A Sweet Harvest

Yesterday was an exciting day as we harvested the first honey of 2013. I had done a quick inspection a couple of weeks ago and knew there was honey ready. But it took until yesterday to find a day that worked for harvesting. There are several factors I considered.

frames of honeycomb ready for extraction

frames of honeycomb ready for processing

For one thing, you generally want to harvest on a warm sunny day if possible. That means many of the bees will be out foraging, and there’s less workers to deal with in the hive. I would never harvest on a cloudy or rainy day, when the bees are cranky and it’s standing room only in the hive because it’s not good flying weather! We’ve had quite a few rainy days lately, so that has made us postpone the harvest a couple of times.

frame of capped honey

frame of capped honey

I also needed to find a day when both my wife and I had a free afternoon, and I had the energy to suit up in my veil and bee jacket and go down to the hive. It was about 92°F yesterday when I was working the hive, and by the time I was done I was drenched with sweat and my face was as red as a beet. I say that not to complain, but just to tell it like it is. Working with bees is frequently hard and heavy work, and that was the main reason I quit beekeeping the first time I was into it. Now that I’m retired, I have more time to devote to this hobby, but it still requires time and effort to say the least.

crushing honeycomb

crushing honeycomb

crushed comb

crushed comb

But it is an operation with a sweet payoff. Once the frames of honey are out of the hive, I bring them inside the house – preferably leaving any bees outside! We use the ‘crush and strain’ method to separate the honey from the honeycomb. First we cut the comb out of the wooden frame, then crush the comb with a wooden masher (from a food mill). And last we put the crushed comb and honey into a plastic strainer where it strains out into a 5 gallon bucket that has a gate in the bottom to let the honey out.

straining the honey after crushing

straining the honey after crushing

After the honey has strained, we will save the beeswax to melt in our solar wax melter. It then finds its way into lotions, salves and lip balms we make for our own use. When we have a bit more collected we may pour some for candles, which would also be a nice use for it. My wife made the melter, and she has a tutorial on how to make one called How To: Solar Beeswax Melter. We don’t put beeswax into our soaps, since we’re not convinced it does anything positive for the soap, other than to add hardness. On the other hand, some of the honey does find our way into our soaps, like our Peppermint Honey Oatmeal Soap.

beeswax is left after honey strains out

beeswax is left after honey strains out

The bees were surprisingly calm yesterday, which made the harvester (me) happy! Even though I was protected by the jacket, veil and gloves, it is no fun when the bees are unhappy and buzzing all around you. There is a good flow of clover nectar right about now (our yard is covered in it), and I’m sure the bees will be making honey with it as long as it is blooming. I will probably go back in a couple of weeks to see if more honey is ready for harvest.

2013 first honey

2013 first honey

I hope you have enjoyed this update on our first 2013 honey harvest, and how we go about processing it. I’ll be back soon with more happenings from here at Happy Acres!

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9 Responses to A Sweet Harvest

  1. Mimzy says:

    So you crush all the drawn out comb- that really has to slow down your bees honey production. They have to build up all that wax again- will they have time for one more harvest before you put them to bed for the winter?

    Would your beeswax be as nice if you extracted only honey the first harvest and the second time crush the comb to save the wax? Or would the wax be too old and dark?

    I totally understand wanting to have the wax for other uses. I love the smell of the wax. I scrape out a little bit of burr comb at inspections and roll it into a ball and just smell it.

    My bees are doing great this year- you can see pictures looking at my Facebook page that Lynda has access to.

    • Dave says:

      The bees do have to draw out comb every time, which does cut into honey production. But we have plenty of honey as it is, and with this method we get lots of nice light colored, freshly made wax. So it’s a tradeoff – less honey, more wax, and a nice quiet and gentle extraction by hand.

      As for more harvests, there were probably 4 or 5 more frames that were 50% complete. so I am thinking those will be ready in a couple of weeks. After that, it depends on the weather and what’s blooming.

      • Mimzy says:

        I don’t really care all that much about getting a lot of honey either- Since I’m still learning I didn’t know if having to do all the rebuilding of the wax, wears the bees out- Oh, they do love to work! Hence the “Busy as a Bee” reference.

        And by cutting out the comb you can put a chunk in your honey jars and it’s looks all so “homespun”

  2. Daphne says:

    The honey looks lovely. I don’t use a lot of honey, but the few bottles I do use come from the farmers market. I’ve always wished someone close by kept bees and liked to trade.

  3. Jenny says:

    Love it! wish we could have beehive here but it’s a residential area and they don’t allow it as it’s considered dangerous for neighbors for some reason 🙁

  4. elizabeth says:

    I had a question about Tatume squash, how do you grow it? I usually grow it up netting on a trellis. I only grow it for summer squash, as our season is not long enough for winter squash. I have an extra plant I want to grow this year, but no room. Do you think I could train/prune a Tatume plant up a stake?

    • Dave says:

      I let my Tatume climb up fencing. I am not sure if it would climb up a stake or not. I would think you could tie it to the stake.

      • elizabeth says:

        In a couple months, I’ll let you know how the stake method worked.
        Honey harvesting is quite a job! Love seeing how its done, since it makes me appreciate honey even more! I’ve never made soap, I might have to try your Peppermint Honey Oatmeal soap.

  5. Beautiful honey. Beekeeping is one of those things that I think “I should do that” but then it just seems a bit overwhelming to me to get started, so I never do…

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