The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Guest Spot: The First Honey Harvest by Robert Altham (part two)

Robert's half decapped frame during honey harvesting

Robert’s half decapped frame

I took the fames up to the GPs house in the next village and learnt about the honey extraction process.

First the de-capping. This is the removal of the wax cap on the comb. We did it with a bread knife, sawing along each side of the frame. It is a seriously messy job if you are not careful, and it is quite hard work too. Next year I shall try using a hot air gun and melt the wax caps off.

Each de-capped frame is put into the centrifuge. This is a large cylindrical device that holds the frames of honey for spinning. When the centrifuge is full of frames it is switched on. The idea is that as the speed increases, the liquid honey is thrown out of the comb onto the outside walls of the centrifuge. It drips down and collects at the bottom and is drawn off through a tap.

Some of my frames were much thicker than others. the bees had just built them deeper. This affected the centrifuge. When it was going at full speed I had to lie on top of it to keep it from shaking to pieces! It behaves like an unbalanced washing machine in spin mode!

The honey flies out with bits of wax and the odd dead bee. We poured the whole lot through a combination sieve. The first part of this has a coarse filter and the second part a fine filter. In fact the honey was quite thick and I ended up taking the bucket and sieve back home with me. I left the bucket by the AGA overnight and filtered it the next day with a good deal less hassle. I then left the honey to stand for a few days in a bucket with a closed lid. As it is quite warm in the kitchen, the viscosity of the honey reduces and any remaining wax or impurities float to the surface.

I ordered a half gross of 1 lb honey jars form the suppliers and the next day decanted it from the bucket. The first 25 jars are nearly clear but cloud up a bit when the temperature goes down. In total we filled 34 jars. If I can sell them at ?5 a jar it will make the bee keeping project profitable in the first 6 months. Apparently there is quite a shortage of Cambridgeshire honey in the local delicatessens. I guess that trade price is about half the retail price.

The clean up is surprisingly easy. Obviously, you wipe down all the surfaces and utensils, but the best thing is that all the honey covered frames and supers, buckets and sieves etc do not need cleaning. Just leave them outside a short distance from the hive and the bees will be on it within minutes, cleaning up all the honey and taking it back to the hive.

There must have been 3 or 4 lbs of honey which could not be reclaimed by me. But none of has gone to waste. The bees have taken it all away. It’s important to remember that the small amount of honey in the bucket will pool at the bottom. The bees will drown in this, so just get a large hand full of hay or straw and mush it into the honey. This gives the bees enough to climb about on safely.

Some of the frames had crystallised honey in them. All these were in the new super, so we are unsure why this has happened. Anyway all these solid frames are back in the hive and the bees will use it for their winter food or it will be reprocessed in good time.

I have put a couple of anti Varoa strips in the brood chamber. This kills any Varoa mites that might be in the hive, and substantially improves the chances of the colony over wintering successfully. I will reduce the size of the entrance shortly. This deters predators and mice from entering the hive and enables the smaller winter colony to protect itself. The drones have all been turfed out of the hive and are flying around the house. They look different to the workers as they are larger, have no sting and fly with their legs hanging down. This is a sign that the colony is getting ready for winter.

Over all, this experiment in bee keeping has been a great success. The times I have been stung I can put down to lack of experience, Being to hasty or not wearing sufficiently thick trousers! (Wear two layers and put a handkerchief in both pockets… I got stung by two bees who walked down into my pockets and got me on the inside on my legs!!)

The bees stung straight through my new leather gloves. I have now painted them with Stormsure (a polyurethane adhesive coating) and they have not even tried to sting through the gloves once since then.

Robert Altham’s own blog is at

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Darren

    Fantastic news! Great that the are settling in well – good luck.

  2. darren64

    I have my bees at last,me and my aunty collected a swarm from my mothers garden,they are now settling in nicely,and drawing comb.

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Darren64

    Welcome to beekeeping! I wish you the best of luck. Thanks for the equipment suppliers details. Thornes can be a bit pricey.

  4. darren64

    I am going to be starting beekeeping next year,I have built two national hives,each consisting of a brood,three supers and a varroa mesh floor,I have also built a spare brood for artificial swarming.I was lucky enough to get my hands on some cedar boards for free(I saved them from a skip)I have joined the halifax beekeepers assosiation and have got my name down for a beekeeping coarse and I have already been to some of the other members apiaries for there club meetings,I have also helped with the assosiation honey extraction ,there must have been 40 boxes full of honey,there was gallons of it.I still need to build an apiary with high fence panels to stop the bees flying across adjoining gardens,though I have warned the neighbours about the weekly inspections when the bees mite be angry and they said they would just stay inside for a couple of hours.I bought my frames,foundation,spacers,queen excluders and a smoker from a company called Paynes Southdown Bee farms,over the internet,I found them a lot cheeper than thornes.I await with anticipation for the spring.

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