I wrote this post one year ago on my old blog and, with the exception of a few edits, the process of clearing bees and extracting honey are the same. Our adventures took a few different twists and turns this summer, but here is how it’s supposed to be done.
I am aware that this is a slightly long post, so I have divided it into two parts and an addendum:
It has been a good beekeeping year and you have a super or two of frames filled with capped honey. Great, but how do you get hold of it?
Step 1: Clear bees from the supers
First, you need to remove the honey from the hive. Guarded by about 50,000 bees this could be Mission Impossible, but is in fact only Mission Slightly Difficult. There are these handy little inventions called ‘bee escapes’ that allow bees to leave supers, but which do not let them back in. You can get various bee escapes from beekeeping suppliers with instructions for use. I am reliably informed that rhombus escapes are very good, but we used Porter bee escapes and they worked quite well.
Ideally, you need two crown boards to carry out the process of clearing bees from the supers. Place a crown board between the brood box and supers with the Porter bee escapes in the two holes.
The second crown board (with something covering the two holes like a tile or brick on top) should go on top of the supers before you put back the roof. This is because you are now going to leave the hive for 24 hours or overnight, during which time supers will be cleared of bees and left vulnerable to robbers. 24 hours is more than enough time for wasps to invade and clear out your honey. Check your hive, particularly around the roof and supers, for any holes or gaps, and seal with tape. Wasps are crafty.
Step 2: Remove the supers from the hive
Return to your hive 24 hours later and find the supers almost empty of bees. A bee brush or shaking can help to remove any remaining stragglers from the frames, before you take the supers back to your kitchen to start extracting honey.
If, like me, you have a kitchen in a studio flat not big enough to swing a cat, you will want to make sure you don’t bring any bees. Trust me, it’s not fun sharing your flat for a night with about 50 lost bees. You won’t sleep.
So if you are super-organised (sorry for the pun), go to the hive with a partner in crime. Shake and brush bees off the frames, then quickly wrap each frame inside a plastic bin liner and hang on an empty super. This method makes sure that no bees hitch a ride back home.
This is a more laborious method of taking honey off the hive, but well worth it to take home bee-free frames. Emily and I did this, and enjoyed a bee-free extraction process.
Step 1: De-cap the honey
Ok, so that was actually the ‘slightly difficult’ bit. You have your supers, or box with honey frames, standing on your kitchen work surface. Now you need:
- A de-capping fork
- A centrifugal extractor
- Buckets to collect your honey
- A kitchen wire mesh strainer
- Storage jars and labels
All of the above can be purchased at Thornes.
Be careful to keep your work area dry and free from water. Water is the enemy of honey.
Take a frame and place it over a bucket. Use the de-capping fork to run along the surface of the honeycomb and remove the wax caps. Super easy!
Step 2: Spin off the honey
Now place two frames of de-capped honey into a centrifugal extractor. Most are manual and are really hard work, so if you are going to do beekeeping seriously invest in a mechanical one.
Step 3: Drain off the honey
Spin off as many frames of honey as you can in the extractor until the level of honey at the bottom starts to reach the metal basket. It is harder to spin round the extractor with honey restricting the motion.
Lift up the centrifugal extractor to the kitchen work surface (if it is full with a couple of litres of honey, you may need someone to help you do this) and put another bucket in the sink. Open the tap of the extractor and let the honey pour out. Some manipulation of the extractor is needed to get the last dregs of the honey out.
It takes one bee a lifetime to collect one teaspoon of honey, so try and get every last drop.
Step 4: Products of the hive
Remove the froth from the top of your extracted honey into separate containers. This can be used as a ‘marmalade’ on your toast or fermented for mead. As enjoyed by Vikings – ARG!
Filter honey from the buckets through a kitchen strainer into jars and label for family and friends.
Filter the honey in the bucket of wax to ensure you get as much honey harvested into jars as possible. Clean the wax in warm water and leave to dry. You can mould beeswax into pellets for beauty products or use to make candles.
Clean the extraction equipment, including centrifugal extractor, with washing soda and scrubbing brushes to get rid of stubborn sticky bits.
My old boss, Bob Allan, kindly gave me his electric honey extractor this year. Bob used to keep bees but he gave up the craft, because his mother-in-law was allergic. ‘One
winter the hive died out,’ said Bob. ‘It seemed only polite not to re-stock the bees.’ Most beekeepers at my apiary have balked at this. However Bob says, ‘I am rather fond of my mother-in-law’.
After last year’s hard graft of extracting two supers of honey manually, I was excited to try the mechanical extractor. Disaster! The first three frames almost spun apart on the highest setting. So we cleared up and started again, this time using a lower setting. Nothing. Our honey was like treacle! It didn’t even drip out of the comb when we de-capped it.
Plan B. So we decided to make cut-comb honey instead. An evening of delicate operations began and the result was rather spectacular.
This post is dedicated to Bob Allen, who retired as medical director of publications at the Royal College of Physicians this year and to who we said a fond farewell, and to my dad who let us take over his house to extract our treacle honey.