Extracting Honey

Extracting Honey

In Gippsland this can take place, depending on the season from around December – April. Also varies from East to West Gippsland.

When deciding how much honey to harvest, you need to leave ample stores in the hive to over winter and have some in reserve in case next spring has a bad stretch of weather. Leaving enough honey for the bees will save you a lot of possible problems including losing your bees.

Check your hives to see the extent of capped honey that is ready for removal and extraction. If you are a hobbyist you will probably have a small extractor or access to a 2, 3, or 4 frame extractor. Make sure you have equal numbers of frames with capped honey in your hives to make it worth extracting. Example, if you have a 3 frame extractor do you have 6, 9, 12 etc. frames of capped honey ready to extract?

Remove frames from your hive that have at least 85% sealed honey (ripened). This honey is ready for extraction and will keep.

If you have a 3 frame extractor, remove frames from your hive bearing in mind that each set of 3 frames need to be of similar weight so that the extractor spins smoothly. The same goes for other sized extractors.

Sealed/ capped/ ripened honey

Clearing Boards advantages

Some of you may use clearing boards that are added under the honey supers 24 hours beforehand. Bees can get out but not back in again so that you can collect your honey supers more easily.

Clearing Boards Disadvantages

There are downsides to this such as an extra trip to the hives to install the clearer boards. While no bees are looking after the honey, beetles can cause a problem. Some examples of bee escapes work better than others so the supers are not completely free of bees.

Equipment can be bought, borrowed or hired and all equipment must be spotlessly clean:

  • Uncapping Knife: Plain, electric or Gas or an uncapping machine
  • Capping scratcher
  • Container for the cappings
  • Extractor 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12 frame extractors, or very large commercial ones.
  • Sterile Jars, plastic containers for the honey.

You can get as sophisticated as you like, or keep it as simple as you like.

If you don’t have an uncapping plastic container as in the image, then uncap the frame at the end of a bench top with a bucket standing on the ground for the cappings to fall in to. Slice downwards where possible.

The frame sits on a bar over the bin. As the hot electric knife removes the cappings they drop into the plastic container.

If you have a non-powered uncapping knife, have a tray (that the knife can sit in) of hot water over a small gas flame keeping the water hot so that you can continually put the knife into the hot water to uncap otherwise it won’t do the job. Or use an old Fry pan big enough for the knife to sit in.

  1. Slice off the wax cappings with a hot electric knife (or similar tool) into a bucket with a sieve/strainer.

    The honey goes through into the bucket and the strainer catches the wax cappings Picture attached ‘Cappings in sieve. Honey in bucket’

    Use a capping scratcher or kitchen fork to scratch awkward cells that the knife missed. Once you have uncapped the number of frames that fit into your extractor, insert frames of similar weight into the extractor all facing the same way.
  2. Spin hard in one direction and all the honey will spin out, then spin in the opposite direction until the honey has stopped coming out. Watch Extractor speed to avoid damaging beeswax foundation and comb.
  3. Turn the frames around so that the honey facing the inside is now facing the outside and repeat spinning one way first and then the other.
    The honey should hit the walls of the extractor and slide down to the bottom.
  4. The frames should now feel light and empty. These are called ‘stickies’. Put them back into the hive as soon as possible (same day or the next day) for the bees to clean them up and start re using them.
    Fill up your jars or containers straight from the extractor and leave to settle in the containers. Any bits of wax etc. will come to the top and can be skimmed off before putting the lid on.
  5. You may prefer to strain the honey before putting into containers. It will most likely need to strain overnight.
    Continue until all frames have been extracted. If it becomes hard to spin, it could be that the honey in the bottom of the extractor needs emptying into containers.
  6. Clean all equipment thoroughly with hot water and store or return.

Cappings placed in a pot of warm water to separate honey and leave you with clean wax. Throw the water away. If one of your hives is carrying a disease, feeding it back to your bees may spread it to other clean hives.

What to do with the capping?

If you have used a cappings container that has a mesh sieve, then the honey will run through and leave the wax behind.

The wax will still have a little honey mixed with it. If your cappings have gone into a bucket then you may want to sieve it to get the honey out.

Add the cappings to a large pot of warm water where the honey will melt and the wax will be clean. Discard the water.

Safety: Be careful and don’t allow the water to boil or the melted wax floating on the water could overflow and contact the heat source; wax being flammable could cause a fire.

Allow to cool slowly and the wax will solidify on the top of the water. When cold it can be lifted from the top and impurities can be scraped off the bottom.

Some people have made mead (honey wine) from the wash water. If you plan to do this, find a good formula for mead. Mead and other honey recipes are available in Ann Cliff’s book The Bee Book.

Small amounts of wax can be put into a solar wax melter. It is a box in which a tray of wax is put.

The box is then covered with a pane of glass and placed in the sun. Often the interior of the box is painted black to absorb heat. Place on a small incline so the wax will melt and flow to the bottom part of the pan into a container. Queen excluders can also be put in to melt the wax from them.