I’ve always heard that for a small time beekeeper an extractor isn’t really needed, you can instead crush the comb and put it through a strainer giving you honey and wax. This appeals to me since I have use for beeswax as well as the honey and don’t want to spend the money on an extractor that I would once a year.
What I’ve read about is using a 5 gallon paint strainer and two 5 gallon buckets. You drill holes in the bottom of one and cut a hole in the lid of the other. The paint strainer goes in the one with the holes in the bottom and that one goes on top of the one with the hole in the lid.
My biggest problem is that I was harvesting honey from a hive that died out over the winter and a bunch of the honey crystallized in the comb. Even if I had an extractor this still wouldn’t have got the crystallized honey out. And it certainly would not have went through the strainer. When I tore it apart I found crystallized honey that had went through the strainer bag but not down into the bottom bucket. I think I was putting too much in the strainer at once. The last few frames I crushed I put through a bucket strainer I got from Amazon. This appeared to work better, but I could only put in a couple of inches of the crushed honey/wax mixture at a time. But since I’ve got enough honey for my immediate needs I’ve got time to do it in smaller batches.
I saved everything that was left in the strainer (both the paint bag and bucket strainer) and slowly warmed everything up so that everything melted. After letting it cool I pulled the solids off the top and ran what was left through the bucket strainer again. This gave me about 3 gallons of honey. This made my recovery rate about 60%-70%, however I believe that part of this low rate was due to the amount of honey crystallized in the comb, heating it up turned it back to a liquid. My daughter uses honey in cooking so I’m OK with having some of it not being the superior raw room temperature filtered honey I like eating. I do keep this heated honey separate from my first pass.
My lessons learned are to harvest in the fall to avoid crystallized honey in the comb and to process in smaller batches using a bucket strainer rather than the paint strainer bag so as much of the honey as possible can flow through the strainer.
I still had a medium hive body with 10 frames that I brought inside last spring after my hives died out. I went through it and I found it was about 3/4 full of honey. My goal is to provide plenty of honey to the two nucs of local bees I got in the spring. I use foundation-less frames so any of the frames that had cross-combing, broken or not centered in the frame, leaving only the best comb. I only ended up cutting out part of most of the frames.
I got a steam table pan as it is a good size to cut the comb into. I’m finding that if I cut each side of the comb in half length-wise, in effect cutting each cell in half and allowing the honey to drain out.
I use the crush and strain method of harvesting honey. So this mashed up comb and honey goes into the top of my bottling bucket. There is a mesh strainer that sits in the top that allows the honey to go through and keeps the wax and other stuff in the top and I scoop that out. I still need to work out the best way to process the wax. I suspect there is still some honey and I don’t know if I should just heat up all of it and let it separate and then strain any honey. There is some old brood comb in there and I don’t want that crud in my honey or wax. If it was all fresh comb I wouldn’t worry about heating it up until the wax melts and then letting it separate naturally. Something to figure out in the winter.
I also added a small entrance with a metal disk that I can change from open to workers only to vented. I also made a new cover out of 2″ x 10″ lumber.
Below is a quick video I shot after I added the hive body to the stack.
My plan is to move to 8 frame mediums since I’ve found 10 frame deeps so very heavy. However I don’t want to waste the resources on the deep frames I have so I’m hoping that building a tall stack will encourage the bees to move out of the deeps at the bottom. I then want to use the deeps as swarm traps. So I cut a sheet of 3/8″ external grade plywood and used a brad nailer to fasten it to the bottom and drilled a hole and put an entrance disk over it. There are two brads nailed into the hold to keep mice out.
I had a fairly hard time getting the hive picked up and moved over and I’m sure I crushed some bees in the effort. But the bees were getting excited once I pried the hive off of the existing bottom board and there were a lot of them flying around in the air and I got stung twice, the first time since I started beekeeping. I finally got the hive re-stacked and am once again convinced the need to have lighter hive bodies.
I heard from a couple different sources that backyard beekeepers need to keep in mind that since they are not commercial beekeepers they don’t need to keep bees like commercial beekeepers. I’ve been thinking about this and am going to build my next hive bodies out of 1-1/2 thick lumber so they are thicker and therefore have a bit more insulation. Since I don’t need to move my hives around like a commercial beekeeper the extra weight isn’t a problem.
When you think about bees living in a tree the walls are usually several inches thick. So I’m thinking I can use what is commonly called a 2×8 to build medium hive bodies. Many beekeepers report that hives do better when they are more insulated. It keeps them warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer so they are able to start building earlier in the spring. Plus construction lumber is cheaper than finished 3/4″ boards, and the bees certainly don’t care. Further the thicker boards are easier to join with simple butt joints, so that makes the woodworking easier. As long as I use standard inside dimensions I can use regular Langstroth type frames.
Our bees appear to be doing well. However it has been very hot lately in S.E. MI so they are “bearding”, which is how they cool off. I need to get another hive body on the stack and add a bottom entrance as well to improve ventilation. However the current stack weighs in excess of 100 lbs, maybe close to 150 lbs so lifting it up and sliding a different bottom board under it. I would like to drill a hole in it and put an entrance disk over it, but I suspect the vibrations that come with drilling will irritate the bees.
In my mind creamed honey is the best. It is the consistency of butter, both in how solid it is and how smooth it feels to your tongue. Twice now I’ve harvested honey in the spring on a hive that died out over the winter that turned into creamed honey on its own. I have no idea how or why but I’m glad it happened. I suspect it has something to do with going through the winter in the comb and me then doing crush and strain. Creamed honey is so much easier to spread on toast or biscuits, and will never further crystallize into a hard brick.
You can make creamed honey by adding about 10% creamed honey to liquid honey and mix it up. I also understand that keeping it on the cool side while the crystals spread through the honey. The only down side in my mind is that you have to bottle it up early in the creaming process, once it sets up it will be hard to transfer from a bulk container to smaller jars.
I will not make the same mistake as I made last time I got naturally creamed honey, I will save some to make more in the future.
The short answer is to add creamed honey to your liquid honey and it will serve as seed crystals and converting all of it to creamed honey. If you don’t already have some creamed honey you can take crystallized honey and grind it up into the smallest crystals possible. Either way you get your seed honey you need to mix it thoroughly with the rest of the honey and store it in a cool place.
I accidentally made it one year when I harvested honey from a hive that didn’t make it through the winter. There must have been some crystallized honey in it as it turned into something as smooth as butter and tasted amazing. Unfortunately it’s now all gone.
A Prof. Dyce from the University of Cornell did research on this to produce a more controlled process and his write-up can be found here.
Give it a try, if you don’t like the results you can always warm the honey back up enough to melt the crystals.