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 the honey extraction! We extract honey 2-3 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. You can also watch the video tutorial here.
1. 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.
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. Pulling Frames
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 extraction point
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.
5. Brush Bees Off
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.
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.
The uncapped frames are placed 4 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.
The 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.
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.
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.