When should I take the honey from the bees

Oil Seed Rape (OSR) (USA= Canola) honey granulates into a solid VERY quickly and it must be removed and extracted before it sets in the comb, but when is this?  OSR is now planted in the late autumn (Winter Rape) to start flowering in the spring as early as March it can also be planted in the spring (Spring Rape) to flower later maybe as late as July/August.  This prolonged season can make it a nuisance, as your bees first work on Winter OSR and then go onto Spring OSR.   It then dominates your honey crop for all that season as the bees prefer OSR nectar to almost all other potential nectar sources.

If you leave it until the OSR honey is fully capped, as is good advice for all other honeys, then you’re too late.   Instead the bees should have started to cap (seal it with a thin layer of wax) some of the honey on the frame.   

To test the frame hold the comb flat and try and shake some nectar out.  If nothing comes out it is probably* ok, if there is fresh nectar in the comb it will spray out as thin syrup.   Only extract from the frames that you cannot shake out nectar.  

 

Tip: If there is inclement weather stopping foraging activities for two or more days at the end of the OSR flowering then that is also a good time to take the honey from the bees, as they will have had a few days to convert the nectar they have into honey without any fresh nectar coming into the colony.

 See also below 'How to deal with OSR'

Other Honeys:  Once you have taken all the OSR honey from the hive then the last crop can be taken from the bees from mid July to late August dependant on your locality and season.  

Be aware that the bees can move OSR honey from the brood box into the supers and catch you out AFTER the OSR crop has flowered and gone, so in a OSR area keep an eye on your later crop for signs of granulating whilst in the comb.

*There is a risk that the water content is too high (greater than 18%) and the honey is therefore unripe.  The consequences of this is that the honey may ferment.  This is a risk to be weighed against having solid honey stuck fast in the comb.  You will make mistakes and become experienced in judging this with time.

 

How much honey can I expect to get

From nothing to about 100lbs = 100Jars (~45kg) per hive in a good season, but typically 30-50lbs/hive (~13kg-23kg).   Incidentally it could be worse than nothing as you may need to feed your bees to keep them alive in a bad year!

 

How do I get my honey from the bees

There are several devices generically known as Clearer Boards.  One of the most popular and reliable is to use a Porter Escape which is a one-way bee valve fitted into the feeder hole of a crown board.  Some beekeepers use dedicated clearer boards with two Porter Escapes fitted.  Place the clearer board beneath the supers to be cleared leaving the crown board on top of the stack.  It takes up to 48hours for all the bees to clear from the supers like this.  If the hive is strong then ensure there are empty supers beneath the clearer board to give them space to continue their good work.  If you cause congestion the bees will want to swarm.  Remove the supers then the clearer board replacing it with the original crown board from the removed supers.
Porter Bee Escape

 

Is Local Beekeepers Honey 'Better' than Mass Produced Honey

The reason that a small scale producer can usually supply superior quality honey is primarily down to freshness. In addition to sugars, honey is a complex blend of many trace substances some of which are volatile and diminish relatively quickly after the bees have produced it. These are typically the elements that contribute to the subtle taste and pleasant floral aromatic qualities and are mostly lost in the mass produced product.
To obtain a consistent long life product the mass producer needs to flash heat-treat and mechanically thrash the honey. Then a blend is produced from several often geographically remote world sources to obtain a consistent but some would say bland result that could be two years or more from bee to toast.
 

 

Do I ‘need’ an extractor

The short answer is ‘Yes’ but it does not need to be yours.  Your local association will often have one for loan or hire.   Or you can put the word around using the association newsletter that you want to borrow or buy one second hand.  Only buy an extractor that is made of stainless steel or polyurethane plastic as anything else is now illegal for food production use.  Electric models are marvelous but are expensive; a manual extractor will be ok if you have up to (say) four hives.

Manual Extractor

 

How do I uncap frames and use an extractor

The traditional method is to use a long knife. Some people invest in a heated knife.  It has the advantage of trimming the wax comb flat but does cause quite a lot of honey to be removed with the wax cappings which you then need to drain.   Many beekeepers now use a special decapping fork also used for drone removal (Hygiene please...not the same one) to remove the wax capping, it has the advantage that it leaves the honey behind but does not trim the comb.  The choice is yours.

 

Do I need a warming cabinet

There are not many Must Haves in beekeeping but you will find a warming cabinet very useful for settling freshly extracted honey before filtering.  Perhaps build one (it’s easy) for your second year as a beekeeper.

How do I build warming cabinet

Obtain an old refrigerator, with a good front door ie seals intact.  Due to regulations about disposing of refrigerant gas it is best to obtain one already degassed from your local waste disposal agent.  The compressor is not required and can be removed.  Connect a lamp holder at the lowest point in the fridge and fit no greater than a 40w lamp.  If  you want to be flash you can connect a thermostat such as one used in a domestic hot water tank.  These have a temperature range between 20C-90C and work just fine in air, fit it 2/3 up or leave it in the door and set to 35-40C.  A piece of wood fitted directly above the lamp to prevent a local hot spot and you now have a warming cabinet.

 

Is it ok to heat honey

Warmed honey filters much easier than cold honey so it is usually necessary to warm it a little, the temperature mentioned above are fine for few days, longer and a by product of the honey degrading called HMF (HydroxyMethylFurfuraldehyde) starts to rise, this is not harmful in itself but can be used by authorities as an indicator of abused or adulterated honey.  The hotter the honey gets the faster this breakdown happens.  Prolonged temperatures in excess of 35C will also cause a change in flavour which is very undesirable.

 

What do I store the honey in before I jar it

Honey absorbs water (hydroscopic) therefore it should be stored in clean plastic food grade containers with air tight lids.  The size is up to you with 15 & 30lb buckets being popular and available from equipment suppliers.  Avoid storing unfiltered honey as it is much more difficult to filter later and can pick up off-flavours.

How do I filter and jar my crop

You will find that leaving the freshly extracted honey 24 hours before filtering is beneficial especially if stored in a warming cabinet.  The honey will then be warmer and thinner and most debris will have floated to the surface making filtering a fast easy operation.  It is best to use 2 or 3 filters cascaded together, use 2 kitchen sieves coarse then fine and finely a nylon or scrim filter cloth.  The honey should flow from a large container fitted with a honey tap through your filters and into an equally large container.  Special tanks are available at great expense to do this but using 5 gallon home brew fermentation bins fitted with honey taps also works well but it is very heavy.

 

What are the legal requirements of jarring & selling my own honey

If your honey is only for your personal use then you can filter it through old socks and keep it in welly-boots and no one cares, however inevitably you want to give or sell your honey and then we must follow the rules of the game. 

Preparation advice

The premises and equipment used should be suitable i.e. they shall be:

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Clean and capable of being cleaned and free from vermin.

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Equipment must be constructed from stainless steel or food grade plastic.

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Premises must be provided with hot & cold water, a wash basin and a sink, and must not communicate directly with a room containing a toilet. 

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First-aid materials must be available.

When handling honey, you must:

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Wash your hands before handling honey and after using the toilet

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Cover cuts with waterproof dressings

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Keep clean and wear clean over clothing

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Not use tobacco

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Clean as you go, keeping all equipment and working surfaces clean

 

Jarring & labelling advice (UK)

The regulations are confusing at best and this is my honest interpretation of the current requirements...

The labelling must...

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Use the word 'Honey', you can also say what region the honey is from.  
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Example: Charnwood Honey, Scottish Borders Honey

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Be labelled showing it's weight with grams before pounds  (454g /1lb) 
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Note that the font size is also specified as 4mm or above for a 454g /1lb jar. 

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Have your name and address on the jar or the name and address of the seller.

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Indicate a Country of Origin.  eg 'Product of the UK'.  This is in addition to your address.

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Have a Best Before Date within the 'Field of View'.   This is a regulation from September 2003 and the suggested time interval is 2-4 years from jarring.  (Yes jarring not extraction !).  See Best Before Dates vs. Lot Numbers below.

Best Before Dates vs. Lot numbers:    So long as the Best Before date is a full date i.e. Best Before 25-6-12 then a separate Lot number is not now compulsory.   Products with a shelf life in excess of 18 months can use the phrase Best Before End 'year only' However if you use this style of labelling i.e. Best Before End 2012 then a separate Lot number will be required and such Lot numbers should be prefixed with the letter 'L'.   It may therefore be more convenient for a small scale producer to specify the exact date and thereby not require a lot number at all.

Should you be jarring two or more different batches on the same day, perhaps creamed and clear honey, then add a suffix letter to the best before date such as Best Before 25-6-12(a) and Best Before 25-6-12b) etc.  Then this date effectively doubles as a lot number as it will allow you, the producer, to uniquely identify that specific batch. 

 
Field of view: This can be interpreted as 'can be seen whilst looking at the main label' therefore assuming your main label says 'Something Honey' with the weight as per above, then to comply it is not unreasonable to have a small address label on the lid showing the following...

Bob Buzz

Hive Farm, Sting St,

Waxtershire, 

Product of the UK

Best Before 25/6/07

Tamper Resistant Seals: Although not a legal requirement, it is advisable to use a tamper resistant seal on honey for retail sale.

Example:

 

Note that this label is on the lid to ensure that the Best Before Date is 'Within the Field of View'.  

Other bits on this label do not require to be in the Field of View, however it is convenient (for me) to have it all on the same label.

For fuller details click here to download a PDF document 'Honey Guidance' or the more readable "Guidance Notes for Honey Packer" also available from the Food Standard Agency 

 

Caution:

In recent years the exact legislation and interpretation has been a moving target. 

The BBKA have been doing a good job constantly updating their information leaflets and these should be checked in addition to the above.   

For the latest BBKA leaflets CLICK HERE

 

 

Where can I get jars & labels from for my honey

See Appendix.

 

How do I deal with Oil Seed Rape (OSR) honey

The problem with OSR honey is that is sets incredible hard and quickly, so hard it will bend spoons.  If it sets in the honey comb then it will not be possible to extract it at all. See AboveYou must allow it to set before you jar it, that way you can process it before it’s a problem.  You will need a 4 inch honey stirrer* that fits into a powerful (750+ Watt) electric drill. *See Suppliers in the Appendix

  1. Keep the honey in bulk containers and let it set solid this may take 2 weeks to 2 months but it will set. 

  2. Once set, warm it in a warming cabinet until you can JUST get the stirrer in and then cream it for a good 5 minutes.  Make sure to get into the corners of the container and try to avoid stirring in air as it will cause unsightly foam in the jar.

    Tips:

    a) Honey must not be overheated and 40 Watt light bulb in a warming cabinet takes about 48hours to condition 70lb of honey ready for creaming.

    b) All stirrers push honey down with a normal drill but some drills can run in reverse and this  direction reduces the tendency to draw in a air.

  3. Allow the resultant creamed honey to settle for a few days, a week is good, this ensures that most of the air has risen to the top. 

Honey treated like this will remain beautifully creamy for a very long time. 

For more details on creaming OSR honey click here.

 

What do I do with granulated honey still in the super comb

The official only thing to do is to either scrap the comb or scrape it down to the original foundation sheet (midrib) which is a messy time consuming operation.  Learn from this and make a note to take the honey from your bees earlier next year.

However there is another possibility, there is a risk, usually small so read carefully and it only really works July-September (UK) when the wasps are strong.

The Good Bit:

In a location at least 100m from your colonies, put the solid frames outside in super boxes spaced to deliberately let wasps in and a lid to keep rain out. 

Wasps have very strong mouth parts that can grind up the solid sugar but will leave the wax intact.

Wasps are carnivores so wax moths stay clear so long as you don’t leave it long say 7 days max. 

The frames will be cleared of every trace of sugar but the comb will be intact.

 

The Bad Bit:

You've just fed wasps a lot of your honey.

 

The Risks:

This can be dramatic for a few day so do this in a remote private location and away from bee hives and people.

There is a risk in disease spreading from other honey bees so not a good idea if there is AFB or EFB in your area.