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Harvesting and Handling Honey for Hobby and Small Sideline Beekeepers


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A talk on harvesting and processing honey that I gave at the 2015 Heartland Apiculture Society Conference in Albion, Michigan.

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Harvesting and Handling Honey for Hobby and Small Sideline Beekeepers

  2. 2. TOPICS • About Us • Producing Honey • Harvesting Honey • Handling Honey
  3. 3. QUICK FACTS • We are a family of nine from Nunica, MI • Mieke and Jonathan share a background in agriculture • Jonathan works as a prof in GVSU’s School of Computing and starting keeping bees in 1984. • Family runs a sideline bee operation • run 40-60 colonies mainly for honey production • retail the annual honey crop • sell nucs when able. • Website:
  4. 4. HONEY PRODUCTION - PREREQUISITES • Scout for good yard locations and place colonies prior to main honey flow. • Make sure colonies are strong and healthy prior to main nectar flow. • Make sure equipment is assembled and ready prior to main honey flow.
  5. 5. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION • Scout a year or more in advance for good locations. • Take good care of the landowners and their land. • Respect existing bee yards. • Do the math when establishing remote yards.
  6. 6. STRONG AND HEALTHY COLONIES • Good queens • Encourage early spring buildup. • Equalize colonies • Monitor and keep mite populations in check! • Keep a decent inventory of nucs on hand.
  7. 7. HONEY PRODUCTION EQUIPMENT • Decide what kind of honey you are going to produce. • Purchase / assemble supers & frames for surplus honey in advance of honey flow. • Better to have more supers than you think you need!
  8. 8. PRODUCING CUT COMB HONEY • Minimal amount of standard equipment required! • standard honey supers / frames with “thin surplus” foundation • bee brush to free comb of bees • sharp knife to cut into sections
  9. 9. CUT COMB ALONG SIDE EXTRACT HONEY PRODUCTION • Intersperse marked comb honey frames within extract supers. • share the pain of drawing out foundation across all your colonies • Use irregular shaped or partially capped sections to produce “chunk honey”.
  10. 10. HANDLING CUT COMB HONEY • Harvest from hive as soon as capped. • Cut and allow edges to drip dry. • use clean queen excluder over a commercial serving pan. • Package and freeze for 24 hours to kill any wax moth / hive beetle larva. • Market / use before it crystallizes!
  11. 11. ALTERNATIVES TO CUT COMB • Ross Rounds / Bassword / Hogg Sections • Hard to get bees to work in the sections • Equipment is much more expensive • Must read: “Honey in the Comb” by Eugene Killon. Dadaist & Sons.
  12. 12. EQUIPMENT FOR EXTRACT HONEY PRODUCTION • What size supers should be used? • deeps - back breakers! • shallows - easy enough for a healthy adult to lift, stack, etc. • mediums - a little heavier than a shallow, but still manageable. • We use wired foundation and embed horizontal wires … most of the time.
  13. 13. SUPERING • Start adding super(s) in spring when the brood chamber(s) are ~ 70 - 80% full of bees/brood/ food. • Whitening of the combs means the honey flow is on! • Several options to consider: • Add all supers at once! • Bottom supering - add supers under existing supers sequentially as needed. • Top Supering - add supers directly on top of existing supers
  14. 14. WHEN TO HARVEST HONEY • When to harvest? • Not before it is (mostly) capped. • When the main nectar flow has ended. • Allow yourself time to knock back the mites!
  15. 15. MOISTURE CONTENT IN HONEY • Refractometer: device used to measure moisture content in honey. • Should be about 16-18.5% • > 18.5% the honey will ferment! • Good rule of thumb is to harvest honey when it is mostly capped.
  16. 16. HARVESTING HONEY (1) • For the hobby beekeeper (< 5 hives). • use a bee brush to remove bees. • bee escape (takes 24 hours)
  17. 17. HARVESTING HONEY (2) • For the sideliner with more hives: • fume boards with a fumigant • clears the supers of bees in minutes • blower is handy to remove bees clinging to brood (inevitable if you don’t use excluders…)
  18. 18. HARVESTING TIPS • Which fumigant? • Bee Go - very effective, but stinks terribly and so will you when you’re done! • Bee Quick - made of non toxic natural oils and herbal extracts. Smells is tolerable and works fine.
  19. 19. MORE HARVESTING TIPS… • Watch the weather forecast and harvest on a nice warm sunny day. • Paint your fume boards black to absorb heat and work more effectively. • Have enough fume boards for speedy super removal (we plan on 1 board for every 4 hives). • If loading on a truck or trailer, always cover harvested honey immediately to avoid robbing.
  20. 20. HONEY EXTRACTING FACILITY • Some very important requirements for honey extracting facilities: • Must be “bee tight”. Very important or you will have an out of control disaster and lots of competition for your honey! • A warm room: like molasses, honey doesn’t flow if its not warm! • The proper electrical service if you are running powered equipment. • An abundance of hot water to facilitate clean up
  21. 21. OUR EXTRACTION PROCESS • Typical Extracting Day: • 9am - 10am: make sure we have enough buckets for the day. hook up trailer, load fume boards, etc. • 10am - 1pm: remove around 50 supers, 1 - 1.2k pounds of honey • 1pm - 8 pm: immediately extract the honey while it is still nice and warm!
  22. 22. EXTRACTORS • For the hobby beekeeper (< 10 colonies) • A hand powered 2-4 frame extractor ($300 - $400) will suffice. • For the larger hobby / sideline operation: • powered 8+ frame extractor ($1,000+) • Radial vs. tangential extractors
  23. 23. THE UNCAPPING PROCESS • For the hobby beekeeper (< 5 hives) • Cold knife or capping scratcher ($5 - $20) • For larger hobby / sideliner (< 60 hives) • hot knife/plane will suffice ($120) • For larger sideliner, you’ll want something less labor intensive and more efficient…
  24. 24. PROCESSING THE CAPPINGS • Possibly your biggest bottleneck! • Hobby Beekeeper (< 5 hives) • Build your own solar wax melter! (< $50) • Larger Hobby / Sideliner • Walter T. Kelley’s Capping Melter / Separator ($600) • Maxant Jr. Capping Spinner ($1500) Steve Tilman’s Solar Wax Melter -
  25. 25. PROCESSING THE HONEY • Our current process: • screen strain immediately out of the extractor to remove larger debris. • immediately filter with a 400 or 600 micron filter while still warm from the hive (sold as raw unheated honey) • Remaining honey is put into 50 gallon buckets and warmed / filtered (400 micron) bottled as needed.
  26. 26. SCALING UP Source:
  27. 27. DECRYSTALLIZING HONEY • For the hobby beekeeper: • put honey container in a pan of water on stove with burner on low for several hours. • dashboard of vehicle parked in the sunshine? • Siderliner: • for buckets use a round pail heater to liquify overnight ($110) • Similar (but larger) heating bands can be used for honey stored in drums.
  28. 28. BOTTLING HONEY • For the hobby beekeeper • Use a 5 gallon bucket with a gate on the bottom. ($15) • For the sideline beekeeper: • We use a 16 gallon Maxant bottling tank.
  29. 29. ANOTHER CONSIDERATION: CREAMED HONEY • Easy to make, and honey customers love it! (Google for recipes). • Lessons we learned the hard way: • Use a high quality drill (1/2 inch w/ 10.5 amps or more) for mixing seed honey. ($140) • Purchase a stainless steel paint mixer attachment. ($50) • Mix in a stainless steel container to avoid plastic chips in your honey!! ($35)
  30. 30. POST EXTRACTION CONSIDERATIONS • Prior to storing, place extracted “wet” supers outside at least 100 yards from your apiary to allow bees to clean them up. • Protect your stored supers against wax moth infestations (and mice). • Para-Moth crystals • Wrap / Shrinkwrap
  31. 31. SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS • Don’t be afraid to experiment and find a process that works efficiently (and economically for you!) • Learn from your fellow beekeepers.
  32. 32. ANY QUESTIONS? Jonathan Engelsma’s Contact Info: • email: • web: • • Like us! /hudsonvillehoney • A copy of these slides are posted on: •