Extracting Honey

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After a lot of work overwintering our bees, tending them through the spring, and watching them flourish during the summer, the peak of our beekeeping season is extracting the amazing honey! This is how we do it.

Several frames of capped honey from a beehive leaning in a line.

Keeping bees is an incredible experience on its own. But, the sweet reward of having your own delicious honey makes it even better. Watching the bees flying in and out of their hives, busy and hard at work all summer, gets us excited for the bounty that awaits.

Extracting honey is no easy task and takes quite a bit of time. Our family works together to accomplish this job and then we can enjoy the fruits of our (and the bees’) labor around the table. It’s an amazingly delicious reward and we love it every year.

There are several steps when it comes to extracting honey. There are also many methods that beekeepers use. After a few years, we have found a system that works for us.

How to Extract Honey

Here are the steps we take to extract honey from our bees:

  • Pull the honey frames from the hives
  • Prepare equipment for extracting
  • Melt wax caps on the frames
  • Use roller to uncap the frames
  • Place frames in the extractor
  • Run the extractor
  • Filter the honey into buckets

Pulling Honey Frames from the Hives

You can read all about how we pull honey frames from the hives in this post. This happens around the middle of August, depending on the weather. We go hive by hive (we currently keep eight colonies) and go through the honey super boxes as well as the top brood boxes checking for frames that have capped honey on them.

Large storage totes to set the frames in as we pull them out work great. Then we can cover them immediately with the lids to keep as many bees out as possible. We leave the frames in the bottom brood box and any in the top brood box that have brood in them. Usually, we just take the few outer frames from the top brood box but every frame from the honey super boxes.

Then we remove the honey super boxes and they go into storage until the next season. We leave the top brood boxes on, add additional empty frames as needed to refill what we took out, and place the lid back on the hive. This marks the beginning of our fall beekeeping steps and you can read about that in detail in this post.

After all of the honey frames that we have decided to take are in the covered tubs and the beehives are all closed back up, it’s time to prepare for extraction.

Equipment for Extraction

Here’s how we get set up to extract honey:

  • Large table-We use a folding, plastic table for preparing the frames. It can easily be wiped clean when we’re all done.
  • Portable electric burner-This is used to heat the water for the uncapping roller. An outlet is needed to plug this in.
  • Medium saucepan-The saucepan should be filled about halfway with water and placed on the electric burner. We keep the burner on medium heat to keep the water fairly hot but not boiling.
  • Uncapping roller-An uncapping needle roller sits in the pot of water to stay warm. It will be rolled over the capped frames to poke holes into the wax, allowing the honey to be released.
  • Heat gun-We have had great success using a heat gun to gently melt the wax prior to rolling. This will need an outlet as well.
  • Rags-A few rags are handy to have for wiping sticky hands and other messes.
  • Extractor-We love having our own extractor and you can read all about it in this post. This will need an outlet as well. We keep it covered all winter so it’s clean and ready to go in the summer.
  • Buckets-Food grade five-gallon buckets that are clean and have lids.
  • Filter-We use a double sieve stainless steel strainer. It filters out bee parts and chunks of wax. You can use a finer filter if preffered. Ours just sists right on top of the bucket and goes directly under the spout of the extractor.

Melting the Wax

We use a heat gun to carefully melt the wax on the frames. The heat gun must be kept several inches away from the frames and continuously waved around. It doesn’t take long, less than a minute, to melt the majority of the wax on each side of the frames.

Using a heat gun to melt wax on a beehive frame to extract the honey.

Uncapping the Frames

Once the wax is mostly melted, the frame is passed on to the next person in line. The uncapping needle roller is sitting in a pot of hot water. Take the roller out of the water and shake it several times to get all of the water off.

A pot of hot water with an uncapping roller to pierce holes in the wax on the frame.

Gently roll the uncapping roller back and forth over the frame a few times to pierce any wax that the heat gun may have missed. We want to ensure that as many of the cells are uncovered as possible to allow the honey to come out.

The roller gets put back into the pot of hot water in between each frame to keep it warm.

An uncapping roller on a honey frame.

Loading the Extractor

As each frame is uncapped, it is placed into the extractor. It’s important to make sure the extractor is as balanced as possible. Heavy, full frames should be evenly spaced throughout the extractor with lighter frames between them.

Several beehive frames in an extractor.

Extracting the Honey

After loading the extractor, turn it on the low setting to start. As the honey begins to fling out, gradually increase the speed of the extractor. Now for the exciting part! Waiting patiently for the first drops of honey to begin flowing from the spout!

Honey flowing from the opening in the extractor.

The sieve is on top of the bucket and sitting directly under the spout to collect all of the honey. Pay careful attention because once the honey really starts flowing, the buckets fill quickly! Have several buckets ready to go so that as they fill up, a new one can be slid under the spout.

Honey pouring into a sieve to filter.

We let our extractor run for a few hours on medium speed until all of the honey has been flung out. This will vary depending on the type of extractor used. Some extractors require flipping the frames halfway through but ours does not. We can fit twenty frames in our extractor but it still takes a few batches to get all of the frames empty.

Extracting honey.

Once the honey has been extracted, set the frames back into empty super or brood boxes and place them near the bees. They will clean them up in a couple of days and the frames can be stored until the next season.

Extracting honey is the highlight of our beekeeping season! Having the sweet, golden treat to share as a family after all of the work that went into it is what we really love about having bees.

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