It’s time to harvest honey from the hives. We had two hives making honey for us this year. Bees store honey in the top of their space. We use this tendency to our advantage and put hive boxes full of short honey frames on top of the hive. You can see the shorter boxes on top of the larger “brood” boxes in many of the pictures of hives on our website. Each box can hold up to 30 lb of honey. We had almost three boxes full of honey (28 frames) to extract.
Yesterday I went into the hives and pulled off the top honey supers. I took them apart, frame by frame, shaking and brushing the bees off and back into their hives. For some reason, they were jealously guarding their golden hoard.
Once inside, each frame had to be decapped, that is, the wax cap the bees added to ripe honey had to be removed. Honey starts out with a high water content. Bees in the hive beat their wings and use the hive’s warm temperature to dehydrate the honey down to about 18–19 percent humidity. Once that dry, mold or other bacteria cannot grow in the concentrated sweetness and bees cap the comb with wax. We remove it by scratching across the top with a fork or cutting the caps off with a knife.
Once decapped, the frames are put into a honey extractor, which is basically a centrifuge. These can be bought, but I built mine out of a food-safe plastic drum and a wooden frame. It works surprisingly well.
Bees build their comb with a slight incline: each cell slopes down from the mouth to the base. Thus they are placed in the extractor with the top towards the outside so the honey can flow up and out with the assistance of the cells’ slope.
Here is a quick video of the extractor running last night:
In all, we ended up with about 72 lb of honey. After straining it to remove the wax caps and other bits that naturally find their way into honey, we put it in food-safe plastic drums.
Just to be sure that the honey had a low moisture content (and avoid spoilage), we put the extracted six gallons into the shower with a sealed top and a dehumidifier set on “high” and “constant run,” which will bring the humidity level down below 10 percent, at which point water will evaporate out of the honey. It will be conditioned this way for about two days. It may be overkill, but I don’t want to risk losing an entire crop.
If you’d like to see a video of the entire process, check out this one that I filmed last year.
Honey will be for sale at the institute soon.
Thanks to L. Hamvas for the photos and video of this year’s harvest.