My husband used to keep bees when he was younger and was fascinated by them, so when we bought our little farm a couple of years ago finding a good spot for the a hive or two in the wonderful, partially-walled garden was a must.
A full refurbishment of the farmhouse and overhaul of the very unkempt garden meant his WBC hive sat in the garage awaiting it’s coat of gloss for over 12 months, but earlier this year a colony of bees finally arrived one Saturday morning, after having been lost by Parcelforce and taking a 48 detour to God-knows-where. Thankfully, they survived and, after few touch-and-go days, began to thrive. We now have two hives, a WBC hive which sits in the corner of the garden in a secluded spot with good morning sun and a national hive (the occupants which are rather testy) which overlooks the fields and woods. This year we’ve taken honey from the WBC hive. (The queen of the WBC hive is called Beyonce for obvious reasons. The queen of the less-than-friendly national hive is called Queen C. Work that one out for yourself.)
The day-to-day and hive inspections are Phil’s remit and I won’t cover them here. If you want to talk to him about bees I’m sure he’d be thrilled, find him on Instagram at @Mr_Phil. I’m here for the honey.
We’ve taken frames from the WBC a couple of times now and hope to get another batch off before the season is out. Because we’re dealing in relatively small quantities it makes no sense to spend fortunes on expensive equipment like a honey spinner, so here is a quick step-by-step of how we get the honey from hive to jar. It’s pretty simple and not too messy.
- Protective gear (for going into the hive)
- Hive tool and brush
- A nucleus box (for carrying the full frames)
- A sharp knife
- A potato masher
- 2 large, clean bowls
- A sieve
- Muslin cloth (we use Lakeland’s handy muslin squares)
- Jars (we like these from Wilkos)
- A funnel
- A ladle
- Labels (if desired)
- First things first, you need to select the frames you’re going to take from the honey super. The rule of thumb is 70% capped frames. When you’ve selected the frames you want to take, drop them into the nucleus box and put the lid back on to keep your bees from going in there after them. We typically replace the frames we’ve taken with new ones.
2. Now take your nucleus box full of frames into the kitchen and prepare to get sticky. You need to get the honey out of the frames and into one of your big bowls. We cut around the edge of the frame, being careful to remove any wire. We typically empty about four frames at a time into a very large mixing bowl. Any more than this and the next step is harder.
3. Take your potato masher (or wooden spoon if you prefer, but it’s not as much fun) and mash the honeycomb until every cell is broken. It should look something like this:
4. Set your sieve over the top of your other clean bowl and line the sieve with muslin. The sieve supports the muslin when you start to pour your mashed up wax and honey in. Make sure as you pour it in that you don’t catch the edges of the muslin and don’t pour too much in. We usually strain it in 3 or 4 batches. Your honey will begin to run through instantly and it’s the most satisfying thing in the world to watch.
5. Gather the edges of the muslin square up and twist them together until you are putting pressure on the mixture inside. Be careful to stay over the top of the bowl as it should now be running pretty fast. When it stops flowing freely, we take hold of the ball of wax through the muslin and squeeze it really hard like you’re trying to squash the tennis ball shape into a frisbee. You’ll be amazed at how much more comes out when you do this. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you have no more mashed up honey and wax to sieve.
6. Take your ladle (make sure it’s clean – you don’t want to contaminate your honey) and ladle it into your jars through the funnel. Some people let them stand overnight to let the air rise to the top. We’ve never had any issues and generally put the lids on straight away.
7. Write up your labels if you want to use them.
8. Enjoy eating it, cooking with it, selling it, giving it away or whatever you’re doing with it. BBC Food have a pretty great recipe for honey cake here, if that’s your thing.
10. (Optional) Phil then breaks up the compacted wax from the muslin squares and gives it back to his bees on an old baking tray for them to clean before boiling the dry wax to get clean, usable beeswax.
Enjoy and let me know how you use your honey!