Harvesting honey is one of the most precious moments for any beekeeper. I remember the first time we have harvested the hive.I had limited knowledge of what should i do so i called my friend that had more experience to help me. At that time I did not have any of the needed equipment especially extractor that is not cheap to get (especially if you have just a few hives). Thankfully my friend showed me how to do it without extractor using things I have at home.
So how to harvest honey without extractor?
- Make sure you do the extraction inside with closed windows and doors
- Gather all frames you plan to extract
- Prepare the bucket or pan and equipment
- Uncap the frame
- Scrape the comb filled with honey
- Let the honey filter overnight
- Clean the frames and equipment
- Next day store the honey in jugs and enjoy
Crush and Strain method
A most simple method for extracting honey without extractor is crush and strain method.you can use this method for all type of frame foundation (wax, plastic, or frames without pre-made foundation)
Prepare the bucket with a filter that will collect caps you cut off and the honey with the comb you scrape. As a filter, you can use my favorite, paint filter (disposable) that you can buy for a couple of dollars. The main advantage is that the mash is just the right size and fits the bucket like a glove so you do not have to think about how to make a filter stay in place while you scrape the frames and also it is very cheap, available in a local store. Another filter option is a Honey strainer that is made with handles to lay over the bucket perfectly. Also some of the beekeepers that have a small amount of honey use cheesecloth as a filter but that is suitable only for smaller amounts.
On the top of the bucket, you should have a bar (peace of 1×1 wood) that goes across and that will use as a holder for the frame while you uncap and scrape honeycomb. So now when you prepared the equipment go to the next step.
If you are not familiar with what is an extractor. It is a steel drum with slots for the honey frames, it has either a handle or a small engine on top. Using centrifugal force honey is extracted and drops down on the bottom of the drum. It has a tap(gate)on the bottom so you can release the honey and filter it easily.
Uncapping and Scraping
Cut the caps with a hot knife or in case you do not have it you can use a long kitchen knife, using the edge of the frame as a guide. You should keep the warm water in the bowl next to you to heat up the knife to make the cutting easier.
For the cups that were left intact use scraper or fork to open them.
When you finish uncapping (cutting the cups) on both sides take the scraper or fork to open the caps that are not opened.
Take the spatula and start scraping the honey and combs down-words to collect them in the paint filter. When you finish with the frame let it sit in the pan and take the next frame for extraction. When you collect enough mass in your filter go to the next step
Filtering is very important because you have to remove wax cappings and bee parts from honey.
When you collect enough honey and comb in your filter take the end of it and lift it up from the bucket, twist it to squeeze out the honey.
Hang the filter on the side of the bucket elevated from the bottom so it has enough space for the honey to drain. Leave it overnight in a warm room to help the honey drain easily. You can filter your honey once again if you think it was not filtered enough and after that, you can pour it in jars and start consuming fruits of your labor…
When you are finished with extraction you are left with a bit of a mess in your kitchen (or bee extraction room)
First take the frames, clean only the outside of the frame a bit and give it back to bees to do the rest of the cleaning. They will do that job for you and start building a new comb from scratch so no worries.
Collect the wax capping and comb that was collected in your filter put and it in the plastic bag for further processing.
The rest of the equipment (knife, scraper, screen ) should be washed with cold water to make the wax easier to scrape off. After you scrape all the wax you can use warm water for final cleaning
What is the best time to collect honey?
For new beekeepers that are in their first year of beekeeping most likely, they will have to wait till the second season to harvest the honey.
For older hives with strong colonies, you can prepare your self for honey harvesting.
Also, the area where are the hives located it will affect the exact month when the hive is ready for harvesting. In warmer areas, hives will be ready earlier in the season because the colony will start developing at the start of the spring comparing to colder areas that will start later due to low temperatures.
Taking everything into account summer period is the best for collecting honey late July, August and till mid of Septembre.
The exact moment your hive is ready for harvesting you will determine by often inspection.
All details about the best period for honey harvesting you can read in my article When to collect honey
What is the difference between capped and uncapped honey?
Cells that create comb bees fill nectar that they process to create honey. The only exception is the brood chamber where bees put pollen in some of the cells. When they process the nectar and store the honey bees close the cells with a wax cap to seal it this honey is also known as cured honey.
Bees cap the honey only if the dehydration process is finished to make the honey last for a long period so you can harvest it freely.
Uncapped honey is not dehydrated enough and the level of moisture is too high. You should not mix this uncapped with capped honey because uncapped will most likely ferment and that way affects the entire batch and destroy your effort.
So make sure to collect only capped honey from your frames to have a long-lasting quality product.
Exceptions are bigger producers that are able to harvest and mix uncapped honey because they have a large drying tank. Tanks have rotating baffles and the honey is dried until it reaches 17-18 percent water that is perfect moisture level so it will not go bad.
How to know what is brood nest and what is caped honey that is ready for harvesting (differences)
If you are a new beekeeper it can be a bit tricky to recognize the difference between capped honey and brood nest because they look similar. One of them is containing honey and the other contains larvae. So how to tell them apart
In case you use a queen excluder it is much easier because in that case, you will collect only suppers frames that are filled with honey located above queen screen
But in case you are not using it, you can tell it apart visually. Capped honey cells look like it has a small indentation comparing to capped brood cells that have small versus the capped worker brood cells that have a slight bump.
The wax that covers honey is white and the brood caps are light or dark yellow depending on the age of the hive.
Additional tip :
How to get wax from the hive?
Get the bag with beeswax cappings and comb you collected during the honey filtering process. Rinse it several times till the water is clear. Put a bowl and a strainer on top and fill the strainer with the mass. Cover it and leave it overnight to drain. Next day take the drained mass and put it in the pot. Use old pots or buy some in the thrift store because you will not be able to remove wax easily so it is better to have pots, especially for wax, melting. Take the second pan and fill it with water to make a boiler for the slow melting. Put the pan with the wax mass on top and let it slowly melt. As the mass is melting you can add the rest of the wax if you were not able to put the entire batch. When it is all melted pour it through the strainer (paint filter) to filter out all the debris. Let it overnight to cool off and next day you can scrape the honey from the bottom nad melt it once again and filter it once again. Now when the wax is filtered you can use molds to make a small bar of wax or just let it cool overnight and keep it as one chunk.
So now you are a proud owner of homemade beeswax.