Thursday, August 16, 2012

My First Extracting Day

   Today was a milestone for me. I extracted my first batch of honey . Sure, it was only 2 frames (and western frames at that) but it was 2 frames more than I got last year. For some strange reason I now feel validated as a beekeeper. Those bees and I have been through a lot the past year and a half. I managed to keep them alive over the winter (by blind luck, not skill), I was able to rectify a horribly botched split attempt, and now I  will have a few jars of golden nectar as my reward. I love those damned bees. Yes, they are a money pit. I've sunk well over $1,500 into this crazy hobby. But they give me a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction that would be hard to explain to a non-beekeeping person. 
   Which brings me to today's culmination of all my hard work. I got to rob my bees. I wasn't greedy. I only took 2 frames. Truth be told, I would've like 3. But when I pulled the 3rd frame I noticed a group of drone cells on it. And you can't have brood in the honey. "Didn't you have a queen excluder in place?" Why, yes I did. But the box above the excluder had no honey in it. OK, it had a little but not nearly enough to harvest. Which meant I had to look to the box below the excluder and I was well aware there may be brood there. There shouldn't be. The queen has plenty of brood space in the bottom 3 boxes. But she does as she pleases.
   My extractor had arrived late Monday afternoon. However I did not unpack it until this morning. I needed the husband to attach the legs for me. I named my extractor Gigantor, because he reminds me of a big ass robot. I guess this early Japanese anime from the 60's made quite an impression on me. And I wonder where my son, Errol, gets it from?

Here's Gigantor posing out in front of my garden. He'd just had a bath in preparation for his big debut.

A view inside. The basket holds the frames of honey.

And here he is with the lids in place.

Isn't he a handsome devil? And so well built! Like a brick you-know-what. I was anxious to put him through his paces. I washed up all the other needed supplies (bucket, jars, strainer, uncapping tank, uncapping knife, capping scratcher....) and set them out to dry. Meanwhile I went out to the hives to collect those 2 frames. I had put them into a box, up above a bee escape. The bee escape lived down to its expectations. There were still plenty of bees on the frames. I shook them off, brushed them off....and pretty much just pissed them off. In the end I managed to get the frames into a box, under a towel, and kept them free of bees until I could get them into the house. Aren't they gorgeous?

I brought in 3 empty hive boxes and stacked them up in the kitchen. I put the honey strainer into the honey bucket (no...not that kind, silly) and placed the bucket inside the boxes. Then I placed the uncapping tank (cheap sink) on top of the boxes so that the drain was centered over the bucket. I do not have an electric uncapping knife so I placed my knife into a big jar of hot water, shook off the excess water, and started slicing through the wax cappings on the first frame. Release the honey!

I flipped the frame over to repeat the process on the opposite side of the frame but ran into a problem. The bees hadn't built the comb out far enough on that side. Luckily I had anticipated this and had purchased a capping scratcher. Which looks kind of like a wool comb (for those of you who are spinners).  Once I got the honey released from both sides of both frames it was time to insert them into the extractor. This is also when I realized that the plastic frames would not fit into the extractor radially (which will make no sense to non-beekeepers but would be too hard to explain. You'll have to Google it). Nope. Ain't gonna happen. The plastic frames I've been using can only fit into the Maxant (read "high end" & "expensive") extractor tangentially. That would've been good to know but it never dawned on me to ask. No huge deal. I plan to switch to shallow honey supers next year anyway (we really don't get that much honey up here), and will make sure to buy frames that will fit this extractor. 
   Moving right along, before I started cranking the extractor I needed to clean the honey and wax out of the uncapping tank. A kitchen spatula helped meet that end. You can see the capping scratcher there, with the turquoise handle.

The view down the drain and into the bucket.

Now we get to the fun (?) part. I had the frames inside the extractor and began turning the crank. Slowly at first, then increasing in speed. As the speed increased Gigantor began strolling across the kitchen floor. I tried holding him still, stepping on his feet, partially laying on top of him...but still he walked. Being an extremely stubborn girl I was bound and determined to get the honey out of those frames. I kept adjusting the frames inside the extractor and finally figured out how to balance them. Things went much smoother after that. Because I could only spin these frames tangentially I had to stop and flip them over in order to spin the honey from the other side. Look! That's honey flowing (more like oozing) out of the honey gate!

I spun the dickens out of those frames. Over and over. I wanted to get every last drop of honey. This might be all I get this year and I need to make the most of it. Look at how empty of honey the frames are.

I needed to prop up the side of the extractor to enable the small amount of honey to reach the honey gate.

Good thing I am also a winemaker. The long handled "wine stirring" spoon came in handy for pushing the honey towards the gate.

The honey is now in the honey bucket, being strained through a fine mesh bag. Tomorrow we bottle! And clean up all our equipment.

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