One of the best parts of owning honey bees is that you get honey! Sweet deal!
Honey is not only a better alternative to sugar, it has many other surprising benefits as well. It is antibacterial, can heal wounds, and lessen coughs and sore throats not to mention it tastes amazing! I think you will find that the taste of honey right from your own hive is unlike any honey you’ve ever had before, and it’s certainly better than the store bought stuff.
Extracting honey is the term used for taking the honeycomb out of the hives, usually on a frame, and extracting the honey from it. There are two ways to extract honey:
1. Crush and strain
This is the more traditional way of extracting and is exactly how it sounds. This is cheap and messy and can be a lot of work. I recommend using this method if you have honeycomb that isn’t bound in a frame, ie. from a wild hive you have captured or the honeycomb that bees sometimes build in the space between the lid and the top of the frames.
Take all of the honeycomb and put it into a colander over a bowl. Crush all of the comb as much as possible with a masher, spoon or other utensil of choice. You can also use very clean hands. Let it sit for about 24 hours and if wanted, mix up the crushed comb again and let it sit once more. It helps a lot if this is done in a warm environment because the honey flows more freely. You may also need to strain the honey once more through a sieve to get the smaller bits of wax out, although wax is also good for you.
You should have a lot of honey now that you can pour into a measuring cup with a spout to pour into jars! Yay honey!
2. Use an extractor or ‘spinner’
Using an extractor is the most common method because it is fast and easy. Some of them can be pretty pricey, but it is definitely worth it. You can also borrow one or rent one from your local beekeeping club if you have one. I use one similar to this, a manual 4 frame extractor:
Steps for extracting with an extractor:
- Take the frames from the hives. The number of frames will depend on many factors such as strength of the colony, how many frames are capped, time since you last extracted and time of year, etc. Make sure to always leave enough food for your bees, never take all of the honey. Also you do not want to take frames that aren’t mostly capped. Bees cap the cells when the water content is right, and taking honey with a high moisture content means your honey could ferment (if you do this by accident, make mead with it!) I take all the frames out one by one, brush the bees off, and put the frames in tubs so I don’t bring bees back with me.
- Next you want to set all up all of the equipment where you will be extracting. I suggest in a garage or somewhere indoor where you can get away from the bees that will smell what you are doing and come to join the party. Keep in mind that things will get messy so don’t use a nice room in your house. Putting a tarp down helps no matter where you are.
- Uncap the frames. You can do this with a hot knife and a scraper, or just the scraper; your choice. See my post about beekeeping for beginners to see a list of equipment. Ensure you have something under the frames like a tub while uncapping to catch all of the cappings.
- Place the uncapped frame vertically in the extractor, and once all of the places are full you are ready to spin. Don’t get too excited and go all out right away. You want to spin the frames slowly on both sides first, to avoid blow out. Blow out is when there is too much weight on the honeycomb and it blows out and causes holes in the honeycomb on the frame. Spin the frames until you can see honey flowing out on the inside of the extractor for about one minute. Resist the temptation to spin faster. Then flip the frames over and do the same on the other side. Then you can go fast on both sides!
- Drain the extractor and strain the honey. At some point the level of honey at the bottom will be too high to spin the frames anymore. Drain the honey into a bucket, then strain the honey through a strainer to get rid of the bits of wax or the occasional bee.
- Pour strained honey into a bucket with a tap. I just bought a normal bucket and a tap (also called a gate), drilled a hole in the bucket and installed the tap! It’s that easy! Now you can fill up just about anything, I put most of my honey in jars that hold about 440 grams.
- Clean up! Everything will be well and truly sticky when you are done. Make sure to keep a few wet cloths around to clean up as you go or wipe your hands. Most things can be cleaned up with warm water or a strong jet of water (from the hose or a pressure washer). The frames without the honey (called stickies) will need to be put back in the hive so the bees can fill them up again. Keep the wax that was strained out, it can be washed to get sweet water to make mead, filtered to get the wax for a variety of projects like making your own lip balm, or put it out for the bees to pick clean!
The amount of honey will depend on your colony and the time of year. I get about 30kg from each hive every 5 or 6 weeks in the summer, this will be a lot less for smaller colonies and people with shorter summers. For a list of all the equipment I use see my beekeeping for beginners post!
If you would like to see how I extract, check out this video!
If you have bees let me know in the comments below!