Tag Archives: extraction

Spring honey harvest

With good Spring weather the first honey extraction of the year is usually timed for early June.

Oil seed rape (OSR) ...

Oil seed rape (OSR) …

We’ve had wonderful weather in the east of Scotland this Spring. Unusually, colony build-up was in time to exploit the Spring nectar and several colonies ended up with at least three supers.

One of my two main apiaries is close to oil seed rape (OSR) fields and this was more or less finished by late May. OSR nectar has a high glucose content and readily crystallises. It’s therefore important to get the honey off before it sets rock solid in the frames 1.

Is the honey ready yet?

However, it’s also important not to remove the supers before the bees have capped off the comb, or at least reduced the water content below ~20% or there is a real risk that the honey will ferment in storage.

Capped honey super frame ...

Capped honey super frame …

When adding new supers I always put them directly above the brood box. Therefore, in a stacked hive, the top super will be the oldest and the most likely to be capped and ready to remove. Lower down the frames may be partially capped. Usually you’ll find the frames in the middle of the box capped before the outliers.

(Very) partially capped honey super frame ...

(Very) partially capped honey super frame …

During weekly inspections in late May I check the supers. If a frame is capped it’s ready. If it’s not and the nectar is dripping out when you turn the frame over then it’s definitely not ready.

You can test if uncapped frames are ready by giving them a sharp shake directly over the open super. If nectar drops are shaken out the water content is still too high. Sometimes you’ll find the majority of the frame capped with watery nectar at the very edges.

You don’t need to check every frame, or even every super. With widely spaced frames you can often clearly see they’re all capped. If you can’t you probably just need to check a central frame and one or two on the periphery.

Clearer boards

Fully capped supers usually contain relatively few bees when compared to partially or uncapped frames. Therefore, if the super is fully capped it’s usually easy enough to shake the bees off each frames, transferring the frames to a spare super for transport.

However, supers like the one pictured above, are often covered in bees. The easiest way to clear these is to use a clearer board. These provide a ‘no-moving-parts-one-way-valve’ means of emptying the super of bees. The design I use has a thick lower rim, providing ample space for the bees that move down in the hive. If I’m clearing a tall stack of supers I’ll often add an empty super below the clearer rather than completely overcrowding the brood box.

Removed and inverted clearer board ...

Removed and inverted clearer board …

Add the clearer board 2 and return the following day to remove the super(s) that are now nearly empty of bees. There are almost always a few stragglers 3.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed this year that there are more stragglers if the colony is queenless. I suspect that this might influence the movement of bees in the hive. This isn’t a scientifically controlled observation … just an “I’ve noticed” 😉

Keeping the supers warm

A defining feature of a good year in beekeeping is that you run out of equipment … frames, supers, split boards, roofs etc. With the exception of roofs (because I knock them up from Correx sheets for a couple of quid each) I’ve run out of all of these this year.

And clearers 🙁

Stacked warming supers ...

Stacked warming supers …

I therefore clear a few hives at a time. However, I like to do all my honey extracting in a single day (or weekend if it’s been a good year). This is mainly because I loathe the cleaning up afterwards 🙂

I therefore keep the supers warm until I’m ready to extract. My honey warming cabinet was designed to take 2 x 15kg buckets of honey (inside) or to allow two stacks of supers to be built on top of the open box.

By ensuring no gaps and adding some insulation (bubble wrap or an old blanket) on top I can set the element at ~40°C and the honey in the stacked supers is kept nice and warm 4.

This offers two very significant advantages. OSR honey takes longer to crystallise and the honey, being warm, is much easier to extract.

If the stack of supers is 6+ high I usually rotate them top to bottom, bottom to top every few days, and try and extract from the warmest supers first. This year I cleared supers over a 7-9 day period and extracted them all together.

Mind your back

A brief word of caution … full supers are heavy. Take care lifting them.

Out of interest I weighed some full cedar and poly supers and they each weighed 17-21kg (about 37-43lb). The weight difference isn’t just the weight of the box as the supers contained different numbers of frames, so I’m not comparing like with like.

Full super ready for extraction

Full super ready for extraction …

Beekeeping is hard work. If you extract just 10 supers, handling the boxes just five times each during the process (hive to car, car to house, house to warming cabinet to extractor and then back again) you’ll have moved about a metric tonne. You will move them more than this.

Beekeepers back is a very real problem.

And that’s before you handle individual frames during uncapping and loading the extractor. After a hundred full frames I get very sore hands doing this bit, let alone shifting all the full boxes.


Honey extraction ...

Honey extraction …

Extracting honey is a bit of a chore.

It’s not even much fun writing about it … 😉

The first bucket or two is enjoyable 5, but the novelty wears off really fast. It’s noisy, repetitive, hot, hard work. Did I say it was repetitive?

I’ve reviewed my extractor previously. It works well and I try and look after it carefully. There’s lots of preparation and even more cleaning up afterwards.

I always run the extractor with the gate open, filtering honey directly through coarse and fine filters into 15kg buckets 6. Once a bucket is full I measure the water content with a refractometer and label the lid with the year/month, source apiary 7, the honey weight and the %age water.

Buckets get stored in a cool, stone-floored room. The honey sets and will keep more or less indefinitely until it’s needed for bottling. Where possible I use the buckets with the highest water content first.


And once I’ve completed all the cleaning up I treat myself to a well-deserved beer … 🙂


Spring follows winter and precedes summer. However, the timing is variable and depends upon the hemisphere and whether you use meteorological or astronomical reckoning. In the US and UK it’s March, April and May using meteorological reckoning. However, there’s not much nectar collected here in the East of Scotland in March. Alternatively, using astronomical/solar reckoning Spring starts on the vernal equinox (~20th March) and ends on the summer solstice (which, conveniently, was yesterday … 😉 ).

Beekeepers might be better using a phenological or ecological estimation for the start of Spring, for example defined by the flowering of a particular range of plants.

Alternatively – and a whole lot easier to measure but much more difficult to predict – define Spring like Swedish meteorologists … “the first occasion on which the average daytime temperature exceeds zero degrees Celsius for seven consecutive days”. This means Spring will vary  with both latitude and elevation. Perfectly sensible and at the same time confusing 🙂

Extractor cleaning

Spring honey crop

Spring honey crop …

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.

Testing ...

Testing …

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

www.theapiarist.org’s year

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

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 …


Fat finger

Fat finger

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 ...

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.

Happy New Year


* on bees, not urticaria

Honey warming cabinet plans



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.

Honey warming cabinet. The Apiarist

Honey warming cabinet …

My greatest fan

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

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.

Honey warming cabinet fan

Fan …