Sunday, May 8, 2016

Honey: From Hive to Bottle

A couple weeks ago I was informed that my nephew wanted to know how my bees' honey gets collected and bottled. Since I neglected to post any pictures either here or on Facebook regarding extraction I guess it's past due. So here you go kiddo, this is how it happens.

Set up and ready to extract.
When the honey supers (the top boxes) got full last summer, A. and I took them off the hives and had to get the bees out so we could put the frames in the car and drive them home. Originally we had an electric leaf blower to try to blow the bees out of the boxes but it wasn't strong enough. Bees are persistent when it comes to their honey. We also tried almond extract on a homemade fume frame (a piece of felt attached to an eke sort of like a stretched canvas) but that didn't work either so instead we had to shake and brush the bees off frame by frame and sneak the frames away from the hives into a closed box as quickly as possible. It worked pretty well but was more messy and time consuming that we had anticipated. The main thing is that we got all the bees off of the honey frames.

After we loaded up all the honey supers and drove home I set up the extractor that I borrowed from my brother-in-law's father (Mr. Jensen) while A. went inside to boil some water to heat the uncapping knives (also borrowed from Mr. Jensen). It's a pretty neat old extractor with a cast iron gear and wooden handle that holds four frames. An extractor is a like the spin cycle on a washing machine. It's a large metal barrel with a spigot on the bottom and a rotating cage or drum inside. There are two main types of extractors. Radial extractors and tangential extractors. The difference is in how the frames are placed in the drum. With a radial extractor, the frames are held in the cage so that they look like spokes on a wagon wheel or bicycle wheel. In a tangential extractor the frames are placed so that one side of the frame faces to the inside and one side faces to the outside. The extractor that I'm using is a tangential extractor.

Once the extractor was set up and the water was hot, A. brought the big pot of hot water outside with the uncapping knives in it and we got down to the business of getting sticky.
Knives getting hot.
Cutting the caps off.
 Well...I did. A. took pictures and brought me the tools I didn't know I would need (also a very important job). To begin I took one frame at a time and rested it on it's short side over my uncapping bucket. Then I took one of the hot uncapping knives out of the pot, wiped off the water and slowly cut the cappings off of one side of the frame.
Then I turned the frame around and cut the cappings off of the other side. The cappings fell into the bucket to strain the honey out of later and the frame went into the extractor. After I did 3 more frames, I had a full extractor. I opened the spigot on the bottom of the extractor and turned the crank to make the cage spin around inside the barrel. As the cage spins faster and faster, the honey is flung out of the comb cells and onto the inside of the barrel where it drips down the inside and flows out of the spigot into a waiting clean bucket. Since I have a tangential extractor the honey only gets flung out of one side of the frames at a time so I have to stop after a few minutes and turn the frames around so that I can get the honey out of the other side. Then the empty frames are removed and the process starts over by uncapping more frames.
Frames waiting for a 4th frame for extracting.
Turning the crank.

After all the frames are uncapped and spun out, the inside of the barrel gets scraped out to get as much honey as possible and everything gets cleaned up. The honey in the buckets has to sit for a day or two so that all the "extra" stuff (bee legs, wax bits, etc) can float up to the surface of the bucket and get skimmed off before bottling.

When we're ready to bottle, the honey gets poured into a bucket with a spigot in the bottom and then I dispense the honey into bottles and A. tops them off (by weight) and caps them. I put the labels on and the bottles are ready to be sold or given away.

And that, dear nephew, is how my bees' honey gets from the hive into the bottles and eventually into your mouth. I hope you enjoy it.

Here's some more pictures from the whole process to check-out:
Honey coming out of the extractor and being minimally strained as it drips into the collection bucket.

Cutting off caps.
Sometimes the uncapping knife can't get all the caps so I use the uncapping fork to pull off the rest.

Some honey drips into the uncapping bucket with the wax caps. This all gets strained and separated later.