Liquid Gold

WOW! This week I had my mind blown by the process of removing honey from the hives. I will say I had never seen this process in action and had NO IDEA what I was in for. As mentioned in the last edition, the hives were bursting with honey and frankly, we were out of new supers to put on the hives.

That meant it was time to harvest the honey to prevent a honeybound hive (covered in the last bee blog). In addition, we also take the honey off now so that the bees can begin to manage their winter space for the best chance at survival. We are lucky enough to have a good friend in Dan Keane, owner of Keane’s Wee Bee Farms in Hemlock. He has a USDA inspected facility and was willing to help us extract the honey from the frames using his equipment.

So how do you get all of the bees who are actively working the hive OUT of the honey supers so you can transport them over 16 miles to the facility? That turns out to be a fairly interesting process. 

First, our dedicated and brave volunteer Marilynn decided to join us on this adventure and was standing by to help us safely remove the supers from the hives and keep us in plentiful smoke during this major disruption. 

Once all of the supers were off (weighing approximately 50# each), the hives were put back together. Then we had to get the bees out for transport, but how? I was told a leaf blower – a must see to believe! A video will much more effectively demonstrate this than any description that I could provide.

Were they ALL out, nosome of the ladies followed us to Hemlock and back, but just a handful. Once we arrived at the ‘honey factory’ we met with Dan (Dow Gardens volunteer and overall bee expert) to go over the process for the newbies in the group. Pictured is a full, capped frame of Dow Gardens honey!

The first step in the process is to use a heated uncapping knife to slice off the outer layer of capping wax to create open cells of honey. The frames are then put in the extractor. Most home extractors hold 2-4 frames and are spun with a manual crank. Dan’s extractor holds 40 frames and has an electric motor! So much time and work saved. 

We all took turns participating in this SUPER sticky process as arms got tired. We had 5 honey supers with 9 frames in each one. There were a few frames that were not completely filled so we opted to extract one batch of 40 frames and return these extra ones to the hive for more filling.

Once the extractor was loaded, the spinning process starts gradually. Since it is spinning about 150 pounds of equipment and honey, that isn’t something you want to start or stop quickly!!

As the extractor spins, the honey flings out of the frames, hits the stainless steel wall and flows to the bottom where it leaves through a hose approximately 3 inches in diameter and flows into a collection pail. Before the honey enters the collection pail, it goes through a plain mesh sieve to catch any large bits of wax, or other particles we prefer to not have in the honey. 

I have included two additional videos of the process – the extractor spinning and the flow of thick honey out of the machine.

When the frames were empty, they were still super sticky with remaining bits of honey, but we packed them back into their boxes and returned one super to each hive. The additional supers we set out (far away from the hives) to allow ants and other insects rob the remaining honey and clean up the equipment…they are very efficient at this and the equipment is clean enough after about 2 weeks to put inside for storage for next spring.

Some notes about OUR honey:

It is very thick, meaning a lower moisture content which helps keep it fresh.

It is RAW honey, meaning it is strained to take out the chunks of honeycomb, beeswax, and debris, but is not filtered nor is it heated to a high temperature. This means there are bits of some people prefer for possible allergy benefits. The tradeoff with keeping the honey raw and not filtering or applying high heat is that the small amounts of particulate contribute to a faster crystallization of the honey. Be aware, this doesn’t mean your honey is bad, just that the sugars have. Placing in a warm water bath overnight can re-liquefy your honey for drizzling on biscuits or you can use it as is (measured the same way) in cooking. In the cold weather months, we might delve a bit into of your honey – which may entail cooking up some samples to share at the office. 

Once bottled, this honey will be available in the Dow Gardens’ gift shop – Limited Edition made by the Whiting Forest Bees. Keep an eye on our social media for an announcement when it is available. Other times of the year we do carry Dan Keane’s delicious raw honey.