How We Harvested Honey This Year
That’s it; we have finally finished extracting honey for 2022. We got 1,540 lbs for the season, an average of 55 lbs per hive, using the number of full-sized hives in the spring as the denominator. We took a small amount in the spring (270 lbs) but most was in August. I’m knackered. I had to rush home to catch the football match (Bournemouth vs Arsenal), so I still have some tidying up.
I’m content with my harvest but recognise that there are people who consistently beat 100 lbs per hive year in, year out. My friend Paul Horton, a bee farmer in Lincolnshire, manages to average over 130 lbs per hive. This year has been even better. We are working on a book together – he is the beekeeping expert, and I’m the writer. The mysterious ways Paul achieves such a honey bonanza will be revealed in due course.
The way we extracted is as follows, in case anyone’s interested.
It’s a mole’s world
We do one apiary at a time. By ‘we’, I mean my son (the mole) and myself (the walrus). Some may think this is an odd family, but it works for us. Usually, there are five to eight colonies with capped supers at each site. We check the supers to determine which needs extracting. We put on clearer boards with the capped supers above and everything else below. It’s generally the brood box and sometimes a partially filled super that sits below the boards. The bees are often quite unhappy about our activities – some positively murderous.
Supers off, Thymol on
The next day we return to remove the cleared supers and apply varroa treatments to every hive. As we use Langstroth boxes, a deep box full of honey needs two people to carry it. We move the supers to a trolley, then drag it to the van and load up. The clearer boards also come back in the van, along with a few straggler bees and wasps. At one site, the ground is too uneven for the trolley, so we have to lift the boxes across the terrain. Who needs the gym?
As I don’t have the time to do mite checks at this time, every hive gets treated with Thymovar (thymol) or similar. I like it because it’s easy to use – one strip cut in half per brood box. The nucs get just half a strip, and most needed some sugar syrup too. It looks like we have been without a honey flow for several weeks. There are signs on the bees that they have visited Himalayan balsam but no evidence of new nectar in the frames.
On arrival at our home base, the honey boxes are carried into the shed, which houses my 30-frame extractor and assorted bee equipment. It’s only a hundred paces from my main apiary and is far from bee-proof, so we usually have to extract in bee suits surrounded by plenty of bees and wasps. It’s not ideal, but what can you do? The long-suffering farmer has to tolerate some severe bee traffic at extraction time.
The mole and I each have our own uncapping tray. After much experimentation, we have settled on the device shown below as the best tool for the job. I don’t have enough hives to justify buying an uncapping machine – they are silly money. Anyway, on goes the music, and off we go, uncapping frames and loading up the extractor. I’m not going to use deep boxes for honey anymore. They weigh a ton, and I always get blowouts. I much prefer the plastic medium Langstroth frames for honey.
When the extractor is fully loaded, we can press ‘start’ on the Lyson control panel and have a rest for the 540 seconds it takes to spin out our honey. We just let the honey run straight into plastic 40 Kg tanks (with taps) – no filtering. The reason is that, in my experience, filtering slows it right down. I will filter the honey later on when I put it into jars, but that’s not yet. On the lid of each honey tank, I write the apiary name and date. It’s nice to know precisely where the honey came from. I pay my rent to farmers in the form of honey from their actual land, which they appreciate.
The extracted frames go back into their boxes, which form a pile in the shed. Unfortunately, they are a magnet for bees and wasps. As soon as we have finished extracting all of the frames from that apiary, we move the empty boxes and stack them in a field a long way from the house/buildings. I put a lid on the top and bottom of the stack but can’t promise that some robbing does not occur. Not ideal, but at least any bee frenzy is away from people. Later on they’ll return to the shed for the winter. If I were a ‘pro,’ I’d wrap them all up in polythene sheeting and store them on pallets in a shed.
We then have to do a massive tidy-up, using a hose to clean out the extractor and the counters and floors. The idea is to have no honey lying about. The bees/wasps soon move on. Then, off to the next apiary to put on clearer boards, and the cycle continues. Apparently, it is scandalous that I chuck my wax cappings away rather than process them into clean blocks of pure bee wax. Truth is, I can’t be arsed. Bad walrus.
The honey in the plastic tanks soon goes solid. I move it to my home, where my honey warming cabinet is. After warming the honey, so it goes liquid, I filter it into another tank and tap it into jars. This occurs in my kitchen, where it’s clean and free of robbing bees and wasps. None of this is fun for me – I love keeping bees, and I especially love raising queens or trying to. I breed from queens that head hives that make a lot of honey, among other things, so honey is the expected outcome. The processing side of things is a chore, although I can’t imagine life without my morning coffee sweetened with my own honey. And now, thankfully, extraction is over for another year.