A few weeks ago, over the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday weekend, my parents and my sister came down to our house and spent the weekend harvesting our honey with us. There is nothing more satisfying than stealing honey from your 3 hives of hard working honey bees, and bottling up that golden goodness in a jar. It’s raw, thick, and incredibly sweet and it’s truly something to be thankful for.
We all piled in the truck and headed up to Scarlett Homestead first thing in the morning, and got suited up to open the hives and pull the supers out of them.
There’s between 30,000 – 40,000 bees in a healthy hive. We raise carniolan bees and they are our favorite breed of honey bee. They are not as aggressive as some, and have typically survived the best throughout the year and produced the best honey harvests for us.
This is what a frame looks like pulled straight out of the hive. It’s about 75% full and the honeycomb is all nicely capped and just bursting with sweet honey inside.
Here’s a good shot of the frames hanging in the hive still. You can see how much the honeycomb is bulging out from the frame. That baby is full!
Here’s a frame that is just about as perfect as it gets. Totally full and capped to perfection. When God made these little friends, he sure made them miraculous. It still amazes me, after all these years of having hives, just what a tiny bee can actually create. And how perfect the end result is.
Look at that fuzzy little bum!
You really don’t have to be scared of these little girls. Honey bees are very docile and non aggressive if you leave them be. They couldn’t care less that you are even around for the most part. I will be honest however, and admit that Rob, although suited up, did get stung in the leg during this process. Mind you, with three full hives, and around 120,000 bees, the odds are pretty good, aren’t they? (How would you feel if you saw a big guy opening up your house and stealing all your food that you worked all year for? I might sting you too).
The same is not true for wasps and hornets or yellow jackets. Totally different kind of “bee”, and if you can tell the difference when you see them, then you can know if you need to worry or not!
But we got all of our supers and deep boxes out of the hives, left all the bees in their home, and took the honey back to our house to get to work.
Since we only have three hives right now, we are still able to handle the quantity with a manual extracting machine at home. Too much more and you might want to take your frames to a places with automated extractors to make it go a lot faster and less labor intensive!
We heat up our garage overnight to get it above 90 degrees so that when we bring the frames home, the honey is still warm and will run out of the frames easily while in the extractor. And if you’re cool, you’ll have your cruiser in the background for a little extra tough-guy ambiance.
Take your full frame
This is an uncapping comb – you want to slide it down the honeycomb caps to open them up a bit so the honey can start dripping out.
Fully uncapped frame, ready for the extractor.
Place your uncapped frame in the extractor, one at a time. It’s always nice to have a vintage 70’s Coke machine in the background to help quench your thirst while you’re working as well. Throw back your feathered Farrah Fawcett hair and drink up. It’s incredibly hot in here baby!
Once your extractor machine is full, you crank it to spin it, and the force of the spinning makes the honey seep out very quickly and start collecting at the bottom of the machine. (My Dad did most of the cranking, and it’s tough after a while. It’s hot and a lot of labor. Thanks Dad. You are the best).
Here’s what a frame looks like after the honey has all been extracted in the machine. Totally clean. From here, we take these frames, put them back in the boxes and take them back to the bee hives. The bees clean it all up to perfection, and sadly, start all over again. Kind of makes you feel bad about about taking the honey when you think about it, doesn’t it? “Busy as a bee” takes on a whole new meaning when you consider the work that goes into what they do. For us!
As the honey has been collecting from all the frames being emptied into the extrator, there’s a spout on the bottom you open up for the honey to pour out. We strain ours twice as it comes out to catch any pieces of wax, comb or other little bits and then the clean, raw honey collects into 5 gallon pails.
Judah would like to show you a perfect, empty comb that the bees made, but never filled. How can a tiny bee make such incredibly perfect combs like this? Seriously, it gets me every single time!
Once we have extracted all of our honey, we take the pails and begin the process of filling mason jars. The pails also have a spout on the bottom for easy pouring, so you just open er’ up and let it run.
You end up with the most beautiful, raw honey, that you can’t compare to anything purchased in a store. Some of the stuff you buy in stores is watered down and often processed. If you are able to buy honey from a local farmer in your area, you should. It doesn’t cost much more, and once you taste the difference, you will never go back.
We got a really good, golden batch this year. It’s sweeter than other years, lighter in color and we guess that they created it from a diet of blackberry bushes and clover. We got about 8 gallons from our three hives, and we were pretty pleased. It’s ready to share with our family and friends!
As time goes on, we plan to increase our hives as much as possible now that we have the space and foliage for them to survive on.
From here we will go on to clean the wax we have from the frames and I will soon get started on my salves, lipgloss and soap making. I can’t wait! I’ll share some of my recipes for that and how I make it all soon.
Next time you see a honey bee, take a moment to watch it and appreciate what they do, and Bee-Thankful!
– The Beekeeper’s Wife