Honey bees collect a surplus of honey. There is even too much for them to reach or protect through the winter. Honey is normally extracted in late summer and early fall or after large crops. The frames of honey must be sealed with cappings or the moisture content will be too high (over 18.5 %). If the moisture is too high it will ferment.
When there are enough frames to extract, the bees are removed from the capped frames of honey. There are many ways to remove bees from frames – brushing, blowing, bee escapes, and chemicals on a fume board. The bees will be a little more aggressive than other hive inspections because the beekeeper is robbing their food surplus. Keep the bees off the frames of honey by keeping them covered until they are safe inside.
The cappings must be removed for liquid honey extraction. For comb honey the cappings are left in place and the comb is cut into sections. There are as many ways to remove cappings as there are bees from the frames – scratching them off with a fork-like device, cutting off with a knife, serrated knives work better, cutting off with a heated knife, and commercial uncappers.
Save the cappings for recovery of the honey that is always mixed with the cappings, and the wax that can be used or sold. Solar melters make the cleanest wax from cappings. It is basically a box with a pan to hold the cappings and a pan to catch the melted wax and honey, with glass to retain the heat and keep the bees from getting the honey.
With the cappings removed the honeycomb can
be squeezed to force out the honey or spun out.
The best way is to spin it out of the combs in
an extractor. An extractor is a centrifuge to
sling the honey from the frames.
There are two types of extractor tangential
and radial. The frames have to be reversed in
the tangential extractor. Tangential extraction
is done half on each side or the weight of the
full side will crush the empty cells. The radial
extractor mounts the frames so honey will flow
from both sides simultaneously. There are manual
and motorized extractors. For less than ten
hives the motorized version is a luxury. Start
spinning slowly and increase the speed gradually
or the combs will split and even tear out of the
After the honey is extracted from the frames the empty frames should be put back on the hive so the bees will clean what little honey the extraction did not remove. The combs will have to be protected from wax moths and rodents when off the hive. Throughout the process remember honey is a food and must remain clean and pure. If personal hygiene and sanitation are new concepts please find a honey house to extract for you.
Most commercial honey producers heat the honey to kill yeast and filter extensively to remove debris. The problem with heating is it darkens the honey and reduces it to simple sugars by removing what enzymes the bees put in to preserve it. The alternative to filtering is to let it settle for a day or two. The other benefit of not filtering is air is not entrained in the honey. The wax and debris will float to the top. Pure unadulterated honey can be drawn from the bottom.
Settling and bottling benefit from low heat to thin the honey. A pail with a honey valve is easy and inexpensive for amateur beekeepers. I use a five gallon plastic container because I can put it in a sink of hot water to speed settling and bottling. There are labeling requirements for honey. The quantity by weight and the producer are a bare minimum. Do not make claims of organic or nectar source unless you can prove it. A healthy hive should generate five gallons or more every year.