Here to show us the fascinating process of extracting honey from the combs is Laurel Rimmer, assistant director of public programs at Wave Hill, a lovely garden in the Bronx.
It is best to start with clean, new equipment. You will need to have a complete wooden hive ready -- two "deeps" or hive bodies with 10 frames and wax foundation, a bottom board, an inner cover, an outer cover, and a feeder.
You'll also need a smoker, a hive tool, a hat and veil, gloves, and a bee suit if you want to go all out (heavy pants and a shirt are OK). And of course bees on order, which will arrive in late April or early May.
Tools and Materials
Two "deeps" or hive bodies with 10 frames and wax foundation
Hive top feeder
Hat and veil
Bee suit (optional)
Cappings scratcher or an electric decapping knife
Bucket lined with a stocking
Extracting Honey How-To
1. When the frames in a honey super are full and capped with wax, then you know that the honey is ready for harvesting. The supers can be removed as soon as they are full, or they can be left on the hive until the beekeeper is ready to tackle the extraction all at once.
2. The wax cappings need to be removed to expose the honey -- this can be done with a cappings scratcher or an electric decapping knife. The cappings can be saved, cleaned, and used for making candles if you want.
3. Once the caps are removed, the frames are placed in an extractor (making sure it is balanced). Close the top and turn the crank -- the extractor will spin and draw out the honey, which falls to the bottom of the extractor. (A warm room is best -- the honey flows better. Don't extract outside, or you'll soon have a swarm of bees trying to rob the honey that you are extracting.)
4. The spigot at the bottom of the extractor should be open and the extracted honey and bits of extra wax will flow out of the spigot and into a bucket lined with a stocking that strains out the wax particles (and maybe an occasional bee leg).
5. The bucket also has a spigot. Put it on a table, open the spigot, and pour it into clean jars. That's the extent of processing -- it is fresh from the hive.
A new beekeeper will probably get their bees as a "package." A package contains about 3 pounds of bees -- about 10,000 -- and a queen hanging in a separate queen cage, usually with one or more "attendants."
The queen that is put into the package for shipping is new to the bees, otherwise they would kill her if she were released directly into the box. During transit, they will visit her and pick up her pheromone, accepting her as their new queen once they arrive at their hive. There is also a can of sugar water to feed the bees while they are in transit.
The bees need air circulation, so the box has open screening on the sides. It can really cause a ruckus in the post office when they arrive if they aren't used to seeing and hearing live bees. (You can also start with a nucleus -- almost a mini hive with 5 frames, bees, a foundation already started, and a laying queen -- it's usually a quicker start, but you'll have to pick up at an apiary, as nucleus packages are not usually shipped.)
Special thanks to Laurel Rimmer, assistant director of public programs at Wave Hill, for sharing this information. For more details on Wave Hill, visit wavehill.org.