Harvesting honey: the hard work of beekeeping

Making honey from Jim Stovall on Vimeo.

This is a video I made several years ago that describes how bees make honey and a little of the extracting process. There’s more about extracting in the following article.


The day we harvest honey always proves to be the most physically demanding day of the year. That day occurred last Friday (June 15).

Harvesting honey consists of three distinct actions:

Taking the honey off the hives

The harvesting always happens in late June or early July, and unless we are extraordinarily lucky, the day is hot. The heat is intensified by the fact that, during the first part of the process, the beekeeper has to don a beesuit, gloves, and other protective clothing. (I wear two pairs of socks because the bees seem to love my ankles.)

We also use a smoker to calm the bees down and keep them in the hive, but that means we breathe some of the smoke ourselves.

We go through each box on each hive where there is honey and take the frames that have harvestable honey off the hives. Doing this involves picking up the frame and brushing the bees, as gently as possible, off the frame and back down into the hive. Once the bees are off the frame, we put them in plastic bins that are sitting in the back of my truck.

Last Friday, with temperatures approaching 90 degrees, we harvested 45 frames. I was by myself in this part of the process, and it took about three hours.

Extracting the honey

Once the frames are off the hives, we bring them inside where we extract the honey. That process takes a couple of extra people, so John (my beekeeping partner) and my wife Sally joined in.

One person takes a frame and cuts the caps off the wax where the honey is. Two others place the de-cappped frames into an extractor, which is a barrel that allow frames to spin around in a manner that throws the honey out of the cells that the bees have made. As this is happening, the honey collects are the bottom of the extractor and is poured into buckets. The honey in the buckets is then poured into a different bucket with a filter on top. The filter separates impurities from the honey.

Once the honey has been filtered, it can be poured into glass jars or other containers for storage. The honey is not heated or processed in any other way. It is ready to eat.

Extracting the amount of honey we had this year took three-to-four hours.

Cleaning up

As with anything else involving beekeeping, cleaning up is not a simple process.

First, we take the “wet” frames back to the hives and place them on the hives. The extracting process leaves some honey on these frames, and the bees are happy to have it. In addition, the bees will straighten out the wax and the cells that have been deformed in the de-capping process. In doing that, they perform a valuable service for the beekeeper.

We also take out all of our equipment — bins, buckets, etc. — that may have honey on it and leave it near the hives. The bees will be all over these things, eagerly taking the honey off, and after a day or so, these items will be clean. After they have done their work, the equipment must be gathered up, washed thoroughly, and stored for next year’s extraction.

The cleaning up process also involves cleaning the area where we did the extraction — in this case, our kitchen. Honey is about as sticky as you can get, so floors must be mopped, counters and other surfaces wiped (multiple times), and clothes washed.

The result

The result is honey.

This year we got 11 gallons of honey, or about 140 pounds. It wasn’t easy, but we always feel it’s worth the effort to have a unique gift to give to friends and family.

 

 

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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One Response to Harvesting honey: the hard work of beekeeping

  1. Gary Hensley June 23, 2018 at 6:06 pm #

    Loved the explanation of the honey extraction process – had no idea how that was accomplished. Wow, lots of work!

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