Today I learned a bit more about the world of beekeeping – honey extraction – which is a driving force behind the efforts of many beekeepers. Most beekeepers sell their honey and also make the beeswax into products which they sell as well. As I said in the previous post, Jurgen pulled honey supers from many of his hives last week. He took home a total of 15 honey supers, each of which had ten frames of honey combs inside, most of which were fully loaded with capped honey. So far, I have not read a whole lot about the honey extraction business so lots of what I learned today was new.
Jurgen has learned some of his honey extraction methods by getting key information from the beekeepers who are most successful at this stage of the game. He said that some of this information was not easy to come by and so although I was all ears today as he was giving out information, I will keep my report of his methods generalized here so that the success of his honey production is a bit private.
So, after pulling the supers several days ago, he kept them in a space where he was able to regulate the conditions of the air so as to have the optimal density or viscosity before extracting his honey. When they were ready to extract, he and Helen set up stations at their house today to proceed with the honey extraction.
First the frames of honey comb need to have the thin wax covering removed. We do this with a tool that resembles a hair pick but they make these specific to this task. Like all things, you can buy a variety of tools for this purpose and they had two that did a nice job of it and one that did an even better job. I’m always attracted to the more ergonomic tools and will plan to buy carefully when it comes time for me to purchase this item for myself. Here is one of their daughters working with one of the tools on a frame of honeycomb. After the bees fill the combs with honey, they cap it with a thin layer of wax to keep it ready for their dining purposes later in the season. Beekeepers make sure that they encourage the bees to make much more honey than they will need in the future by giving them the necessary space to make the honey. We even make it easier for them by providing some empty combs when we have it available so that all they have to do is fill the combs with honey rather than build the combs first. The comb un-capping tool has narrowly spaced, sharp, picks that slide in a thin fashion under the wax cap and we pull that wax away leaving the combs of honey exposed. The tines of the picks are angled so that you don’t dig into the existing comb and damage it since it is valuable for future use by your bees. The wax that is pulled away is virgin wax and prized by beekeepers for things other than just candles since it is pure enough to make cosmetics, creams and other skin care items not unlike those sold by Burt’s Bees. Here is the tool as it is used to pick away the wax. It is a very tedious, sticky job to do! You can see the excess wax is scraped into the tray below and it has an additional tray below that filtering any excess honey out of the scraped wax.
After the frames have been freed of their wax cappings, they go into the extractor machine. This is a nice one that holds six frames and it extracts the honey from both sides of the combs. Apparently, some extractors are designed in such a way that they only do one side at a time. This is an electric machine but you can imagine that much of this work was done by hand cranking in the past. After the machine whirls the frames around inside, the honey drops to the bottom and come out a spigot into a strainer before it goes into a bucket that holds the honey. This whole process today was exciting to watch and reminds me of the people in Vermont and other northern territories who harvest maple syrup. It is a time consuming process that has many more hours in effort in it than many people are willing to put into procuring wonderful, pure and fresh foods to eat today. Jurgen and Helen work very hard to make their honey and they have pre-sold this entire batch to Kirkwood Farmer’s Market. They will also sell the honey they extract in July to individuals if it isn’t also snapped up by the farmers’ market! Keep in mind, 9 fl. oz. of honey weighs one pound. I don’t want to quote their pricing here, but let me know if you want some since they should be flush with more honey soon!
It was very, very interesting to get to partake of this part of beekeeping today. I was covered with a stickiness that made me want to lick my fingers, hands and arms today after working at their extraction party from 10:30am until about 3pm. We sampled the honey from a sanitary, individual spoon and it was truly the best I’ve ever tasted! They were not nearly done with the extraction when I left to attend to lots of other things at the farm. Jurgen will now take the empty honey comb supers and put them back on the hives. The bees will be delighted to get a chance to clean them up and start re-filling them for the July extraction!