Sept. 15, 2022

Extracting Honey (091)

Extracting Honey (091)

Moving boxes full of honey is usually a lot of work. The bees aren’t happy, the boxes are heavy, it’s hot and you have all your gear on to be safe. The one sure way to make this easier is to use devices that have wheels. Two-wheelers, carts, your...

Moving boxes full of honey is usually a lot of work. The bees aren’t happy, the boxes are heavy, it’s hot and you have all your gear on to be safe. The one sure way to make this easier is to use devices that have wheels. Two-wheelers, carts, your truck, all make moving boxes of honey less work.

Once the supers are off and the bees out, you need to get them to your honey house, whether it’s a garage for storage until extraction, your kitchen (for probably the last time) or an specially built honey house. And once they get there, you have to keep the bees out, the mice out and the dust out. Honey is a food, and you have to make sure it stays clean enough to feed to your family.

Kim and Jim have figured out how to do this and share some adventures, some mistakes and some good advice how to keep your honey clean, bee free, extracted and get it ready to sell.

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Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 91 – Extracting Honey


Kim Flottum: Jim, you know the last time we talked, we got honey off of our hives and into the place where they're going to be extracted, and that's when they-- I got some ideas I want to bounce off you, and I know you've got some, so let's talk about extracting today.

Jim Tew: I'll look forward to that. Kim extracting is not beekeeping. It's a different world, so I look forward to talking about something besides bees for a while.

Kim: Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: Today, we're going to talk about random thoughts on extracting here on Honeybee Obscura.

Jim: It'll be all over the page, Kim, so [chuckles] we've got to narrow it down, some.

Introduction: You are listening to Honeybee Obscura, brought to you by growing planet media. The folks behind Beekeeping Today podcast. each week on Honeybee Obscura hosts, Kim Flottum and Jim Tew, Explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a long-timer or just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim: Honey extracting is a lot like so many other things in beekeeping, like hive stands. The way you're extracting operation is set up is probably unique to you, where you put it, how you put it, why you put it, all those things make up the way you process your honey. There is no exact, precise way to do it.

Kim: One thing right at the beginning you got to keep in mind, here's the deal, honey's a food, and you got to keep it clean. If you in your process don't keep it clean, you're going to have trouble down the road. Just keep this in mind. Would you feed your extracted honey to your family? If you're good with that, then you're probably good all the way down the line, but just keep in mind it's a food.

Jim: Kim, that's an excellent point. That is just superb, and always neatness and cleanliness counts, and while we're being open and honest here, it's going to be a real struggle to stay that way. Honey is notoriously sticky, and clings and there's cappings that stick to the floor, and there's household foment and concern about the mess that's being made.

Kim: Our friend Anne Harmon once said about extracting, because she at least for a while extracted in her kitchen, and she said, "Did you know that one pound of jar can completely cover every surface inside your kitchen [laughs] floors, ceilings, walls, tables, stove, pots, and pans, sinks, every and you'll have some left, so it's wherever you going to be, know that it's going to probably be somewhat sticky, so have water, rags and what have you available all of the time and make sure they're clean when you start and get rid of them when you're done."

Jim: Yes. I want to add this right now. You cannot beat hot water, so if there's any possible way when you're thinking about where you're going to extract-- small-scale extraction, certainly large-scale extraction--is hot water. It'll cut that honey, it softens that wax, it will make your life so much easier. It's a simple test, take a honey extractor and try to clean it with cold water or take a honey extractor and try to clean it with hot water, and see which of those processes makes you feel better, so on the basic list of things, if you possibly can have hot water and plenty of it.

Kim: Well, I don't extract my honey, I take it over, Buzz and I extract it using his equipment. No matter the scale of your operation, whether you've got two colonies and you're going to have two supers of honey to extract, or you've got 200 colonies and you're going to have a lot more to extract, here's the thing to put at the top of your list, wheels. Don't lift any more than you absolutely have to muscle - put it on wheels and move it around.

Now I'll tell you what Buzz has got. He gets his load of supers when he or my load of supers and he backs right up to his garage door in his honey house, and he can drop those supers off from the back of that truck onto, and it's called a roller, and they use in factories a lot. Think of it as a ladder, laying on flat supported by off the floor about three or four feet, and instead of steps on a ladder it's got wheels, and you just drop that box on there and you slide it right over to the uncapping machine, and the only lifting you have to do is to drop it off the back of the truck.

Jim: It sounds like a conveyor.

Kim: Yes, but it's muscle-mated. It isn't automated.

Jim: Right. It's the way we used to unload paint at my dad's paint business, and it's probably the way you unloaded groceries, where the semi rig pulled in, laid that conveyor out, and then roll that stuff. Now what great fun that was to ride those cases of paint down the conveyor.

Kim: [laughs] Well, I got it for Buzz because they had it at the Root Candle factory when I first started there, and they mechanized and they got a conveyor that had a motor on it and they didn't want this one that didn't have a motor, so they said anybody wanted it and I raised my hand faster than anybody else, and I took it home-

Jim: Good man, good man.

Kim: -because I knew exactly what to use it for.

Jim: [laughs] All right, I like it. Everything should have wheels on it.

Kim: Yes, anything possible.

Jim: They can be small wheels, they can be casters, or it can be a hand truck. In the bee house, a hand truck with hard rubber tires is fine, but in the bee yard, I want a hand truck with pneumatic tires. They have some roll to it, so put wheels on everything, and let me add this because you and I both have experience with this.

The way you feel when you start is not at all the way you going to feel later in the day or even the next day, so if you think you can get by without them because you're just starting out and you feel good, the radio is going, the honey is flowing, everything is good. You going to be completely worn out by the end of the afternoon, so think later in the day, don't think earlier in the day.

Kim: Exactly. What Buzz doesn't do but what a lot of people do, Buzz takes his supers off in the field and he extracts them that day. If you can't do that and a lot of people can't, I've only got, I go out and get them after supper and they're going to sit there until supper, after supper tomorrow night in between, they got to stay warm. Warm honey comes out of the cells a lot faster and a lot easier than cool or cold honey. You remember our friend Bob Smith?

Jim: Oh, yes I do.

Kim: Bob had a very unique layout for a very small hobby beekeeper. He had a bathroom, an extra bathroom, and you could get to, it was in his basement and he rigged up a device that he could slide his supers down that basement stairs from outside on a ramp using pulleys, and so there was no muscles involved, and when they got down there, they landed on a tray with wheels that he could just wheel into this bathroom. This bathroom has, it was about six feet by 12 feet.

One part of it, was a shower, and he would put his supers in that shower that was lifting, and he would get six or seven in there and he put a small heater in there, and then when he let it run on a timer for 8 or 10 hours, and when he was ready, those honey supers would be just nice and warm. He could, he closed it in with something as simple as a shower curtain opened them up, and then he had to lift them again, up to his uncapping table. That's the last time he lifted him, but he had to lift it from the stack in the heating room up onto that table.

Then he could uncap and he could leave the frames laying right in his capper, move around his capper, take them off, and put them in the extractor or in his frame holder, and he didn't do any more lifting, and that's the goal. I think what you were just talking about is being at the end of the day, the less lifting you do the better you're going to feel tonight at eight o'clock.

Jim: Well, I got about five things. I want to add to what you just said, but let me take a short break, hear from our commercial sponsor, and I'll come back and ask you some questions here.


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Jim: Kim, when you said he heats the honey. I want to tell the people who've not done this a lot, that, yes, you really want to extract warm, honey, it flows so much easier, but you have to spend some hours doing that. If you've got a stack of honey, you can't just put a heater beside it and come back 30 or 40 minutes later, and because the side of the super is warm think you're good to go. No, it's got to sit there enough so that when you walk in that room, you get hit with heat, humidity, it's warm in that room.

Honey is hard to warm, but it needs to be warm to extract it. I admire our old friend Bob for doing that. Secondly, I was going to say that Bob's using what he had. He had that bathroom. I could not extract in my bathroom without having a discussion with the other people who live in my house. I don't have a bath so I'm one to improvise something else. Bob did a good job making work, what he had and for those of us who don't have that, you got to figure out some way to go. You got to figure out what you do have.

Kim: Or what you could have on a temporary basis and a lot of people I know that do this, that don't have that bathroom, they've got a set up that they put up an extraction season and they take it down when it's over and they put it away and it folds up and stands next to the wall and sits there until next year.

That may be something you want to think about some kind of folding, an enclosed area that you can use for a heating just canvas and poles, maybe all it is with an umbrella on top. It doesn't have to be huge and it doesn't have to be leakproof or air airtight or anything but if you can enclose an area, put a heater in it one thing you got to watch for, of course, is fire. Is that heater safe, is everything far enough away so that it doesn't go when it gets hot it's not going to touch so keep that in mind too?

Jim: Have drip boards under the stack, because if you are successful in heating the honey and you do make it flow better, it's going to flow right out of those supers from burr-comb and whatever, right down to the floor so have drip boards or pans sitting on both casters that you're rolling it around on.

Kim: A cover works, an old cover that you got works. It's metal so it's not going to leak. One of the other things you got to think about, or actually two other things. One is if you are like Buzz or Bob, you probably don't bring any bees home, but almost all the rest of us bring some bees home. What are those bees going to do? Where are they going to go? Well, at Buzz's, I say, Buzz doesn't bring any bees home. He brings hardly any bees home, but he brings some home once in a while, most people do.

If you're thinking about this before you build it, you want to have a place where those bees can go when they're in the hot room, they can fly out maybe there's an entrance, an opening in the ceiling if you've got one and they can go up to a window or up to a light or up to a bee escape in the wall, someplace that they can go to out of the warming room and some places you're not going to grab ahold of and move and get a handful of bees and if you can get them out of the building so much the better.

Jim: Great, great, and great. As usual, while you're talking, I'm thinking, because I've been in these rooms before. If perchance, you can't get them out then could you possibly have a room with a high ceiling? Can you at least get them away from you because I've had some miserable work in an extracting room with the low ceiling and fluorescent tubes and the bees were just a foot and a half above my head so they're dropping down on me? They weren't trying to cause confusion. They were just tiring and confused so in a perfect world, Kim, if you can't get rid of the bees, can you at least raise the ceiling so you can get them away from you? Do something to keep those few bees and it'll only be a few hundred, but you go ahead about 10, 15 stings later, it's going to seem like there's thousands of bees in that room. Keep things on wheels, try to get the bees out that you brought in, and have hot water. What's next?

Kim: Once you got them warmed and you've taken care of that, then they're still on wheels on a two-wheeler or on that cart or hot. However, you got them on wheels, then you get them from that hot room to your uncapping location and some people have-- you can lay out an uncapping situation. One way to do it is to put your stack of supers right next to your uncapper and it depends on what uncapper you got too. If you've got a flail uncapper, you can take them right out of your super and put them in the flail uncapper. If you don't have that and you're doing it by hand, then you've got to have some container that you can stand the frame on inside that container.

There's a lot of these on the market. You stand the frame inside the container on a resting rod, and you're doing this by hand, probably with a fork or maybe a knife, electric knife, whatever it is, you're on capping with they're capping's fall and they're caught on a screen and the honey drips through the screen and you capture that honey later, and the wax stays on top of the screen and you scrape it off into your wax collection area. Figure that one out, because if you can make that as neat as possible, you're going to be glad you did, because it's the messiest part of what you're going to be doing.

Jim: Yes, so you're basically -- if I'm following you -- you're describing what I would call an uncapping tank with a strainer on it, right or wrong?

Kim: Right.

Jim: One of the jobs I had in mind when you uncap by hand, you start out you're whistling, you're singing, your hands are clean, your apron’s dry by the time 8 or 12 or 15 supers have passed you can't believe how your hands are cramping. If you stick that hot knife to your hand, one more time you don't have any words left to add to the situation there. It seems like I'm just a very pessimistic person. No, I'm not we talked, and one of the former episodes about taking honey off that's work, well, taking honey out of the comb is work too so just be ready. It's rewarding work, but this is meaningful work, Kim.

Kim: It is one of the things that before you ever start this process, look at how the frames are going to move through the system you're putting together. Once I got them uncapped and I got honey dripping off that frame, what am I going to do with that frame? If you are building this or imagining this one way, you can take it right off the uncapping pan that you just mentioned and put it right in your extractor. That way, it'll drip and it'll drip right into your extractor and you can open your extractor later and capture it along with the rest of the honey that's in there.

Two things happen here. You might not be able to do that. If you can't take it right off your uncapping area and put it into your extractor, you got to put it someplace. You got to let it sit someplace and the whole time it's sitting there, it's going to leak so have a tank that you can hang your frame in or a surface that's slanted so that the honey that you capture runs down and is collected. It runs out a hole in your table and is collected below. Have something so that you're not swimming in four inches of honey. By the end of the day, on that table.

Jim: Years ago Maxant manufactured a gadget called a merry-go-round. I had one in my lab and it looked like a merry-go-round with racks on it and as you uncapped exactly what you said happened. You put the frames on that merry-go-round in compartments, where they dripped and drained through a center hole. Then you'd spin the merry-go-round like one of those racks at a fast-food order where the guy flips it around to see what the next order is. The guy on the other side would flip it around and take the uncapped frame off.

I don't think those things are manufactured anymore, but you are so right. While the extractor is running, if you are in the heavenly position of having a motorized extractor, while it's running and you're uncapping, what are you going to do with those frames you've uncapped?

Kim: Exactly. Yes.

Jim: Now, if you don't have a motorized extractor, no problem, because you can't do two things at once. Kim, a good friend of mine, Charlie Parton, I'm going to give his name. He's got a beautiful honey house and he does not put down newspaper. He puts down construction paper that you buy at construction stores like Lowes, Home Depot, that heavy paper, and his floor stays immaculate. When it's over, he rolls it up, throws it away. If you fall for the inclination to put down newspaper, that's going to be horrible. It's going to stick to your feet. That's not going to work. Don't try newspaper, use Charlie's idea of trying good old-fashioned construction paper.

Kim: I never thought of that, that's a good idea.

Jim: I hadn't either. Now you got to be on your hands and knees I thought when he said, "I taped that to the floor." I thought, well, that'll take me a couple of days getting up and down off the floor, but once it's down. His floor is beautiful. My floor always has wax and propolis stuck to it after I extract it and that requires scraping up.

Kim: You bring up a good point there. If you can, you're doing this in a place. That's got a floor drain. My garage doesn't have a floor drain, Buzz's honey house does have a floor drain. When he's down he hooks up his hose turns on the hot water and he just washes everything down, goes to the floor, runs down the drain. Now there's a problem with that is that every couple of years he's got to go where that drain goes and clean out the wax that hardened in there but making cleaning that area where he extracts is real simple because hot water in a floor drain.

Jim: Again, I'm agreeing with you. I know we’ve got to stop. Our time is up, but on that floor drain business, you need a big drain. You need something that you can get cleaning equipment down there to get that wax out because that wax is durable. It's waterproof. Just because you run it down the drain doesn't mean it goes away. That wax just goes down the drain a few feet and hardens. If I've got a two-inch drain, I'm trying to cobble up, it should have been a six-inch drain. If I can get proper tools and augers down there to clean that up about like you said, once a year or so.

Kim: My frames are uncapped and I've got them into my extractor and my extractors are running or I'm running it probably. I'm standing there spinning this thing. It takes a while. The warmer your honey is the less time it's going to take to spin whether you got it on a motor or whether you're the power behind it. The way Buzz has got his setup, he's got an electric, or a power, extractor.

The way his works he's got a gauge on the front of his extractors so that when the honey stops coming out of the frames the level of the honey on the pipe outside of his extractor stops rising. It's just a pipe, it shows how much honey is in there. When it stops, your frames are empty and you can power down your extractor and start removing your frames.

That works well. If you're doing this by hand it's going to be, how long does this take normally? I got to do this for about 10 or 12 minutes, and they're usually empty or 15 or 20 minutes whatever it is. Then you got to stop and check. Once you got them empty then what, getting them out of the extractor to some place where they're going to be next? Again, we're talking wheels.

Jim: Everything's related Kim, because now what am I going to do? I've got these empty, wet supers on wheels. They've got to go somewhere, probably back to the bees and go back on the bees and let them clean up those sticky frames. If I put them in storage like that, of course, they're going to mold and mildew. Everything's, the next thing isn't it, Kim? You got them off the bees. Now you got the honey out. Now you got these empty, wet frames. Now what, now what, now what?

Kim: You got a couple of choices there. You got a good choice and you got a bad choice and you got a worse choice. The good choice of course is to put them back. I know beekeepers who do it this way. They know what hive this box came off of. They're going to put that box back on that hive so that the bees that are cleaning up are the bees that lived in that box before he removed it from the hive.

I've never been that good. I just put them on one of the hives and let them clean it up. That does two things. One is, it gets the honey off that super, and two is, they get to use it. Actually, three is now I've got an empty super on top of my hive. If there's a late flow, I think there's going to be a late golden rod flow or a long golden rod flow this year so that if they bring it in honey, they've got someplace to put it.

The other choice is to stick them outside on your front porch, probably not the best choice you can make. Every bee within five miles will be on those supers. Trying to get in your house, trying to get in your car, trying to get in your hair, chasing your neighbors, in your neighbor's swimming pool, whatever. When you're done, you got to put them someplace that begging or get clean and people are going to be safe.

Jim: I'm glad you put that caveat on there. Putting those supers outside is going to cause absolute chaos and fighting and robbing and crazy bees. If you have to do it, just don't tell anybody about it, I guess. I really hope you can think of something else.

Kim: One of the things that does happen is if your bees are anywhere close or you just put them in a bee yard and thinking that your bees are going to clean them up, your bees are going to clean them up, so our bees from all over the place, and you just mentioned the worst word here is - robbing. You're going to get a robbing session going in your bee yard and all intents and purposes, because that honey isn't going to last very long, but those bees are going to keep coming back. If the honey isn't in those boxes, they're going to find it in your boxes.

Jim: Kim, that's a good subject. It didn't really relate to small-scale extracting, but it's part of small-scale extracting it's part of large-scale extracting. I'm going to give you a heads-up. I'm probably going to ask to come back to this discussion on this segment at some future time because all of this is such an interesting part of the bee world, but it's not beekeeping, but it's honey processing and all that goes with those surprises, all the stickiness, all the reward.

Kim: We haven't talked about-- I agree I think we need to come back and talk about this because once you get that honey in your extractor and you're done extracting, where's it going to go? What are you going to do with it? How do you take care of it? Remember that it's a food. Would you feed it to your family after doing all the things that you did to it to get it there? I think that wraps it up.


Jim: It wraps it up for now. Can I leave it like that? You had a lot of good information. I'm ready to go now. It's like a review on how to get out the extension cords and the hot knives and how to know which circuit I just popped with two hot knives plugged into one circuit. Good information, Kim. I enjoyed talking about it.

Kim: All right. I guess until next time.

Jim: Until next time, keep your floor dry, buddy.


All right. Bye-Bye.

[00:26:45] [END OF AUDIO]