A Visual Guide for Extracting Honey: Backyard Beekeeper Style

Visual Guide for Honey Extraction

We’ve learned a lot over our years of beekeeping, however (and to use a tired metaphor), our knowledge seriously represents just the tiniest tip of an enormous iceberg.  Over the years we’ve extracted honey every year except one. We’ve done it without an extractor and with one (borrowed from a friend). One year we extracted about 80 pounds, but this year our plan was to process enough to pay back those who donated to us in the spring and to keep some for ourselves. The rest is for the bees. We may extract in the spring, since there always seem to be frames they fail to find during the winter months.

So I offer this visual explanation of honey extraction with the disclaimer that we are, quite simply, backyard keepers. I’m sure there are fancier methods or smarter methods (by all means, leave me a comment), but know that we do what we can small scale and with a small budget!

Obviously the VERY first step is to gather all the frames of honey you want to process. We decided to do 8 of them.

honey frames

Ok, so then you need to wash all of the equipment and dry it really well. Or, you can take pictures while your husband washes all the equipment, but then he’ll say something like, “Why don’t you dry?” and you’ll feel guilty, so you’ll help too.

Cleaning Extractor

(Please take note of those “America” paper towels. I found them for 69 cents at Aldi’s after the 4th of July. I guess America is only worth full price in June!)

A honey frame is ready to process when the honey cells are “capped” (or sealed with a wax lid, so to speak):

Capped Honey

In order to get the honey out, you have to either puncture the cappings or cut them off. When you have a frame so big and full that the comb extends out beyond the edges of the frame, it’s easier to cut. You can use a capping knife or, if you can’t find your capping knife (cough, cough), you can use a serrated bread knife:

Cutting Comb

If the frame is not so large, you can use this tool (called a capping scratcher) to open the caps:

scratcher 1

Actually, you use this the other way and scoop the comb moving upwards – this photo is a bit misleading. This guy’s got it down.

Anyway, you then put the uncapped frames in the extractor and crank the handle to spin, spin, spin the frames!

Spinning Frames

It’s hard to see, but here are a couple frames after they come out of the extractor. The comb is open and the honey has been extracted out:

Extracted Frames

And then you repeat again and again until you’ve processed all the frames. When you’ve finished, you open the spicket and drain the honey and cappings into a 5-gallon bucket that is topped with a filter.  Now, I carried extracted frames to the back field during this, so I didn’t get any pictures. There are a variety of filter sizes. You can use filters of different sizes (600, 400, and 200 micron). The largest allows the maximum amount of particles (pollen, specifically) to remain in the honey and, obviously, the smaller the screen, the more filtered your honey will be.  Here are the cappings in the top of the filter:

Honey Caps Filtering

Below is a picture of the filtered honey:

Filtered Product

Voila. From here you can use the spicket in the bottom of the bucket to empty the honey into jars!

honey bucket

You’re right if you think, wow that process must be messy. Yeah, it is and it’s sticky, but it’s totally worth it! Plus, when you clean up, the following things ARE allowed: eating any stray honey that has dripped on anything and eating hunks of comb!

Eating Honey

In terms of cleaning up the extractor, frames, and buckets, we put everything out by the hives (not too close so as to attract robbers) and let the bees rob it for a couple days. Then we bring it in and wash it off. If you put the extracted honey frames back in the hive, the bees will have those things cleaned up in no time! This is great if you, like us, hate to waste even one drop of honey. Either we jar it, or the bees get it back!



Our First Honey Harvest (2012)

I’m in the process of consolidating some blogs and I found this post from 2012. When we first harvested honey, we only took a couple frames, so it was easy enough to do it by hand. Since then, we’ve used an extractor, but I thought this was worth a repost. Proof that you don’t need expensive equipment… just time! 

So fall is the time of year when beekeepers harvest honey. The bees store honey as food to get them through the winter. In order for humans to take this honey (1) there needs to be a surplus and/or (2) you must supplement your bees with sugar water. The husband and I have decided to feed our bees as little as possible and let nature take it’s course. However, we were surprised with the amount of honey they stored and decided to harvest 2 frames. There were about 12 frames of honey so we’ve left plenty for the bees!

If you have tons of honey to process or want to keep the comb in tact, you must purchase an extractor:

These are giant centrifuges and run between $200-$400 depending on the size. These basically spin and whip all the honey out. We do not have one of these, so we did it by hand.

Here is the first frame. The light yellow part is the cap over the honey. Both sides of the frame look like this and both sides contain honey.

Then you use a sharp knife to scrape the caps off. You can see (below the knife) honey is oozing out and running down the frame.

More oozing…

Top half: honey. Bottom half: capped honey.

Pile of comb:

We repeated the process on the other side of the frame, then strained the honey through this wire mesh strainer twice.

Then we strained the honey through an even finer strainer (from our coffee pot!) to ensure that we caught any impurities.

Then we packaged it in jars! I used the flash in this picture so it looks like it’s glowing, but that was the only way to show you how completely clear, smooth, and delicious it looks!  One frame (front and back) yielded 4 cups of honey.