Our First Honey Harvest

Although we’ve been keeping bees for almost two years now, we’ve never harvested honey.  I made the decision when we first got bees that I didn’t want to become the beekeeper who takes honey and then is forced to feed the bees to help them survive.  We fed a lot our first year because we got our first hive really late in the season and I didn’t want to repeat that process if we can avoid it.  I want the bees to become part of our lives and to live with as little involvement from us as possible.

So, I knew we wouldn’t have the opportunity to harvest unless the bees were doing really, really well and the timing was just right.  As it turns out, the stars aligned this weekend and not only is the hive at the house doing tremendously well (in spite of the recent queen debacle), but we also had just enough time on Saturday to harvest!  It’s early enough in the summer that the girls should have plenty of time to rebuild their stocks and we may even have the opportunity to take another frame or two later in June….we’ll see.  As this was a new process for us, we took a ton of pictures that I wanted to share.

Here’s the hive before we started.  The box that we planned to harvest from is the second one from the top (slightly different color than the others).

The Hive

Our first discovery upon opening the top was that we have a horrific ant problem.  We screen all our top covers, so the bees have been unable to come up and scare off the ants, and they’ve taken over.  We cleaned up the top cover, and Wayne trimmed down the Carolina Jasmine that’s beside the hive and appears to be giving the ants a clear path from the fence to the top of the hive.  We’ll likely need to trim it back again soon to prevent this from happening again.  The good news is that we so no evidence of them inside the hive.

Ants!

Once we got into the second box, we pulled out the frame closest to the edge.  As you can see below, it has been drawn out and they are filling it with honey, but nothing has been capped and it was fairly light still.

Frame of Honey

On the other hand, the next frame over was filled and beautifully capped!

Capped Honey

We also grabbed the frame right beside the one pictured above.  It was incredibly heavy!  Two frames seemed like a good enough start for our first go at this.

We played a game with the bee brush for a while.  I would knock off the bees, they would fly away, we’d go to put the frame in the bucket we brought along, and the bees would wander back….slightly frustrating.  We finally decided to take the bucket with a few bees in it a bit away from the hive to see if we could convince the girls to move on.  So, here’s what we had once we got up to the deck:

Bucket full of Honey

And here’s a picture of the second (really heavy) frame:

Frame of Honey

It should be noted that we don’t actually use full size frames or supers.  My back isn’t great to begin with, so we decided from the beginning to use 8 frame mediums instead of 10 frame deeps.  Much, much easier on me.

After battling the few remaining bees for the frames, we carried our bucket of loveliness inside where I had set up in advance for the honey harvest.  I had collected the tools a while ago based on the crush and strain video that Beekeeper Linda has on her site.   Everything I got was cheap – the container is a catering style pan from a flea market, the silicon mat, knife, potato masher, and spatula all came from HomeGoods.  We put a towel down on the counter to avoid stickiness everywhere.   I also had a bucket set up on the floor from Brushy Mountain that included three mesh strainers at the top and a honey gate at the bottom.  My guess is that I spent $50-60 in total on the equipment.  Not too bad when you compare is to the cost of a honey extractor!

Setup for Honey Processing

Belle Terre’s version of the Crush and Strain Honey process:

Step one: Remove the honey from the frames.  (Ignore Wayne’s incredibly dirty shirt….he had just planted 200+ beans at the land).

Cutting honey from the frames

Step Two: Hold the frames at the right angle so the cut honey falls into the pan.  Keep doing this until all the honey is in the pan.

Honey into Pan

As a side note: I was fascinated by the color difference between the two frames of honey.   The larger frame was incredibly dark and the smaller frame was much, much lighter.   I was trying to think what I’ve seen the bees visiting recently and all I can come up with on our property is the salvia and our lamb’s ear.  I’m not sure if one of those could have produced the dark honey?   That said, our bees spend quite a bit of time elsewhere, so there’s no telling what else they are favoring right now.

Honey in Pan

Step Three: Crush the comb in the pan

Crushed Comb

When this part of the process is done, you have something that resembles a thick honey soup.

Honey Soup

Step Four: Pour the honey soup into the top of the bucket that contains the filters.  The spatula from earlier and a second person comes in handy at this point.  The pan is still rather heavy and someone needs to direct the honey into the bucket (we didn’t want to loose a drop of it!).  Toward the end we used the spatula to scrape all the excess honey off the pan and into the bucket.

Pour Into Pail

Step Five: Let gravity push the honey through the filers and into the bottom of the pail for filtering.  The sun is a great help in this portion of the process.   We put a heavy metal dog on top of the bucket to keep our dogs from investigating.  We left the bucket out for an hour or so before bringing it back in to see what we could bottle.

Filtering the Honey

Step Six: Bottle!  The honey gate was amazingly easy to use and allowed us to increase/decrease the flow of honey.   I had purchased these cute honey jars ages ago and we finally put them to good use.   Notice the small bowl I put under the gate.  I would highly suggest it.  I found that it helped to catch the extra drips of honey and at once point caught a good bit when I had stepped away without properly tightening the gate (oops).

Bottling the Honey

We also had some small sample jars and poured quite a few of those as we have a long list of people with whom we would like to share our harvest.  Here was our first go.  We needed just enough honey to take to a party and to my parents, so we finished up these jars and put the bucket back outside to filter a bit more.

The End Result

You can definitely see some air bubbles in the product.  My understanding is that those will rise to the top as the honey sits.

Here’s a picture of the comb when we were done.  It looks quite dry, but when you press on it, it seems to still contain a good bit of honey.  I’ve left it outside (covered of course) to see if we can get anything else from it.  When we’re done I plan to melt in in double boiler and then pour it through cheese cloth.  The beautiful filtered wax will be used to make lip balm and (hopefully) a salve.

Comb

Here’s a shot of some of our bounty bottled, labeled, and ready for giving.  Aren’t they cute?   As a side note, you can see our top bar hive in the background.  Still bee-less, but one day we plan to get that one up and running.

Bottled and Labeled

All told, we got 12 8-ounce jars and 12 1.5-ounce jars from two medium frames.  That’s over 7 pounds of honey!  Definitely a successful first harvest.

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5 Responses

  1. That is so cool!

  2. Wow! I’m slightly allergic to bees, and I don’t really have a place to keep bees, but you’re making me more and more interested in it. Fresh honey? Yes please.

  3. I never realized what was involved in harvesting honey. Can’t wait to try it!

  4. (By ‘try it’, I mean try YOUR honey…not try to harvest it myself!) 🙂

  5. It actually didn’t take that long..a few hours maybe plus the time we had to leave the bucket outside. We always enjoy doing these kinds of things though, so we don’t really notice the time.

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