A honey extractor is one of the most expensive individual pieces of equipment a beekeeper is likely buy †. If you’re lucky, your association might own one or more extractors and make them available to borrow or hire. However you get hold of one, after use they need to be thoroughly cleaned before storing (or returning) them.
Don’t, whatever you do, follow the advice on some websites or beekeeping forums (fora?) and leave the extractor outside “for the bees to clean”. This is a very bad idea. The feeding frenzy that results is a perfect way to spread disease.
Patience, cold water, more patience and a hairdryer
The used extractor will have quite a bit of residual honey adhering to the sidewalls and floor. You can scrape this out using a flexible silicone spatula but it’s a messy process and almost guaranteed to cover you from wrist to oxter in honey. It’s far easier to:
close the honey gate securely
tip the extractor up at a steep angle so the honey runs towards the gate
turn the heating up in the room and leave it overnight
The following morning the majority of the honey will have drained down towards the honey gate, this can then be bottled for home consumption or used for mead or marmalade making. It’s not unusual to get a pound or more of honey like this … it’ll be a bit frothy and might be less well-filtered but it will still be delicious.
To wash out the residual honey, wax and propolis from the extractor:
level the extractor
close the honey gate securely
fill it completely with cold or cool water and leave overnight
empty out the water, rinse well with more cool/cold water
mop up the dregs with clean kitchen towel
dry with a hairdryer set on ‘low’
Avoid using hot water as it melts any residual wax and makes it a lot harder to clean. The easiest way to complete this wash is to stand the extractor in the garden late in the evening (after the bees stop flying), fill it from the hosepipe and then empty it early the following morning. Almost all of the honey residues will have dissolved. The extractor can then be wiped out and dried with a hairdryer … I simply hang one inside the extractor for half an hour, set on the lowest heat setting and repositioning it periodically to get into all the corners. The stainless steel drum of the extractor warms very quickly, transmitting the heat throughout the extractor.
† Unless you’re semi-commercial or larger in scale in which case you might have bought anything from a €1600 bottling machine to a £really?! Unimog
This is the second full year that this site has been running. Visitor numbers to the site wax (no pun intended) and wane with the beekeeping season – lower in the winter and higher in the summer. This is perhaps not unsurprising … the online forums are much the same, though there’s a lot less bickering here in the winter and no-ones actually been banned. Yet 😉
Visitor statistics wax and wane with the beekeeping calendar
The site has been visited by beekeepers (or visitors, or at least robots … ) from 132 countries over the course of the year. The most popular individual articles are on honey warming cabinets, Paynes poly nuc boxes, steam wax extractors and the one article I posted on the Saf Natura honey extractor (which continues to perform really well … the extractor, not the article). These were all originally posted in 2014 so have had time to permeate deep into the Googled-psyche of the internet. The most popular 2015 post was about avoiding – or removing – frosting in honey. Tim Foden posted some useful additional comments on this when I recently discussed making soft set honey. There’s also been quite a bit of interest in recent posts on oxalic acid/Api-Bioxal and the relative costs of the various Varroa treatments. Disappointingly, my semi-rants on the need for more sustainable beekeeping practices – including training and controlling imports – particularly in relation to stopping pathogen imports (both the visible ones like small hive beetle and the invisible, and untested, ones like new virus strains) have received relatively little attention (though they do appear to be recommended course material for a Masters degree of some sort). Maybe next year …
The search terms make interesting reading though Google (by far and away the most frequent referrer accounting for 96% of direct searches) hides these for commercial reasons and I can’t be bothered checking Google Analytics. I hope the person who searched for a “cow dummy board” found what they wanted but suspect the visitor who searched for “how to build your own collapsible bin 1.2m by 1.2m plans and designs” was disappointed. There’s been some recent interest how to “demaree nucs” which is a combination of terms I’d not expected to see and can’t see a need for. Can you? If the spelling errors that appear in the visible search terms are representative then it’s fortunate that Google and Bing both use algorithms to take into account common typos, fat fingers and the spektackularly poor spelling of many internet users. I use Akismet for spam filtering of comments and it’s amazing the garbage it’s successfully prevented from appearing online … any number of “free pianos”, “genuine Louise Vuiton” (really?) bags and RayBan sunglasses. Most recently was a long and fascinating post (er, not) about “making your breath smell good” in response to my overview of foundationless frames (shurely shome mishtake?) I’m grateful to those who negotiated the “are you human?” Captcha tests and posted a comment or two. Without using Captcha tests I’d be swamped with more free pianos than I’d know what to do with …
I’ve managed to post a bit more than the once-per-week target I’d set myself (64 posts in total). I suspect this will be throttled back a little next year, though I have a range of new things (oxalic acid/Api-Bioxal treatment regimes, homemade label printing, DIY hive monitors etc.) that I’d like to cover. I’ve tended not to write purely topical posts (“My hives this week”, which sounds more like something you’d find in the comments pages of NHS Choices) – there are much better writers out there already doing this* – instead concentrating on more practical aspects of beekeeping. It’s sometimes difficult to achieve a balance between the ‘flow’ of the beekeeping year – the inactivity of the winter months vs. the never-quite-keeping-up activity in May and June – and writing practical and topical posts, after all, most practical beekeeping happens in that 2-3 months between the OSR starting and the end of the swarming season. I’ve already had some interest in discussing the bee shed (and will try and respond to other requests) and want to expand some aspects of queen rearing as I get more experience of different approaches. In particular I’m interested in looking at practical solutions – like vertical splits – for small scale beekeepers who don’t want to graft but do want to improve their stocks. Having moved to Scotland I also now have potential access to some very scenic apiary sites (at least used by friends, even if my own are relatively dull and boring) and I’m hoping to combine visits to these with my photography interests.
It’s never too late to join the 21st Century …
I’ve finally got round to including a widget (right) to mirror my Twitter account @The_Apiarist. This was created way back in January 2014 but got forgotten and was subsequently suspended by Twitter … presumably due to inactivity. More topical things might end up there (if I remember), leaving the more practical stuff for these pages …
Mid-April 2015 queen … I hope to see her again in about 4 months
As the year draws to a close I hope that in 2016 your mite numbers are low, your colonies docile, your queens visible and your supers heavy.
I have previously described an easy-to-build honey warming cabinet. Having reviewed the links that bring visitors to these pages it’s clear that many are Google searches for honey warming cabinet plans. Despite the original pages having a reasonable straightforward description I’ve put together a set of plans and basic building instructions. If you intend to use the cabinet to pre-warm supers prior to extraction then the box needs to be a suitable size to stack two supers side-by-side. I use National hives and the plans describe a cabinet that is of a suitable size for these.
The plans and the illustrations on the original pages describing the honey warming cabinet are pretty-much self-explanatory. If you get a local wood merchant to cut the ply to the correct sizes the only tools needed are a screwdriver and a drill. All joints should be glued and screwed. Once constructed the cabinet is very strong. I’ve stacked 18 full supers on mine and regularly stand on the top when stacking things on the shelves behind it. Most of the 5cm thick insulation (Jablight, Kingspan etc.) can be cut easily with a sharp long-bladed knife. However, most of these types of insulation are easily damaged so cover all the exposed edges with strong self-adhesive duck tape (or similar). If you intend to add a small mains powered fan to improve heat circulation you will need to add another hole for the wiring. With the fan installed and a thermostatically controlled Ecostat heater element temperature control is extremely good.
The most viewed post on this site over recent weeks is about building a honey warming cabinet. Towards the end of the post I discuss the addition of a small mains powered fan to circulate the heat better. The fan is mounted attached to and under the bucket stand, circulating the air directly over the heating element. Out of interest, I conducted a quick experiment to determine how much influence the fan had on the heat distribution within the cabinet.
Using a remote temperature sensor I timed how long it took to get from ambient temperature (about 18oC on the day) to a stable 60oC, near the effective maximum due to the amount of insulation in my cabinet. With the fan on continuously this took 1 hours and 40 minutes. With the fan turned off this took almost twice as long. Since I was also aware that using the fan alone increased the temperature I measured the maximum temperature the cabinet reached without the heater on … in this case fractionally under 28oC, but this took well over two hours. The fan itself clearly generates a reasonable amount of heat which, in a well insulated container, pushes the temperature up (a bit like those foil-lined polystyrene ovens in which you can cook a chicken with a lightbulb). It should be noted that with a couple of 30 lb buckets full of honey in the cabinet all these times would be extended. However, it clearly shows that the addition of an inexpensive fan is a worthwhile addition to a DIY honey warming cabinet.
Although more difficult to monitor, the presence of the fan also makes the temperature fluctuations markedly smaller. With the fan running and the thermostat set correctly the cabinet will maintain 33oC +/- less than 1oC, making it suitable for incubating queen cells. You need to maintain high humidity levels to avoid drying the cells and the newly-emerged queens need to be used promptly.
Queen cells …
The fan I use was purchased in the Maplin sale for about a fiver. The list price is three times that, so it might pay to shop around. It would also be possible to piratise an unwanted 12V fan from an old PC, but you would have to take the power supply as well.
This is a review of a 9 frame radial motorised Saf Natura Ritmo extractor, prompted by a recent discussion on the SBAi forum and the absence of many other reviews when I was researching the purchase. I hope it’s useful to others thinking of purchasing a machine.
Extractors are probably the single most expensive item purchased by the majority of beekeepers. Actually, that should have started “an extractor” because a well-chosen machine that suits your beekeeping should last a very long time. Try before you buy … borrow one from another beekeeper or, if your association owns one or more, book or hire one for a weekend to see how it suits your beekeeping needs. If your association is reasonably large it’s likely that demand will be high as the OSR finishes – honey must be extracted promptly or it will crystallise in the comb. Be prepared. Book the machine in good time and keep the removed supers warm to make extraction easier.
You may not need to buy an extractor at all. Many don’t. If you’re flexible about when you can extract, or well organised, you might be able to share with friends or use the association machine(s). I’m certainly not well organised and often have to fit extraction around inflexible work commitments …
Extractor size – 3, 4, 9, 18 frame?
This is my second machine … the first being a 4-frame Lega manual tangential model which, although excellent quality, was simply too small for the number of colonies (~10) I now have. Small or large extractors (in terms of number of frames) take about the same time to extract the honey per spin, so buy a larger model if you want to spend less time extracting. This has been extensively discussed elsewhere. Since I extract twice per year (OSR and late summer) from about 18-24 supers (~200+ frames each time) and don’t intend to scale up I’ve decided a 9 frame extractor will suit me for the foreseeable future. Famous last words.
Manual (hand cranked) or motorised?
Charles Atlas …
Motorised. End of discussion. Seriously. Unless you’re built like Charles Atlas, or want to be, I would strongly recommend a motorised extractor if you’re considering a 9 frame or larger model. My manual tangential model was hard work after a couple of dozen frames. 200 would have been purgatory. Remember that if you’re handling 20 or so supers you will already be moving about 1000 lb. of boxes around, before you start extracting, often in a warm room. For the model I discuss below the price differential between the manual and motorised version is about £280. I think this is a good investment. You can often retro-fit motors to manual models, but I have no experience of this.
Why a Saf Natura extractor?
After outgrowing my manual four frame tangential extractor I’d borrowed a polythene-barreled radial 9 frame motorised Thorne’s extractor from our association. I was convinced about the capacity and the motor but disappointed about the signs of wear on the polythene barrel. The machine had been used pretty hard by the association and would have become increasingly difficult to properly clean, so I wanted a stainless steel machine. All the standard suppliers sell these, at prices – for a 9 frame radial model – ranging from about £600 to £1600. The Thorne’s polythene-barreled model has a list price of approaching £800. I looked carefully Abelo extractors on show at the Yorkshire Beekeepers Association Spring meeting. Abelo sell 8 frame tangential and 12 frame radial models, but there were some rough edges on the stainless steel barrel of the model I inspected which put me off. I finally purchased a Saf Natura Ritmo extractor from Bee Equipped in Derbyshire. It was close enough to collect, so I wasn’t committed to purchasing until I’d checked the quality.
Ritmo motorised radial extractor
Manual motor …
The Saf Natura website provides details of this model. It is 52.5 cm in diameter and – once the bent angle coated steel legs are assembled and attached – stands 102 cm high at the top of the closed lid. The motor extends the height a further 12 cm. Note that the model illustrated on the Bee Equipped and the Saf Natura websites both show what is variously termed a Saf Natura motor, or – I think – a digital motor. These have an additional control box on the side, presumably controlling time of spin etc. Bee Equipped only sell this extractor model with a more basic manually controlled motor as shown in the images here. I presume this helps keeps the price down to a very attractive £620.
Resin cage …
The other clear cost-saving is the cage for the frames. In this model the top and bottom sections are moulded out of some sort of plastic or resin, rather than being constructed from stainless steel. The top and bottom sections are joined by stainless steel rods. The honey gate is also plastic. Half of the perspex (?) lid hinges up to add and remove frames for extraction, in doing so the motor safety cut-out (red and black in the image on the right) is engaged. The overall quality, rigidity and finish of the stainless steel is excellent. It looks and feels like a solid, well made, machine that should last a long time. I use Nationals and the extractor I purchased was set up for this frame size. By using longer stainless steel rods holding the resin cages apart it is possible to use Langstroth frames in the same model. I also purchased three mesh frames for tangential extraction from brood frames (deeps). Unfortunately these are only supplied in Langstroth dimensions so will need some minor butchering before being suitable for National frames (I’ll describe this later if I ever get round to it … the tangential meshes were only £25 for three and I didn’t want to have to pay postage at a later date).
In use …
It works well. The motor makes the expected whining noise as it speeds up or slows down. It sounds strained but I’ve heard exactly the same thing with other extractors and you soon get used to it. Full speed is amply fast enough to clear filled supers, even of viscous OSR honey. There’s nothing to stop you opening the lid or slamming the machine into reverse when it’s going full speed ahead … other than common sense and a small adhesive label stuck on the lid. I’ve not tried and I suggest you don’t either. As with all extractors it wobbles with an uneven load. I’m going to investigate castors or foam blocks under the legs. However, if the wobble is bad enough it’s worth rearranging the frames to sort the problem, rather than simply hanging on for dear life as it dances around the room. The worst wobble I’ve experienced, which got progressively worse as the length of spin increased, was due to my forgetting to uncap one side of one frame … D’oh! Crystallised OSR honey in part of a frame often causes problems for similar reasons.
I run the machine with the honey gate open, directly filtering the honey through coarse and fine stainless steel filters above a 30 lb. honey bucket. As long as you keep a careful eye on the level of honey in the bucket this method works well. A contributor to the SBAi discussion commented on the relatively short distance between the bottom of the barrel and the cage, causing the long frame lugs on National supers to foul the accumulated honey. This is avoided by leaving the gate open.
I’ve only had the machine for a season so cannot comment on longevity, spares etc. Dot at Bee Equipped told me they’ve been selling this model for at least a decade with no significant problems, other than some models damaged in transit. Redesigned or stronger boxes appear to have sorted this problem out.
In conclusion … highly recommended.
Note that many suppliers aggressively discount extractors in the spring shows (BeeTradex or the BBKA convention) and that the very worst time to buy an extractor is at the end of the summer 😉
If you bottle honey from large buckets or tanks you usually have to tip the container to avoid the slightly scummy surface layer which can spoil the appearance of several jars if you’re not careful. As the level drops you need to tip the bucket at an increasingly acute angle. Of course, you also need to tip the bucket to get the dregs out as well. This can all get a little precarious. There are a number of solutions available commercially. Thorne’s sell a honey tipper which has a strong spring which is depressed by the weight of the full bucket. As the level drops the spring extends, so tipping the bucket forewords. Although clever, it’s not an inexpensive solution. An alternative is the FillyBoy which offers a simple manual solution but doesn’t appear to have a UK distributer. The underlying principle of both approaches is the same – two pieces of wood, hinged along one side with the ‘upper’ piece fitted with some way of stopping the bucket sliding forward. This is easy to build at home.
The pictures are self-explanatory. I used offcuts of ply and softwood. The bucket ‘stops’ need to be suitably spaced for the bucket size you use. You also need to use a bit of trial and error to space the ‘stops’ on the baseboard to make sure the bucket is tipped at suitable angle. I placed the stop closest to the hinge so that the bucket was tipped at an angle of about 30o. Don’t be tempted to try and tip it much more than this or it might not be stable if your buckets are tall. Although not shown in the pictures I’ve now added a simple handle to the ‘back’ edge of the upper board (see the FillyBoy images for inspiration) that makes moving the wedge, and so increasing the angle, an easy task.
It’s also worth giving the entire thing 2-3 coats of clear varnish to make it ‘wipe clean’ – not that honey ever gets spilled during bottling …
If you go to the trouble to build your own honey warming cabinet it’s worth ensuring that the dimensions allow you to also use it to warm super frames ready for extraction. This makes extraction more enjoyable (or at least much less painful?) because the honey flows out of the comb more easily. I use National hives, so my boxes are all 46 cm square. By constructing the honey warming cabinet with external dimensions almost exactly the size of two supers they can be stacked side by side with the lid inverted on top. The (hopefully considerable) weight of the supers is taken by the side walls of the box, not by the insulation. Most supers drip a bit of honey – perhaps due to broken brace comb between boxes – so line the cabinet with a few sheets of newspaper to catch the spills. Adjust the thermostat to keep the boxes at a gentle heat until you’re ready to extract them – in my case I usually collect supers over a couple of days and maintain them at about 38oC, rotating the pile once or twice to ensure they get warmed through.
Honey filled supers …
My honey warming cabinet is 87.5 cm long – fractionally too short for two supers side by side (either a design flaw or dictated by the original pieces of wood I had available – too long ago to remember). However, I use quite a few Sweinty polystyrene supers which have very thick walls. By placing these at the bottom of the stack, overlapping the cabinet box ends slightly, I can ensure little heat escapes. My cabinet has a small mains powered fan circulating the air, ensuring good heat distribution through the stack of supers.
Extracting the early honey from oil seed rape (OSR) and hawthorn must be done before the honey crystallises – unless you’re going to melt and crush it out of the comb of course. This year I extracted over the unseasonably cold late May bank holiday weekend. Without some sort of gentle warming the honey gets viscous, making extraction both difficult and less effective. It’s a tiresome enough task as it is, so make it as easy as possible by pre-warming the supers.
One visit or two? If you shake the bees off the frames (or use a leafblower) you can clear supers in a single visit. However, juggling all those frames on a hot day with the air full of bees can be a little trying. Although it takes two trips, I prefer the less disruptive approach of using a clearer board. The usual approach is to insert a Porter escape into the hole in the crown board and return the following day to find the super largely empty. But not always. Porter escapes have moving parts and a bit of propolis or a fat drone can easily block them. There are a number of alternatives, with Thorne’s selling about eight different types of escapes, as well as the conventional Porter unit. I’ve used several alternatives but have settled on the design shown in the picture (which I originally found on the Beekeeping forum described by ‘Poly Hive’ but they’ve lost all the images in a server crash) as it works extremely well. It has no moving parts, clears supers in as a little as a few hours – probably due to the space underneath and the widely separated exits – and, most importantly, is simple and inexpensive to construct.
Construct a flat, square and true eke from 46 mm x 21 mm softwood (see a previous article) and cover it on one side with a sheet of 4-6mm plywood. Glue and screw or nail the sheet of plywood in place. From now on I’ll refer to the ‘top’ as the plywood. Acquire a rhombus escape from Thorne’s (hint, these are always discounted in the sales, usually to £1). Cut the lozenge-shaped rhombus in half across the shorter diagonal using a small fine-toothed saw (see image). The resulting triangles should be offered up into opposite corners of the underside of the clearer board. Before fixing them in place drill a 2-4cm hole through the plywood – as close to the eke as possible and as far from the rhombus ‘exit’ hole. Refer to the picture which should be self-explanatory. Finally, fix the rhombus halves in place – I simply fixed them down with a thin smear of Gorilla glue. Slap a bit of wood preservative all over the exposed bits once the glue is dry.
Put the clearer board underneath the bottom super you want to remove, with the plywood sheet at the top. Return later in the day or after leaving in place overnight. You should find that the supers are more or less empty of bees and can easily be removed for extraction. The bees will be densely clustered on the underside of the clearer board. For some reason the bees usually seem very well tempered and can be given one good shake to return them to the brood box.