Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sunday Reading Part II - The Gourd Strike Back and Harvesting Honey

Alright so technically a cucumber isn't a gourd I don't think but the point is that all my "gourd-like" plants that were not blooming are finally producing some babies. I have more baby watermelons, muskmelons, pumpkins and cucumbers now forming up than I can count. The bees are hitting those blooms hard now and It's gonna be pickle time soon!!!!

So today was a honey harvest day. I actually removed the frames on Thursday I think but once the honey is capped it can wait a little bit, it is for all intents and purposes bottled air tight once capped by the bees and at the proper moisture level to keep literally forever. I managed to get four frames out of Plymouth colony and five out of Jamestown which harvested out to about three gallons of honey.

It was a good day to cut the cappings and spin out the honey off the frames because it was pretty hot so the honey flowed nicely. I was sure moist from sweat by the time I got finished even if the honey wasn't.

First step is to cut the cappings in a capping tank, which is really just two big plastic tubs. The outside tub has a honey gate or spigot in it and the inner tank has no bottom but a grate almost like a BBQ grill in it.
You then cut the cappings off like the picture above with a hot knife thing called appropriately enough a de-capping knife.

Oh and this has to be done behind a closed door as well because the bees will smell all that honey and come to investigate.

You can buy electric knife like above that heats up and just melts through the cappings or use a simple non-electric one that you have to constantly re-heat in hot water. I use an electric one because I think it's better if you don't get any water mixed in with the honey. Water in honey is very bad. Of course in a grid down situation you would have to resort to a simple knife. Unless of course like me you have solar panels and a battery bank wired into your honey extraction shed with enough juice to run the knife....

Ya that was a bit of bragging I admit it :)

So the cut cappings fall unto the grill and the honey runs through the grill into the reservoir.

You then take the uncapped frame over and place it into your spin extractor cylinder-type-thingy.  

I stole the above picture because the one I took was way too dark. You can see their address on the pic so I hope they won't mind me using it, if they do I will remove the picture. Just email me if you want it removed.

Anyway the above picture has the same equipment I have which is why I used it. You can see the de-capping tank in the back and the big silver thing is the extractor. You put the frames in the extractor once they are de-capped and then once it is full (the one above takes three medium or large frames or six small ones) you then crank that handle around and spin the honey out with gravity.

Oh I forgot to mention sometimes the cappings are in the frame too far down to cut with the knife so you use what looks like a big hairpick with really pointy, sharp metal spikes to poke open those caps you cannot cut off.

Inside that big metal cylinder is a cage that holds the frame and the honey splashes out onto the inside and then flows down to the bottom where it comes out that yellow honey gate into the filter and then into the bucket.

Simple right? HEHE. Ya. The hotter the temp the better and easier this is. also that cylinder may look big but you can only spin out about six frames before the honey level gets up so high the frames won't spin properly because they drag through it on the bottom. Ever tried cranking frames of wood through a vat of honey? It's like pushing your mother in law through a pool of mud. Don't ask me how I know that either.

After you have spun one side you take the frames out and flip em over and spin out the other side. Then you put those uncapped and spun frames in a storage tub and take out the next set of three.

Once all the frames are spun out and the honey is running through the filter your done right? Wrong!!! As the extractor is draining and typically I have to turn the thing upside down to get all of it out you go back over to the de-capping tank and begin the job of squeezing the honey out of all that wax capping you cut off.

I go through about four pair of rubber gloves when I extract. It's kinda a weird feeling squeezing those cappings and letting the stuff oooz through your fingers into the bottom of the tank. Once finished hand squeezing I usually put the wax balls into a container and freeze em until I am ready to melt em down. Then you drain the honey out of the de-capping tank into the filter and bucket as well.

Your done.... HAHA... no where near it....

Now comes the clean up, and let me tell you... you want to get that done as soon as possible because the longer you leave it the more stuck on all those little bits get.

I usually put the knife, hairpick thingy and other stuff in a pan of hot water to soak while I allow the last remnants of honey to drain as long as possible. Having stuff around to prop up the tank and extractor in weird angles also helps. I then load up the tank and extractor and drive to the little car wash down the road and wash em out good. While I am taking the other stuff in to wash I let the tank and extractor drain completely tipped over into another big storage tub that I then set it out in front of the hives for the girls to rob.

One honey bee produces only about 1/4 tablespoon of honey in her life so even the residue honey is a big deal to them. However try and not let the honey you feed openly like that puddle up because the bees get covered in it int heir haste to steal it and they will die because they are too sticky to fly home.

Once the big bulky items are washed out I let em dry in the open air and go wash up the knife and other small items. By the time I am done with those it is time to take the filter off the bucket and wash that. Personally washing those strainer/filter things is the worst part. It is impossible to get all that stuff off one side and takes some scalding hot water and a long time to get clean.

I then put the lid tight on the bucket and let the honey sit for a couple of days before bottling so the air bubbles will float to the top.

With all that clean up you can see why people wait until they have a fair number of frames before harvesting. Also I forgot the first step which is unwrapping the tank and extractor from the sealed plastic bags I store them in and boiling a huge vat of water to wash em out first. Then allowing them to dry completely before starting the actual process, again so no moisture gets into the honey.

Needless to say it takes several hours to get the entire thing finished and then cleaned and put away again.

Allt he while this is going on the bees from the garden hives are coming by thinking "mmmmm that smells nice".

I can't blame em the smell of that hot knife going through the cappings and honey has become my favorite smell of all.

Keep prepping Everyone!!!


  1. Terrific instructions. makes me want to do it.

    1. They are fun and can be profitable but once you get up to about six hives or so they become a lot of work as well.

  2. That is a lot of work to get the sweet reward. Enjoy your honey.

  3. holy cow I got worn out just from reading about it.
    but now I know how honey is extracted. Thanks.

    Yes it would suck to leave the door open and all those bees fly out, I wonder if that has happend before?

    OMG! we got back from our trip, and I go out to my cucumber vines...I have like 25 nice, beautiful cucumbers ready to be picked..until I saw about 20 of them covered in holes from those blasted pickleworms. I have done two dustings with Sevin dust. so Hopefully this has eradicated them as all the new ones are hole free... Yes, though I was pissed..

    1. JuGM - No the bees fly in. They will come in by the 100's if they smell open honey and turn into flying dagger armed sharks as well.

      The big guys use these huge spin extractors that will take 50 frames at a time.

      I hope you kill them nasty worms. Pests suck!!!

  4. PP,

    It sounds like a lot of work but well worth all the work.

    There are several things my husband and I want to do once things calm down, and bee keeping is on the list.

    How long have you been keeping bees?

    I can tell by your post above you enjoy working with your bees.

    1. Sandy - I have been keeping bees since 08 I believe now. Last year's drought took a heavy toll on my bees and set me back almost two years in growth. I am trying to get upto 20 hives and then I am planning a pollination trailer perhaps that I can rent out. I would like to get to the point that I could fund a semi-retirement off them maybe or enough residual income to be worth while.

      Still a long ways to go there though.


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