Last weekend we embarked on the sticky adventure of harvesting honey from our bee hives. Here in Montana, our season is short so when we first got our bees this spring we weren’t sure if we’d even have enough honey to harvest this fall. Luckily we are blessed to live in an area where there are a couple hundred acres of alfalfa growing and our bees loved it! Our bees produced enough honey this year that we were able to leave them 100lbs of honey in the beehives to eat through the long cold winter and harvest some for ourselves.
Since this was our first year, it was quite the learning experience for us! We bought a bee escape (like this one) and put it in the inner cover about a week before we planned to harvest honey (around here everyone usually harvests their fall honey in the first few weeks of September). This thing is a one way device so when the bees travel down into the box below they cannot come back up to the box where the honey filled frames are. This is supposed to make it easier to remove the honey filled frames. It didn’t work perfect, but it helped. There were still some bees in the upper super but not as many as the week before.
To remove the rest of the bees, my husband used one of these brushes and brushed them off. He had the four wheeler and cart with him and had a large plastic tub with a tight fitting lid. As he brushed the bees off the honey filled frames, he put the frames in the plastic tub and put the lid on. Once he had all the frames from the upper super, he drove the four wheeler back to the shop and took the frames inside. There were a few angry bees that followed but they left after a little while.
To extract the honey from the frames, we bought an extractor. We did a bunch of research and ultimately settled on this one (you can find it here). We liked this one since it was stainless steel and not super expensive (we bought it on sale). The only downside is this extractor does not have a built in filter. We bought some 5 gallon food grade buckets and a 600 micron strainer (like this one) that fits down in the top of a 5 gallon bucket. This thing worked amazing!
We used a honey rake (like this one) to scrape the beeswax caps off the honeycomb. We also tried using a heat gun. The heat gun method quickly melted the beeswax caps off the honeycomb but once the frames were in the extractor some of the beeswax solidified and we ended up having to scrape some of these frames anyway. Ultimately we ended up just using the honey rake and this worked the best.
Once the beeswax caps were scraped off the honeycomb, we put them two at a time in the extractor. Our extractor has a hand crank on the side and Little A just loved being able to help by cranking the handle! It was so fun to watch through the clear top of the extractor as honey was flung out of the frames by centrifical force. The honey pooled in the bottom of the extractor while we worked our way through all the frames.
We had a few frames where there was some brood in the middle of the frames and the outer edges were filled with honey. We were quite surprised when bees started hatching out from the middle of the frames while we were extracting honey! These bees ended up gorging themselves on honey inside the extractor and then got so honey covered they died. Thank goodness we have a really good strainer!!
Once we finished extracting honey from all the frames, we took the extractor into our kitchen. We sat the extractor on the edge of the counter with the bottom honey gate facing out. We put a stool underneath, sat a food grade five gallon bucket on top of the stool and put the strainer in the bucket. Then my husband opened the honey gate. It was so exciting to see all that homegrown golden honey pour out! At one point when my husband and I had our backs turned, Little A walked up with a little cup and stuck it under the spout to scoop herself a whole cupful of honey! Needless to say our little three year old was a sticky mess (she even had honey in her hair!)
The honey was filled with bits of beeswax and a few dead bees.The filter did an amazing job filtering it all out. Once all the honey was out of the extractor, we put a lid on the bucket with the strainer still intact and let it sit until the next morning. This allowed all the last bits of honey to drain out. Since there was mostly just beeswax left in the filter, we bagged it up. When we have more time, we’ll be rendering our own beeswax from it (here’s our tutorial if you missed it!)
Once the honey was strained into the 5 gallon bucket, we put some into small glass jars to be given as gifts. We also put some honey in glass quart size canning jars since it is easier for us to use those in the kitchen than a five gallon bucket.
My husband loaded up all the frames and the extractor in the four wheeler cart. He drove it out to the beehives, unhitched the cart and let the bees feast on the leftovers. The bees did a pretty amazing job cleaning the honey out of the extractor! The frames we will use again next year.
We weighed our five gallon bucket of honey and were thrilled to discover we had harvested 27 pounds of honey!! Considering we didn’t expect to harvest any this year, that is pretty amazing. We know some other first year beekeepers who weren’t able to harvest anything so we are especailly grateful. Interestingly all this honey came from just one of our hives. Throughout the last few months, my husband noticed that one of our two beehives always seemed to be stronger than the other one. The one we didn’t harvest any honey from had about 100 pounds of honey in it for the bees to eat this winter. Now we’re just hoping both our sets of bees make it through the winter!