Back to Honey

The Honey Harvest
Each frame of honeycomb is capped over with wax by the bees once the honey is ripe. We usually harvest honey three to four times a year,to try to get seasonal monofloral honey where we can, finishing in September when the bees return from the moors with combs full of Heather Honey.
Most honey is extracted from the frames of honeycomb by uncapping the wax to expose the honey and then spinning the frame and lots of others in a Honey Extractor.

Cappings are removed from comb in a number of ways. They can be cut off using a warmed knife, they can be scratched off using a multi tined fork, the cappings can be melted open by using a hot air gun (this gently peels back the capping to expose the honey) or they can be taken off using a special uncapping machine.

Once it has its cappings removed the frame of honeycomb containing up to three pounds of honey is placed in the Extractor with others. They are arranged around the centre like spokes on a wheel.

Frames of honeycomb are valuable things and we want to keep them undamaged. Empty comb can be put back on top of a hive either this season or the next and the bees will fill it again. Extracting properly keeps the frame in good condition.
Heather honey is not extracted in this way as it has a jelly-like consistency and will not come out of the comb easily by spinning .

Once it is full of frames (ours takes 20 frames, so that is about 60lbs of honey at a time) the Extractor motor is turned on. We increase the speed slowly so as not to damage the comb and as it gets faster the centrifugal force causes the honey to fly out of the comb hit the inside of the Extractor's tank, run down the sides and out through a honey tap at the bottom.
When the last drops spin out the comb is left almost dry.This can take 5-10 minutes depending on the type of honey we are harvesting.

The Extractor runs very fast and will not usually work with its safety cover open. The picture on the left was taken as the machine slowed down as its safety cover opened.
The extractor is bolted to the ground to prevent it wobbling if the load of frames is uneven. Even washing machines don't usually spin 60 pounds of water and clothes so fast!
Our extracting room has a range of stainless steel tanks, Extractors and surfaces to ensure food hygiene at all times.

Honey runs out of the Extractor and through a filter to strain out the bits of wax etc and into 30 pound food grade plastic buckets for storage. Each bucket is labelled with a lot number which tells us when it was harvested and what type of honey it is and a lid is put on.
The honey has not been heated to extract it and apart from general filtering to keep out wax particles it is as the bees made it.
Bubbles that have been produced as a result of the work of the Extractor will rise to the top in each of the buckets and these can be skimmed off prior to bottling when the honey is needed.

Honey stored in these buckets with tight lids can be kept almost indefinitely although we usually bottle and sell all our honey within a year.

All honey will granulate eventually. The various sugars that make up each type of honey granulate at varying rates. Some, such as oil seed rape, granulate very quickly - within days sometimes. Others such as Borage take longer.
When we need to bottle a batch of honey we put the required number of buckets in a thermostatically controlled "warming cabinet"where they are gently heated for 2-3 days. Honey warmed to 40 degress centrigrade will be clear and runny. Warmed to 35 degrees it can be creamed and will have the consistency of soft margarine.