Friday, September 04, 2009

Honey Extraction

Finally, pictures from last weekend. Before we begin the tale, let me first tell you a bit about beekeeping and honey extraction.

As you already know, bees gather pollen and nectar from plants and store it in their hive. The bees use their 'honey stomachs' to transport the nectar back to their hive. Once back home, they deposit the nectar into beeswax comb. The bees then ingest and regurgitate the nectar several times to create honey. Following the final regurgitation, the bees will fan their wings across the comb, creating a draft and evaporating the water content within the honey. This raises the sugar levels and prevents fermentation.

So that's how honey is created. The bees rely on stores of honey during droughts (we saw evidence of this this summer) and in winter months. We left the two large boxes (the deeps) in place so our bees have access to their winter honey supply. The shallow supers, however, we harvested.

First up, a quick note about equipment. Honey extraction is fairly equipment intensive, unfortunately. Beekeepers need an extractor, strainers, fume boards, a heated knife and containers for storing honey. It gets expensive quickly. Or, you can acquaint yourself with lovely beekeeping folks out there that are kind enough to lend you their equipment. Many thanks to
Daniel and the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association for sharing both gear and information. Step one in honey extraction: Identify which boxes you're going to take. In our case, we're taking everything except the two blue boxes on the bottom. While this looks like a lot of potential honey, we discovered that our bee ladies had eaten a fair amount of their stored reserves up top and the hive weren't as full as we were anticipating.

Step two requires the placement of a fume board, a piece of equipment that is sprayed with a substance that bees find distasteful, called Bee Quick. They get one whiff of the stuff and it sends 'em scrambling down into the lower levels of this hive, leaving the shallow supers virtually free of bees. You can see the fume board on the very top of the hive.
Fellow beekeeper and friend Susan came over to assist with the extraction process. Here we are (Susan - left, Sonja - right) checking individual supers. Many of the super were empty or inadequately filled and we did not include these in the extraction process.

More checking of frames...

Naturally, our bee ladies were fairly riled up over the loss of their honey stores...It was fairly chaotic.
We even attracted a crowd. Clearly this was the most exciting thing happening in the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon.
Once the bees were driven from the frames, we placed them in plastic bags to prevent robbing and carried them into the house.
Fancy piece of equipment #1: The honey extractor. Basically it's a jumbo-sized centrifuge. Place the frames in the barrel, give it a spin, and out flows the honey!
Dad likes the extractor. It has lots of nifty gears.
Fancy piece of equipment #2: The heated knife. Bees place a thin cap of wax over honey that has been properly created. Before extracting the honey in the centrifuge, we used the heated knife to carefully remove this wax layer.
Frames, waiting to be decapped.
We also placed a very fine-meshed strainer over our honey bucket. Small bits of wax and pollen will be removed before the honey enters the bucket.
Here is a good example of a frame filled with honey, prior to the cap removal. Good pattern, girls!
Susan, getting ready to wield the hot knife.
The uncapping process. Yum, look at the beautiful honey!
Open the floodgates! Let 'er rip!
Hmm, not much ripping in the above picture. This is more like it:
Oh, good color!
And that, my friends, is the tale of honey extraction.