At the end of the summer season, once the Bees have lain down large stores of Honey within the Hive, the Beekeeper will extract the excess. The Beekeeper has to be careful to make sure that the Bees have enough food for the Winter, if too much Honey is taken, the colony might not survive.
The simplest processing of Honey is to simply separate the Comb into manageable chunks, known as Cut Comb Honey. This Cut Comb can then be eaten (Honey and wax!) or sold, without any further processing.
Although the wax within the Cut Comb is perfectly edible, most people prefer to extract the Honey from the Comb. This process takes time and specialist equipment, as removing all the wax and other impurities is quite difficult.
Clearing Bees from a super
The first step in harvesting Honey is to remove the Honey-filled comb from the Supers. Ensuring all the Bees are cleared from the Super is important as until this is done, Bee suits and Veils will need to be worn. There are several methods for clearing Bees from a Super, including:-
Bee Escape Board method - a Bee Escape or Clearer board can be placed between the upper Hive body and the Honey Supers that Bees are to be cleared from. Various models of escape boards are available, and all work on the same principle: The Bees can travel down to the Brood Nest, but they can’t immediately figure out how to travel back up into the Honey Supers. It’s a one-way trip. This takes time, however, as it can take up to 24 hours to clear a Super this way.
Shake and Brush method - This bee-removal method involves removing frames (one by one) from Supers and then shaking the bees off in front of the hive’s entrance. The cleared frames are put into an empty super. The empty super should be covered with a towel or board to prevent Bees from robbing.. Alternatively, a Bee Brush can be used to gently brush Bees off the frames.
Blow Out method - One fast way to remove bees from supers is by blowing them out, but they don’t like it much. Honey Supers are removed from the hive (Bees and all) and stood on end. By placing them 15 to 20 feet away from the Hive’s entrance and using a special bee blower (or a conventional leaf blower), the Bees are blasted from the frames at 200 miles an hour. Although it works, to be sure, the bees wind up disoriented and very irritated. It is not a recommended method to be used, and is included here only for completeness.
The video below shows how to use a Bee Escape board to clear a Super:-
Once the frames are removed from the Hive and cleared of Bees, the next stage required is to remove the Honey from the Comb. When the frame is first removed, the Honey is sealed within the cell with wax cappings. This can be seen as the whitish covering in the image below:-
These wax cappings are removed using a flat serrated knife, or an uncapping fork. This, if done carefully, can remove most of the wax cappings without mixing it into the Honey.
The image belows shows wax cappings being removed with a knife:-
The Honey then must be removed from these uncapped cells. To do this, the Frames are placed into a Honey Extractor (a type of centrifuge), which is spun rapidly, causing the Honey to leave the cells. The Honey is then collected at the bottom of the Extractor.
The image belows shows several frames within a Honey Extractor:-
Once the Honey has collected at the bottom of the Extractor, it needs to be strained to remove any pieces of wax within it. The Honey is passed through a double strainer (two pans, one with a coarse and one with a fine mesh) and the resulting pure Honey collected ready for bottling. Before bottling, the Honey is left for 24 hours so that any air bubbles within rise to the top, and then jars can be filled from a tap at the bottom of the container.
The image below shows wax being trapped within the strainer as the Honey passes through:-
The waste wax that is collected at each stage can be purified and used for making Beeswax products, or can be returned to the Bees for reuse.
The video below shows a walkthrough of the process of Honey extraction:-
In order to sell Honey, there are government guidelines that must be followed. All extraction work should be performed following Food Hygiene procedures (see below), and even the labels have legal requirements:-
For Honey to be sold in Scotland, the following must be on the label:-
The word “Honey” is required.
The weight (metric) must be shown clearly, in an appropriate font size (at least 4mm high). The weight in lbs can also be shown, but only in addition to the metric weight.
Type of Honey can be specified, e.g. Heather Honey, but only if the Honey is at least 75% of that type.
Name and address must be present on label. The address does not need to be complete, but source must be traceable if required.
A “Best Before Date” must be shown. Recommended for self-bottled Honey is 2-3 years from bottling date.
A Country of Origin must be shown, e.g. Produce of Scotland. Country as part of address is not acceptable.
The following image is an example of a label that meets all legal requirements:-
Food Hygiene and honey
In order to sell Honey within Scotland, all Honey must be processed and bottled following Scottish Government Food Hygiene guidelines. This legal requirement is in place to reduce the risk of illness or injury to customers, and must be followed correctly.
Honey Producers are classed as a Food Business and so usually have to register with the local authority and be inspected before sale can start. However, Schools, Charities and Community groups on a small scale are usually exempt from this.
The food safety officer inspecting a business checks how well the business is meeting the law by looking at:
Hygiene - How food is handled, prepared, cooked, reheated, cooled and stored
Structure - The condition of the buildings, their layout, lighting, ventilation, cleanliness of it and equipment and availability of other facilities
Confidence in management - Training received, how food safety within the business is managed and how the business records what it does to make sure food is safe.
To gain a top rating by the Food Safety Officer Beekeepers must identify the following hazards at each step of the process of honey production and how they will be prevented/reduced:-
The table below shows some example Risk Factors and the control measures that can be used:-
It is also highly recommended that everyone involved in the Processing of Honey should hold as a minimum the Elementary Food Hygiene Certificate from the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland. The main supervisor should as a minimum hold the Intermediate Food Hygiene Certificate.