Alas, a farming travel writer can’t spend all her time on the road. But with every season comes different adventures, and some as thrilling as those found traversing the globe. Maybe you noticed through the lens of my Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook stories that Spring came and went with the expansion of our small orchard, a bounty of curious, newborn calves, and fields painted with the purple, white, and red blooms of clovers. From building new raised garden beds to working cows, we bounded into summer headfirst without a backward glance!
But of all the growth happening here on the homestead, I’m most excited about our flourishing bee colonies! Ever since accidentally becoming a beekeeper two summers ago, I’ve spent many afternoons fascinated as the bees come and go, listening to their content hum as the whitewashed hives turned pink and orange in dusk’s light. All the while, impatiently waiting while they cultivated strong, healthy colonies capable of rebounding from a honey harvest.
And cultivate they did! Early one May morning curiosity got the best of me, so I lit my smoker, donned my stylish bee suit, and took a peek into the hives. Wedging my hive tool between the cover and top box, the nectarous scent of honey wafted out amid the thrum of thousands of beating wings. Gently setting the hive cover aside, I inspected all the frames within the box and found them laden with capped honeycomb! Finally!
Beyond excited, I closed the hive back up and began planning. Not only would I need an extra set of hands but also a few items to make the process run smoothly. But my excitement was quickly doused when faced with the outrageous prices of equipment offered by beekeeping catalogs and websites. Six hundred dollars for a beginner’s extractor kit?!? Two hundred dollars for a hand-cranked “economy” extractor?!? Thirty dollars for a plain five-gallon bucket with a “honey gate”? Nope, nope, and nope. Time to get creative.
Since we only plan on harvesting just a few frames from each hive, the “crush and strain” method would suffice. Aptly named; this method requires standard kitchen equipment found in most retail or bulk supply stores.
My Honey Harvest Supply List:
- Container with lid (like this one)- to place frames in after removing from the hives
- Large, wide food safe container with 1-inch valve or honey gate (I used this one) – to scrape honeycomb into, crush, and allow honey to drain from
- Wide spatula or scraper (I used this)- to remove the comb from the foundation
- Strainer and cheesecloth (I used one I already had like this)- to strain out comb pieces from extracted honey and crushed comb
- Deep food safe container with a honey gate or 1-inch valve attached (I used this one)- to catch strained honey and fill jars from
I found everything I needed, except for the honey gates, at a local commercial kitchen supply store for around $60. I found these on Amazon for $7.99. Once my gates arrived, Mr. Gypsy kindly drilled a 1 3/4-inch hole into my tray and bucket and attached my honey gates. Next step, harvesting!
Just as the sun began to rise and before the temperature could climb any higher, we slipped into our suits and gathered our tools. With gloved hands, we opened the first hive, gently applying a puff of smoke or two. I shimmied out the first frame and held it while Mr. Gypsy softly brushed the bees off the comb and back into the hive. Working quickly, he placed the frame in the tote and replaced the lid, ensuring no hitchhikers make their way back to the house. We conservatively collected just four frames from each hive replacing them with empty frames.
The hard part over, it was time to get sticky. Rubber exam gloves and spatula in hand, I scraped the honeycomb off the foundations into the wide container. Next, I crushed and squeezed the comb to release as much honey as possible. Under the container filled with crushed comb and honey, I placed the deep container and strainer lined with cheesecloth. Next, I allowed the slurry to strain overnight resulting in almost 2 gallons of pure, raw, unadulterated deliciousness ready to be bottled and several pounds of natural, sticky beeswax.
No need to worry about any waste here. The bees will strip the wax of any remaining honey, leaving me with plenty of wax to render down for…well, something, but that’s another post for another time.
To see this process in action…