Let’s Make Honey, Honey

I know there are a lot of beekeepers who read this blog, so if you’re one of them look away now! I thought it might be fun to post a few photos of the process of making honey for the non-apiarists though. I’m far from an expert beekeeper, although I’ve been keeping them more or less successfully from 2005. I’ve been on a couple of courses hosted by my local division of the BBKA, and picked up a lot from the beekeepers I know, but still feel I’ve a lot to learn. It’s a real art, and not something that can be learnt from books in a couple of years. We only have between 2 and 4 hives, but they seem to do well and I’ve developed my own style of looking after them. To be honest I’m more into the husbandry side of it than the honey production, but it’s still very satisfying turning up to dinner parties with a pots of honey, or selling them at the village fete. So, how do you get the honey into jars?
Homeward boundOur most successful honey producers this year started life in 2009 as a swarm from one of my friend’s hives, which I captured and hived. The photo shows the queen leading the swarm into their new home in May last year. The big box you see is mostly the “brood chamber”, which has vertical frames of wax “foundation” inside for the bees draw out into cells (beekeepers of old and many current apiarists don’t use these, but let the bees make their own wild comb). These will either be filled with eggs by the queen, or pollen or honey by the workers. When the colony starts to expand, in the spring, I put a metal grill “queen excluder” on top of the main box. Because the worker bees are smaller than the queen they can get through it but the queen can’t. On top of that I put smaller boxes, “supers”, with wax foundation. Because the queen can’t get to them to lay her eggs, the workers fill them up with honey. HoneyThe photo shows a super with a full frame. There’s a lot goes on over the summer, of course, which is for me where the fascination is, but if things go well you end up with a crop of honey to extract in early August. I take much less honey than many beekeepers, which means that I don’t have to feed the bees with suger syrup over the winter as they have more than enough by way of natural stores. Honey extractionThe first stage of the extraction process of the honey we do take is to get rid of the bees from the supers, which we do with a simple system of bee valves which let the bees in one way, down to the brood chamber, but not back up again. Once that’s done, we lug the boxes back to our honey extraction centre (AKA my office) where my glamorous assistant starts the process of decapping. Once the bees have collected enough honey in a cell they cap it with wax, which we remove with a heated decapping knife. Centrifugal honey extractorIt’s a sticky business. Once that’s done we pop the frames in our extractor, which works by centrifugal force; turn the handle, it whizzes the frames around three at a time, and the honey spins out onto its sides where it then falls in rich globs to the bottom of the tank. Next we filter it through a fine sieve into a settling tank overnight. Then, hey presto, Lamyatt honey, which we bottle in rather superior hexagonal jars. I was really pleased this year because I managed to make some squares of comb honey too in minute quantities, which has already been reserved for close family and those local friends with the best wine cellars. Whisper it not, but we’ve had our biggest year this year, and the honey is delicious. I usually make furniture polish or candles with the wax, but that’s another story. Before I do I have to treat the bees for disease and clear up sticky floors, sticky sink, sticky kitchen surface, sticky door handles, sticky…
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