Bees around here, we decided to pull the supers and condense the hives for winter.

First, we went through the hive bodies and removed the few empty or mostly empty frames down below and subbed in the honey filled frames from the super. Our goal was to have 100-150 lbs of honey in the hives as they prep for winter, per Michael Bush's advice.

The Tardis is a nice hive with a lot of bees. It is a horizontal hive body, 22 frames wide, mostly full. In addition, it had 15 frames in the supers with comb and honey, many of them not fully drawn out. We pulled 1 empty and 1 partial from the bottom box and put in two full frames of uncapped honey from the super to make sure they'd be full up for the winter, but to also give them something to do - finish it off and cap it - before it gets regularly cold.

The Lang had fewer bees and a few more empties in their 2-deep hive body.   [That's two deep boxes stacked on top of each other.]  They had not drawn any comb in their super, so we shared frames with the Tardis.   We subbed the empties in the Lang's hive body out for full ones from the Tardis's super.

Note: The frames in the supers are mediums - shorter than the deeps in the hive bodies. It's not a big deal. A medium full of nectar is still way more than an empty deep and when they're done cappig that, they'll draw comb off the bottom of the medium so that it'll be the same length as the other frames.

In the end, after packing the hive bodies of both hives with full frames, we had frames left with harvest-able honey on them.

Which means....we harvested our first honey from the hives at the beginning of this month. We got about 10 medium frames of honey. Most of them weren't full so our total take after extracting was about 23 lbs. This is what how it went:

We waited until after a few frosts to pull the supers because we hadn't used a queen excluder and they were raising drones in several spots in the supers. Once it frosted a few times, they reduced the brood cluster and pulled the drones all by themselves and filled up the old drone comb they had drawn with honey. I was greatly relieved. [And the truth is, I hadn't even thought of it until we opened things up and the drones were gone. I was glad we waited to pull the supers.] We will definitely do it that way from now on.

Once we pulled the supers off, we had to hide the frames from the bees, which immediately moved in and started robbing. They'll do that.

I took each frame to the front of the hive and brushed/knocked off the bees, then speedily left the hive area and took the frame to a large clear plastic box with a lid. The box was big enough to hold the frames upright with room to stack a couple extras on top. We chased the bees away and got the frame under the lid as fast as possible. It was a good system and we ended up with only 6 bees in the box in the end. It was easy to get them out before we took it in the house. Mostly, they couldn't wait to get out of the box and were happy to zoom away as soon as we opened the lid.

Once we got all the bees out and the frames in the house, we decided to heat the oven a bit, then turn it off and then turn the oven light on. The oven light will keep the oven at around 90-95 degrees - perfect for honey extraction.

I loaded my monster roaster up with frames. It's big enough to fit 5 frames in upright. The light kept them nice and warm.

Then we got a hair dryer and warmed up the pan we crushed in and the pot we strained in.

Crushing was easy. I cut the comb out of the frames into my biggest pyrex roasting pan and crushed it with a large pestle. Easy.

It was awesome.

It was sticky.

It was really, really sticky.

Straining was not easy. Since we've never done this before and since extracting equipment is not cheap, we did everything by hand with what we had around here. Nothing fancy.

Now we understand why people invest in extracting equipment.

Basically, this is what we did. I do NOT recommend doing it this way yourself unless you want to spend all day...All...Day...extracting honey and still end up leaving too much in the wax.

We lined the chinois with cheesecloth, then put the crushed comb inside. Then we twisted it closed and squeezed and squeezed and used the chinois mallet to squeeze more....all the while heating things up with the hair dryer.

It took for freaking ever. And even then we didn't get enough honey out.

In the meantime, just to test out other methods, I loaded a narrrow mouth quart jar full of crushed stuff and put a piece of cheesecloth over the top. Then I turned it upside down over a wide mouth quart jar.

It was supposed to drain from the top jar into the bottom jar. And it did. Sort of. About 1/3 a cup, leaving the rest of the quart hanging in the top jar. Then it stopped draining, I'm assuming because it created a vaccuum in the top and the honey was too thick to let the displaced air from the bottom up into the top. So that was an epic fail.

It took us 5 [Five!]  hours to extract the honey from only one super. Not exactly my idea of efficient. Also, we ruined 4 cheesecloths. Also, we got wax stuck in the bottom of the chinois, which had to be boiled out later. Also, we got honey everywhere.


As in EVERYWHERE.  Because honey just does that.

The good news is that honey cleans up easily.

Next year, assuming the bees survive the winter and that we get more honey , we'll get the glorified bucket system that they have at Walter T. Kelly.

It's still a low budget solution and much cheaper than these bigger extractors:

Next year, we'll crush all the comb, and put it in buckets. Then we can strain it a bucket at a time, overnight with some weights on the top to really squeeze it out. And I can sleep at the same time, which seems like a much more efficient use of my time.

The good news is that we did get a harvest this year and we learned two ways not to strain honey. The bad news is that I learned that lesson in the first hour and we still had another 4 hours to get the job done. No fun..

The last thing was did was render all of the extra wax in the crockpot as we strained and that totally worked.  I'd been saving any burr comb trimmings in the freezer all year.   We just put all the wax pieces in the crockpot with 3 cups of water and turned it on high.   When it all melted, I strained out the floating stuff and then poured it through a double layer of heavy duty paper towels secured over a plastic sour cream container.    I let it all cool.   There was a thin layer of leftover wax on the water in the crockpot and a lovely layer of strained wax under the paper towels in the bowl.    We lost a little wax in the process, but ended up with a couple of nice hunks to use in salve this winter.

Next goal: Overwintering.   We'll keep you posted.


  1. I'm . . . stunned speechless. Seriously. That honey should taste like heaven all winter long after the effort you put into getting it.

    I love you attitude about it though. What you learned to do and not to do. Whew!

  2. Congrats on your harvest!
    I'm wondering, did the wax in the crockpot ruin the crockpot, or was it easy to clean out when you were done?

    I've got some wax to render, but it's too cool now for solar wax melters...


    1. Christopher - the crockpot worked great! It did take a bit of scraping with a spoon, but plenty of soap and hot water [HOT water] worked like a charm to clean it up.

  3. How much honey did you end up with after all that effort? We had a wild hive which a bee man removed for us and gave us some of the comb. We had no idea how to extract the honey so we suspended the comb in a plastic bag with a hole in it over a container and let it drip for about a week, then we filtered the honey through a fine sieve - worked great! We got about two pints of wild honey. I didn't think of saving the comb :(

  4. Very nice!

    I made a solar wax melter that worked until recently when the weather turned cold. So I bought a really cheap crock pot and threw all the cappings in it. When it all melted I just poured it through a paint strainer into a plastic dish with some water in the bottom. Worked great!


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