In 2014, my husband and I entered the wonderful world of beekeeping. We are able to catch wild swarms, ensure the health of the hives, watch the bees work, and have our garden pollinated by thousands of bees who live about 20 feet away. The best part of beekeeping, though, is when we have the opportunity to extract honey from our hives!
We extract honey 1-2 times per year right now with the 4 hives that we have. Each time we extract, we collect between 2-5 gallons of honey depending on how many supers we pull from. I want to walk you through the steps that we take to put this liquid gold on our table and on the tables of our neighbors.
Equipment Needed to Extract Honey
- Frame Puller
- Hive Tool
- Bee Brush
- Capping Knife
- Bin or Bucket for Caps
- Honey Extractor – If you have a local beekeeping association, they might have one that members can borrow.
- Honey Bucket
When to Extract Honey
You need to extract honey from your hives when it is warm outside and when the bees have already been able to store up a sufficient amount of honey for themselves. You will also need to be sure that each frame is at least 80% capped. Bees cap the cells of honey when the moisture in the honey is at the proper levels. Harvesting too early can cause your honey (technically still nectar at this point) can ferment in the jars. If you are planning to make honey wine (mead), then fermentation is what you want… If you are trying to extract honey to eat or to sell, then you need to wait for the honey to ripen in the frame.
We usually extract honey in May (if there is extra honey available at this point) and in September. If you only harvest once per year, I suggest doing it in September and skipping the May harvest.
How Often Should You Extract Honey
I suggest only extracting honey 1-2 times per year. You don’t want to rob your bees of all of their honey stores because they will starve.
There are many people who believe that beekeepers take honey that the bees desperately need, but that isn’t true. Honeybees are hoarders so as long as you give them extra space (supers on top of their regular supply box) then they will continue to hoard honey. We ONLY take honey from the extra supers that have been added to the hive to ensure that the bees stay happy and healthy all year long. Also, if we leave all of the extra honey in the hive over the winter it will be unused and become crystallized.
How To Extract Honey From Your Hives
1. Wear Proper Protection.
Always, always, always wear a protective bee suit with a hood when going into a hive. Some beekeepers get cocky with this and then they get stung. My husband wears a full jump suit with gloves and an attached mesh hood.
2. Smoke the Bees.
Smoking is a practice that we use for protection and to help keep the bees calm. We put grass, twigs, or paper into the canister of the smoker, light it, and press some of the smoke onto the hives as we open them. It doesn’t hurt the bees, but it keeps them calm long enough to pull the frames out without causing them to swarm.
3. Pull Frames Carefully.
Pulling the frames out of the hives can be either really simple or really tricky. This time we had one hive that was simple- just pry the frames apart gently with the hive tool and lift them out with the frame holder- but we had another hive that was a little more complicated. The bees had built comb between the frames so the wax would break into chunks each time we pulled a new frame.
4. Transport from Hive to the Extractor.
You have to move the honey pretty far away from the hives before you can extract or the bees will come after it. We put some of our frames into the box the we use in the capping process. The rest went into our kids’ little red wagon. We then moved the frames up to our garage because we can close the doors to keep the bees out so we can extract honey in peace.
5. Brush the Bees Off the Frames.
My husband, still in his full suit, stays right outside of the garage door with the frames that still have bees on them. I go into the garage and wait for him to brush the bees off of each frame and slide them through the door to me. I then put the bee-less frames full of honey into some empty super boxes until we have all of them brushed.
6. Remove Wax Caps.
When the bees have filled a comb full of honey and it has reached the right moisture level they will place wax caps over the hexagonal openings to keep the honey from spilling out. We use a capping knife over the box that I mentioned earlier to cut the caps off so that we can access the honey. These caps can be rendered later for beeswax.
See how we extract honey in this video!
7. Spin the Frames.
This is the most time-consuming step when we extract honey. My husband & I usually turn this into a “date night” activity. We play darts or she other game while the honey spins. The uncapped frames are placed four at a time into the extractor. We place the lid on and spin until the outermost side of each frame has been emptied. We then flip the frames and spin until the other side is empty. This is repeated until all of the frames are emptied.
8. Filter the Honey.
The extracted honey collects in the bottom of the extractor and runs out of the spout at the bottom into a food grade bucket with a mesh filter. The honey will run through this filter to remove any bees and wax that were still on the frame during extraction.
9. Jar the Finished Product.
After the honey has run through the filter we break out the Mason Jars to fill. We keep filling until we run out of honey.
What is Chunk or Comb Honey?
Since several of our frames had wax built in between them the comb broke into chunks and could not be placed into the extractor. Instead of wasting this precious liquid, we decided to try our hand at chunk honey.
Chunk honey is basically a chunk of honey-filled comb surrounded by more honey. Packaging this way keeps all of the propolis, pollen, and everything else that the bees put into the honey because the comb has not been uncapped, filtered, or altered by us at all. It is the most natural form of honey available. The comb is also said to be one of the best cures for allergies and asthma!
To eat it, you can use a kitchen knife to cap and let the honey drain out, but many people love to eat a chunk of the comb whole or spread it on toast. There are many different ways to utilize chunk honey to fit your palate preference.