Honey Harvest Disaster – Avoid These Errors
My very first honey harvest I did almost everything wrong.
I entered the spring of my second season as a beekeeper having kept two out of two hives alive through winter. Though I lost a few swarms (kept a few too), I had a decent chance to go into the flow with a couple of strong hives. I was diligent about watching the hives, but I was cautious about too many disruptions to the growing colonies, eager to avoid setting them back as they were preparing for that most fascinating of activities – making honey.
At the end of the flow, I was ready to harvest. I cleared the bees from the supers using a one-way escape insert that fits into the inner cover. I had ready a capping station, draining tub, filter, and mason jars for honey storage.
At first, I put the supers & equipment in the living room. My process was as follows:
- Pick up a frame, hold it with the nail on the capping tub, and cut off the wax capping with a cold frame knife. Switch sides, repeat.
- Then let the frame sit, upside down, in the frame capping tub, to let the honey flow into the lower chamber, where it could gather.
- With enough honey in the lower chamber, I’d open the valve & let the honey flow into the filtering buckets.
- From the bottom of the buckets, I’d open the valve & jar the honey.
Seems easy enough, right?
Wax On, Wax Off
In my inexperience, I missed a big factor: the ambient temperature in the house. You see, at 72 degrees F, honey doesn’t flow very well, and the viscosity of the honey seems a bit too strong for gravity’s pull.
I left a few frames uncapped, upside down in the uncapping tub overnight, expecting them to be fully drained by the morning. They weren’t. The honey was stuck, sitting upside down, in perfect hexagonal cells.
I quickly figured out that low temperature was the culprit. Ok, I thought, it’s hot outside. 90 + degrees. That should do it. But I’m not a complete idiot, so I realized that I would need to seal up all access to the honey so that every bee within a two-mile radius didn’t show up & rob me blind. So I set to sealing up the uncapping tubs, with plastic sheeting & boxing tape.
It didn’t work. Bees found a way in. Each time they did, I would seal up the tubs more, until they were covered in sheeting and tape -which created a new problem.
You see, earlier, I lied. I am a complete idiot. Because I didn’t consider the impacts of plastic sheeting, the August sun, and wax.
The good news was that the honey did become liquid enough to flow quickly out of the frames (I had about 24 frames in at this point). But beeswax has a low melting temperature, and all my honey was now mixed with melted wax.
Of course, at the time, my frames were wooden, with wax foundation. The foundation melted, too, leaving me with wood & support wireframes.
I bottled the honey, which added a secondary challenge – getting the wax out of the honey. Fortunately, there was a (partially) easy solution to this. The wax floats. This means you can scoop it out of the honey, discard it (honestly, at this point, who would want to keep it), and keep the honey.
Don’t Be As Dumb As Me
There are some lessons in here, I think.
- Don’t harvest honey outside.
- For god’s sake, don’t put wax in the sun, unless you’re trying to melt it.
- If you’ve joined a bee club (you should), and they have an extractor, sign up early to use it.
- If you have a honey house, room, etc.., that you can heat (again, keep the photons away from your wax), the uncapping tub solution may work just fine.
- Or buy your own extractor. Honestly, the $400 or so for an extractor may be worth just to save the time & fights with your spouse.
It’s important to know, there are lots of ways of extracting honey, including:
- Use Ross Rounds and harvest that way.
- Cut the wax out & crush & drain.
- Uncap into a drainage tank & heat the room enough so gravity wins.
- Keep your bees in a flow hive (any success stories, readers?)
- Cut out the comb & drop it into plastic squares..
It’s entirely up to you. But if you want to leave the wax (minus capping) in place to minimize the energy the bees put into rebuilding the frames the following flow, thus increasing your potential harvest, you’ll probably want to cut the cappings & spin out the honey.
Are extractors worth it?
Of course, the answer is, it depends. Here are the factors I’ve heard people consider before taking the plunge.
- Do I have a dedicated space I can use to heat, that I can seal up tightly, and let the honey drain naturally?
- How many hives do I have, or do I really expect to have (note: not how many hives do you want. We know the answer is lots.)
- Does my local bee club have an extractor? How long will I have to wait before I can use it?
- Is there a mentor that will let me use his/her extractor? At what cost (it’s fairly common to give the mentor a portion of the honey & wax harvested)?
- Most importantly – can I afford it? Can I afford the time it would take to harvest any other way?
I don’t (yet) have an extractor of my own, but here’s the one I have my eye on.
I’ve spent a lot of time looking or DIY extractors. I love DIY projects, but none of the extractor plans I’ve found thus far look feasible.
Have you purchased an extractor? What did you go with & why? Do you have any DIY plans you’d be willing to share? Any honey harvest related disaster stories you want to tell?