Friday, 23 July 2010

The First Real Honey Harvest

Friday 23rd July
With the increasing quantity of honey being stored in the hives, it is obvious that a proper extractor has become the only sensible way of harvesting it properly. I ordered one two weeks ago and it finally arrived today (amazingly fast really, considering that this must be by far the busiest time of year for such equipment). Not wanting to hang about any longer we decided to get on with the job straight away.
There will easily be two full supers available - just Beatrix's colony alone has almost three on it. Not having placed a clearer-board on previously (they usually take about 24hrs to work), I just planned to manually brush the bees from each frame and remove them that way - it takes much longer but with docile bees like these ones it isn't an unpleasant job!
I picked out the frames one by one, with a spare empty super standing in the trolley next to me.
I brushed every bee off back into the hive then quickly placed it in the empty super - this had a sheet under it and another one on top, to prevent the flying bees from getting back in again.
It took about an hour altogether, but I wasn't rushing and the bees were very calm. I removed one full super of honey from each of these two hives.
Not wanting to bring any bees back indoors I stopped again a few yards away, once all the flying bees had stopped following me, and checked each frame again for any stray ones. There were a couple which had managed to sneak back in there, but they soon went back home when I brushed them off again.
Having taken them inside (and firmly closed all the doors and windows!) we started uncapping. Rather than using an uncapping knife we used a hot-air gun. This may not be the traditional way of doing it, but it is so much faster - you just gently blow the heat towards the frame from a distance and the wax cappings just melt away to the side of each cell.
It was surprising how dark most of the honey is - all year long it has looked very pale, like on the outside of this frame, but the honey in the centre is clearly far darker from a different source of nectar.
Most of the frames were full of completely dark honey, like this one.
With four frames uncapped on both sides they stand in the extracting machine. Once they are positioned, the lid is replaced and the handle is cranked round. The centrifugal force spins the honey from the frames and it flows down the sides to the bottom of the drum.
It soon started to flow out into the strainer. This double-strainer has two meshes - a coarse one on top (1.5mm) to filter out any large pieces of wax, pollen, etc. then a fine mesh underneath (0.5mm) to make the honey as clear as possible. The honey flowed directly into the storage bucket underneath, which also has a valve at the bottom for decanting straight into jars afterwards.
Before long the much darker honey was starting to come through and it was all flowing smoothly.
Extracting four frames at a time, then replacing the empty ones back into the super, it took quite a while but was good fun - I'm not sure I'd be enjoying it with much more than this to cope with though!
The last few scrapes came out of the drum once the cage mechanism was removed - everything dismantles very easily, making cleaning out with hot water not too difficult. Apparently these last few washings from the bottom can be saved to make mead, but I'm not even considering that for the time being, so it went down the plug hole instead.
Once everything else was cleared away, the storage bucket was lifted up onto a higher work surface, then we could pour the filtered honey directly into the prepared jars. It was easy to cut off the flow using the valve as it reached the 'fill line'.
There were a total of 46 1lb jars of honey, plus the last quarter pound draining into another jar - a bonus for us to keep and sample immediately!
It's a much deeper colour than our previous experimental batch, but still just as runny.
I quickly labelled a few jars up ready to take to the shop tomorrow - it's taken more than 3 years to get to this point but we now finally have real honey for sale!