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Harvesting honey from beehives requires you to separate the honey from honeycomb using one of several methods. While using a rotary honey extractor is the best and commonly accepted method of harvesting honey, there are other means by which it can be achieved, which will be discussed in this article. Read on to learn the best methods and tips on how to harvest honey without an extractor.
Some beekeepers use honey extractors while others use less mechanization in the process. A honey extractor is sometimes expensive equipment for beekeepers. It is also large in size, thus requiring you to factor in its storage for the larger part of the year when you will not be using it. In its favour, a honey extractor speeds up the process of getting honey from honeycomb. It also allows honeycomb to remain intact for later use in the beehive.
Why Not Use an Extractor?
Beekeepers have different reasons why they harvest honey without using an extractor. Some do not want exposure to the risk of damaging honeycomb in honey extractors. Others may not use a honey extractor due to economic considerations. For small beekeeping operations, purchasing a honey extractor can be an avoidable expenditure. A honey extractor may come into use only when you are harvesting honey. It can also be costly to purchase for beekeepers running their beekeeping operations on a tight budget. Additionally, a honey extractor has costs that it directly causes you to incur such as paying for electricity to run the extractor. Lastly, one has to consider the availability of storage space for their extractor before purchasing one.
General Process for Harvesting Honey
Typically, harvesting honey is a procedural activity. It can last several days or hours, depending on the methods and equipment you use. In general, it follows these steps:
- Get beehive frames from the beehive. Put them in a sealable container and make sure that there are no bees on the frames. You may pull a honey super box from the beehive assembly and replace it with one that has beehive frames in it. This allows you to transport beehive frames while they are still in their beehive box. It also allows for easy management of honeybees during the section of the honey harvesting process that takes place at the beehive.
- Transport the frames to a location where there are no honeybees and which is not easy to access for other insects, rodents and animals that the smell of honey may attract. Do not extract honey in the open, or too close to an apiary to avoid attracting bees, insects and animals by the smell of honey.
- In your work area or selected location, set up sheets of food-safe metal or plastic to help you contain and manage any spills that may occur. Additionally, ensure that the room temperature of your work area is above 800 Fahrenheit (26.660 Celsius) and below 1000 Fahrenheit (37.770 Celsius).
- Uncap honeycomb using an appropriate tool. Honeycomb uncapping tools that beekeepers use commonly are an uncapping knife or fork. Collect the wax cappings in a container. They contain liquid honey that you can drain or strain out. Honey harvesting methods that require uncapping usually require you to uncap one face of the honeycomb at a time.
- Remove honey from the cells of the honeycomb you have uncapped using the technique that you prefer to use.
- Collect the liquid honey in suitable containers such as a honey bucket with a honey gate. The honey gate helps you with control over the flow of honey from the respective collecting container in subsequent steps of managing the honey you have harvested.
After removing beehive frames from the beehive, you may choose to leave honey inside honeycomb. This means that you cut honeycomb from the beehive frames and then store the honeycomb. You do not process the honey or honeycomb any further. This presentation of honey is called comb honey in the beekeeping industry. It is a result of customer preferences. Some consumers of honey like to chew the honeycomb to remove honey in their mouths. Others use the comb honey as an ingredient in various foods they prepare with the honey. Additionally, comb honey has the advantage of being very fresh since it remains in its natural packaging of wax comb until it is used. It has its full nutritional value too. Lastly, comb honey is rich in flavour. It is not exposed to air or light and, therefore, keeps its entire natural flavours.
Methods to Harvest Honey without an Extractor
When you decide to harvest honey without an extractor, there are three main methods you can use. One method is using a honey press. The second one is the drip method, and the third one is the crush and straining method. Below is each method explained in greater detail:
1. Using a Honey Press
A honey press is a mechanical device for extracting honey from honeycomb. It presses honeycomb between two surfaces. The honeycomb is crushed into a flat chunk of wax. Honey presses can be of the roller type or pressure plate type. Beekeepers often prefer to use pressure plate honey presses. Important features of a honey press are the rollers or pressure plate, a receptacle for comb, a means of applying force on the rollers or pressure plate and a means of allowing liquid honey to flow from the honey press in a controlled flow.
Crushed comb in the honey press releases all, or nearly all of the honey it holds within it. The honey flows out of the press while the pressed wax may remain in the press. Remove each pressed chunk of honeycomb from the press before inserting another un-pressed honeycomb into the honey press.
After pressing honeycomb, it may still have some honey in it. Since it has already been crushed, you may leave it to drain honey for a day, or eat the honey as chunk honey.
Press honeycomb in a honey press at a temperature of between 800 to 1000 Fahrenheit (26.660 to 37.770 Celsius).
The honey flows out easily from the honey press. Operating the honey press at a temperature that is lower than 700 Fahrenheit (21.10 Celsius), causes a slow flow of honey from the press.
Pros of Using a Honey Press
- Extraction of honey is fast and managed well. You are able to separate honey and wax quickly and efficiently when using a honey press. There is also less likelihood of contaminating honey when you use a honey press to extract honey from honeycomb.
- It is suitable for extracting honey from honeycomb in large beekeeping operations with large harvests of honey at a time.
- A honey press can be used to process other relevant products such as pressing fruits to extract juice when your beekeeping is part of a diversified farming operation. This makes it valuable multipurpose equipment in a farm.
- Honey presses are portable. They are easy to move from one place to another since they are not too heavy. Getting the honey press to where you want to use it is, therefore, easy.
- There is little exposure of extracted honey to air and light. It ensures that volatile components of honey remain intact. Such components include antioxidants and antimicrobial compounds.
Cons of Using a Honey Press
- Using a honey press is labour-intensive. Applying force manually on the press can be tiring when you have a lot of honeycombs to go through.
- Extracting honey using a honey press destroys the honeycomb. It cannot be returned to the beehive for honeybees to use it to store more honey.
2. Drip Method for Harvesting Honey
Honeybees use a lot of time and energy to draw comb onto beehive frames and top bars. Destroying the comb gives honeybees extra work to do in the beehive. It delays production of other beehive products such as honey and propolis. You can reuse intact honeycomb from which you have extracted honey in the beehive. Honeybees clean it up and store fresh stocks of honey in the honeycomb. The drip method for harvesting honey allows for quick returning of honeycomb to the beehive. It saves your honeybee colonies significant time and energy.
To use the drip method, follow these steps:
- Remove beehive frames that have stocks of ready honey from the beehive and transport them to a safe location.
- Set up a long aluminium trough or several aluminium trays. You may also use a food-safe stainless steel trough.
- Uncap beehive frames on one face of the honeycomb. For this step, you may use an uncapping knife or fork. Uncapping knives can be heated or used while cold. Some uncapping knives have serrated edges while others do not. Put the wax cappings in a suitably sized sieve, mesh or strainer to separate them from the liquid honey they are mixed with.
- Lean the beehive frame against the side of your aluminium tray. The uncapped face of the frame should face downwards so that it drips honey from comb cells into the aluminium tray. For best results, have as much lean of the frame as possible. It speeds up the dripping of honey from the honeycomb.
- Allow the frame to drip honey for about 24 hours or until all the honey from one face of the honeycomb has dripped out.
- Remove the frame from the trough and uncap the second face of the beehive frame.
- Lean the beehive frame against the side of the aluminium tray and allow it time to drip all the honey from the second face into the aluminium tray.
- When all the honey from the second face of honeycomb has dripped into the aluminium tray, remove the beehive frame from the tray and place it in a safe place. It is ready for returning to the beehive so that honeybees use it again to store more honey. You may also put it in the brood box where honeybees use it to rear their young ones.
- Pour out honey from your aluminium trays into a collecting bucket. You may strain the honey to remove impurities. Use a collecting bucket that has a honey gate for easy management of the honey. Large beekeeping operations may use a honey settling tank to hold collected honey for a week or two. In the settling tank, air bubbles float up and leave pure honey to flow from the tank’s honey gate.
Pros of Drip Method
- Drip method allows all honey to flow from the honeycomb. There is no wastage or loss of honey.
- Honey that you extract using this method is whole. It contains all the components of honey and is thereby very nutritious.
- Honeycomb from which you extract honey using the drip method is quickly reusable in the beehive. You only damage the cappings to open cells in the honeycomb which remains attached to the beehive frame.
- Using this method to harvest honey without an extractor, allows you to work with plastic foundation with little risk of damaging the sheets of foundation.
Cons of Using Drip Method
- Drip method of extracting honey takes a lot of time and space. You need large spaces to hold all the frames you have for the period of time they need to drip out their honey.
- You require a large collecting tank under the frames to collect the honey dripping out of honeycomb.
- Honey that you harvest using this method is exposed to air and light for long periods of time. This may lower, weaken or completely destroy some components of honey such as antioxidants.
- When you use the drip method to extract honey, you get no harvest of beeswax.
3. Crush and Strain Method for Harvesting Honey
The crush and strain method is the third way you can harvest honey without an extractor. It involves crushing up honeycomb and then straining out honey to separate it from the wax comb. Crushing the comb breaks open cells so that honey can flow out. This method does not allow easy reuse of honeycomb. It also leaves some honey in the wax even after straining. Additionally, the method takes up a lot of time.
To use the crush and strain method, you will need a tool for crushing up the honey comb, a straining cloth and a collecting bucket for the clear honey. A honey gate in the collecting container helps you manage the honey you collect with ease.
- In one large container, crush your honeycomb until it is evenly crushed. Depending on the size of your strainer cloth and the amount of honey it can hold at a time, put some of the crushed mass of honeycomb in the strainer cloth. Hang the strainer cloth or hold it up using some means.
- Under the strainer cloth, place a collecting bucket or other suitable honey container you have. Allow a day or two for all honey to separate from the crushed comb and pass through the strainer cloth into your collecting bucket. If there is more of the crushed honeycomb, put some more in the strainer cloth and hang it again or hold it up using the same means you used previously. Repeat the process until you have strained all honey from the crushed honeycomb into your collecting container.
Using this method to harvest honey without an extractor gives you clean honey since it passes through a strainer. In the honey, you have all the important constituents including fine wax, propolis and pollen. It is high quality honey that many consumers love. The honey has high nutritional value. You may further filter the honey to remove pollen and other particles so that you are left with pure honey made up of liquid honey only. This is sometimes necessary to meet the demands of some of your customers and to satisfy food industry standards.
Pros of Using Crush and Strain Method
- This method of extracting honey gives you wholesome honey that is very nutritious. All the components of honey are released into the honey during crushing and they are able to pass through the straining cloth you use.
- Crushed honeycomb from this method of extracting honey is great for chewing in chunks.
- Processing beeswax from the crushed and strained honeycomb is easy when you use this method to separate honey from honeycomb.
Cons of Using Crush and Strain Method
- Crushing honeycomb in this method of extracting honey causes total damage to the honeycomb. It cannot be reused in the beehive.
- Using this method with honeycomb that is on beehive frames on which you have used plastic foundation sheets, requires an extra step. You also have to take care not to damage the plastic foundation sheets when you are separating honeycomb and the foundation sheets.
How to Filter Honey
Honey for most uses is easy to handle when it is pure. Even after harvesting your honey, it may still contain some wax and pollen in it. Filtering honey removes anything that should not be in the liquid honey. You may use special filters or simple honey filters that depend on gravitational force to achieve filtration.
Special honey filters require you to heat honey and then pass it under high pressure through the micro-filter. It removes anything that is not liquid honey from the resulting pure honey. This method is great for beekeepers producing honey for commercial markets. Such markets have very exact standards that your honey product must meet. If you do not, you end up with a harvest of honey that you cannot sell in your preferred market. It may cost you customers and lead to disqualification from selling in such markets. For these reasons, you need to have your honey go through the filtration process despite its cost and effects on the honey.
It is important to note that honey has various properties including nutritional ones. Pollen in the honey gives it protein nutrients. Otherwise, the honey has high nutritional value as a carbohydrate or starch due to the high content of sugars in the honey. For this reason, honey that is filtered has no protein nutrients in it. Beekeepers that do not sell their honey to consumers that require filtered pure honey, avoid the filtration process. Instead, they strain the honey and then package it for their consumers.
Straining honey is a process that nearly resembles filtering, but uses a different size of mesh to allow higher nutritional value of the honey. A typical honey strainer has a mesh with holes measuring 400 microns. This is very fine mesh that prevents any large particles from passing through it. Pollen grains and propolis can pass through it. This allows the honey that you pass through the straining process to be fully constituted honey and have high nutritional value.
With straining, you do not need to apply pressure to the honey. Gravitational force is enough to get the honey through the strainer. You may need to ensure that the honey is at a temperature of between 80 and 1000 Fahrenheit (37.70 Celsius)for best results.
A honey strainer is usually made using nylon material. It is in form of a cloth that you fit over openings of containers and allow honey to move through the strainer cloth. This strainer cloth is washable, therefore reusable. Some stores may refer to strainers as filters, but the mesh size will tell you if the item you are purchasing is a strainer or a filter. Many beekeepers prefer to strain their honey instead of filtering it, so that important elements of honey remain in the honey.
To strain honey and remove foreign material from it, use your strainer cloth over the mouth of the container you will use for your pure honey. This may be a 5-gallon honey bucket or any other suitable container. Monitor the process so that honey does not accumulate over the strainer and drip onto undesirable surfaces. Equally important is ensuring that you remove the bucket full of strained honey from under the flow of honey and replace it with an empty bucket that is clean.
A honey extractor is useful equipment in large beekeeping operations. Its advantages make a honey extractor great for when you have many beehives and want honey with no wax comb in it. Speeding up the process of honey extraction using an extractor exposes honey to air for shorter periods of time, thereby reducing the destruction of enzymes and other beneficial components of honey.
When you cannot afford a honey extractor or do not want to use one, there are alternatives you can use. Alternative methods of extracting honey are effective and also give you good quality honey. Use the methods in this article to harvest honey without an extractor and enjoy the great benefits of whole honey.