Harvesting Honey

Did you ever wake up and ask yourself, “I wonder what I could do today that would seriously irritate a hive filled with 20,000 bees…”

Well, wonder no more – fellow bee inquisitors!  I have found the answer to this question!

It turns out that a colony of bees can be perfectly reasonable all summer, but with fall comes a decrease in temperature and an increase in bee hostility.  Yesterday we experienced a little display…..a ‘honey bee hissy fit’ if you will….. probably because we had come to dismantle their home and to steal some of the food that they had worked very hard all summer to preserve.

Honey comb with nearly 1/3 of the frame filled and capped.

When you put it that way, their reaction doesn’t seem unreasonable.  The good news here is that they seemed to blame my husband and focused on him while I continued to dismantle their home and steal their food. 

Trying to convince the bees to leave the honey comb and go into their hive.

There are a few different ideas out there on the best way to remove bees from their honey frames.  The books recommend knocking the bees off with one or two brisk shakes of the frame.  We tried this, and maybe I need more practice knocking things around, but shaking the frames only seemed to remove 3 or 4 of the approximately 200 bees that were on each frame.

The book also says that you can brush the bees away from their frames with a soft bristled ‘bee brush’.  The book warned us that brushing the bees can upset them a bit.  The book was correct.  However, on the bright side…..

The beginnings of a swarm on Ron’s shoulder. He was happy that I took the time to photograph instead of brushing them away quickly….

They definitely felt that Ron was to blame for all of this upheaval.  Every swipe of the brush would send 40 or 50 bees back to their hive, and 60 or 70 bees to my hubby’s right shoulder.  It reminded me of a parrot on a pirate’s shoulder…a really angry parrot that could sting.  The bees didn’t seem to be overly concerned with me brushing them away from the frames, but they were very unimpressed with the guy standing back there telling me what to do….and who can blame them? 

After a few minutes of coaxing and brushing, the bees agreed that Ron wasn’t such a bad guy and started to head back to their hive. 


Bees returning home.


Ron says that is about as uncomfortable as he has ever been around the bees.  This was partly because he was only wearing a half suit.  He was afraid to lean over and pick up any frames because if his half suit pulled up, it was going to expose his ummm….undercarriage….and that is not a place that you want bees to venture into.


Swarmy and upset bees.


Back at the house, we began to remove the wax cappings from the honey comb with a wax scratcher.  Once the cappings are removed, the honey is ready to be spun out of the frames.

Removing the wax caps.

We were excited to test our brand new Rubbermaid centrifuge.  You see, a brand new stainless steel two frame centrifuge costs $425.00.  However, a brand new Rubbermaid garbage can, some threaded rod and a little creative ingenuity (Ron’s, not mine), costs $40.00.  For this little hobby, we decided to go with the second option.  It worked like a charm!

The Rubbermaid Centrifuge.

With our Rubbermaid handy man’s special, we can extract 20 pounds of honey in less than 20 minutes.  As long as our drill motor keeps drilling we are in business!

Honey ready to be extracted from the frame.

(If you are interested in the specifics of how Ron built his own honey centrifuge, the details will be coming in a later post).

Empty honey comb after the honey has been extracted. The yellow dot is pollen.

After spinning the honey out of the frames, we filter it to remove the bits of wax capping that has fallen into the centrifuge.  A fine kitchen strainer or cheesecloth does the job, but we used a honey storage tank with filters that fit inside. 

Honey going through the filter and into the storage tank.

The honey tank also has a ‘honey gate’ on it, which is a valve that makes putting your honey into containers a really easy job.  If it wasn’t so sticky, I would say it was slick.

Clear filtered canola honey…yum!

We removed honey from the hive three times this year.  The first time we were just very curious to see what our honey tasted like, so we harvested an early batch on July 31 and got 20 pounds of crystal clear canola honey from only four frames.  We were shocked and delighted to find that it tasted just like honey!  Some would say that we should have expected this, and we did, but it’s still exciting to prove one’s hypothesis to be correct!

The second honey harvest was intended to be the final one.  September 12 seemed like a good time to assume that the nectar flow was over and it was time to harvest what the bees had produced.  We extracted another 20 pounds.  After this harvest we returned the frames to the bees so that they could clean up the bits of honey that were left behind as part of their fall feeding program.

On October 9 we visited the hive with the intention of removing the honey super to get the bees ready to be wrapped for winter.  Removing the super we discovered…you guessed it…another 20 pounds of honey had been collected by the bees.  It had been a warm September and early October, so there had still been thistle and clover flowers available for the bees to visit.  Apparently enough for them to collect a lot of nectar in such a short period of time!  Because this thistle honey hadn’t been in the hive for very long, it has high moisture content and is very liquid.  We will use it for cooking and baking as a replacement for sugar and in dressings and glazes.

One of three honey harvests.

In our first year as beekeepers, we were able to harvest over 60 pounds of honey from our bees!  This does not include the frames of honey that the bees have in their brood box, stored as their winter feed source.

Who wants to lick out the garbage can?

It has been an exciting first honey season.  We are doing a lot of research and reading everything we can find on how to successfully winter our bees.  Live bees in spring, healthy and ready to go foraging for nectar as soon as the first dandelions poke their heads out of the grass will mean even more honey for us next fall. However, with the early arrival of ‘the great white equalizer’ in the form of an October blizzard, it looks like we might be in for a tumultuous winter.  We hope that Mother Nature will take it easy on our little colony. 

To prepare the bees for the cold days ahead, we have wrapped the hive in insulation to serve as a type of ‘bee snowsuit’ and keep them warm as the temperature drops.  I will post pictures of this just as soon as I finish wiping up the sticky spots on our kitchen floor…and chairs…and table…and countertops…and walls.  Spinning honey in the kitchen is a sticky situation!

“”Well,” said Pooh “what I like best–” and then he had to stop and think.  Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.” – Winnie the Pooh quotes.




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