Families who don't have bees have holidays like…. Christmas. We have honey extraction day! It is our favorite day of the year because even though it's a lot of work, at the end of the day we have a bucket full of delicious ooey gooey honey! (Plus we get to spend the day licking up drips!) I know I haven't blogged for a while. Our camera broke and a blog post without pictures is just so boring. But we have a new-to-us camera now and I wanted to show you pictures of this year's honey extraction day!
Some friends have taken up beekeeping and they came over to help us. I'm not sure how much they learned, since we're fairly self-taught-fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-make-it-up-as-we-go-along-type-beekeepers, but it was fun to have them here!
First the men smoked the hives and removed the frames. They put the frames in the wheelbarrow and covered with a bedsheet so that the bees wouldn't be attracted to it. They also brushed all the bees off the frames because…
Then they brought the frames inside. I'm never crazy about this part of the process, but Papa the Farmer covers the furniture with a tarp, so it isn't too messy. Here in Texas it is so stinkin' hot outside and the bee suits aren't exactly cool and comfortable if you catch my drift… Extracting honey in the living room is just way more bearable for the guy in the big white suit.
The next step is to take this heated knife and cut the “caps” off the end of the honeycomb. The way this works is that when the bees build the honeycomb they make sure that each individual cavity is built at a slight angle so that when they fill each cavity with honey, the honey doesn't drip downward and out. Then to make sure the honey stays in, they cap each individual cavity with a bit of wax that seals that bit of honeycomb. Didn't God make those little bees smart? We have to cut that wax off to get to the honey. A regular knife will work, but a heated knife just makes that process easier.
Once the wax caps have been cut off, the frames of honeycomb go into the extractor. The first time is always the most exciting! Here's a picture of everyone crowding around to see! (Sorry that the picture is a bit blurry – there's lots of action in this picture!)
In our (very old!) extractor we can fit 4 frames of honeycomb. So we put the frames in, crank it, turn the frames around crank it some more. They make fancy-schmancy extractors now that can fit 20 frames and you just plug them in and it spins itself. But this is what we've got, so it's what we use!
Then we bring more frames in, and repeat the whole process!
Can you see the difference between the capped honey and where he has cut the caps off?
Of course the best part of extracting honey is getting to wear the cool clothes. FarmBoy wanted in on the action!
At the base of the extractor is a gate. You open the gate and let the honey drip down into the waiting bucket. We let our honey run through two filters before it lands in the bucket. The filters are to make sure we get rid of any little bits of wax, bee wings or anything else slightly nasty.
Here's a close up of the honey running through the filters. You can see in the top filter that it really is worthwhile to filter the honey.
And here's a picture of everyone putting the beehives all back together again!
Interestingly, we only got about 1/3 of the amount of honey we usually get. (And yes, we do leave honey in the hives so that the bees will have something to eat during the winter!) We were expecting to get much more! We've had a rainy summer and we thought it had been fairly good weather for bees. Then I was at the local flea market and the beekeepers there were telling me that they also only got about 1/3 the amount of honey that they usually get. So if you're local folk, I'm sorry to tell you that you can expect the price of honey to go up this year, because it's in short supply. Perhaps you'll want to think about investing in your own beehives? It's lots of fun!