Introduction: Honey Harvest and Extraction

Picture of Honey Harvest and Extraction

This instructable features honey harvest and extraction. While it is less likely that anyone would do this on their own if they are not a beekeeper, this might be useful for those who aspire to become one.
Bees are really great and easy to keep, even in the urban environment! As Novella Carpenter calls them, bees are "gateway animal for urban farmers". All you need is some space in the backyard/deck.
The process of honey harvesting and extraction most likely happens on a separate days. These are the tools required:

Honey Harvest
1) beekeepers suite - mesh helmet and folding veil would do it, with some layers of clothes
2) smoker with fuel (dry branches, leaves, etc.) and a lighter
3) frame super - where frames with honey combs will be put for transportation
4) sting resistant gloves
5) hive tool - to move the frames, scrape wax, etc.

Honey Extraction
1) heated knife - to unseal honey cells
2) uncapping fork - to unseal honey cells missed by the heated knife
3) tub for wax/honey
4) extractor! - fancy cylindrical piece of equipment, used to extract honey
5) food-grade bucket - to catch honey out of the extractor
6) double sieve - catches wax and impurities as honey is poured from extractor
7) containers - final destination of honey before consumption

Step 1: Introductions

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Before we begin, let me first introduce Her Majesty: Apis mellifica (honey bee in Latin)! Also, here are some hard working worker bees, bees with pollen on their legs and one cutie stuck in the nectar with pollen! They collectively make a honey harvest possible!

Step 2: Part One: Harvest

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Light the smoker. Use dry branches, hay or newspaper. The smoke dulls the bees' receptors, and prevents them from releasing the alarm odor, a volatile pheromone. The smoke also makes bees gorge on honey, which further pacifies them! Just think about it: how mad would you be if someone got into your house and stole your preciousness?!

Step 3: Prepare Supers

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The frames with honey comb are transported in supers. Have them handy. You may also want to have a cloth to cover the super with frames full of honey to prevent bees or other insects from getting to them.

Step 4: Open Sesame

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Using the hive tool, lift the hive lid and blow some smoke in the hive. Open lid slowly. Our bees were pretty calm, but that is not always the case!

Step 5: Honey Frame Inspection

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Pull the frames out of the super and inspect the honey combs. Depending on how busy the bees were, how warm it was and if the hive didn't swarm, you may have anywhere between 20 to 100 pounds of honey!

Inspect frames. Uncapped cells with some nectar in it are not harvested; only sealed frames are.

Step 6: Inspect All Supers

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Depending on the hive configuration, there might be multiple supers to inspect. Take the super off the hive and move it to a clean surface. Repeat.

Step 7: Scrape Extras

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If there are any extra cells in between the supers and frames, scrape it off with a hive tool. Make sure to taste it right there - there is nothing like nectar, honey and wax freshly harvested!

Step 8: Let's Harvest Some Honey!

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Pull out the frames with honey and put them in the harvest super. All the cells should be sealed. Each frame can hold on average 6.5 lbs of honey, so it may be heavy!

Step 9: Honey, Brood, Nectar or Pollen?

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The frames may have different colors of honey combs. The light one is pure honey. The darker one has pollen. The capped brood (the final stage of development for a bee) is tan in color and located in the center of the hive.

In the pictures below, the crescent shape of the combs indicates where a brood was before; it now is packed with pollen and honey. You can see the nectar shine at you from the open/uncapped cells.

Step 10: How Many Are They?

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How many bees per hive on average? 50,000! That's a lot of bees!

Step 11: Part Two: Extraction

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Now the best part! Take the frame of capped honey. Mount the frame above the tub for wax and honey. Use the heated knife to unseal the cells. Lean the heated knife on the edges of the frame and under 30 degree angle and move "fast" - don't linger too long, it burns the honey! Repeat for both sides of the frame.

The heated knife takes off most of the caps. For the leftover ones, use the uncapping fork and gently shave off the caps.

Step 12: Let 'em Spin!

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Preheat the extractor. Place the uncapped frames in the extractor, as you uncap them. Once all the frames are secured, close the lid and start the extractor. It should start slowly, then speed it up. Within 10-15 minutes, all the honey will be out of the honeycomb, stuck to the bottom and sides of the extractor!

Step 13: Pour Out Slowly!

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Place your food-grade bucket under the extractor spigot.  Use a double sieve to catch the wax and impurities as the honey starts pouring out of the extractor. Do not leave the spigot unattended - you will be surprised how much honey comes out!

Step 14: Fill Up That Jug! (Optional)

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You may pour honey into a temporary jug. It needs to sit for at least 12 hours to let the air bubbles settle out.

Step 15: Prepare Containers

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Wash your jugs, jars or whatever containers you will put the honey in. Air dry.

Step 16: Fill 'em Up and Share!

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Fill up your containers with honey.
Optional: Decorate them with labels and bows.
Mandatory: Share your honey with friends!


DDW_OR (author)2015-06-25

here a guy used a trashcan and bike wheels

I would rotate the top bar 90 degrees and use bungee cords to the handles instead of wing nuts. also not spin it so fast or you may destroy the wax on the frame.

Heat gun, works great on capped cells that have an air pocket

Javin007 (author)2010-08-29

Yep, the same goes with ants, too. Ants also are all female with only male "drones" around for mating. While it's true that the worker bees do not lay eggs in a healthy colony, it's not that they *can't* lay eggs. Nature has a rather sick sense of humor here. The queen bee is constantly emitting pheromones. The presence of the queen in the hive is what keeps the female bees from attempting to lay eggs themselves. If a hive loses its queen, the bees will immediately start feeding "royal jelly" to some of the most recently laid eggs in an attempt to raise another queen. (This also happens when the current queen gets too old to effectively do her job.) And this is where it gets weird. When a queen bee is not fertilized by a drone, she will lay "unfertilized" eggs that can only turn into drones. When she is fertilized, then she's capable of laying the female eggs that become the workers (or other queens depending on how they're fed.) The worker bees *are* in fact capable of laying eggs, but are *not* in fact capable of mating with the drones. So if a colony loses its queen for a significant amount of time, sometimes the bees will attempt to "fix" the problem themselves by laying eggs, but in the cruel twist of fate from nature, since they can't mate, all of the eggs they lay will become drones so the hive will ultimately die.

accursedmuffins (author)Javin0072012-10-16

This isn't a cruel twist of fate from nature! Nature, evolution, is pretty smart about most things. How do you think bees would have survived as a species for thousands of years?

What the colony is doing when it creates drones is spreading its genetics far and wide in an attempt to find a better place to have its genes live on. It's abandoning ship. Clearly something wrong has happened and its time to give up this hive.

In the true fashion of bees, it's not the individual bee that matters, and in this case, not even the individual colony that matters, it's the DNA.

mommyhen42 (author)2012-09-23

I found a great way to uncap the honey comb that is quick, easy and best of all Not Messy!
I use my hair dryer to quickly melt the wax cappings
Fast, clean and efficient!

bluescrubby (author)2012-02-11

Excellent instructable, great pictures! I would love to take up beekeeping someday.

I have a question about what's produced during extraction. Our friend gave us some beeswax that her relative made, and also passed along a small jar of brown-colored liquid that has little bits of wax and some other solids in it. It smells like honey. It's also fermenting like heck--I have to let the pressure out of the jar a few times a day. Any idea what this is, and what it can be used for? Thanks!

youevolve (author)2009-12-09

Heated knives are expensive. Since I only have 2 hives, I use a thrift store bread knife to decap. If the frames are right out of the hive and still warm it cuts perfectly. If I need to store the frames for a bit I use a container of hot water to store the knife between cuts. The warmed blade makes short work.

Also, as the author says, only extract capped cells. Uncapped cells have too much water content and will ferment - and not in a good way. Voice of experience talking....

Great ible!

Bushie (author)youevolve2012-01-02

Not so expensive once your hive numbers have grown to dozens...

My own small honey extracting plant (set up..) here could handle between 120 and 200+ hives, depending on the annual production levels (which can vary widely, from one region to another, and from year-to-year - from less than 50lbs to over 400lbs per hive, over twelve months..).

AND this is only a part-time/sideline operation ~ keep in mind that full-time commercial apiarists are operating from a few hundred to several thousand hives ~ and use extractors that hold anywhere between (maybe) 36 frames up to 196 frames !!!

So much to learn! Thanks for the bread knife idea. For some frames, the cells were tucked in, so no knife worked and we had to use uncapping fork! That was rather labor intensive ...

Very Interesting (author)2009-12-10

What is your take on the disappearing bee colonies? ( I went to bee keeping school years ago, and love this ible!)

Being novice, I don't know enough to have an opinion. Apparently, urban beekeeping is doing ok in regards to CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder), since bees are not exposed to chemicals used in conventional ag. I can't say this for a fact, but I am thinking that monoculture approach in conventional ag, besides chemicals, has weakened the ability for bees to respond to natural factors. I wonder what would be our health if we would eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

I also wonder if the movement of hives several times, to various fields during the growing season, is just too much for them to handle. "Dang, Buzz, Where'd the hive go now?" ..... Croak......
But true, I think the poor little guys defenses are way down.

Love the pictures - they're sweet!

Bushie (author)Very Interesting2012-01-02

Don't make the mistake of "confusing cause and effects..", here ~

IF the hives are healthy and strong, with good nutritional status, they can withstand being moved up to 3, 4, even 5 times over a year..

IF already pre-stressed from other factors being mentioned in this discussion, than being moved too often will only knock them around further.

Did you know that bees leave the hive when they are not well or when they are ready to die? It is a natural way to keep the colony healthy and hive clean. Bees seem to have "social consciousness" that transcends the individual need. I was first disturbed by the "graveyard" outside of the hive, but soon I learned to appreciate it. I bet they say: "Yeah, they moved the hive to a better place with more delicious pollen. " I prefer to think of it that way.
Also, bees come back to the hive in the afternoon, and by night, there should not be any healthy bees outside. So, beehives are sealed at night, to preserve the integrity of the colony.
Thanks for the comments - I had a blast taking pictures!

The poor drones get booted for the winter too! (Oops, I mean they go on vacation in Hawaii for the winter....yeah, that's the ticket! Much better pollen there huh?)

Bushie (author)neighborhoodfruit2012-01-02

The new name, "CCD" is part of that media campaign I mention above ~ putting a new name on a problem makes it sound like it's a new situation ~ but the truth is that these problems have been building since the 1960s...

Until the pesticide/pollution/land-clearing problems finally went past their "critical threshold" over this past decade ~ and now everything is falling apart..

 A pesticide made from from nicotine called niconoids  these were olny used by tobacco farmers until the anti smoking legislation made the demand for there product to go down that made the niconoid pesticide cheaper then other pesticides.
   These pesticides kill bug by reducing there immune system.  Causing some bees to fall victim to there natural killers wax moths and mites.

Bushie (author)LoganMackey2012-01-02

There are also other forms of "micro-encapsulated" pesticides, all of which can find their way into the hives pollen (protein) supplies = "death from a thousand cuts", as they are gradually poisoned out.

Pesticide sprays are especially a bad and exacerbated problem when time and/or cash-strapped farmers ignore the laws (where they're not supposed to spray flowering plants; nor in windy conditions..)) and spray at the wrong times..

Besides pesticides, also consider the extra stresses placed on the hives from land clearing, other pollutants, climate change ~ even if the pesticides don't finish them, then their stressed and weakened condition then increasingly "pre-disposes" them to certain diseases ~ which they may have withstood in better (read: healthier..) conditions.

You may see certain "mass media" releases trying to blame exotic diseases for this increased "die back" ~ but check the sources (back-track, and "follow the money trail"), and you will find it is the very same pesticide/pharmaceutical companies that cause the initial problems that are now producing these smoke-screens, and mislead the public. Shades of the tobacco and oil companies before them (no real surprise there, though - as those companies often share the same owners/directors/PR_people..).

Javin007 (author)2010-08-29

If you don't mind, how much did all of the equipment cost? Do you own your own extractor?

Well, it is pretty expensive hobby for "let me just try it out." This is how I did it: I have teamed up with an experienced beekeeper. She finds people who have backyards (or rooftops) and are willing to host a hive in different neighborhoods of the city. She brings the equipment, and tends the bees. I get part of the harvest and also learn from her. She gets micro-climate honey, very popular among people with allergies. My point is that it might be a bit much to just jump into beekeeping by getting a bunch of equipment. One way to learn and experience beekeeping is to tap into local network of beekeepers and offer to help.

Wow, that's an excellent idea! I didn't even know people did this!

Strangely enough, this is part of why I've wanted to keep bees myself. Which I was a teen, I was diagnosed with premature rhumatoid arthritis. I hated taking the medicine, and my parents were looking for *anything* that could help. My grandfather (an old-school cowboy - 85 years old and still works the cattle on his ranch personally) swore that bee stings were the best "cure" for arthritis available. My parents got me interested in keeping bees, and I built my own super and even the flats from scrap wood and wire. I found a wild hive in an old abandoned house and was able to commandeer the queen and hive to put in my super. Needless to say, the structure of my comb wasn't anything any professional could use, but it was an awesome project, and to my surprise the be stings DID make the joint pain disappear completely for many years. (When we finally moved, the whole hive was given to a local bee keeper.) I also never had a single allergy growing up, but didn't think to attribute that to the honey.

Now I live in an apartment, and many years later, the joint pain has slowly returned, and for the first time in my life I'm finding out I'm allergic to the local plants. (A blood test, which I didn't know they could do for allergies, says I'm allergic to the local ragweed.) I've been seriously thinking about getting a house, and I figured if I did have a yard I'd like to get back into the bee keeping hobby. I find them fascinating, and even kinda "cute." (Weird for a 33 year old guy to say that, I know.) And there's absolutely nothing in the world like the smell of a beehive. I love it.

The supers and flats are easy enough to make, even moreso with my years of wordworking experience now (an instructable to come maybe?). Beyond that, there are certain things that I think it would just be easier to buy, such as the heating units, and the centrifuges. (Maybe it'd be possible to buy a non motorized one, and attach my own motor? Instructable #2!)

I've looked at the prices online (I actually found the company by looking up the name that was on the centrifuge in your picture) and definitely think it'd be a little on the steep end for a beginner. All that being said, it didn't even dawn on me that bee keepers would have a need to place hives on other people's property! All the perks with none of the hassle!

Thanks for the info! And I love the instructable. Especially the picture of the bee checking out the jar of honey. :)

Bushie (author)Javin0072012-01-02

Some correct terminology will help when people are looking for more info':

A "centrifuge" is used for separating honey from the wax cappings before melting the cappings.

An extractor is the proper name for the machine that spins the frames to throw out the honey.

A "honey press" is an old-fashioned means of harvesting honey (which unfortunately also destroys the combs) ~ the advantage of an extracting plant is that the frames can then be re-used immediately (most of the time..).

Great Post Go Ahead and move out the flat! they are unhealthy!

Thank you for this beautiful post! What a story! I just recently read a book "Half Broke Horses" Jeannette Walls, which talks about true cowboys and I loved it! I can just imagine your grandpa ... Good luck with your project - can't wait to see the Instructable! And you are right - there is absolutely nothing in the world like the smell of a beehive ...

I forgot to ask, about how much honey does the bee keeper let you have for hosting one hive? I could go through a LOT of honey...

Our agreement is to get a half a gallon. Interestingly enough, the next season our hive was ready to swarm and we ended up capturing few queen cells. We formed another hive, now I got two on the deck, and the reward is doubled! Half a gallon of honey turned into our xmas gifts for friends and family (small jars); another gallon turned into favors at our wedding. Life is better with bees around!

Haldan (author)2011-01-10

For anyone who tries to buy a 'harvesting super' it appears to be a standard 5 frame 'nucleus colony' box typically referred to as a 'nuc box'. The smaller dimensions will make it easier to carry full frames of honey and keep them safe from damage. I had never thought of using one for that purpose but at a hobbyist level of production that is a great size to safely and conviently handle the amounts of honey you are likely to collect in a day. .

Bushie (author)Haldan2012-01-02

Build your own carry box out of 10"x1" (nominal - dressed would be just over 3/4" thick..) pine timber, with a ply', metal or masonite base (well sealed and painted.) sized to carry between 4 and 8 frames depending on your personal strength - much cheaper than buying one !

burdockwing (author)2011-05-12

I cant get ahold of an extractor thing like what you have so can you recomend an easier solution besides teaming up with an experienced bee keeper because I cant find one.

Bushie (author)burdockwing2012-01-02

You could consider using comb honey supers for honey harvesting - doesn't require an additional extracting plant.

If you only have one or two hives, you could also consider "cut comb" honey harvesting (using a knife to cut the entire comb out of the frame, and then cutting into small "sections"..), until you can source a small second-hand 2 (or 3)-frame extractor from somewhere.

neighborhoodfruit (author)2009-12-13

Thanks! I had such a blast doing it. I agree, the picture with a bee is really precious. A fascinating thing I learned about the bees is that most of the bees (worker bees) are female, but they lack reproductive capacity. Only queen is in charge of reproduction for the entire colony.

canida (author)2009-12-09

This is awesome!  I've always wanted to keep bees, but hosting a hive for an experienced beekeeper sounds like the happy medium, or at least a great way to get started.

Thanks for sharing!

lemonie (author)2009-12-08

That looks semi-industrial - how many hives have you using this equipment?
What do you do with the wax?


I am hosting only one hive. The extractor is shared within a community of beekeepers.  The wax goes towards candle or lipbalm making. Stay tuned for the next instructable!

Right, I was interested in the size of the beekeeping community?


I would say, a dozen beekeepers. There is more people in the community who don't have hives, but are interested. The honey tasting event I attended recently had about 20 people and 4 of them were beekeepers. We got to taste honey from the bee hives on the green roof of the California Academy of Sciences!

Sounds good - was there much variation in flavours?


Jayefuu (author)2009-12-09

Wow fantastic ible. I used to go bee keeping to help my mum's aging friend who found it a struggle to lift the supers full of honey. Was soooooooo interesting.

One thing I'm curious about though, is you mentioned differentiating between the brood cells and honey cells, was that just for interest or did you do that in the honey extracting process? We always had a queen excluder on top of the brood box to stop her laying eggs in the supers above it.

The guy I used to help had 12 hives (that made a LOT of honey) so he had all of this kit himself, but... curiously... NOT the heated knife. We always used to use a palate knife which went back under the grill on a tray after each cut. Your knife you borrow looks much easier!

I think it's great more and more people are starting to keep bees in their back gardens in inner city environments.

We did have queen excluder - which I didn't put in the ible. The clean frame of honey came from the super which was separated by the excluder. Since I am in the process of learning beekeeping, I shared thing that were fascinating to me. Also, part of the extraction process was inspection, where we checked for possible signs of swarming and we moved things around. Some of the nectar that was on the top, we moved down in the hive, etc. That's why there are pix of different frames.
12 hives is a LOT of honey! It is possible your beekeeper didn't use heated knife since it may burn the honey. Some beekeepers claim it degrades the quality. Some wouldn't use electric extractor, since it is heated. So much to learn. Yes, urban beekeeping is absolutely great!

Oooo. Our extractor wasn't heated. Or motorised! Hurray for turning a handle fast! I was fascinated that the bees were clever enough to put their cells on an angle to keep the nectar in. Hence why the frames have to go in a certain way around. I'll definitely get a hive when I finish uni and have more time.

I helped a friend few years back with a manual extractor. It definitely requires a muscle! One beekeeper told me he doesn't use extractor at all! Instead, they crush all the frames in a special tub with an opening on the bottom then they let the honey come out slowly. That honey has a higher content of wax in it. Also, you can't reuse the wax cells, so your bees have to spend extra effort building the cells.

Kaiven (author)2009-12-08

All I need is a bee hive :D

neighborhoodfruit (author)Kaiven2009-12-09

Yes! Keep in mind that the hive on my deck belongs to a seasoned beekeeper. I am just hosting it - and learning about it as we go. If you are interested, check with your local beekeeping association/group/organization if they offer a similar partnership.

jessyratfink (author)2009-12-08

Wow! Very neat. :D

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