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A lesson in extracting honey

February 4, 2011

Russell’s hives were bursting with honey. He invited us to come and watch him extract the honey – good preparation for when we have to do it ourselves in a few weeks time. Every single frame was fully sealed off with wax. When the bees are happy with the taste and moisture content of the honey they have created, they seal the cell off with wax. Until they are happy they keep spreading the honey around the cell, waiting for it to evaporate. So much work for the poor little bees. Russell was surprised to see that 100% of the frames was sealed off. Apparently he normally would have around 70-80% sealed off when extracting.

We removed the frames from one of his boxes in one hive (he has two). After getting the bees off the frame we quickly placed them in a large plastic container with a lid to keep the bees away. With the 9 frames, that box was so heavy that the two of us struggled a bit to lift it. Once inside the first step was to uncap each frame. Luckily he has all the toys (that I will be borrowing – hooray!). He has an electric uncapping knife which I am sure makes that process much easier. We slice off the wax seal and the heat from the knife certainly helps a lot. That first honey that collects in the bucket along with the wax from the uncapping is the best honey and we had good fun tasting it. Even Tara the person who never eats honey normally had two slices of honey toast! The photo above is of a frame that has been uncapped. Once both sides are uncapped it goes into the extractor. A very nice electric one in this case – also due for a little visit to our house.

Then a slow spin and centrifugal force gets the honey out of the frames without damaging them too much. In this case two of the frames fell apart. Not the wooden structure of the frame, but the wax structure started to break apart. This isn’t a big drama. Generally you want to keep the wax structure as the bees just reuse it. It saves them a lot of time and energy. When they start off with a new frame with just a wax foundation sheet (like they have in my hive) they spend quite a lot of time and energy building up the wax cells on the frame. This is probably why Russell’s hives are full slightly earlier than mine – his bees had old frames to work on. It seems like a terribly unfair bargain to me that we take their honey (after so much effort has gone into creating it), we make a sticky mess of the frames and just return them back to them for clean up and reuse. Yes, the sticky frames just simply go back into the hive!

We had to start draining off the honey from the extractor as there was so much coming out. We used two filters – a coarse metal one that you can see sitting on top of the bucket in the photo below, and a very fine fabric one that sits below it. The honey slowly filters through. And that is it – simple, raw honey. Not heat treated like most commercial honey. We got about 25kg out of that one box. We took home a little pail of honey so we can do a bit of a taste comparison when we extract our own. Russell’s honey has a really distinct taste and is (so far!) the best honey I have tasted. I am sure our will be much, much nicer ofcourse! And taking our little honey pail we left Russell to do the remaining boxes of honey extraction on his own. Such good friends aren’t we?!

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2011 8:23 AM

    I’ve been really excited to see this process, I’ve not seen it before (matter of fact, I know little about bees), but I do love the idea of what your doing here. Such interesting stuff, and the bees themselves are amazing aren’t they to create all this. Good stuff, can’t wait to read about your ‘harvest’ 🙂

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      February 7, 2011 9:54 AM

      It is a journey of discovery for me too….and I am loving it!

  2. February 4, 2011 8:49 AM

    What a nice guy Russell must be to lend you all his toys. What a lot of honey you got as well. It’s just amazing that those tiny creatures can create all this! Yumm…

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      February 7, 2011 9:53 AM

      Yes Russell is certainly very kind to lend me some of his toys! He apparently got a total of 70kg from his honey harvest – three boxes from his two hives. That is a serious amount of honey isn’t it?! We think we will get 30-40kg from our hive, which also sounds like a ridiculous amount.

  3. February 6, 2011 9:03 AM

    That looks amazing. Those little bees really are a marvel aren’t they. How exciting getting to harvest your own. How often would you harvest?

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      February 7, 2011 9:51 AM

      Apparently in Sydney it would be normal to do two harvests a year. One in a few weeks time and then another at the end of summer. Our winters are not very cold so we can take a second harvest. I think in colder climates they need to leave the honey for the bees to survive on through the winter, and some even need to provide some food for the bees during winter.

  4. February 6, 2011 12:13 PM

    Very exciting, can’t wait to see the collection of your own honey!! Soon, soon! 🙂

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      February 7, 2011 9:49 AM

      Yes, not long to wait now I suspect…v.exciting.

  5. February 8, 2011 2:58 AM

    Waw!! What a process to go through!! Thanks for sharing these fab pictures with us!!

    Now, I am craving fresh locally grown honey,…sigh,…:)

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      February 10, 2011 2:43 PM

      If you were closer I could add you to my list… 🙂

  6. February 9, 2011 9:23 AM

    Are you designing jars and labels to store all this wonderful honey to come? Or are you going to make mead with it? It sounds like such a huge amount of honey to look after. Fascinating to hear about all these stages you go through 🙂

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      February 10, 2011 2:42 PM

      We bought a whole heap of jars at the bee shop. I was planning on making up a lable but was just looking at this very sweet little painting Tara did for me a couple of months ago of a bee and think it would make a lovely label. The first batch of honey will disappear really fast as we have a long list of friends and family who want some. Mead making might be some time away into the future. Sounds daunting to even think about it…but tempting enough to warrant a try!

  7. joanna permalink
    February 17, 2011 2:14 AM

    I saw this and thought of you 🙂 http://www.imagesonline.bl.uk/results.asp?image=002517

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      March 10, 2011 2:45 PM

      It is gorgeous – thank you. I don’t think I look half as serene when I am out in bee mode!

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