Extracting honey

I took two boxes (called “supers”) of honey from our hives. Each super has ten rectangular frames that hang vertically inside the super. The bees store their honey inside wax cells on each frame.

Inspecting frames of honey

Each hexagonal cell on the frame is full of honey and capped with a thin layer of wax.

Cells full of honey

To get at the honey, I first scratch off the top layer of wax with a sharp fork made specially for the purpose. Some beekeepers prefer to use a hot knife to slice away the top surface.

Getting at the honey: vandalism of the bee's careful constructions

Then I put the frames into a centrifugal extractor. This tall metal cylinder has baskets inside which hold the frames vertically. These baskets are then whirled around at an alarming speed by cranking the handle on the top of the machine. This whirling motion flings the honey out of the frames and onto the inside of the metal cylinder. The honey then flows down through a mesh filter into a storage area at the bottom of the cylinder.

Honey frames (left), centrifugal extractor (center), and holding tank for opened frames (right)

After all the frames have been spun, I pour the honey into glass jars.

Flowing honey

The two supers had nearly six gallons of honey between them.

2011 honey harvest: the stored concentrated sweetness of Sewanee's forests and gardens

When I’m finished, I put the equipment and the emptied frames at the bottom of the garden. There, hundreds of bees come out to clean up the left-overs. Within a few hours, no trace of honey remains.

Bees gather for mop-up operations

Wriggling between frames to slurp up every last drop

I left each hive with one or two supers of honey to keep them happy through the winter.

8 thoughts on “Extracting honey

  1. Robley Hood

    When I was a child, my father kept bees in our back yard. Then, I didn’t like honey. Oh what I give now, of course, for that special local flavor.

  2. Mark

    How exciting. I worked for bee keepers in Phoenix and Tucson and always loved it. How much honey do you leave the for the winter, and do you plan to have extra to feed them for the winter?
    Did you buy or build your extractor?

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Hi Mark,

      I leave one or two supers and I also feed them some sugar water later in the fall (with some essential oils that supposedly drive out the mites…). This is more than the books tell you to do, but I figure that if I were a bee, I’d like a nice full larder for the winter. We bought the extractor — it is a mini-version and works OK for relatively small amounts of honey.

      I remember your tales from AZ — including a sting in the mouth?

  3. Anonymous

    My husband Rick and I have two colonies and robbed them last week. This was our first year to get honey. We didn’t use foundation, so we cut the comb from the frames and then squeezed it over a 5 gallon bucket with a filter. This can be done on a small scale, but it is messy. We’ll send a jar of our honey to you by way of Callan and you can taste some Georgia honey.

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Congratulations on your first crop of honey! It is very satisfying to feed on the gathered sweetness of one’s region. I’d love to try a little (perhaps we could swap a jar — I’d hate to deprive you of your hard-earned honey).

  4. Pingback: Aristaeus wannabe nearly gets what he deserves | Ramble

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