Saturday was extraction day. Aaaaaaaah. The big event that every beekeeper waits all year for.
Before I get into the details, first some ruminations. My “beekeeping style” is not for honey production. I decided my beekeeping style was going to be trying to do my little part to help the bees survive, hopefully pollinate my garden and then, if I got honey – well, that was just gravy.
That’s why I let them roll their own queen, even though it can set me back on honey production (this year, all my honey was pulled from the hive that got it right, while none was pulled from my second hive was had difficulty getting a queen going). It’s why I leave 85-100 pounds of good honey on the hives over the winter; so I don’t have to feed them nasty sugar syrup (although I’ll give them some in the fall in order to get HBH in them to help them go into the winter healthy) and so they come out of the spring with lots of real honey on the hive that will last them until the first nectar flow. Except for about a gallon on each hive in the fall to deliver the HBH, I haven’t fed them in several years.
Even if I had a year without any honey, I’d love doing the bees because it’s incredibly relaxing, it’s always a learning experience, it’s extremely interesting and it’s rightfully humbling to see the detailed complexity and wonder that God put into creating these little bees and knowing that if He cared enough about these little insects, how much more He cares for me.
pint jar of amber honey (about 1 pound) and a teeny weeny plastic baby bear with honey
Given all of that – it’s still just ripping exciting to actually extract honey.
On Friday, I prepped and set up the equipment. I pulled it all out of it’s storage boxes in the bee shed and onto the lawn. I hosed down the inside of the bee shed to get all the dust off the walls, floors and shelves. I then took the capping tub/lid, the 4 food grade plastic 5 gallon buckets, the 3 plastic filters and lids, and the stainless steel honey extractor and washed them with soap and hot water and left them out in the sun to dry.
Then I set everything up in the bee shed. The capping tub went on one table, the honey extractor was set up in position and locked down tight to keep the jiggling to a minimum when it’s unbalanced. A bucket with a filter was set right under the honey gate under the extractor (which sits on a shelf). I plugged in and tested out the hot knife and put the fan in the west window.
Every year at the bee meeting you hear horror stories of people who have outfitted their garages to be special honey extracting sheds, every hole plugged with spray foam, windows closed up tight, doors sealed with rubber seals and still there’s the one tiny hole and they end up overwhelmed with bees in their honey shed during extracting.
I have a bee shed that has a door that does shut, a screen door that has a 2 inch gap all the way around it into the garden shed which is entirely open to the garden, and a few cracks and holes. I have a screened window on the east side, just 2 feet from the bee deck and another screened window directly across from it on the west side. The bee shed is under the big maple trees out front so it’s shaded all the time and even when it’s really hot, it’s not stifling in there. We set up a fan in the west window blowing the air out so that all the honey smell goes out the west side of the building instead of the east side where the bees are. I have never had an issue with even one honey bee coming in the gaping holes around the door and bothering us. Given all that, we don’t go in and out of the shed as we don’t want to tempt fate.
On Saturday morning, we put the 3 big black totes with honey boxes out in the sun so they’d really warm up. I ran up to the bee supply place to get myself the cutest little plastic baby bear honey jars (hold 2 oz). My nephew, the one who got me started in beekeeping, came over to help me extract for the first time.
We had a 5 gallon bucket of water in the shed for cleaning our hands off, a couple of clean towels, 3 big containers of ice water and (later since we forgot) a big long rubber spatula.
My extractor holds 4 frames and is a hand crank. You can buy a motor for these to just turn it on but I really enjoy the old fashioned, hands on feel of cranking that puppy up, letting her spin and cranking her up again. It makes you feel connected to the process.
Our bounty of honey this year, all jarred up
First we find four frames that are relatively the same in weight. You can’t have heavy and light together or the spinner gets really out of balance. Then one by one, we take a frame over to the capping tub. Nephew glides the hot knife down the face of one side of the honey frame, then the other, and the wax cappings just shave off in a sheet. Any that didn’t get shaved because they were concave, I have a little wax capping scratcher that looks like a very sharp afro pick and scratch at the capping to break them. The tub is hard clear plastic and has an upper liner with holes so that the capping drain their honey down into the bottom tub, which has a honey gate.
As soon as one frame is shaved, I place it in the extractor and we do the same process 3 more times. Then we put the lid down on the extractor and start cranking. It doesn’t take too long, about 4-5 times cranking her up good and letting her spin out. Then you pull out a frame, you can see the frame is bare now, you turn them all around and you do the same for the other side.
You then transfer the “wet” frames (empty cells but coated thinly with honey) and put them back in the rubber tubs with the lid on.
After about 8 frames you start to see – the golden, thick liquid come slowly burbling out the honey gate on the bottom of the extractor and into the upper sieve on top of the honey bucket. You put your hands and arms down into the wash bucket because you have honey all over your hands, and then you keep going until you’re finished.
Lastly, we scooped up all the wax cappings in the top of the capping tub, put them in the filter on top of another honey bucket. Then nephew put the lids on the 3 buckets, and on top of the capping tub, and he and HB took them quickly into the kitchen. I suited up and took the 3 boxes that had the “wet” frames and put them (plus one box with drawn out frames) onto the top of the hives so the bees could clean them out. Now each hive has 6 boxes.
Then nephew and I took the equipment all out onto the lawn and left it there for the bees to clean off for awhile.
We cleaned up stuff in side and decided we needed to let the stuff drip through the filters for another day as the honey was really thick and going very slowly through all the cappings and the filters.
We all celebrated with BBQ filet mignon steaks, corn fresh from the cob, roasted beets from the garden and baked potatoes. It took about 3 hours total.
Later we went out to hose down the equipment. There must have been 1000 bees on it. So I sort of misted it all down to get the bees out of there. then we hosed off the equipment, took out a 5 gallon bucket of hot, soapy water and cleaned and rinsed off all the equipment; let it dry in the sun and put it all away.
We waited until Sunday afternoon to bottle. First I weighed an empty bucket, then weighed each bucket and totaled it up. Not as fine as last year, but our yield this year was exactly 60 lbs. of honey. That sounds like a lot, but honey is really heavy. Still, I’m not complaining.
HB and I love the bottling process. I had already sterlized gobs of half pint, pint and quart jars in the dishwasher. HB set up a system for himself and I brought him jars, he filled them, I took them away (he’s really good – nary a drop out of place) and put the lids on and we just kept at it.
Every year watching that first jar of honey fill, we just both laugh and say we can’t FLIPPING believe this. We have bugs in our back yard that fill our jars up with this thick, golden, sticky honey.
The crop this year is thick, glossy, is not sickening sweet like some of the stuff you buy where it kind of stings the back of your throat, you could just keep eating this stuff, and after you’ve swallowed it, you taste a kind of nutty spiciness.
When we were all done, HB took two pieces of toast, used them to mop out the last honey bucket, got a glass of cold milk and ate a honey sandwich to celebrate. Divine!
pot after melting the wax capping and letting the wax rise to the top and cool. There’s slumgum underneath this and then brown water
All the cappings were in one bucket. I put cool water in the bucket to well cover the capping and stirred, then poured out the water over a filter and did this about 5 times until nearly all of the honey was actually out of the cappings.
I then put the cappings in a big stainless steel pot I have for this purpose, just cover the cappings with water and put it on medium low heat on the stove. It melts into a peanut butter looking gummy mess. You stir it up and take it off the stove and let it sit 2 hours in a tub of cold water. The wax rises to the top and makes a disk.
You pick up the disk and pour out all the gunky water. There is stuff called “slumgum” on the bottom of the disk which is this disgusting, chunky, gooey brown mess of all the solids that are not wax (bee parts and bodies, propolis, pollen, goop). You scrape this crap off the bottom of the disk as best you can.
Then I break up the disk into chunks, put it in a big pyrex glass 4 cup measuring cup, put it in the microwave and 40% power and nuke it for 30 seconds at a time, just low to melt it, not make it actually sputter and cook.
whip cream carton about half filled with hot, melted, pure beeswax
I have a cleaned wax coated whip cream carton. I have cut several chunks of 4 layers of cheesecloth. I lay a cheesecloth over the carton, push down a little and pour the melted wax into it. This filters out the rest of the nasty, cooked slumgum, which I throw away with the cheesecloth.
Then I pop the carton into the fridge and I have a block of pure, unadulterated beeswax that I can use for making my homemade lip balms, furniture wax and lotion bars.