In my last honeybee post, Iddy Biddy Swarm, I explained that the recent hive checks of Buzz and Woody demonstrated how honey bound they were and that there was little room for their queens to continue laying eggs, which each must do for survival of the hives.
So you ask: what happened to Buzz’s two frames that were so full of the sweet stuff? Well, dear readers, here they are, on my kitchen table, jam packed, honey-filled, and ready for the big twirl.
What is the big twirl? It’s the inaugural use of our two-frame honey extractor which we purchased almost a year ago.
Let’s talk about the anatomy of a honey extractor for a moment. You can view the exterior as we situated it in our kitchen in preparation for the extraction. There is a step leading to the family room and while generally annoying, it now proves useful for our honey hobby. The drum sits on the step, we then placed the honey-catching strainers and bowl just below the extractor’s honey spigot, adding extra height to the drum with a few 2 x 4 blocks of wood. Of course, we laid towels just below this whole business, because…honey. Even when we’re as careful as we can possibly be, somehow, the stickiness of honey makes its presence known in all sorts of weird ways and strange places. Towels are a good thing to have around when dealing with honey, as are plenty of damp cloths.
The hand crank is at the right of the drum (in the photo), near the top. Before we started, I was skeptical that hand-cranking would be enough to sling and fling the gooey glory from its framed cells, but it proved just fine.
An up-close shot demonstrates the thing of beauty that is a full frame of honeycomb.
Near the bottom the frame, you can see that the bees didn’t cap whatever honey was placed there, but that’s not unusual. As well, the the wax covering the honey cells isn’t necessarily completely smooth–there are undulations and indentations because the frames sit in close proximity with one another in the hive and the close-knit honeycombs are impacted by their neighbors. The honey captured and capped on frames isn’t always perfectly smooth or uniform.
We popped Buzz’s two frames in their respective slots for the big twirl. These frames are brood frames and are 18 inches long, 9 inches wide. Brood frames are–you guessed it–for brood! However, a brood frame will have not only brood, but some honey, as well as cells with pollen stores. As you now see, there was no brood because Buzz was honey bound and there were no honey-free cells (in sufficient numbers) in which the queen could lay eggs. That’s why we took these frames and added new ones; the queen needs plenty of free comb cells for her many multiples of eggs and when the bees make honey in the majority of cells (because that’s what bees do), sometimes a hive runs out of room. Swarms happen and even the densest of beekeepers finally figure out that the bees need fresh frames. Duh.
Other frames, called dadants, are narrower than the brood frames and are only for honey. In both of our hives, they are the top two boxes. Theoretically, those are the frames we’ll most likely take in the future, but for this first time, it’s the two brood frames that needed replacing and are our honey extractor guinea pigs.
Happy Halloween! Be wary of the Bee Daddy with an uncapping knife!
The uncapping knife is a necessary tool for stripping the top layer of wax which seals the cells where honey is stored. Ours is electric which, when plugged in, heats the knife. And thank goodness for that–a hot knife makes the job of uncapping the wax much easier than if we used a cold knife. The edge of the knife isn’t particularly sharp and drawing the knife downwards through that layer of wax requires steadiness in order to break through the wax.
With a firm hand, Bee Daddy and I each took turns drawing the knife downwards, scraping off the very top layer of wax, allowing the wax to fall into the extractor drum. I must say, Bee Daddy has a knack for uncapping. I tended to gouge the wax and I wasn’t steady in my strokes. I also burned my hand a couple of times. Ouch! And next time, I’ll pony-tail my shoulder-length hair before extraction. Because…honey.
Notice in this photo that at the top of the frame, the wax that has been scraped from the cells and the honey which is exposed sits in those cells, shiny and ready for dripping. Below the knife, the wax still covers the honey cells and is not shiny, but dull. The honey there isn’t yet free to ooze.
Once we’d uncapped all there was to uncap, it was time to twirl and swirl.
Round and round and round he goes! Bee Daddy turns the extractor handle for several minutes, occasionally peeking into the drum to check on the spew of honey out of the frames. Centrifugal force is the power that flings and slings the honey to the side and bottom of the drum.
After only 3 – 5 minutes of turning, we decided that most of the honey was out of the frames and into the bottom of the drum.
Here sit the frames, sans honey.
Even with extraction, there’s still honey remaining on the equipment. It’s impossible to get all of the honey off of whatever equipment is used–no way, no how! I’m not meticulous about scrapping every bit of honey and always leave plenty for the bees; they’re efficient honey cleaners and they’re quite determined to finish the work. I placed the extractor drum outside by the hives once the bulk of honey was out of the drum, through the strainers, and into the bowl.
It was a nice set-up for the bees and they worked for the rest of the day cleaning up that bit of honey impossible for us to get. My other choice would be to wash the whole lot, but that’s a waste of perfectly good honey. I think the bees deserve the honey as they’re the work horses in this honey adventure. After the bees slurped the bulk of post extraction honey, I washed the drum and extraneous parts. To see how I’ve washed the bulky extractor previously, check out the post about the extractor’s first bath.
There was very little wax wastage in this extraction process, which is, after all, the point of mechanical extraction. Heretofore, because of Scar’s Warre hive design, we’ve always employed a crush-n-drain method, which destroys the beautiful wax and is messy and time-consuming. Taking honey with an extractor is the bomb! Easy, significantly less effort and mess, the combed frames preserved for future use by the bees, it’s clear why the mechanical extraction method became the process most beekeepers use.
We extracted nearly a gallon from the two frames. Fall honey is always darker, thicker, and richer than our spring honey.
The frame removal check was probably our last hive check for this year. It’s now cool and wet enough that the bees are snuggled in for their autumn/winter respite. We’ll check them sometime in February and I’ll probably feed them at that time, too. Then as the days grow longer and the weather warms, the queens will ramp up their egg laying and our honeybee world will be back in action.
What a lovely look inside the world of beekeeping! Thank you so much for sharing!
You’re welcome, Susan. Thanks for reading!
Thanks from me, too. Now I know a lot more about honey! Fascinating project you & your bees have got going 🙂
You’re welcome, Hollis. It has been quite the ride with these gals!
Did you take a class to learn how to do all that? I think I have the same table, is it a draw leaf?
I took one class at Round Rock Honey and we went to Austin Area Beekeepers Association meetings for a year or so. We didn’t attend every meeting, but enough to learn. And, we read. Backyard beekeeping is a whole world unto itself: weird terms, levels of activity depending upon where the beehives are in their development, changes in their behavior (like the mini swarm) every year. It’s been challenging, but very satisfying, to learn.
Haha–our table is an antique. My husband bought it back in the mid-80s before I came into to the picture (I’m an antique, too! :). I think the table is European; the chairs we use now came later and they’re American. Don’t ask me the difference–I don’t know–but people who know about these things have told me that.
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How can it be that I’ve never realized bees eat honey? I guess I thought they just make it. I laughed at the sight of them crawling over the extractor. I imagined them sitting around, licking their feet to get all that gooey goodness off.
That really is quite a process, but it certainly seems much more efficient than the other system. When I was reading the description of cranking the extractor handle, I was reminded of a kitchen tool from long, long ago — the lettuce dryer. It was a gizmo you put your greens in after washing, and then cranked a handle until centrifugal force had sent all the water flying off the leaves. My grandmother — and my home ec teacher — did it even more simply, twirling the lettuce in a dishtowel. Of course, you had to go outside to do that.
I really enjoyed this. I got a kick out of your ponytail comment, and like that knife. It’s not just butter that a hot knife can slice through!
You thought those gals made all that sweet stuff out of the goodness of their buzzy little hearts, eh? Lol–that’s funny! Honeybees are driven to make and hoard honey and they eat their labors during drought, rains, winter. And sometimes, they share, not willingly–but we’re bigger than they are and we have suits and smoke. 🙂
It was a process but so, so much easier than what we’ve had to do before–I’m thrilled that our little two-framer works so well.
I think there are now similar plastic greens slingers around. I usually shake my washed greens, then pat dry (which isn’t all that dry) but it gets most of the water out. The lettuce colanders that I’ve seen twirl around within a bowl. Maybe I should consider joining the 21st century.
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I forgot to address your comment about the bees licking themselves clean of honey–they do! It’s pretty cute, too: little legs extended, a co-worker walking by and that tongue comes out and the honey disappear.
I don’t know if you ever saw my post about our varroa checks, but we use powdered sugar. Guess what? Bees like that too! https://mygardenersays.com/2017/03/21/sugared-bees-anyone/
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Now that you reminded me of it, I do remember that post. Those powdered sugar-covered bees are so cute, and their behavior becomes more amazing every time you write about it. I noticed some hives again today. I never used to see them — I suppose I’m just more aware of them now because I realize they’re around.
Oooh. I bet you’ve made biscuits. Or cornbread. Or steeped the perfect cup of tea…
Cornbread is my thing. Oh, warm cornbread, butter, honey. Weeeeeee!
A fascinating process. I’ll bet that fall honey is delicious! Nice that the bees got a share of the goodies.
The fall honey is beautifully rich, but I think I prefer spring honey. It’s very floral and light and that appeals. But it’s all good–really good.
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How fascinating! I love reading about your bees – thanks so much for sharing the extraction process.
Thanks so much for reading, Maggie!
Wow, those were jam-packed frames! I envy you your high tech equipment!
Gah! Somehow I missed this comment–yes, the “high-tech” honey equipment is great!
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