harvesting raw honey

honeytime1 honeytime2 honeytime3 honeytime4honeytime5So we harvested our first honey about two months ago, I was heavily pregnant and just managed to zip up the bee suit. We followed David Heaf’s notes on harvesting from Warré hives – making sure we were not going to rob our bees of their most precious winter honey stores. We only took frames that were almost entirely capped honey and only from our stronger hive colony (caught as a wild swarm in November last year). We used our smoker to extract the top-bar frames – we discovered to our frustration that some of the frames were fused to the box beneath – and had to cut them free. The bees were (rightly) unhappy with all the smoke and fumbling and disturbance. We did not really know what we were doing – let alone how to get the frames into a plastic tub and sealed without taking a lot of bees home with us, and worse without drowning or squashing them in the process! In the end we did get the frames packed for home, and oh were they beautiful… like pure gold when held up to catch the light.

We cut the capped honeycomb free from each frame and dropped them into a sterile plastic bucket which had holes drilled into the bottom and was resting atop another bucket (to form a sieve) – we then crushed the comb with a potato masher, covered it and left it to strain through in a warmish place by a window for a few days. The trickiest part was ever-so-slightly heating the honey to help it pour but not above 39’c (when honey is no longer “raw” and will dramatically loose most of its nutritional, antibacterial and anti fungal properties) – we left the bucket in front of our heater for a while, turning it every so often – till it reached hive temperature (35’c) and was more pourable. The second strain was then in a cheesecloth lined colander over a 5 litre jug for pouring the honey directly into our jars. All the leftover globs of virgin propelis and pollen was kept aside in a container for beeswax rendering and mead making (which is now happily fermenting as we speak!)

In all, we harvested about 9 kilos of raw honey and 1 kilo of virgin beeswax, with 6 litres of mead fermenting – it was a very sticky (albeit sweet) business, and a big learning curve for us. We see how we will manage things differently next time – but are so thankful to our bee friends for their efforts in producing such a beautiful, healthful, caramel, liquid gold…

p.s. a few jars of our raw honey are still for sale here.

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