We ran out of honey recently. I know. It’s bizarre. We have dozens of hives right outside, but we didn’t have one bit of honey in the house for a few days, and it was a real crisis.
Henry did a pretty complicated bee removal last week involving several ladders, power tools, and boxes of ticked off bees that resulted in Henry coming home with two hugely swollen eyes. BUT he did bring home a whole lot of bees and pan full of sticky, sweet honeycomb.
The easiest way to extract honey (if you have the right equipment), is to take nice full frames of honey, uncap them with a special hot knife, and load them into an extractor that uses centrifugal force to spin the honey out. If you’re interested in this process, you really should watch these two videos: Tiger In A Jar’s “Honey Harvest” (which is so beautifully done, but showcases a novice beekeeper with brand new shiny equipment) and “Kyrgyzstan Beekeeping” (which is not great cinematography and doesn’t feature such beautiful people, but shows a somewhat truer/crustier reality of honey extraction).
What we had on hand is called “chunk honey” because it’s just a pile of pieces that aren’t from frames. Even if we had an extractor (which we don’t), we couldn’t use it with this stuff, so we had to do things the old fashioned way.
First, I loaded all the honeycomb into a colander.
I put the colander over a stainless steel bowl.
I smooshed up all the comb with a wooden spoon to release the honey from the cells. I put the bowl over a pot of warm water to speed up the process because honey moves faster and more freely when it’s warm.
Then I let it sit overnight.
The next morning, what was left in the colander was mostly chunks of wax, and what had drained into the bowl was mostly honey. I poured the honey (in a fairly liquid state) through a strainer to sift out more wax and funky bits of debris.
Update: Since originally writing this post, we’ve switched to this new and improved honey extraction method.
I got about a quart and a half of honey out of the process, and let me tell you, it’s really good stuff. The bees in the hive where it came from had been foraging on maple, wildflowers, and other forest blooms, but the flavor of the honey is not generic at all. It’s almost tangy or citrusy, and I’ll admit that I did a fair bit of licking fingers and spoons.
In the end, I had two bowls, a colander, a strainer, a plate, and a wooden spoon that were a sticky mess. I had this brilliant plan to take it all outside and leave it next to the bee yard for a day, so that the bees would come and clean up all the honey remaining, and I’d only have to deal with the wax (which is kind of a pain). This plan would have worked great a couple months ago, but this time of year, the bees have more than enough feed out in the woods, so they weren’t actually that interested in my honey offering. They did eventually clean up some of the mess, but I had to do some sticky scrubbing, too.
Bees will reuse wax that’s built neatly on frames, but they can’t collect existing wax and reprocess it into new forms. Henry is constantly gathering pieces of wax from bee removals or cutting out burr comb from hives and setting it aside. He recently melted (by boiling in water) and strained a whole bunch of it, so now we have what we lovingly refer to as our “ingot” of wax on hand. I use a little beeswax in the finish I apply to my cutting boards, and maybe someday we’ll make a few dipped candles, but other than that, I’m really not sure what we should do with it. Any suggestions are appreciated.