Bringing home the hunny

Picking up where my previous post left off. On Saturday we took our six frames of honey to Emma’s dad’s house, as he had kindly let us do the messy business of honey extraction in his nice clean house.

As Emma has been given a fancy electric centrifugal extractor by a colleague who has retired from beekeeping, I assumed extracting would be easy. So naive…

We had the difficulty that we had some frames with a mixture of capped and uncapped honey, because we had to remove the frames earlier than we would have liked to in order to do Apiguard treatment with the rest of the apiary. Uncapped honey means it’s still too watery – honey should be only 18% water – so the bees haven’t capped it over yet. It’s not good as it will ferment more easily after harvesting, because the sugar concentration will not be high enough to prevent yeast growing. Someone had suggested that we put these frames in without uncapping them, to get the uncapped honey out first and keep it separate. They looked like this:

Extracting time

Extracting time

We switched the extractor on but things didn’t quite go to plan. The frames started collapsing and coming apart. And the uncapped honey was refusing to come out, it just stayed in the frames. So Emma had the idea of cutting the honey up into chunks to make comb honey instead, like this:


It was fun cutting the chunks out and putting into mini taster jars which we got from Thornes. There was much sticky finger licking going on along the way. It is a mild but intensely flowery honey which the bees have made us, the taste of summer.

Finally we tried to extract from the remaining three frames by first decapping them using an uncapping fork. You can see me having a go below, it’s quite a satisfying feeling.

We put the decapped frames in the extractor and turned it on, first slowly and then faster and faster until it was at a speed which nobody’s arm could possibly turn at. Barely any honey came out, it stubbornly stayed put!

Last year it only took Emma a few turns with a hand extractor to get all her honey out and it was dripping from the frames. With these frames the honey was like treacle, thick and gooey:

We had to give up trying to get the treacle honey out with the extractor in the end. Instead we dug it out from the frames with a spatula, throwing away the thin foundation strip in the middle. It’s a shame as we can’t use the frames again next year and the bees will have to build a super of wax cells up again from foundation.

What flowers can our bees have been on to make such thick honey? Heather produces notoriously thick, jelly-like honey which is a thixotropic stiff gel until stirred but I haven’t seen much in Ealing. ‘Keeping bees and making honey‘ by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum (2008) mentions that chestnut and hawthorn produce very thick, dark brown honey, but they’re supposed to have a strong, nutty, malty flavour which ours doesn’t. Has anyone else had such thick, stubborn honey before?

I’m very grateful to Emma’s dad for letting us do the extracting at his place. It would have been so hard in my tiny kitchen. Thank you Emma and Glenn!

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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30 Responses to Bringing home the hunny

  1. Phillip says:

    I have regular frames and foundationless frames in our honey supers, alternating between the two. They bees have actually built more comb on the foundationless frames. (Lousy weather lately has prevented them from filling the combs, though.) I like natural honey comb, even though it’s more work for the bees, because I don’t have to bother with extracting. I can just cut, crush and strain the honey comb.

    You could put a foundationless frame between drawn comb in the honey super and they bees would likely built the comb and fill it fast. Or maybe you already use foundationless frames. I can’t tell by the photos. Looks delicious though.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Wow, I would not have expected them to built more comb on the foundationless frames. We had foundation in the frames this year but if we’re going have that thick honey again going foundationless would really be worth it. The honey certainly is delicious!

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  2. ceciliag says:

    I took an early sample of honey the other day too and it also was difficult to extract. I do not have a machine so I whisk the caps off with a hot knife and then let the honey drain out into a basin. Mine was also viscuous and did not want to flow. I thought I had let the frame get too cold before I began the process. Also the honey itself was cloudy. But VERY tasty. Last year I took the honey off quite late and it just poured out in a great hurry and was clear. I look forward to other peoples comments.
    And I am certainly going to try foundationless frames next year. I did not realise that was such a simple option. c

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    • Emily Heath says:

      If they fill out the frames neatly and it doesn’t slow them down too much foundationless frames do sound good.

      Interesting that yours was difficult to extract too. I’d love to know where our bees have been!

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      • One of Two says:

        It’s been frustrating for a few reasons. The big one is that the extra drones have been eating up all the honey stores. And the weather has been terrible.

        But in the past few weeks we’ve had perfect weather and the honey production in all my hives seems out of control. the foundationless hive included. Even this year’s nucs are producing an excessive amount of honey. It’s the opposite of what I was told would likely happen with the foundationless hive. So I’m still sort of in shock.

        I’ll have more to say about this in my blog as soon as I have time to write about it in detail.

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  3. Gary Rondeau says:

    Hi Emily,

    Congrats on your first honey crop!

    I find that a little warmth makes all the difference in getting the honey to move. The night before I usually stack up my supers on top of hive body with a 75W light bulb in it. Put a cover on the stack. You have to be careful not to use too much heat or the wax will start to give way. 100W bulbs are known to cause a bit of melt in the first super over the light. A tin foil heat deflector helps. You also discovered why I like wired foundation for frames that go into the extractor!

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Thanks Gary. It sounds like a lot of careful preparation goes into your honey! That is a good tip thank you.

      We were using wired foundation but I think we just got the extractor going too quickly rather than starting off slowly and building momentum, which caused the frames to collapse.

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  4. Phillip says:

    Here’s a recent shot of my bees filling in a foundationless frame on a honey super:

    https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/jM5OQf8ROMyQgzLCY-FB4Q?feat=directlink

    It took them less than a week to build this comb, but then we got hit with lousy weather and they’ve been stuck in limbo for the past 10 days. The frames with foundation don’t have nearly as much comb. I’m not sure what it is, but the bees seem more motivated to fill in the empty space of foundationless frames.

    Here’s a California beekeeper crushing and straining his honey:

    That’s pretty much what I hope to do with my foundationless frames. It’s more work for the bees in the end, but it seems much easier for the beekeeper.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Maybe the bees like building things their way. They’ve filled out your frame very neatly.

      That California beekeeper does make things look simple. I prefer to use clearing boards so the bees don’t go mental though!

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  5. daveloveless says:

    Yay for honey! We’re getting ready to do our first round of extraction here in a few weeks or so. We’re shooting for very early September. Frankly, I’m kind of nervous for the sheer unknown-ness of it all.
    The only thing I’m missing is the extractor, which a friend has kindly offered to loan me.

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  6. Congratulations on your harvest! It looks beautiful!

    We extract our honey when it’s reeeeally hot, in a little “honey house” where we can make as much of a mess as we like — the hotter it is, the better the honey flows, even if the temperature is terribly unpleasant after a while. Those California heat waves are good for something! I also use the comb-crush method, straining the wax through a clean nylon stocking into a gallon jar. The nice thing about hand-extraction is that you can really minimize the air exposure to the honey, which keeps you from losing the volatile flavour/scent compounds to evaporation — so the honey retains all the flavour and perfume it has straight from the comb. The extractor is much faster, though, so I usually just do a couple of frames by hand and set those jars aside for special occasions!

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  7. willowbatel says:

    I’ve heard bees draw comb out better and faster on frames without foundation. And the certainly draw it out faster in places they shouldn’t normally. Just stick some of the wax cappings you’ve got to the underside of the top bar of the frame to encourage the bees to start drawing comb and they should have it drawn out in no time. And next year you won’t have to deal with the machine at all, you can just cut the honey out in large chunks and stick it in a solar melter on a hot day and strain the wax out and poof, honey ala mode. That’s one of the benefits to the Warre hive I’ve been talking to Emily about. It’s like the Top Bar hive except it’s verticle like a langstroth hive. The base bord is a little different, as is the roof, but other than that they’re identicle. Much easier to manage and healthier/easier for the bees I’ve heard. You should look into it if you’re ever thinking about a new hive.
    Congrats on the honey!

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  8. If you have only a small number of hives you don’t need an extractor. If using foundation, simply scrape down to the mid-rib using an ice cream scoop. If you don’t use foundation or just starter strips you have the option of cuttting out the prettiest pieces of comb to sell as cut comb.

    Do you use foundation in the brood box? I stopped some years ago and nowadays cut out the central, bred-in, part of old combs, leaving a ‘footprint’ to guide them. The brood pattern on the combs when they rebuild has to be seen to be believed! There is a range of cell size, smaller in the centre than towards the periphery. This produces a range of bee sizes and it is my impression that the hives with a range of bees sizes seem to do better than those on standard foundation-based comb.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Thanks for your comments, I have enjoyed reading back through your blog and will look forward to your next post. We wouldn’t have bothered buying an extractor, but since Emma was given one free we thought we might as well use it. Going foundationless in the supers is something we’re considering for next year in case we have such thick honey again.

      We do use foundation in the brood box. I know some people swear by not doing so, but being a beginner at the moment I think I’d find cross-comb a headache when inspecting. My worry with using old comb as a footprint would be the risk of disease transmission from nosema spores etc, I have my hive in a local association apiary and it’s policy there to completely replace all our brood comb each year, burning up the old stuff.

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      • One of Two says:

        After 400+ days, our foundationless hive hasn’t produce more cross-comb than the conventional hives. The only challenge that I’ve noticed with the bees building on foundationless frames is that they seem to require drawn comb first. That is, they will build better on a foundationless frame when it’s surrounded by drawn comb. They build it fast, too, whether in a brood box or honey super. But I’m still new at this, so I don’t know if that’s normal, if there is a such a thing as normal honey bee behaviour.

        And of course you get considerably more drones.

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        • Emily Heath says:

          The drawn comb probably helps by providing extra warmth while they build out the wax, I’ve read that warmth helps in wax secretion and manipulation.

          I’ve been reading with interest Philip’s Mud Songs blog – http://mudsongs.org/category/foundationless/ – a beekeeper in St Johns, Canada. He has been experimenting with foundationless frames this year and got frustrated with the amount of drones his bees produced, delaying any honey production in the supers. I’m not exactly drowning in honey as it is, so maybe that’s an experiment for when (and if) I ever have more hives!

          Have you managed to get much honey despite the drones?

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  9. Phillip says:

    I’m not sure why some of my comments are showing up as One of Two. Sorry about that. Hmm…

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  10. whitt98 says:

    I noticed how you were holding the uncapping ‘fork’ tool and it looks like you are going under the caps very carefully. Consider dragging the tines down the tops of each cell and ‘roughing’ them up slightly until the honey is exposed. It goes really fast and a few good swipes on each side of the frame will do it. The little pieces of wax will end up in the honey, but since you’ll be straining, it doesn’t matter.

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  11. Congrats! It is cool to see the process. We are excited to have our first harvest next week.

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  12. beatingthebounds says:

    No harvest to report here, but am absolutley fascinated – that must be deeply satisfying. (And it looks very tasty.)

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  13. Pingback: A taste of honey at the Chelsea Physic Garden | Miss Apis Mellifera

  14. Pingback: All about the hunny | Adventuresinbeeland's Blog

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