Our apiary has grown so fast! I look at some of these large apiaries and I can completely understand how they end up with so many colonies. Bees multiply faster than rabbits! As we move into fall, Philip has been preparing the bees for winter. He’s been trying to even out the numbers and ensure that each colony has sufficient resources. He also had to replace a queen for a queenless colony. Check it out on YouTube. While he has been at it, he’s been pulling hive frames so we can harvest honey from the honey supers. It’s finally time for our first big honey extraction!
Philip was storing the honey frames in a cooler in our pantry. I was surprised when I moved the cooler at how heavy just 6 frames of honey were. The average medium frame contains about 3 pounds of honey. I must admit that cooler felt a lot heavier! I can’t imagine how heavy the full supers are! Once we gathered enough frames and had a free minute, it was honey extraction day!
The Honey Extractor
We have an electric honey extractor. It’s a four-frame Vingli Honey Extractor. Philip was able to get this used and saved us quite a bit of money. I am extremely thankful Philip opted to get an electric extractor! I can’t imagine having to hand crank a manual honey extractor for 20 minutes for every set of frames.
Location, Location, Location
When we were discussing the honey extraction process, Philip talked about doing the extraction outside. We’ve had a bit of cold weather, and the bees are less active. We only had a few frames, less than 20, to spin. I was adamantly opposed to that bad idea. It only takes one hardy little bee that doesn’t mind the cooler weather to sound the alarm and bring the army. I really don’t like getting stung.
Instead, we brought the extractor into the RV. We put a towel on the floor underneath to protect the floor and to catch any dripping honey. A warm room, also helps the honey to flow more freely.
Uncapping the Honey
When the honey reaches the correct moisture content, the bees cap the honey to preserve it. To harvest the honey, we must uncap the honeycomb to extract the liquid honey from the frames. We used a combination of two methods to uncap the honeycomb: a hot knife and a uncapping needle roller.
Uncapping Needle Roller
The uncapping needle roller looks like a paint roller, except that the roller has hard “needles” that puncture the honeycomb. We used the uncapping roller when we did a gravity extraction on just a few frames, read about it here. Simply roll the needle roller over the honeycomb and pierce each cell of the honeycomb. It is important to pierce every cell. I was surprised that the force of the extractor is not enough to open the honeycomb cells that we missed. We had to reroll those sections of honeycomb and spin again. Those bees do some quality honeycomb construction.
The uncapping knife, also called a hot knife is the other method of uncapping the honeycomb. We like to use the hot knife sparingly as it completely removes the honeycomb that we cut off. The honey bees do a lot of hard work to produce not only honey but also honeycomb.
We used the hot knife on any frames that had a honeycomb that extended beyond the sides of the frame. Basically, we squared them up so that the bees can continue to use the honeycomb within the boundaries of the frames. I will admit that the hot knife works the fastest and cleans the honeycomb the cleanest when spun. As soon as the knife begins to cut the honeycomb, the honey starts flowing from the uncapped frame. Since the entire top of the honeycomb is cut off, there is no barrier when spinning the honey out. The honeycomb spins much cleaner.
Using the Cappings
After the wax cappings are removed, they are first strained in a colander to remove the honey. Then I melted the wax down and strained through a paint strainer to further remove any debris and remaining honey. The beeswax can be used to coat plastic foundation which are likely how we will use it. We can also use it for candles, lip balms, or other products that call for beeswax. Nothing was wasted!
Spinning the Honey
Once the frames have the cappings pierced or removed, the frames are put into the honey extractor. Extractors like ours are called tangential extractors. Ours holds four frames and extracts the honey from one side of the frame at a time. It’s easy to use. Close the lid and turn it on to extract the honey from the first side. Each side of the frame is spun for about 10 minutes. The centrifugal force of the spinning frame removes the honey from the honeycomb. Then the frames are turned, so the opposite side is facing the outside of the extractor and spun for an additional 10 minutes. Since we extracted the honey in the RV, it made the entire RV shake!
There are different types of honey extractors. Radial extractors allow the beekeeper to extract the honey from both sides of the frames at the same time. The size of your apiary and the number of frames you need to process likely influence the type of extractor you choose. Small-scale beekeepers can save money choosing hand crank extractors. We’ve even extracted honey by crushing the honey with a potato masher and using the drip method!
Processing the Honey
The extractor has a honey gate at the bottom to drain the honey into a bucket. We strain the honey through a filter specially designed for honey. This removes any honeycomb or debris. We had to empty the extractor several times during the extracting process. There is only a few inches of space at the bottom of the extractor for honey. Once the honey level gets too high the frames are stirring the honey.
We completely filled a 5-gallon bucket and a 2-gallon bucket full of strained honey! I was just blown away by how much honey we were able to harvest our first year. All the honeycomb in the strainer was added to the beeswax that we melted for future use.
Bottling the Honey
After the honey had set for several days to allow the bubbles to surface, I began bottling it. I found out very quickly that a ladle and canning funnel is a messy proposition! Having enough of that, I decided to make the drive to D and J Apiary to get some needed supplies.
They sell a bottling bucket with a honey gate that makes filling the jars very easy. I was concerned when I first saw the large opening that it might be messy, but it was much less messy than my previous attempts. After filling, I weighed each jar and adjusted the weight to be exact. Each jar is then labeled with very specific information to meet the state requirements so that we can sell our honey.
Clean Up After the Honey Extraction
Handling the honey is messy, but at least it’s a tasty job. Thankfully it cleans up easily with hot water. The best part is the bees help a lot with the cleanup. We set the empty buckets out near the apiary and within a few days, the bees had removed every drop of honey from the bucket. It was hardly even sticky! Bees are the ultimate preppers; they waste absolutely nothing!
See the Honey Extractor in Action
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.