Honey honey, how you thrill me

Honey bees and a beehive

Bees like honey. A surprising statement maybe, but that is why they make it. They have no intention of letting it go easily.

I also like honey, and I like bees. It feels wrong taking their hard earned honey from them, but I would only ever take their excess. They are little honey making machines and when the going is good, they will keep on working and keep on making far more than they need. Also, keeping bees is far from easy and getting all the equipment set up isn’t cheap, so I can talk myself into taking a bit of honey every now and then. I think. I had never done it until this year.

 Clearing board for a beehive

Clearing board for a beehive

Thankfully, other brave bee broncobusters have been before me and the path has been paved. A little bit. I was pretty worried about collecting the honey ‘super’ boxes – these are the boxes placed on top of the nest box. The queen is stopped from entering them and so they contain only honey and not eggs – because, although full of honey they are also inevitably full of rather angry bees. To my elation I discovered that some genius has invented a clever contraption called a clearing board, which does the crucial job of emptying the honey super of bees, at least the large majority of them. It’s like a 1-way valve for bees – they leave the super to be close to their queen (as the clearing board creates a barrier between her and them), but they can’t quite figure out how to get back in. Very good news for me!

With the honey super boxes now bee-free I grab them, put them on my trolley and run…….Not quite that dramatic actually, but I was definitely keen to get the honey into our ‘bee-proof’ honey room (known the rest of the year as the dining room) and somehow shake the small entourage of bees that I was bringing with me. This involved 3 people – 1 to pick up a frame of honey out of the box, 1 to carefully brush any remaining bees off the frame and fend off any additional bees and 1 person to quickly open the door, take the frame and shut the door without letting a cloud of bees into the house. As you can probably tell, it was a streamlined and efficient process.

 A frame full of honey

A frame full of honey

 Uncapping the cells

Uncapping the cells

We had set up the honey room by covering all surfaces with easy clean plastic table covers, setting up the uncapping station and the honey extractor in appropriate positions to allow operation at a good height and laying out a multitude of tools for any eventuality. Once the frames of honey were in the honey extraction room and all persistent, lingering bees had been convinced to take their leave, the process of extraction could begin. This was now a slightly more relaxing job as the threat of imminent bee attack had ended.

 Placing the frames in the extractor

Placing the frames in the extractor

The process was actually fairly simple and repetitive. I began by taking 1 frame and using a bread knife dipped in hot water to uncap the honey. This meant slowly and carefully slicing the top layer of wax off the frames to open the cells – the bees use wax to put a lid on each cell where they keep the honey, to store if for later use – on both sides of the frame. Once the honey was uncapped, I could place the frame into the honey extractor; a large plastic drum with a handle on the side that spins the contents quickly in order to use centrifugal force to fling the honey out of the cells. Then began the spinning. Lots and lots of spinning! Luckily we had many hands to help and the spinning process was shared, but what a lot of spinning. The extractor takes 2 frames (our frames are very big, it could possibly take 4 sensible sized frames) at a time and we had 14 frames. Not that many really, considering what our 2 hives could theoretically produce, but enough to keep us busy for a number of hours.

The most exciting part of the process came when the extractor had collected enough honey in the bottom to be ready to open the tap located towards the bottom of the drum. I placed a bucket under the tap with a double sieve on top (the only processing our honey sees, just to take out bits of wax and debris), took a deep breath and opened the tap. To see that glorious golden goo flow into the bucket filled me with pride and a great sense of achievement. As I’ve already mentioned, beekeeping is not easy and requires commitment and a dedication to learning about the bees and their wonderful, inspiring ways. To see (and taste…..wow!) the product of that hard work, a sure sign that my bees are healthy and thriving, makes it all seem very worthwhile and a fantastic addition to our smallholding life.

Take a look at the video we’ve made about the honey extraction process:

Our first honey harvest