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Normally, the honey is stored by the bees on a very regular honeycomb they build on a frame. The frames are typically harvested late summer, when they will be most filled with honey. On a completely filled frame, the cells will be capped by the bees for storage – that is, each cell containing honey will be sealed with a cap made of wax.
The first step in the extraction process is to break or remove all of the caps. This may be accomplished with an automated uncapper or with a manually operated knife (typically they must be used together); the knife is often heated to facilitate cutting action. The removed bits of wax, called uncappings, are rich in honey which can be slowly drained off with the help of some heating. Automated uncapping machines normally work by abrading the surface of the wax with moving chains or bristles and are a little messier then manual uncapping, but much less laborious.
Before uncapping, some beekeepers (especially noncommercial) will remove and store any propolis, normally through scraping action.
The uncapped frames are then placed in a honey extractor, which spins them so that most of the honey is removed by centrifugal force. Care must be taken to ensure that all frames are the correct way round, as when in the hive the comb is angled slightly upwards to prevent the honey flowing out, this can also prevent the honey flowing out during extraction. The correct way is with lugs out. The resulting honey will contain bits of wax and must be passed through a screen so that clean liquid honey results.
Any honey that can't be harvested, which includes thin films left on the frames after extraction, can be placed outside so that it will be reclaimed by the bees. This must be done early in the morning or late in the evening as the bees will aggressively harvest such a rich source. Care must be taken so that this is done at a time when food is not scarce, or else bees from differing colonies will fight over the honey.
The extraction process is typically done inside a specialized room, mildly heated for better flow, with all of the necessary tools nearby. The room must be well sealed, as bees (and other insects) will eagerly try to enter and gather the honey.
The table below outlines the extraction process.
|Honey Harvest Process steps||Method description||Alternative Method 1||Alternative Method 2|
|1||Remove hive outer cover from top super|
|2||Remove hive inner cover from top super|
|3||If no queen excluder was used, inspect frames for brood and only remove frames that are without brood.||Remove only frames that are 80% capped and without brood||Remove all frames that have honey but no brood|
|4a||Add fume board to top of hive to force bees into lower parts of hive.||Remove super and use air blower to force bees from frames||Remove frames one by one and manually brush off bees|
|4b||Repeat steps 3 and 4a until all supers are removed|
|5||Transport frames in supers to honey house|
|6||Heat and dehumidify frames in honey house for 1– 2 days||Do nothing|
|7||Use refractometer to check that moisture content is below 18.5%||Do nothing|
|8||Remove the wax cap on capped honey manually (Uncap)||Uncap mechanically||Cut out comb honey|
|9||Load honey extractor||Load honey press||Set comb honey chunks on drip pan to drain off honey from cutting edge|
|10||Turn on honey extractor motor||Manually turn extractor crank|
|11||Run extracting process for several minutes|
|12||Remove extracted frames from extractor|
|13||Empty extractor sump: Let collected honey flow into storage container via gravity.||Empty extractor sump: Pump honey using a mechanical pump|
|14||Filter honey||Let wax and other particles settle out||Run raw honey through a separator|
|15||Grade honey||Do nothing|
|16||Bottle honey||Package comb honey|
|17||Market and sell honey||Use honey for home consumption|
Top bar hives come in horizontal (trough) and vertical (of which the Warré hive is an example). Trough hives allow for continuous harvest through the season, while Warré hives (per Abbé Warré) are intended to be harvested only at the end of the season.
|Step||Warré hive||Trough top bar hive|
|1||Remove roof and quilt||Remove cover|
|2||Remove boxes of comb from the top of the hive, being sure to leave sufficient stores for the colony to overwinter on.||Remove mostly full combs.|
Once the combs are removed from the hive, they can be processed in several ways:
- Encase them in a cage and use a centrifugal extractor as with framed combs. This was done in the early twentieth century.
- Preserving as-is to be consumed in comb form.
- Crushing the combs, straining the honey, and processing the beeswax.