A lesson in extracting honey
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?!