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Honey Extraction

The Richmond Beekeeper’s Association had their meeting last night, focusing on supering your bee hives and extracting the honey that your bees build out. An experienced beekeeper named Bob gave most of the presentation, however Kenny from ERBA also contributed. It was a very good discussion, although I almost passed out due to allergies or something. I honestly do not know what the heck was going on with me. I played 11 holes of golf prior to the meeting and thought I was coming down with the plague. Fortunately, I seemed to have lived through last night and feel ok this morning (I took an allergy pill last night.) The older I get, the more my body acts up on me.

At any rate, I forced myself to take a few notes for future reference. There was a general discussion of equipment, starting with the Honey Extractor (I had hoped that there would be a discussion of ‘How to Harvest Honey without an Extractor‘, as I am not in the mood to make that investment right now.) The primary tidbits that I picked up on the Extractor were to always purchase Stainless Steel and it doesn’t take long to need more then a 2 Frame Extractor.

The talk then went on to Capping Knife. Bob was an advocate of an electric knife that could be operated (tuned on/off) with a foot petal. Issues apparently arise when you use one of these things as they can burn the honey when they get too hot. Bob dealt with this via a foot pedal, which he would use judiciously (only turning it on for brief periods while working, instead of keeping it on all of the time.) As to this, Kenny advised he never used the knife and just used the scratcher (or some thing that looks like one of those metal combs that kids put in their back pockets.)

Regardless of the tools, the first step in the process is to get the Honey Super on your hive. In the Richmond, Virginia area, you want to make sure that you have at least one honey super on your hives by April 15 (although some of the folks claimed April 1 was the day this year, due to the unseasonably warm weather this year.) The primary flow, as mentioned in a previous post, starts in early May.

Once the bees have filled the super up with honey (you want to have a frame that is mostly capped), you remove it from the hive (probably replacing it with another super). I have definitely written on this blog about possibly leaving the supers on until the Fall. Folks at the Richmond Beekeeper’s meeting were not in favor of this for two reasons. One, you want to extract honey when it is hot. July and August are perfect. Honey runs/drips well in this temperature. Two, if we have a dearth (or maybe they were saying that anytime this can happen), the bees will start to eat into their stores, removing the honey from the supers. This second problem is a bit of a mystery. If you take their food that they would have otherwise eaten, won’t they go hungry? I guess those people just feed the bees sugar syrup for the rest of the Summer/Fall. At any rate, if you subscribe to this view, you want to get those  supers off by the end of June (when the nectar flow in the Richmond, Va area will be over.)

When you go to get the honey supers, it is important to get the bees out of the supers. Bob mentioned things like ‘Bee Off’ or ‘Bee Away’ or something like that. Basically, these items smell so badly that the bees leave the honey. Heh. I am pretty sure you will not catch me using something like that. Fortunately, Kenny mentioned that he just smokes the padoodle out of his honey supers (sending most bees back into the main hive), then he shakes his frames (shaking the bees back into main hive) and uses a brush for the last few still there. Someone mentioned a blower, which I may investigate down the road (in that distant future when I actually get  some harvested honey…)

Once the bees are out of the Super, you need to store it somewhere while you finish working the bees or getting other supers. The key is to have a top and bottom that are bee tight. Otherwise, a bunch of bees will run over and steal the honey out of your super while it is on the truck.

Now that you have your honey, you return to the honey extracting setup and go to work. The first thing is to decap the honey (using the electric knife or hippie comb) over a plastic tub which can catch the stray honey and cappings. Once all of the caps are off, place the frame into the extractor and give her a whirl. The honey will drip out and flow into a bucket (that you need to have setup with a double strainer (rough, then fine). This is the Stage 1 honey. Folks like Kenny (and probably like me, once I get some honey to try) will let this honey sit for a day or two before pouring it into bottles. This lets the last of the wax and bee particles float to the top. But, Bob actually strains it one last time, through a terry cloth or something. This really pulls out all of the tidbits.

Once you are done bottling, you want to clean up very well. Otherwise, according to the folks at the meeting, you will have a Small Hive Beetle paradise and a real mess the next time you extract.

That pretty much sums up the notes on Honey Extraction. The final tidbit that I picked up (by picked up, I mean noted to consider later, as I do not know very much about bees – not even enough to accurately judge the information (usually conflicting!) that I hear from various beekeepers around the area and on the net!), was that a lot of those beekeepers use an ‘Illinois Super’ (this is what I call a honey super) and a Deep for their hives. Basically, I would have already filled that up on both of my hives (I use two Deep’s.) I am a bit leary of this approach, as I think that Tom advised two Deep’s. I might try this setup on one of my new Nuc’s and watch it over the next few years.

4 comments to Honey Extraction

  • Doug Ladd

    I think i will use a capping knife as well, the money for the electric knife plus the burning issue i dont like.

    Regarding your deep and a medium (Ill super) statment versus double deep. This is what i do: Focus on 3 mediums or 2 deeps for THEM and everything else is for me. Last year i had 2 hives in double deeps, 2 hives in a deep and one medium, and 2 hives in a single deep. All over wintered fine and actually for some reason the ones in 2 deeps never moved up… But i did feed pollen, mega bee patties, dry sugar, and evetually sugar water on hive top feeders starting ealry at the end of Jan. This may have helped but they only touched the pollen even the single deep hives.

    So in all, try whatever, i plan on double deeps or 3 mediums (actually more than 2 deeps), and if winter comes with less so be it unmless they are far too weak to make then i combine.

    Try it for yourself this year. I think its dependent on the winter we have, to warm and they stay too active and could starve. Too cold is not an issue since we dont have prolonged times, and the colder it is the tighter the cluster and the more effcient they become. Check out Dennis Murrells site on ventilation etc…

  • That’s a good point about the severity of the Winter. I think I will experiment like you are doing to see how things work. I can tell you one thing, I nearly broke my back lifting the top Deep on the Geronimo hive today. That thing must way a hundred pounds. The weight isn’t the real issue, its the way you have to pick it up with your back instead of your knees. You would have laughed if you had seen my adventures today. Well, maybe you would have cried. Either way, it was one for the story books.

  • Doug Ladd

    Experimentation is the only way to go, i have disproven for myself many “common” practices.

    A full deep will weight 100lbs, a full medium about 60 and a shallow about 50 or so.

    This is why i am converting to all mediums amongst other reason’s like all the same size frames…

  • Bob Gibson is a great guy, and has an excellent extractor setup. He usually only charges his services in caps – he keeps the white capps and some honey off your supers – at least that’s what he’s been kind enough to do for me.

    I used to use bee-gone, but it smells like vomit and my wife banned it from the premises. Now, I smoke them, but not too heavily as it seems to affect the taste of the cut comb honey. Then, I use an electric blower. I set it on the side, blow, move 10 feet, wait 10 seconds, and blow again. That gets 90%. This year, I’m going to build some triangular bee escapes that use old DVD disks. Those apparently work really well. The bee escapes that use the inner cover are awful. Invariably, a bee will get stuck in it, then all of them are backed up in the super.

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