Friday, March 15, 2013

Harvesting Honey

NOTE: I did not treat this hive with any chemicals over the winter.

Normally I'd like to be harvesting honey under different circumstances, but this was from the mean hive I'd had for years and had finally died. Leaving it outside will only attract robbers from other hives as well as all the typical hive pests that thrive in weak, unguarded hives.

The honey is a very rich, and dark honey that tastes great. Typically the later one harvests the more developed the wildflower flavor honey becomes. "Wildflower" is the generic name designated to any honey that can't be attributed to 70% one crop. It's typically what every hive that isn't near a farm will produce. But even hives near a farm will eventually make wildflower honey if they're not harvested right after the crop has bloomed. "Clover" honey is a possibility in suburbia if one harvests early enough but I consider this to be an early form of wildflower only obtainable from either a cover crop on a farm or harvesting after the common White Dutch Clover has finished flowering in everyone's lawn. Most of the crop or special honeys (e.g. Blueberry Honey, Raspberry Honey, Apple Honey, Orange Honey, etc...) are all produced early in the year. Fireweed honey is probably the latest of these to be produced because the flower so late in the year.

The process of harvesting is the same regardless of what time of year it is. Your method may vary, but I take each frame out one by one, stand them up in a metal pan (something deeper than a cookie sheet) and uncap all the cells. They sell special heated knives for this, but I've found it difficult to keep the heat at the right setting, and any knife will work fine.

As a general rule, you can wash your hands and anything else you like, but it is absolutely vital to dry off every droplet of water and remove all smears of moisture! Water can seed bacteria in the honey making it unusable. Honey on its own is too solidified and processed by the bees to grow anything in it. (With the exception of one pathogen that your digestive system will make short work of. Honey should never be given to infants under the age of one year old and is otherwise safe to eat.)

The uncapped frames are then put into the extractor and spun at a high speed, sending the honey out against the walls where it drips down to bottom and drains out a special hole.

Next the honey needs to be strained. I like to have it run into a wire pencil holder (that has been sterilized and never used for anything other than filtering honey!) which will catch all the big pieces, and let the honey flow out easily where it then falls through a normal strainer and then into a deep pot.

Pots are switched as needed and the honey is bottled while it drains, more frames are uncapped and put into the extractor, etc... The whole process goes faster with two people. This process is where I get the bulk of my honey from each year. 

A few more jars can be got from the uncapping process. Uncapping leaves a lot of excess wax and a fair amount of honey mixed in the tray. The wax is too big and bulky for the honey to strain out in any reasonable amount of time. Heating it up on the stove will melt the wax, and separate it from the honey. This wax isn't pure enough to use for candle making but that's a task for another day.

I'd already removed a lot of the wax here but what I allowed it to cool down, it formed a fine sheet on the surface that can just be peeled away. The wax you'd want to use for candles is the pure creamy yellow tone. A lot of what's there is dark and full of impurities which is another task in itself. I don't do candle making much at all so that's a topic for another blog I think. 

Heating it up also thins the honey somewhat, casing it to flow out much easier. I don't like to sell the jars of honey I get from this process because it still has some of the wax and impurities in it. I save it all for cooking and usually get 3 or 4 jars more that I would have just thrown away otherwise. 
The total harvest was 24 jars. (8 of which sold while I was harvesting.)