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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Post #51 Harvesting Honey

I don’t really remember which books or other resources I used to help me with my bee keeping in the 1980’s.  But I do recall giving some thought as to how I was going to harvest the honey the bees made.

Harvesting honey can be a messy job.  You pull a frame of comb out of the hive, and it can be filled with baby bees (brood), or it can be filled with honey.  If it is a brood comb, you leave it in the hive so the brood will develop fully and keep your hive going.  If it is filled with honey, and the honey has been capped, then you can either leave it for the bees, or you can steal it from the bees for yourself.

Once you steal the honeycomb, you have to figure out a way to get the honey out of the comb.  The ideal way to get your honey out of the comb is to use a honey extractor.  This involves using a special knife to cut off the caps, thus opening the comb.  You’ll need some kind of a tub to catch the caps you cut off and to collect the bit of honey that comes out with the wax caps.

You place the opened frame inside the extractor.  The extractor is usually a large bucket with a basket to hold the frame.  The basket is situated such that it has a central axis, around which the frames can be spun.  There may be room for two frames, four, six, and so on.  The idea is that the basket needs to be balanced, so that it doesn’t go crashing into the side of the bucket when spun.  Once you place your open frames in the extractor, you spin the basket, and the honey is pulled out of the comb by centrifugal force.

The bucket should have a spigot at the bottom so you can pour the honey out easily.  There will be a lot of debris mixed in with the honey, so you can’t just pour the honey directly into a bottle.  Instead, you pour the honey through one or two filters into another bucket.  Allow the air bubbles to rise to the top, and then pour your honey into bottles.

After all of this, you can put your “wet” comb back into the hive for reuse by your bees.  But you still have some wax that needs to be taken care of.  You have the cappings as well as any other comb that may have broken off during the extraction process. 

More equipment is needed for the wax.  A double boiler should help melt the wax without burning it, and more filters to get the debris out of the melted wax when you pour it into whatever containers you have at hand.

Whew!  That was a lot of equipment to buy.  I didn’t have the kind of free cash to make those purchases, nor did I have a place to store all of that equipment.  And, it all sounded like a lot of work to me. 

Aren’t bees supposed to be fun?

I came across something called a Solar Wax Melter in my readings.  Somewhere in there, my head re-imagined this term as Solar Wax Extractor.  I found a simple, inexpensive solution to honey harvesting.

A solar wax extractor was something I could build.  It was basically a box with a plexiglass lid!  I followed somebody’s plans and used plywood that was probably left over from some other project.  The box had legs on one end, to give it a slant.  I painted the box white on the inside, black on the outside to maximize the sun’s ability to heat my wax.

What I lacked was a tray to put the frames on, and another tray to catch the melted wax and honey.

I used my connection through my father-in-law to get the sheet metal trays built.  I just had to hope the friend who constructed these understood that a lead solder shouldn’t be used.  I never asked.

Now, I just needed a good filter to keep all of the debris from spoiling my honey.

Speaking of my honey, she was teaching at the local high school at the time.  This was back in the 80’s and 90’s, and teachers were expected to wear dresses and … pantyhose!

I found my filters!

I’d wait for Wife to get a run in a pair of hose (I didn’t cause any to happen, honest), and then claim the hose as mine. 

Yes, the hose were always laundered before use.

I could stick one frame of honeycomb in each leg, then set both frames in my Solar Wax Melter (“Extractor” in my mind).  Within a couple of hours, the wax had melted and drained into the receiving tray.  I’d lift out the tray of honey with fresh yellow wax on top. 

The empty frames would be returned to the bees so they could produce more comb and honey.

The hose made their way to the trash.

The honey made its way into bottles.

The wax made its way into some other container.  I never really did figure out what to do with the wax.

It was 25 years before I learned that this wasn’t the proper way to harvest honey.  We had turned raw honey into cooked honey.

I can say that the honey was still sweet and good.