Our First Taste of Honey

March 9-11, 2014

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During my 1st year beekeeping presentation, someone asked me about the supers on my hives.  I told them they weren’t supers.  Up to that point, I didn’t think of them as supers.  I was allowing the bees to create sugar syrup stores for winter, but not honey for harvesting.  When in fact, they are supers without a queen excluder – and the bees built up quite the stash.  So what to do with the stash?  My answer – extract it and feed it back to the bees, for a number of reasons. 

  1. It’s healthier for the bees to feed from their own food vs. sugar.
  2. The bees will clean up the wet drawn frames so I can reuse them.
  3. I’d rather practice extracting for the first time using sugar syrup than the real honey.
  4. I don’t have the freezer space to store the frames and I can’t keep them outside forever. I can store sugar syrup in the fridge.
  5. And best of all – I have an excuse to buy an extractor!

The boxes I took were from my dead yellow hive.  I purchased a complete extracting kit from Brushy Mountain.  It included the tools, the extractor, the uncapping tank, and a straining bucket.  I thought about waiting a week, but was so excited that I decided to start that day.   I moved the uncapping operation into our guest bathroom, and the extracting operation in the kitchen.

Lesson 1 – Honey Extracts Best When it is Warm

This explains why beekeepers extract their honey when its 90 degrees outside, and not when its 30 degrees outside. Warm soft wax slices easier and liquid honey comes out of the comb much easier.  Most people extract in their garages (too cold) or basements.  Our guest bathroom is small, so I added a space heater and left the room to warm for over 24 hours.  So much for extracting over the weekend…

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Lesson 2 – Keep a Wet Towel and Hot Water Handy

Everything gets sticky – the floor, the door knobs, the cats.  Keep a wet towel handy to clean your hands and wipe things down as needed.

The pitcher of hot water is for the capping knife. Store the knife in the water when its not being used to clean the honey off the knife and warm it up (unless you have an electric knife) to help cut through the wax easier.  Be sure to wipe the water off each time so you don’t get water in the honey.  You don’t want ANY excess moisture in your honey.  Although its not as big a deal when working with sugar syrup.  But start good habits early.  

Lesson 3 – Elevate the Uncapping Tank

I uncapped 16 frames.  Initially I was bending over.  Uncapping frames one after another is physical work. After 3 or 4 frames, my back got the hint and I elevated the tank so I could stand upright while uncapping.  Trust me on this.

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Lesson 4 – Uncapping Tools

Those uncapping knives are huge.  I used a Pampered Chef bread knife and it worked great.  For the small missed spots, I used an uncapping tool, and I also kept a fish knife handy for areas that were hard to reach with my larger knife.

Lesson 5 – Bottom Up vs. Top Down

Beekeepers always seem to uncap from the bottom up.  I’m not sure why, but for me, the cuts are thinner, cleaner and smoother.  Top down caused more butchering of the comb.  Comb is soft and delicate.  The bees will put it back together, but still, be careful not to mash the cells shut.

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Lesson 6 – Extracting Makes it All Worthwhile

Add frames and churn.  This is the fun part!  A good churn in one direction, then churn in the opposite direction, flip the frames and repeat.  Honey accumulates at the bottom and when it reaches a certain level, drain the tank.  I can tell you, the even though it wasn’t honey for us to eat, it was still tasty and unbelievably satisfying to see how much real honey our girls had produced.

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Lesson 7 – Filter the Honey

I had cleaned and sterilized gallon jugs ready to go. Be sure your containers are dry.  Again, no water in the honey.  Because this was going to the bees, I didn’t bother to filter and released the honey directly into the containers.  Truth is, I ended up filtering anyway before feeding.  So lesson learned, add one more step and filter the honey from the extractor through a filtering cloth and into the 5 gallon filtering bucket.  THEN filter it into containers.  The filtered honey won’t clog up your feeders, and you’ll have more wax to clean up for lotions and potions.

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Lesson 8 – Don’t Forget Your Wax

Cappings make the best quality wax.  Allow them to drain in the uncapping tank then put them in a plastic bag and in the fridge til you’re ready to clean it up.  Also, you’ll be amazed at how much honey has collected in the bottom of the uncapping tank after the wax cappings have drained.

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Final lessons learned….

  1. Mount the extractor onto a more solid surface so it doesn’t shake or wiggle while churning.
  2. Dedicated extracting equipment will make life easier – pitcher, knife, towels, containers, etc.
  3. No mite treatments when supers are on.  I didn’t think of my supers as supers, so it didn’t occur to me to remove them when treating for mites.  As a result, the sugar syrup and comb smell of thymol.  I’m told the smell will dissipate, but I don’t want my honey to have any taste of thymol, so I’ll either use fresh spring drawn comb in my supers this year, or new foundation.
  4. I will use 7 frames in my supers so the bees draw out thicker comb.  Thicker comb will be much easier to uncap because it will extend farther outside the frames.
  5. Another reason why beekeepers extract in the summer – the equipment can be left outside and the bees will be much more active and willing to clean it all up for you!
  6. Uncap and extract in the garage – this is not an indoor job.

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Feeding it Back to the Bees

To feed back to the bees for spring, I’ll just add water and mix well to achieve a 1:1 consistency.  For now, the syrup is going into quart size ziplock freezer bags.  I set a bag on the top frames of the hive, stick several times in the top using a sewing pin, and let the bees enjoy their nectar in hopes it will stimulate their spring activity.

Thanks for sticking with me through this post.  I know it’s a long one, but extracting is a process that’s worth documenting.  It’s a sticky job, but someone has to do it.  I personally cat wait to do it again with real honey!  

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6 thoughts on “Our First Taste of Honey

    • That’s actually good feedback Nolly. Hopefully you got the gist from the pictures, and yes, your conclusion is correct. Another giant leap in beekeeping!

  1. I have been beekeeping for 3 years now. A lot of lessons learned.

    I just am wondering of your choice to go to 7 frames. Is that 7 frames in a full size langstroth? or would that be for the smaller 8 frame box (I think there are 8 frame boxes out there). If there is too much space in between the frames they may make burr comb and not exactly thicker foundation. I am still new to this as well so take my comment with a grain of salt.

    • Thanks for your comment. I use 8-frame boxes. Removing one frame allows the frames to be spaced apart just enough to generate thicker comb but not allow too much space that they produce burr comb. There is a fine line between the two. As with all beekeeping, trial and error is often the best teacher. Give this method some research. Removing one frame is common practice in both 10 and 8-frame hives and supposedly makes harvesting much easier since the wider comb is easier to cut.

      • I was looking to see if you had mentioned whether you were going with the 8 frame boxes. I do the same with my 10 frame boxes.
        Happy beekeeping!
        wybo

        • All of my boxes are 8-frame. I don’t use any other sizes. They’re lighter weight and interchangeable, and they do a better job of drawing out the end frames. So far so good. Thanks again for posting. Enjoy your bees!

          Paula

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