I extracted some honey in my garage over the past couple of days. I’d like to say there’s a precise method to my extraction process, but like everything in beekeeping, there isn’t — and don’t let nobody tell ya no different (just like Sling Blade would say). Now let’s take a gander at how it all went down:
00:00 — Intro to the extractor. Everything is sanitized, from the extractor to the stainless steel honey filter to the honey bucket. The garage might look rough, but it’s well ventilated and there are no chemicals or gasoline or any toxic fumes floating around.
The following was written while I was lying in bed with the flu for a few days last winter. It’s long for no reason other than I was sick and had nothing better to do than try to write the longest post in the world. You’ve been warned. I could condense the whole thing down to two or three sentences, but what’s the fun in that?
Subtitled: How I Sometimes Assemble Beehive Frames
Ever pull a big frame full of honey from a hive, only to have it fall apart on you? You know what I’m talking about: one of the sidebars disconnects from the frame and the heavy comb of honey pops out of the frame and just sort of hangs awkwardly from one side while you try to maneuverer it so you don’t crush any bees? Yeah, that. (Am I the only one who had a hard time reading that with this animated GIF distracting me the whole time?)
So I pulled out my honey extractor and used it to whip some honey out of about six or seven medium frames. The honey wasn’t completely cured. That is, it wasn’t completely capped and some of the nectar was still floating around fancy and loose and therefore, technically, it wasn’t honey. But it was (and is) technically delicious, so who cares? Not me. I don’t sell it for public consumption, but I eat it all the time and so do my friends. It’s probably not a bad honey for making mead.
Brief April 2019 Introduction: I have no doubt about it now. This is how I use my hive top feeders, with the screen over the middle portion of the feeder, not the reservoirs. I also have screen stapled down in the reservoirs to prevent the bees from getting into them once the feeders runs dry.
Last year I posted a video of a simple modification I make to hive top feeders that prevents bees from drowning in them. I staple screen over the syrup reservoirs and along the bottom edge inside the reservoirs so there is no way the bees can get into the reservoirs and drown.
If the screen above the reservoirs extended over the entrance area of the feeder (the part where the bees come up to access the syrup, whatever part that’s called), then the bees would also be contained inside the hive. I didn’t have enough screen to do all that recently, but I did add some screen to the entrance area of the feeder so it looks like this:
Hive top feeder with screen stapled over the area where the bees comes up. (Oct. 02, 2016.)
I plan (that is, I hope) to extract two medium supers full of honey this weekend. But first I need to remove the bees from the honey supers. I do that by placing an escape board beneath the honey supers. Some people call them bee escape boards, but it’s obvious that we’re talking about bees here, so I just call them escape boards. Here’s a video I recorded today that demonstrates how it works:
The bees pass down through a hole in the board (usually at night when they want to be closer to the warmth of the cluster), then through a maze covered by a mesh that leads to the brood chamber. The maze is so massively complicated that the bees are unable to find their way back through it. Within a few days most or all of the bees (in theory) will have “escaped” from the honey super so that humans can easily remove it without bothering anyone.
Most new beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland (and many other places on the planet) will start up their first colonies with what is often referred to as a nuc, or a nucleus colony, or a starter hive that contains a laying queen, at least one frame of brood, a frame or two of pollen and honey, and usually a blank or empty frame to give the worker bees something to work on while they’re stuck in a 4-frame nuc box for up to a week. The frames from the nuc are usually placed inside a single hive body (in Newfoundland, it’s usually a deep) with empty frames to fill in the rest of the box. A feeder of some sort is installed. And that’s it. The following 24-minute video demonstrates the entire process.
I’ll post a condensed version of this video at a later date if I can, but for now it’s probably more helpful to show how it plays out in real time (more or less) so that anyone new to all this, or anyone thinking about starting up a few honey bee colonies next year, will have a realistic idea of what to expect when it comes time to install their first nuc. I plan to post follow-up videos to track the progress of this colony right into next spring, again so that anyone hoping to start up their own hives in the future will have a non-idealized take on what to expect.
It was well over 30°C (86°F) by the time I finished installing all of my nucs. The sweat was pouring off my face and stinging my eyes. Expect that too. Continue reading →
The following is probably the most detailed video of a hive inspection that I’ve posted since the dawn of Mud Songs. For everyone who couldn’t attend the informal beekeeping workshop I had planned to put on today, this video shows what you missed (or would have missed if I’d gone ahead with the workshop). It’s a 24-minute video, which is longer than my usual videos because I left in the all the parts with me yammering on about what I’m doing — exactly the kind of yammering I’d do if I was giving a workshop.
April 2019 Introduction: When I first wrote this post (in 2012 and revised in 2014), I had to order all my beekeeping supplies from Beemaid in Manitoba. I never had a problem with anything I purchased from Beemaid. The hive components, smokers, bee jackets, pollen patties — everything was top quality at a good price. But shipping from Manitoba was expensive, usually clocking in at around 40% of the total cost before taxes. Crazy.
Today, fortunately, G & M Family Farm in Freshwater sells all the beekeeping supplies most new beekeepers would ever need to start beekeeping in Newfoundland — and that makes it much more affordable than it was when I got into beekeeping in 2010.
Many people in Newfoundland over the years have ordered from Country Fields out of Nova Scotia, but I always found I got a better deal from Beemaid even after the shipping costs. The best deal I ever had was from Lewis & Sons out of Manitoba. Had I discovered them years ago, I would have saved a fortune. Large bulk group orders from them (several hundred pounds) even today might cost less than ordering locally. But generally speaking, G & M seems like the way to go.
Here’s what my first standard Langstroth hive looked like back when I started:
I’m a true believer in moisture quilts as the best overall ventilation and moisture reduction aid for Langstroth hives in the winter. I’m a true believer because I’ve seen soaking wet hives become dry as a bone within a week of having moisture quilts installed.
An emergency moisture quilt that saved this colony. (January, 2014.)
Empty moisture quilts are excellent ventilation aids in the high heat of summer too, allowing the bees to regulate the temperature of the brood nest with less fanning and to cure honey sooner. Moisture quilts are also really cheap and easy to make. Everybody wins. Continue reading →
I’ve already written about my switch to rubber bee gloves. I wear them because they’re more tactical than goat skin gloves, but boy oh boy do they ever fill up with sweat in no time. Here’s what my fingers looked like after about an hour of beekeeping in the sun today:
Wrinkled fingers after sweating in rubber gloves. (June 10, 2015.)
And my hands stink like rubber. I still prefer them over goat skin. I’ll wear goat skin when I want extra protection from bees that I know I’m going to upset, or in the winter for warmth. But I think I’ll invest in several pairs of rubber gloves so I can strip them off, dry my hands and put on a fresh pair every 30 minutes or so. It wouldn’t hurt. By the time I was finished with the bees today, I could feel the sweat trapped inside the fingers of the gloves squirting around every time I gripped onto something.
Something To Keep In Mind: Plastic buckets from the hardware store contain BFA, a substance that is generally not good for humans. I doubt much BFA would get into the honey in this process because the honey isn’t stored in the plastic. It mostly just passes through the plastic funnels and sits in the plastic bucket for less than a day. But still, stainless steel or food-grade plastic buckets are preferable. Honey meant for public consumption should not come in contact with non-food-grade plastic.
I recently crushed and strained about 6 litres of liquid honey (about 1.6 US gallons) from a medium honey super. I followed what some called the 3-bucket method (a method I stole from the Backwards Beekeepers), which I’ve demonstrated before, except I didn’t do it properly the first time. This time I did it right and it worked perfectly. The process is explained with labelled photos below. Basically you pour the crushed comb honey into a bucket with holes it, which drains into a bucket with a paint strainer on it. Then you bottle your honey.
Honey with crushed comb dripping from top bucket (bucket #1) into a bucket with holes (bucket #2), then straining into a bottom bucket (bucket#3). (Oct. 07, 2014.)
This probably isn’t a bad method for hobbyist beekeepers with a small number of hives. Comb honey is the best, but for liquid honey, crush-and-strained in my experience tastes and feels better than extracted honey. The fact that the honey strains through the beeswax, much of flavour of the wax — which is a huge component of natural honey — isn’t lost like it would be with extracted honey.
I thought I’d put a quick spotlight on something I’ve only mentioned in passing before (and that allows me to recycle some old videos): Decapping honey frames with a heat gun instead of a decapping knife.
For anyone who came late: Honey bees store honey in wax cells like little Mason jars. Mason jars aren’t cheap and neither are the lids, so the bees simply seal them with wax. These wax lids are called caps. When the bees get hungry for honey, they chew threw the wax caps and dig in. When humans get hungry for the honey, they can’t chew open the comb because that’d be silly. Instead they remove the wax caps with a long straight blade sometimes referred to as a decapping knife. Then they put the frames full of opened honey combs into a machine called an extractor that whips the honey out of the cells through the use of centrifugal force — by spinning it really fast. The honey then drips down into a bucket and the humans eat it.
I’ve used a heat gun instead of a decapping knife for three seasons now and I love it because:
1) It’s cheap as dirt. An electric decapping knife goes for about $150 before taxes and shipping. I paid $30 for my heat gun.
2) It’s quick and easy to use and it doesn’t leave behind any kind of mess. An electric decapping knife requires careful attention so you don’t burn yourself or the honey, and although it may be a little quicker to use once you get used to it, it makes a mess. You’re left with honey and wax to clean up afterwards. Some people don’t mind all that left over wax. They use it make a variety of creams and cosmetic products. But I don’t.
Decapping a frame of honey with a hot knife. (Oct. 1, 2011.)
I’ve had no problems extracting honey from frames that were decapped with a heat gun (and the bees have no problem refilling the frames afterwards). Sometimes I scrape the caps with a fork as well (yup, a regular old kitchen fork) just to be sure the caps are unsealed. That takes an additional three seconds. Big deal. So this is me, Phillip, the curator of all beekeeping things a la Mud Songs, giving a big thumbs up to depcapping honey frames with a $30 heat gun instead of a messy $150 decapping knife. Continue reading →
June 2019 Introduction: I use regular dishwashing gloves all the time now, though I use my bare hands when I can, when I know the bees are in a good mood. I wouldn’t mind having a pair of goat skin gloves for the rare occasion when I need to dig into a defensive colony, but I just haven’t gotten around to buying another pair.
The standard issue goat skin bee gloves designed for beekeepers can get sweaty. Here’s a photo of my hand after beekeeping in 20°C heat (68°F) for about half an hour — and it usually gets a lot sweatier than this:
I recently experimented with using heavy duty rubber gloves, slightly thicker than dish washing gloves. They don’t breathe at all but provide a better feel than goat coat skin. NOTE: Gloves that don’t have long cuffs and therefore don’t provide wrist protection aren’t so great. Blue medical examination gloves, the kind dentists use, are even thinner than dish washing gloves. The bees can easily sting through them and they offer no wrist protection. I’ve gone barehanded at times, too, but only when I’m not digging too deep into a hive.
August 2nd, 2014: I’ve been using heavy duty rubber gloves for about two months now and I haven’t had any problems with them other than the fact that my hands get instantly sweaty and the sweat accumulates in the fingers of the gloves after about an hour. For hygienic reasons, I try (but usually forget) to wash them in soapy water after every use and then hang up to dry. The bees, when determined, can sting through them. I got stung today for the first time. It wasn’t a deep sting but a surprising sting nonetheless. I wouldn’t use rubber gloves with defensive bees or during any kind of beekeeping that could rile up the bees. But for everyday maintenance and poking around, the heavy duty rubber gloves are the gloves for me. They’re more tactile, and even though they’re sweaty, I don’t get nearly as hot wearing them as I do with goat skin gloves. I’m not trying to advertise a specific brand of rubber gloves, but the ones I bought from a big box hardware store are described as “Long Cuff Neoprene Gloves.”
August 28th, 2015: I can’t remember the last time I used my goat skin gloves. I use a variety of rubber gloves instead. Regular dishwashing gloves are fine. They don’t have to be heavy duty (though that doesn’t hurt). The bees can still sting through them, but that’s rare and the stinger never gets in too deep, so it’s not a problem. The gloves are always wet with sweat on the inside, but they flip inside-out when I take them off and dry quickly when hung up. I blow them up like balloons to inflate the fingers if they’re crumpled up. There’s a good chance I’ll never buy goat skin or leather bee gloves again.
A curious note: I get more SPAM comments for this post than anything I’ve written on Mud Songs. The comments are clearly written by real people too — people trying to sell me their brand of rubber gloves. There’s probably a group of rubber glove manufacturers who think, “If we could break into the beekeeping market, we’d be rich!” That’s fine with me. Send me a box of rubber gloves with long cuffs (some large gloves for my big man hands and small gloves for my partner’s hands). I’ll use them in my beekeeping for a full year and write-up an honest review of them when I’m done. I have no problem promoting a product that has been helpful in my beekeeping.
If you’re a colour blind beekeeper who keeps dropping your hive tools in the grass, here’s a little trick that should help you spot said hive tool in the grass: YELLOW DUCT TAPE.
I should have taken a photo of one of the hive tools in the grass so people who are colour blind can see how well the yellow stands out, but you get the idea. Blue isn’t bad either, but yellow creates an excellent contrast.
Another pro tip: When I’m done for the day, I just leave my hive tool on top of a hive. That way I always know where I left it, though dropping it on the ground and even inside a hive is not unheard for me. I’m pretty goofy with my hive tools.