We’ve been harvesting honey on the farm right now. My father has kept bees since long before I was born and as long as I can remember, once a year, I have been helping him harvest the sweet, gooey honey and deal with processing it.
Bee keeping is not impossible, but it is also not for the faint of heart. You can put a lot into caring for your bees and either end up with a good crop of honey or end up with almost no honey at all. This year, we had a hive with about 50lbs of honey decide that they didn’t like the spot where their hive was any more, and three days before we were going to harvest, the bees moved and took all of the honey they had in that hive with them.
I’ve found that people don’t have much understanding any more about how much goes into raising and harvesting honey. Honey really is an amazing treasure. I asked my dad to write down what he does to harvest the honey once we’ve raised it. So, here are the steps to harvesting honey as written by my father:
Wait until at least 80% of the honey in the comb is capped. If you don’t, moisture level will be too high.
Remove frames with honey from the hive, knocking, shaking and brushing the bees off of the comb.
Take the comb into a building, away from any bees.
Decap the honeycomb. Most beekeepers use a decapping knife. We have an electric decapping knife. But we learned in Mexico, just to use a fork. A fork works well!
Spin the uncapped frames of honeycomb in an extractor (centrifuge). One first spins them lightly on one side, then lightly on the other side. After this the speed of the extractor’s spin can be increased without fear of breaking the wax comb.
The honey settles to the bottom of the extractor, where it can be drained off into a bucket with a valve at the bottom.
The honey is allowed to settle and debris will generally float to the top. Sometimes the honey is put through a fine strainer before being bottled.
Honey, harvested at the right humidity level, will last for years and years with no extra attention. Edible honey has been found in Egypt’s pyramids, being several thousand years old. Only exposure to moisture will really shorten the life of honey. “
What Dad means by decapping the honey comb is that the honey is sealed inside the comb by wax at the opening of the comb. If you scrape that wax off, and spin the comb in an extractor, the honey will flow out.
I’ll talk more in future posts on what it takes to raise bees to get to the point that you can harvest your honey.