First Honey Harvest

On Memorial Day, I harvested two top-bar of honeycomb from hive # 1 (see last post). This is my first harvest, and I am excited! Its was only two bars, but none the less, its my first honey.

Since I am using top-bar hives, the harvest is done by cutting the honeycomb off the top-bar. I will use the crush and strain method, commonly used by top-bar beekeepers. I weighed the two bags when I got home. Those two combs weighed 14 lbs! :)

For this small crush and strain, I got a cheap wire strainer, some new (and washed) knee high nylons, and a small bucket (also well washed). I stretched the nylons over the wire strainer (one pair or two layers of nylon to strain though). I places a cup in the bottom of the bucket to keep the strainer from sitting on the bottom.

Since I already had the honeycomb in a ziploc bag, I just went ahead and crushed in in the bag. The idea is to break up all the honey comb to release the honey. The was will be caught in the nylon/wire strainer and be separated. Here is what it looks like all crushed up.

My small strainer setup was only large enough to hold one of the bags at a time. I let one strain mostly through and then added the second. I removed a little of the separated wax temporarily to make sure there was enough room. Thee majority of the honey went through the filter pretty quickly. Our house was pretty warm since we are trying to hold off using the AC as long as possible to save energy and money, and the warmth probably helped some. The first picture is honey straining, the second is some wax that has been separated, and the third is the strained honey in the bucket.

The whole crushing and straining went very nicely. I didn’t even make much of a mess. On top of that, my wife and daughter both said the honey had a great flavor. I agree about the taste. :)

Since this is my first time, and I can some times be a bit of a worrier, I wanted to make sure everything is correct. Honey generally will not spoil, and some say it will last almost indefinitely if properly stored. However, if the moisture is too high it can spoil easily. My question worry had two parts: What is the safe moisture level, and what is the moisture level in my honey. I had heard lots of “rules of thumb” about making sure you honey is dry enough. Generally, the bees will dry the honey sufficiently before capping it. Because of this, it is suggested not to harvest honey unless it is sufficiently capped. Suggestions seem to range from 100% capped to 75% capped before harvesting. My honey was not 100% capped, so I was a little worried about its moisture level. I would hate for my first harvest to go bad. Especially since I am planning on giving some to friends and family.

The way to be certain everything is ok is to measure the moisture level. This is commonly done with a refractometer. Being a guy who like knowing if everything is right (and who likes gadgets), I decided to get one. They range wildly in price, up to almost $300. Amazingly, descriptions and pictures don’t seem to suggest much difference between some of the lower and higher price ones. I went for the low end. :) I found one on ebay (new, made in Hong Kong I think). It was only $30. When I got it, I was pleasantly surprised with it. It is all metal construction and feels well made. I has an ATC (auto temperature correction), and came with everything needed to calibrate it (it has a standard oil). This refractometer is meant for the range that honey should be in, and has multiple reading scales including % water in honey.

My honey measured 18.5% moisture. I wasn’t sure of what the exact cutoff should be, so I asked at BeeSource. I was happy to hear that up to 18.6% is Grade A honey, so I should be good. :)

My wife got some 8 oz jars, and we went ahead and bottled it. She had gotten 12 jars, but it turned out we needed more. Here is our harvest.

All in all, I think we have 144 fluid oz (4.5 qt, or a little over a gallon). Thats just an estimate from the sizes of the jars. I believe an 8 fluid oz of honey generally weighs 12 oz, so that would mean we have around 13 lbs. I weighed the wax we have left, and it appears there is about 1.5-2 lbs. Not bad for only harvesting 2 top-bars. :)

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10 Responses to “First Honey Harvest”

  1. Ken Says:

    That is fantastic S!
    Congratulations to you and your reward!
    You know I have been a steady reader of your blog, but I don’t remember you mentioning if or when you manipulated any of the combs- meaning, moved any honey combs away from the brood area to encourage more colony growth and separate the honey storage area from the brood?
    Or did you not touch a thing all year, and just took what you got?
    The two combs that you did harvest, where did they come from in the hive? what number bar of how many, close to the entrance or back?
    Thanks, and enjoy!
    kg

  2. kawayanan Says:

    I’ve never significantly manipulated the combs. I have turned a couple around (to try and recenter the comb), or added a spacer between them. I haven’t altered the order. From my checking, they seemed to put pollen in the very front, then brood, then honey (although none of those were hard rules – you found pollen throughout in patched for example)

    From what I can tell, I didn’t get combs with pure honey until the bees seemed to feel they had enough brood comb. Last year, most combs had brood and some honey storage along the top.

    The two bars I harvested came from the back of the hive (there was at least one bar with comb behind them, but that one was not capped and filled yet). I don’t remember the number of the bars. I do get the feeling that the hive is larger than it needed to be. The combs are pretty deep, and in the hive I took the bars from, the follower board is still only giving the bees 2/3 of the hive.

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  4. flavio Says:

    bravo. but do you kow of the existance of Langstroth hives so that you don’t have to crush the comb all thetime

    • Zippy the Chimp Says:

      Hey Flavio,

      Do you know of the existence of people we call “asshats”? I.E., You?

      Of course he knows about Langstroth hives, and you know he does and you know EVERYONE ELSE does. You’re just trying to insult Topbar Hives in a cutesy way.

      Stop being a jerkwad, and go raise some bees.

      Idiot.

  5. xben Says:

    Hi flavio. Not sure what you mean about “don’t have to crush the comb all the time with langstroth hives…. I use langstroth and have for many years. I still harvest via the crush and strain method. The langstroth hive only refers to the invention of the hanging frames within the hive which made it much more easy to remove the comb as the comb was not attached to the inside of the hive box. Pretty much the only way you wouldn’t need to crush the comb would be with a honey extractor. A device that spins the comb and slings the honey out. But most of the time people who use honey extractors also crush the comb when there done with the extraction process. They melt the comb down to use to make foundation or candles and the like.

  6. alice Says:

    We just harvested our first bit of honey, and used two mason jars taped together with some tulle in between to drain the honey out of the crushed wax.

    Our honey has tiny black specks in it- do you have any idea what it is? Is that normal for “homemade” honey?

  7. Paul Frohlich Says:

    With this method the beekeeper get less honey, not practical with more hives but I feel there is less chance of a disease when the combs are always renewed. Me, I got myself 2 package 2lb each bees from New Zealand in the spring of 2009 that is 4 lb of bees and 2 queens. I live in Alberta in the middle of a big city and even did not have any hives yet and snow came in April and I kept them in 2 cardboard boxes in the basement and had to build very fast 2 hives for them because the bees started to chew them self out. Had to build frames also and no foundation, just cut strips some quoter inch wide glue them on the top bars and put the bees in their new home with snow still around and fed them lot of sugar just a week later the bees started to bring pollen and not long after they build beautiful combs. Than I become crazy, got excited and by the middle of May I bought 20 Queens from Hawaii …..long story …..I ended up with 28 hives by the fall out of just 4 lb of bees and they all survived the tough winter except one that lost a Queen. I was in to bees since I was 8 back in Czech Republic and I know the bees well and what to do. 3 years later I still have 25 hives and all the combs were build by them and no diseases.

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