I still get amazed when I go back home to visit my grandparents and visit the “honey house”. Over the years my grandpa has upgraded our equipment and made harvesting honey a much simpler task. We run a 72-frame extractor that unloads hundreds of pounds at once and is a huge time saver. Now that I have my own bees here, I don’t have the luxury of such nice equipment. For a lot of backyard beekeepers, the question of how to harvest honey comes up often. Luckily, there are options for almost any level of beekeeping that makes its simple and fun.
The best example I can start off with is the one I currently use myself. Last year I was harvesting honey off of 6 hives, which came out to just under 100 “frames” of honey. Just a quick side note for terminology, a “frame” is the wooden or plastic structure that your bees will store honey in, inside the hive. I used an inexpensive (roughly $100) 3 frame extractor. It is a manual crank extractor that is just about the perfect size and cost for the number of beehives I have. There are also electric models available for those who are willing to spend a little extra.
For those beekeepers or potential beekeepers who only want one or two hives, you can get away with an even cheaper option. The old timey trick to harvesting a few frames of honey is using a pillow case. You simply take 2 new cotton pillow cases, scrape the wax off into them, and squeeze. Once you’ve collected all the honey you want, just fill up your preferred jars and enjoy! Although a little messier, for those with just a handful of hives, it’s a great option.
It’s important to mention that depending on what kind of frames you use, one method may be better than the other. If you are using a plastic frame, then either method is fine. The extractor method requires you to “uncap” all the frames before using it, but is more convenient. Using the pillow case method with plastic foundation is good too, because the bees can rebuild the wax next year with the plastic base. If your using 100% wax foundation though, I would consider saving the wax and using a regular extractor. By uncapping the frames, instead of squeezing them, you save the bees from having the start with zero wax next year.
Regardless of which method you use, the end result will surely be sweet. Keeping bees in your backyard is very rewarding and tasting the product from your hard work can make it worthwhile. Increasing the pollinator population is such an important task and I am glad to see some interest here locally. As always, if you have any questions about bees or agriculture, please feel free to call the extension office. Be safe out there.