My Adventures Extracting Honey
by Donald Ray Burger

I have two hives, so I extract honey for fun, not money. In my experience it will take about four hours to extract two supers of honey, from the time you head to the hives until you have your honey in the honey bucket, ready for bottling. This does not include cleaning the equipment before starting and again when finished. That can add another hour or more to the process. However, all this time is pleasantly spent, and the rewards are sweet. So let's get started, and I will walk you through the extracting process as I do it.

First things first. We need to make sure we have all the equipment on hand. There are three main stages to harvesting your honey. The first stage is getting the supers from your hives into the honey house where the actual extracting will take place. The second step is the extraction process itself. I call the location where the extraction occurs the honey house. You certainly don't need a separate building. My honey house is my garage, with both cars backed out! The third stage is bottling the honey. You can do that in the honey house if you want. I usually bottle in the kitchen. There is no A/C in my garage.

So let's get started. Time to gather our equipment.

Stage One Equipment: Getting the Frames to the Honey House

_____ veil
_____ bee suit
_____ gloves
_____ smoker
_____ hive tool
_____ hammer
_____ Honey Robber fluid
_____ fume pad
_____ bee brush
_____ wheel barrow
_____ trash bags
_____ one empty hive body for each super of honey
_____ plywood sheet to cover empty hive bodies
_____ frame gripper

Stage Two Equipment: Extracting the Honey

_____ plastic sheet for floor
_____ stool to elevate uncapping tank
_____ uncapping tank with metal grid, wooden bar and honey gate
_____ electric knife and knife rest
_____ regular (no honey gate) five gallon plastic pail for collecting honey from uncapping tank
_____ extractor
_____ regular five gallon pail to hold extractor honey
_____ stainless steel double sieve
_____ damp rags to wipe hands
_____ handiwipes to wipe hands
_____ newspapers to cover honey drips
_____ kitchen spatula to scrap honey from sides of extractor

Stage Three Equipment: Bottling the Honey

_____ sufficient containers to bottle your honey. Get 50% more than you think you need.

Stage One: Hives to Honey Room

The first thing we have to do is get the supers off the hives and into the honey room. Our goals are to get the frames to the honey room without riling the bees and without filling the honey room with bees.

A medium super full of honey can weigh thirty to forty pounds. We'll use a wheel barrow to bring the frames from the hive to the honey room. Easier on the back. So get out the wheel barrow and line the bottom and sides with thirty gallon plastic trash bags to catch the inevitable dripping honey. Light your smoker and suit up. Gather your hive tool, hammer, bee brush, fume board, Honey Robber, an empty hive body for each super and a sheet of plywood to cover the top of the empty hive bodies. Put everything in the wheel barrow and head for the hives.

At the bee yard lightly smoke the bees and remove the hive top. Take the hive tool and loosen the super from the main hive bodies. The bees will have glued everything together with propolis, so use the hammer to drive the hive tool between the honey super and the main hive body. The goal is to loosen the super. Don't remove it yet. Just loosen it. Use the hammer as gently as possible. Banging on the hive is not appreciated by most bees.

Next, use the hive tool to loosen every frame in the super so you can quickly pull them out when we get to that step.

Next, take the fume board and turn it so the fume pad is up. Set it on the ground. Carefully open the Honey Robber and pour a tiny amount into the lid of the Honey Robber bottle. Use the lid to sprinkle drops on the fume board. Try to keep the Honey Robber off your clothes--it really stinks. The smell is what drives the bees down into the hive and off the honey supers. I use Honey Robber instead of Bee Go because Honey Robber is alleged to have an odor "not quite as bad" as the odor of Bee Go. Nonetheless, it stinks. The bees think so too. Set the sprinkled fume board on the super and in a "very short while" the bees will vacate the frames of the super. Don't leave the fume board on too long or the bees will leave the hive itself. Our goal is to just get them off the honey frames. It usually takes thirty to sixty seconds to work.

Next we put the empty medium supers to work. Have a super in the wheel barrow. The super should be in full contact with the bottom of the wheel barrow. If not, you'll need another piece of plywood to act as a bottom. We want the hive bodies sealed off from the bees. As you remove a frame from the hive, brush off any lingering bees and place the frame in the hive body in the wheel barrow. Use the plywood as a top to keep the bees out. Repeat until all the frames are sitting in the medium supers in the wheel barrow, with the plywood lid in place. Repeat as necessary of each super of honey.

When you have finished removing the frames of honey take the medium hive body off the hive and replace the top. Don't forget to take the fume board away from the bee yard. Believe me, you will want to leave it someplace outside, away from the hive and your nose, at least overnight. If rain threatens, leave it with the felt side down.

Push the wheel barrow with your frames of honey to the honey room and get out of that hot bee suit. Be sure and keep the door of the honey room closed unless you want winged visitors during extraction. We're finished with stage one.

Stage Two: Extracting the Honey

I use my garage to harvest my honey. I back out the cars and sweep the floors before I go get the honey from the hive. I also spread a drop cloth on the floor to catch the inevitable honey drips. Position the uncapping tank near the extractor to minimize honey drips when transferring frames from tank to extractor. Have a damp wash cloth on hand for wiping your hands. Handiwipes are also nice. Also, have a supply of newspapers on hand. That way, when honey drips on the drop cloth, you can just drop newspapers on top of the drip. Otherwise, you will track that honey everywhere.

Move the wheelbarrow next to the uncapping tank. Plug in the uncapping knife. Make sure the metal grid is in place in the bottom of the uncapping tank and make sure the wooden cross bar is firmly attached, with the point of the center nail facing up.

Take a frame and place it on the cross bar nail so the frame can pivot without falling off. I like to run the uncapping knife down the frame. You can see what you are doing, and avoid the risk of cutting your fingers when the knife slips if uncapping in an upward direction.

Go slowly. Let the heat do the work. If there is an area of the frame where the knife can't reach, use the cappings scratcher to pierce the wax caps as necessary. Be gentle with the scratcher. The goal is to pierce the wax cap, while leaving the wax cells in good condition for reuse by the bees.

When you have uncapped both sides of a frame, place it in the extractor. Most inexpensive extractors handle three frames at a time. So uncap two more frames and place them in the extractor. It doesn't matter which side of the frame is facing out or which end is up. Just get them in there. There is usually a groove on the bottom of the frame holder. Make sure the frames are properly in place. We are now ready to extract our honey.

I like to extract with the extractor's honey gate closed. Some folks like it to be open. When I extract the extractor seems to wobble around while I crank it, and I think an open honey gate would result in a trail of honey as the extractor moves away from the pail. I say leave the gate closed and open it after extracting all the frames from one super. If you wait too long the honey will rise high enough to prevent the extractor from spinning. If this happens, just open the honey gate and pour some honey into the honey pail (through the double strainer).

There is a technique to extracting honey with a tangential extractor. You load up three frames in the extractor and crank gently for thirty to sixty seconds. The goal is to extract part, but not all, of the honey from one side of the frames. You then lift out each of the three frames and reverse each of them. Then extract at a fast speed for one to two minutes and stop. Again lift and reverse the frames (back to the first side) and finish extracting the first side. This allows you to get the honey without tearing the frames or wax cells apart. The theory is that if all the honey is removed from the first side, the uneven weight during the second step will harm the frames or wax cells. That's the theory anyway. I must say that although I follow these steps, I am not convinced that one cannot extract everything without using the first step. If you spent the extra money for a radial extractor, you can extract both sides of the frames in one step, without reversing.

When you are ready to empty the honey from the extractor you place a regular five gallon pail (no honey gate) beneath the extractor's honey gate. Put the double strainer on top of the pail and open the honey gate. (Note: if the legs of the extractor are too short to put a pail with double strainer under the honey gate, raise the extractor by putting bricks or short wooden blocks under the legs to gain the necessary height. Be sure and remove the bricks or blocks before you continue with the extracting or the extractor will wobble off them.

Take a soft kitchen spatula and run it down the extractor sides to force all the honey out of the extractor.

We are almost finished with the extracting stage. We have a bucket of double strained honey from the extractor and a bucket ready to catch the honey in the cappings from the uncapping tank.

The honey in the uncapping tank will take a while to pool up because of all the wax. Let's come back for it in a while.

I recommend you go to the kitchen now. Have more newspapers handy to put under the buckets. A sticky kitchen floor could result in a sticky situation with your better half. Set up your honey bucket (the one with the honey gate) and place the bucket strainer (a bottomless five gallon bucket with grate on bottom and nylon bag for a last filter) on top of the honey bucket. Make sure you have removed the lid from the honey bucket!! Use a rubber gasket to hold the nylon bag in place. Place the double strainer on top of the bottomless bucket and pour the honey from the extractor pail into the double strainer/nylon bag filter. You will collect clean honey in the honey bucket. That honey will have been strained several times.

You can now use the pail from the extractor to get the honey from the uncapping tank or use a separate pail. Just go back to the garage (I mean honey room) and put the pail under the uncapping tank and open that honey gate.

When all that honey is drained, go back to the kitchen and pour that honey through the double strainer/nylon sieve and into the honey bucket.

Put a lid on the honey bucket and let it settle for a day or two so the air bubbles can work their way to the top.

I use soap and hot water to clean most of the equipment, but I put the extractor, frames and wax cappings and uncapping tank outside for the bees to clean up before a final cleaning. That's it for stage two.

Stage Three: Bottling the Honey

Even new honey jars and plastic bottles may have dust from the manufacturing process. Be sure to rinse them. Then, make sure they are completely dry. We don't want water in our honey. Or soap. So don't use soap. Just water. Let them dry overnight, upside down.

Raise the honey bucket to a convenient height. I like a counter top. Put newspapers below the honey gate. Get your bottles ready and open the honey gate. Lift and fill. Continue until all the honey is gone. It is obvious, but remember that honey flows better at warmer temperatures. So keep the room on the warm side for this process.

After filling we need to add labels. Making your labels is a story for another day, but don't avoid this important step. It's your honey. Proudly label it.

That's it. Hope this article helps you extract your first batch of honey, and many more.

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