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.