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Let's face it. Most of us keep bees in order to gather the honey! It's a blast. Very few things excite me as much as seeing honey flow out of my extractor. It has such a wonderful smell and color. All the hard work, stings and expenses all seem worth it when the honey starts flowing.
I realize that some keep bees for reasons other than the honey. But for those of us who must harvest honey, I want to share the details of how to do it. I'll give a quick outline, then I'll elaborate on each topic in more detail.
In our Basic Classes we offering we go into detail about harvesting honey. Visit our classes now.
1). Make sure it is capped (ripe). 2). Harvest for individual types of honey. 3). How to rob honey from your hive and live to tell about it. 4). What to do with combs full of honey. 5). Various harvesting methods. 6). How much should honey be filtered? 7). Should honey be heated? 8). A clean honey room and processing procedure. 9). Getting rid of air bubbles. 10). Bottling honey.
Before I continue, let me to encourage you to get your bees through the winter. You love the honey, right. Don't let your bees die. Order our ebook on Getting Your Bees Through The Winter from Amazon by clicking on the image below. The honey harvest lesson continues after the image. Thanks!
MAKE SURE IT IS CAPPED (RIPE) Honey bees ripen nectar by removing the moisture and when the moisture level is to their satisfaction, they seal it off with wax, like putting a lid on a jar. This prevents the honey from drawing any additional moisture.
You must be patient and wait for the bees to cap the honey comb before you remove it. If you remove the super of honey prior to it being sealed your moisture level in the honey will be too high and could cause the honey to ferment which will cause your customers to complain and want their money back. So do not remove the honey combs until all frames are completely capped.
Here's a picture of one of my sons using a hot knife to cut off the cappings. We sell these for around $100. Notice what the sealed area looks like. The capped area is white because the newly made wax is a bright color at first. As it ages through the years it becomes darker.
You can click on all photos for a full size image.If you pull out the frames prior to the caps being completely sealed, you can leave the frames in a room with a dehumidifier for a day or two and it will draw out moisture. HARVEST FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF HONEY Honey from specific flowers does have a different taste. I would not begin to describe the difference but believe me it is different. Here's how to harvest specific honey. Essentially you must remove your honey supers after that particular flower stops giving nectar, and place new supers on before the bees change to a different source. This way, the honey will not be mixed from different sources. Of course, some mixing may happen, but you'll get more of the type that had the largest nectar flow.
HOW DO YOU ROB HONEY FROM THE HIVE AND LIVE TO TELL ABOUT IT? Bees aren't going to freely hand over their honey to you. You have to figure out some way to remove the stored honey from the hive by first removing the bees from the honey supers.
What works best is to remove the bees from the honey super so that you can carry the entire super full of frames of honey to your honey room. There are several common practices: Leaf blower or an official bee blower, a fume product such as Fischer's Bee Quick, a bee escape or a feather. Though there are many other methods, these are the common practices.
A blower works well and many beekeepers do use leaf blowers to blow the bees out from between the frames of a super. I've found that bees are agitated by the engine on a leaf blower. They feel the vibration of the engine and it bothers them. So I do not use the blower method. Others use a fume product which is a chemical that the bees do not like. To use it, you pour some of the liquid fume on a fume board and place it on top of the super you want to remove. The bees run out of the super to get away from the bad smell and the super is empty within 5 minutes of bees. Many love this easy method. I'm skeptical of the product being absorbed into the wax or honey and having an overall effect on the hive. However, many people use this with no signs of ill effect.
Another method has been common for many, many years. It is a method that I started out using. Simply pick up each full frame of honey and either shake or brush the bees off. This works pretty good, however, bees do not like to be brushed off and I always get stung alot whenever I use a brush. Old time beekeepers used a large feather and many still do. They brush off the bees with a feather.
Finally, many people use a bee escape. The bee escape is a plastic device invented by Mr. Porter in 1891 and commonly referred to as the porter escape. It fits into the oval shaped hole in the inner cover, and then the inner cover is placed below the super you want to empty. As the bees depart the super through the escape, they can get out, but they cannot get back in. This works real well for me most of the time but not always. We do sell a lot of these.
What I have found works great for me is a modification of the leaf blower. I blow my bees gently out of the super with compressed air.
We are able to drive our truck near the hives, and in the back of the truck are two important items. A generator and a 15 gallon air compressor. The air compressor is powered by the gas generator. We then stand a honey super on edge and with the air compressor we gently spray off all the bees toward the front of their hive. They simply fly back into their hive. Since we have a long air hose, the noise of the generator and air compressor are kept a considerable distance away. The bees just think it's a windy day. Then, we place the bee free honey supers in the truck and drive them back to our honey room.
Some beekeepers take off too much and the bees starve in the winter. If you find you took too much off and your bees need fed in the winter, purchase our winter feeding system known as a Winter-Bee-Kind. What our video:
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU FILTER YOUR HONEY? Once in the honey room, the individual frames are loaded into our automatic cowen uncapper which uncaps the sealed combs. But, most beekeepers with smaller operations use what is called a hot knife. We sell these and they work great at slicing off the caps on each cell so that the honey can be extracted. Some people who do not wish to pay $100 for the knife simply scratch open the comb with a kitchen fork.
Once the comb is uncapped, now the honey must be extracted. In the simplest way, a frame can be left upside down to drip out overnight. It would need to be a warm room, at least 80 degrees. Then the comb would have to be reversed and the same done to the other side. If you cannot afford to purchase an extractor, this may be your best option. You can squeeze or crush out the honey from the comb, but this destroys precious drawn comb that you could reuse and it mixes in too much wax with the honey.
Once uncapped, we then, placed the frames into our 33 frame extractor which spins at a high rate of speed, slinging the honey out of the comb. You can purchase a very simple plastic extractor for just over $100 but a more common extractor is a stainless steel hand crank 2 frame extractor for just over $300. This is our best seller. If you can afford a little more, then a 4 frame extractor does 4 frames at a time. It runs just under $400.
Once the honey is slung out it collects in the bottom of your extractor which has a value on the bottom. At this point, you can bottle it, although you'll have pieces of wax, bee legs and wings and other things that came off your frames. So most beekeepers filter their honey.
We are against heating honey. Honey does not need to be heated or pasteurized. It is a pure and natural product and the only food that never spoils. Heating honey destroys precious elements within honey. It does not need refrigerated and can be kept at room temperature forever without spoiling.
We filter our honey through micron filters, usually a 600 or 400 micron filter. We sell a lot of these filters that fit down over a 5 gallon bucket. These filters are $10 and can be washed and reused over and over again. The honey flows very fast through these filters and important elements of the honey are allowed to stay within the honey but foreign particles are filtered out.
We like our honey to be free of air bubbles. So we allow our honey to sit after it has been filtered. It sits for at least one week. Then we bottle it. We have a 500 gallon settling tank which allows all air bubbles to float up to the top. Then we drain from the pure honey at the bottom of the tank. You can do the same in a 5 gallon bucket with a valve on the bottom which we sell too.
Most honey will become hard, known as crystallizing. This is normal and does not mean the honey is bad. It means it simply crystallized. This can be remedied simply by leaving a jar in warm water for a while.
A CLEAN HONEY ROOM Keep a clean honey room. One drop of honey on the floor soon gets tracked all over the place. It is a messy job, but fortunately honey cleans up very nicely with water. So, after you are finished harvesting your honey, clean all your equipment up.
When processing honey, since it is a natural product and all you are doing is bottling it, there are very little guidelines. If you giving away your honey or selling it, here are some common practices you should follow.
Wear a hairnet, clean clothes and keep your hands clean and properly wash all equipment including bottles. If you are selling honey, your processing room should not be in your house. The room should be kept very clean, lights covered and walls and floors washable.
If you are just keeping the honey for yourself, you should still practice cleanliness and you can use your own kitchen.
BOTTLING HONEY Bottles are expensive. We use a combination of glass and plastic bottles. Many of our customers enjoy the small well known teddy bear bottles. Bottles must be cleaned well and dry, free of any foreign objects and dust. Most of our bottles come with lids that have the safety seal within the lid. So once we secure the lid, the safety seal is activated and the customer is the only one who breaks that seal.
A common bottle for us to sell is the quart jar. Most of our customers buy the one quart size and the traditional canning jar with canning lid is very cost effective. Some customers return their jar when finished.
There you go! I hope this lesson has been helpful and I hope within the next few weeks, you'll be harvesting the spring honey crop!
We'd like to thank all of our fantastic customers for how nice and encouraging you have been to the Burns family here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms! We love receiving your photos and video of your hive operation. And why not consider starting your own blog too! It's really simply and free at http://www.blogspot.com/
For all your honey harvesting needs, such as filters, extractors, buckets, and supers give us a call. 217-427-2678!!