Extracting Honey: The Process

Photo of Grandpa Arthur Andersen uncapping a frame of honey with a hot knife.

You have a pile of frames full of honey! Congratulations! Now it is time to get the honey from the frame and into a honey jar. I am assuming that you have harvested the honey from the beehive and moved to a bee-tight place, gathered your extracting equipment, and are ready to extract. 

It is ideal to extract honey the day you remove it from the hive. This ensures that honey does not crystalize in the frame (making it impossible to extract), and that it will not draw moisture from the air and ferment (not a huge problem in the deserts of Utah). Be sure to store honey frames in a warm, dry room. Some beekeepers heat the room to about 95 degrees F to extract so that honey flows better. 

The first step in extracting is uncapping. Below are some photos of Grandpa Arthur as he uncaps a frame of honey. First, he props the frame onto the capping tray stand. (AKA large metal tub). Then he carefully scratches the thin, top cappings layer off of the frame, leaving the comb and honey in tact below. He continued doing this until all of the cappings were removed from the frame. When beekeepers first start uncapping, there is a tendency to scratch too deep into the wax. Practice helps remedy this. Try to keep your scratcher parallel to the foundation in the frame. And be sure to remove all of the capping wax on each frame. 

Here is a photo of Grandpa Andersen uncapping a frame with a hot knife. Whichever uncapping tool you use, try to only remove that thin, top layer of cappings.

After you uncap one frame, place it in the extractor. Continue until extractor is full. Elevate the extractor so that when you open the honey gate, honey can flow into a container below. Some come with a stand, or you can use a counter as well. 

The extractor pictured below is a tangential, hand crank extractor that we use for demonstration at our beekeeping classes. 

Start spinning the extractor slowly, and then increase speed as frames empty. Starting too fast can damage the comb. With a tangential extractor, extract part of the first side , then flip them so the inside is out. Fully extract the second side, and then turn them again to finish the first side. This will help balance the load. 

With a radial extractor, be sure frame ears point away from the center of the load. Bees build comb with a 3 degree slant so honey does not run out. If you put the frame ears in, the honey won’t come out. Not that I tried this when we were first married or anything. . .  Okay, maybe I did. 

It can take between 5 and 30 minutes to remove all the honey. You will need to be there to make sure your extractor does not “walk” away while spinning. 

When honey pools at the bottom of the extractor, open the bottling gate (yellow in the above photos). Allow honey to run into a settling tank. (We use a modified 5 gallon bucket, see post on extracting equipment.) 

After honey is extracted, you can either return frames to the super on the beehive, or store them in a bee-tight place (and rodent-tight and wax moth-tight). Before storing, you can put them back in the hive for the bees to clean up any extra honey. 

At this point, you will have a container full of honey, ready to be bottled! Stay tuned for a post on bottling honey!

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