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Home > Tip of the Month – Extracting Honey

Whether you’re a novice beekeeper or an old hand, it’s always good to read up on tips for harvesting honey during this time of year. There’s always something new to learn. Top tips for extracting honey are:

  • Slow and steady
    Especially true for those who are new to honey harvesting, as you learn and experiment, you’ll need time. Harvesting the honey from your hives is not something you want to rush, as it can be an all-day process. Allow yourself lots of time, do your research and set up a secure space to make sure you and your bees are safe throughout the process. Try to harvest large batches in one session to make sure the set up and clean up processes are worth your while.                                                           
  • Location, location, location
    Be very aware from the outset – extracting honey is a sticky process (it will appear to get everywhere).Harvest in an enclosed area with plenty of ventilation. Bees will smell what you’re doing and want to get at your work if you’re outdoors, so opt for a location that is inaccessible to bees. However, you may wish to steer clear of extracting in the kitchen or main area of your home. While this might be convenient, honey can get very sticky! Try harvesting somewhere easier to clean, like a garage or utility room.                                        Extra tip: Regularly clean your hands and prevent honey from getting everywhere. Think ahead and prepare anything you might need besides the equipment itself before you get started – how about the radio or your phone — both will work adequately inside a plastic bag (although a smartphone perhaps not).                                                                                                                          
  • Beware the bees
    We don’t mean that these bees are dangerous. In fact, bees are gentle when away from their hives, with no brood or queen present. However, keep an eye out; there may be some straggler bees left in the supers. Don’t worry, this is normal. These straggler bees will be attracted to the light so if you have some in the room where you’re working, try turning off the lights and cracking a window to allow them to escape before you continue the honey extraction process.
  • Turn up the heat
    Warm honey flows easier than cold honey, so plan to extract in warmer conditions. If you’re starting in the morning or during cooler weather, try using a small heat lamp or light bulb under the supers to warm the honey.  Think about making a basic warming cabinet.                                                                                             
  • Tools
    If you don’t have all the necessary tools, try some substitutions. A serrated bread knife can take the place of an uncapping knife. In lieu of a honey filters, try kitchen strainers, nylon paint strainers or even (new and clean) nylon tights. Plastic re-sealable containers are relatively inexpensive and are perfect to store honey and cappings. Honey is acidic, so don’t use items made from aluminium or galvanized steel, as these could react with the honey acid. Keep in mind that anything you use for extracting honey is likely to be only suitable for that purpose in the future, there’s no going back — they will be sticky and possibly covered in a waxy film!                                
  • Take your time
    Sometimes, taking a few days to extract the honey works best. Letting the honey settle for a few days after it has been extracted will allow any bubbles to rise to the surface, and any additional debris will either float or sink, making them easier to remove. However, remember uncovered honey will absorb moisture from the air and potentially attract insects, so keep honey covered if you plan to let it sit before bottling.                                                                                                                              
  • Let others do the work                                                                      When you’re ready for clean-up, don’t overwork yourself – let the bees do what they do best. After the honey harvest is complete, ideally put the newly extracted “wet” frames either back on the hive they came from or outside near the hives (although be aware that the latter will encourage not only your bees but those from a distance away to visit your garden). The bees will clean them off, and they will usually be dry and ready to remove / store for future use within a day. The bees can also clean the extractor and the equipment for you in exactly the same way – leave them outside near the hive.                                                                                             
  • Recruit an extra set of hands. Extra help on honey extracting days is always welcome. There will be lots of work for two people to do and many hands helps to make lighter work – especially of you are using a manual extractor!