Beekeeping 101 – Honey Processing

Today was the near culmination activity that every beekeeper looks forward too, the removal of the honey from the hive.

Bee 01

Last evening near sundown, I donned the beekeeper uniform and ventured out like a black bear to take mt share of honey from our hive.  Having never done this before, I liberally used smoke to placate the bees.  I worked through the smoke to find each and every frame that had capped honey comb.

Bee 02

Each of the 30-plus frames had a combination of honey comb, brood baby bees or uncapped nectar, which was in the curing process to thicken, become honey and eventually capped over the bee wax.  I left all of the brood and nectar behind, removing each frame that was dominated by finished, capped honey (bee barf).

Bee 03

I gently swept the bees from the frames and set them aside in clean buckets and took them into the house overnight.  I re-stacked the hive and as it was getting dark, the aggravated bees began to settle down for the evening.

Bee 04

This morning I drove over to Jim Chaisson’s home just up the street from where I live.  He is my bee mentor, and another Bee Club member, Ned met us at Jim’s house too.  Jim had the complete processing set-up in his garage, some equipment, which was borrowed from the Howard County bee Club.  Ned holds one of his frames that we all wished each frame would imitate, a hefty and fully capped frame of honey.

Bee 05

While watching and taking photos of Jim removing frames from his hives, I got stung twice on each thumb, and with a total of four stings on the day.  I think that each of us took a few hits today.  I pulled the stingers out with tweezers, and in this photo, you can see how the female honeybee will loose its abdomen as it tears from her rear-end, and which will cause the bee to die in defense of the hive and honey.  Even now that it is evening, and I’m working on this e-mail, my thumbs are still swollen.  Occupational hazard.

Bee 06

The honey frames will go into a small, stainless steel washing machine, hand-cranked type device that is an autoclave or centrifuge.  These types of spinning devices have been used since the 1860’s and have not changed all that much.  Now its time to uncap the honey comb.  This is done with a uncapping knife, a modified iron that heats-up to slice and melt the wax, like a hot knife through butter.

Bee 07

For any stubborn areas, we then use a capping scratcher that looks like an afro-pick to open the honey comb, so that the centrifugal force can spin the honey out of the comb.

Bee 08

Now the frames go into the extractor tub and is hand-cranked for several minutes on each side of the frames.  The honey flails to the inside walls of the stainless steel tub and then flows out into the screened bucket.

Bee 09

The first pass of the screen gets out larger clumps of wax, bees, wings and other small solids.  Once collected, we transfer the honey into 1-gallon jugs to take home.

Now that I have my share of the honey at home, I will screen it one more time until I get a clear, finished product.  I purchased 1-pound honey jars and made custom labels for my “Burchick’s Best.”  I plan on entering three jars in the Howard County Fair for judging, as a first-year beekeeper.

Bee 010

My honey was thick, viscous medium color.  Jim’s was more cream-like and a touch thinner.  Ned’s was a light color and thinner than mine.  The location and food source greatly determine color and viscosity, as each of our hives and their bees have different foraging patterns and varied sources of flowering plant nectar.

Bee 011

Jim had his hives mounted onto a weight scale and I reviewed his MS Excel spreadsheet of his monitoring efforts.  We all bought and installed our bees to their respective hives on April 3, 2009.  Honey production began in earnest around May 17, 2009 and peaked to 90-pounds of created honey weight on June 17, a one-month period!

Based on the many years of gained knowledge from the Howard County Bee Club, the honey-run lasts about 40-days, running from late April through late June, about a two-month period.  Come July, the phenological cycle of flowering plants falls-off dramatically.  At that time the bees then perform subsistence foraging and the honey is capped and/or utilized as needed, especially valuable come the non-growing, leaf-off winter months.  After stealing the honey from the hard working bees, it then becomes time to provide each hive with a half mix of sugar and water, creating a syrup feed source as needed.

Thank you mentor Jim, and thank you to Ned, Mark and Betsy too.  I wish that I could have generated enough honey to give and mail out to all of our family and friends.  Maybe next year?  Now let’s see if I can Jim a run for his money at this year’s Howard County Fair!