Do you know, when I started this blog, I remember thinking to myself: ‘well, beekeeping’s a good thing to blog about as I have to learn to keep hive notes anyway, and I’m at the apiary every Friday so I should be able to keep up a regular posting schedule’.
How wrong I was. I continue to be terrible at blogging! Still, today’s blog is a write up of the honey extraction that we did about two weeks ago – it’s still one of my favourite beekeeping activities and this year’s was a lot of fun.
How do you extract honey from the hive?
So the first stage is clearing the bees from the frames that you have been encouraging them to store honey in all Spring. Most beekeepers (I think – although this is beekeeping so there are exceptions!) set up the hive so that the bottom one or two boxes are full of nice deep frames which are used for brood (eggs, larvae, etc). At the top of this section a queen excluder is used: this is a mesh board that’s large enough for worker bees to squeeze through, but too tight for a busy queen. She stays below, laying eggs, and the workers can go into the top boxes, or supers, to store nectar and turn it into honey.
You can add supers throughout the year, although I’m sure there are some thoughts on how this should be done! Our hive this year was, for various, reasons, as tall as me by the time we got to extraction. I’m only 5’3″ so that’s no great height, but when you think that a box can contain a good few jars-worth of honey there are many practical reasons for removing supers sooner rather than later!
You can clear the supers by setting up a one-way system in the hive (for another post, I think), but I actually don’t think that we did this. Probably one of the reasons for this was that we only go once a week, and if you leave supers empty of bees for too many days they’re liable to get robbed by other colonies. Which is less than ideal. So we removed the supers and brushed off the bees – this probably won’t work in all hives, but ours was pretty quiet up there anyway so it was doable.
The extraction room
The apiary at TTVBKA has a lovely shiny extraction room – but I know some beekeepers who use a part of their kitchen or a utility room. The important thing is hygiene: honey is a foodstuff and so you need to make sure that everything is clean. This means surfaces, tools, sinks, humans – everything.
Once the supers were in the extraction room, we set up the room in stations: one for uncapping frames, one for the extractor, one for dealing with capped frames.
The first step is uncapping the frames. Once water has evaporated from nectar and can be called honey, the bees cap the top with a thin layer of wax. It can stay like this for ages, it’s the perfect store cupboard food. During extraction, you can use a few things to get the cappings off: a breadknife, an uncapping fork (regular garden fork sized but with lots of think tithes like a hairbrush that you can slide just under the capping to lift them off), and this scary heated knife thing that melts the wax and I’m always a bit scared I’m going to really injure myself with. This year I got really into using the uncapping fork.
Once the frames have been uncapped, they can go into the extractor, where they sit nicely in the slots here.
9 frames fit in an extractor, and once it’s full you can turn the machine on – the extractor spins round and the honey flies out of the freshly-uncapped cells and into the extractor drum, where it settles at the bottom. This is then tapped off in sections and decanted into a settling tank. Here the honey passes through a coarse filter and a fine filter (to remove the remaining bits of bee!) and it settles in here before it’s put into jars.
There were 6 of us working on our hive, and we managed to get 3 supers extracted in one evening – which I think is no mean feat! Once we’d got everything into the settling tank it was time to clear up – no mean feat either. No matter how hard you try, everything gets stick during an extraction, so there’s a lot of cleaning up to do.
Our honey will be available to buy at the Twickenham Honey Market on Bank Holiday Monday (28th August), 12-4pm.