Sunday, August 1, 2010

Honey Extraction

Today I did my first honey extraction. Here is the extractor set up on my kitchen table:

The extractor is a manual crank (ugh!) which holds 3 large frames or 6 shallow frames at the same time. You have to flip over the frames to extract the other side. For some reason, people always do 2 flips - side A, side B, and then side A again. I suppose that you get some more out of the first side, and that is what I found.

The first step is to remove the wax caps from the honey frames. You do this using a knife. They make fancy heated uncapping knives, but they run close to $100. I found a very nice serrated bread knife which worked just fine, especially since I only had 9 frames to uncap. I also didn't have an uncapping tank, so I used a plastic bin to collect the caps. There is still honey in them, and you can get that as well.

The supers that these frames were in had 9-frame spacing mounts in them, instead of the usual 10. Having 9 frames causes the bees to draw out the comb a little higher, and put more honey in. Since the comb was high, it was easy to slice off with the knife, and I had to do very little with the capping scratcher. Here I am slicing off one of the frames:

Here's an interesting frame - look how the honey in the center is darker than that on the ends:

When it is extracted, it will all mix together.

After extracting all 9 frames, I started draining the extractor into the honey bucket. On top of the honey bucket are 2 filters - a coarse one at 600 micros, and a fine one at 200 microns. Here is the start of the flow:

It took about 1/2 hour to drain the extractor, and about another hour for the honey to flow through the filters.

I did not buy any of the traditional honey jars (the WCBA club does a large order to get good rates, but that was months ago). So I went to Walmart and bought some Ball jars at different sizes - a lot of small ones to give as gifts and samples.

All in all I was able to harvest 22 pounds of honey from the 9 frames - not bad! Next year I'll plan better.

I also still need to come up with a good label for my honey. I am thinking over a few designs, and will post them when they are finalized.

The whole experience wasn't bad - I've heard horror stories about getting everything sticky. I put down some newspaper under the extractor, and had some drips, but it wasn't bad.


  1. Congratulations! It looks delicious. What do you do with the wax from the caps? Do you leave the comb on the frames and put them back in a hive when you take out other comb? Some health-nut friends of ours buy unfiltered honey. Have you tried it? What kind of stuff do you find in the filter?

  2. Good questions!

    What do you do with the wax from the caps?
    I've been collecting wax from burr comb scrapings all year. I'll add to that - I will melt it down, filter it, and maybe make a candle or 2 for my wife.

    Do you leave the comb on the frames and put them back in a hive when you take out other comb?
    The comb after extraction is "wet." I will set it out for the bees to clean up (remove the honey which wasn't extracted). Then I can put back on the hive to be filled up again, or store the comb for later.

    Some health-nut friends of ours buy unfiltered honey. Have you tried it? What kind of stuff do you find in the filter?
    Mostly wax, pollen, and an occasional bee part (like a leg). Unfiltered honey isn't that much different health-wise from filtered honey (the beneficial pollen still gets in to filtered honey). I tasted the unfiltered honey as it was coming out of the extractor - no big deal. What changes honey is the pasteurization.

  3. This looks great, Steven! I'm just getting into beekeeping, and it's great to find the blog of another beekeeper in Massachusetts. I have about 100 questions, but I'll look through your old posts and I'm sure I'll get a bunch of answers there.

  4. Nate - thank you, and welcome! You can add a "bee" category to your garden blog!

    I have experienced a lot in the almost 2 years of beekeeping - I document it all in the blog. Look around, and if you still have questions, feel free to ask.

    And if you haven't already, consider joining a local bee club. That's the best source of advice and help.

  5. You can add a "bee" category to your garden blog!

    That's what I did. My beekeeping posts have quickly taken over the gardening posts. Anyway...

    You got all that from 9 shallow supers? That's excellent. I won't be harvesting any honey from my hives this year, but I already have my honey supers for next year. I picked mediums. I plan to use a 9-frame spacing, too, because apparently you get more honey than you'd get with 10 frames and it's no more work for the bees.

    I also plan to go foundationless, at least for one hive, just to see how well it works. Then follow the crush and strain method of extraction. Lots of left over wax, but around here, beewax is just as popular as the honey.

    Great looking honey you have there, by the way. I love it.

  6. Love these posts! Looking forward to the day when I can have bees. Until then, great read. My husband just told me he heard on the radio today that the darker honey means there's more antioxidants in i, and it's better for you. Apparently where I live in WV there are a lot of darker producing honey hives.

  7. Steven - I'm definitely joining WCBA, and am planning on going to the August meeting. I just moved to Harvard with my wife, and we have probably 3 apple orchards within a 2 mile radius of the house... one's only like 500 feet away. I'm hoping that'll give my bees a big boost in the fall (and also hoping the inevitable pesticides aren't too harmful).

    How do you like the shallow supers? I've been reading Backyard Beekeeper which recommends them, since they're a lot more manageable, weight-wise, but I don't want to compromise production or bee happiness.

  8. @JoJo - as far as I know, the color of honey depends only on the type of nectar the bees bring in. The nutritional/antioxidant value is probably the same regardless.

    @Nate - I think I'll be there too. Look me up.
    Also, there is a member of the bee club Marc Sevigny who lives in the Shaker home in Harvard - he has a few hives too.

  9. Steven,
    I am not a huge honey fan, at least I wasn't until now. I tried some of your honey when I got home, it was delicious. Much better tasting than the commercial stuff. I am now pondering the best way to use it. I don't want to waste it mixing with other strong tasting ingredients, I would rather enjoy the fresh taste. Maybe spread on toast or an english muffin. Mmmmmmmm...

  10. I would believe that the darker looking honey in the 2 colour frame is actually the same colour honey but in darker wax. My guess is that at some point your queen raised some brood in the honey super and the wax is dark with cocoon debris and propolis etc. Doesn't matter as it won't affect the honey quality.
    Your honey is quite dark, does look more like fall honey. The darker fall honey that we have in this area does contain more anti-oxidants however most people prefer the lighter spring flow honey.
    You should get those supers back on quick as yesterday's rain will give a boost to the golden rod flow which is already quite impressive and also as there is still much loosestrife around - you can smell the curing golden rod honey in the back yard from the house now when the wind comes out of the west - hives are about 50' away.

  11. @Peter - I think you are 100% spot on! This particular hive came through the winter with no queen excluder on, and in the spring the owner didn't add one and the queen got upstairs and laid some eggs. I added the excluder later and when the bees were born, they used the area for honey storage.

    Thanks for the observation!

    -- Steven


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