Everyone I speak to who has hayfever confirms that 2019 has been a challenging year of sneezing, running eyes, and itchy faces. This means that there’s a lot of pollen about.
In over 10 years of beekeeping, Rog has only once collected enough honey to warrant borrowing the extractor from the beekeepers association. Usually, we get 5 or 6 jars, if we’re lucky. This year, the payoff for my runny nose was a Saturday spent extracting honey. How do you extract honey? Well let me show you.
To begin with you have a bunch of frames. These sit in a super which is a box that just contains honey frames. When the bees look like they’re doing well, a beekeeper will put an empty super on top of the hive and sit back and wait for it to fill up with honey. There’s a little hole in the base which lets bees through but which isn’t quite big enough to let a queen through – this means you can steal the honey and you’ll never accidentally steal the queen. Boxes have 11 frames in. I don’t know why.
From Rog’s 3 hives we had 3 supers, heavy with honey. Both sides of each frame are covered in hexagonal cells, made of wax, full of honey, and capped off with more wax.
Before you can extract any honey, you need to take off the caps of each cell so that the honey can flow freely. The bucket catches all the bits of wax and honey that drip – there’s a lot of waxy honey residue involved in the process, but that’s OK as you can just feed it straight back to the bees afterwards and they’ll recycle.
Once the frame has been de-capped (on both sides), it goes in the centrifuge. We borrowed the centrifuge from the beekeepers association – this is a large one, which will process 4 frames at a time.
The centrifuge is powered by a crank handle which seems quite quaint.
Turning the handle on the centrifuge is probably my favourite part of the job.
The honey gets splattered out of the frames and onto the walls of the centrifuge, slowly dripping down to the base (which is on a slope, and conical, so honey doesn’t get stuck). The tap at the base lets the gloop out – at this stage, it’s a mix of honey and wax and little bits of hive.
The gloop goes through two double sieves, which serve to filter out big bits of wax. This part of the process is s l o w and we had to stop, often, to wait for the gloop to drip through to the bucket below as the sieves were backing up. We also had to clear the top sieve of waxy debris pretty frequently.
When the honey in the bucket gets close to the bottom of the sieve, it’s time to empty the bucket out into more traditional honey receptacles, like Patak’s Lime Pickle jars. This is a step with no fancy stages – just a bowl with a pouring lip and a lot of sound effects like “bloody hell this stuff is heavy“.
If you’re going to exhibit your honey – for example at a village show or something – you need to ensure there aren’t any bits in it, and there aren’t any bubbles. I think this probably involves more filtering. We’re not that kind of beekeeper though, and don’t mind the occasional bubble or mis-matched jar lid.
In the end the process took us about six and a half hours. Apparently nobody has seen a honey year like this one. We didn’t weigh the honey so we’re not sure how much we got, but it was a lot.
We ran out of jars, so even have some honey sat waiting in plastic buckets.
The last task of the day is to have a bit of a tidy up. One side effect of this process is that everything gets covered in a thin film of honey. Or a thick film of honey.