In 1851, the Langstroth beehive was invented. This allowed beekeepers to move frames around within the hive without harming the honeycomb. However, when it came to harvesting honey, their only option was still to cut the honeycomb from the frames and squish it over a strainer or eat the comb whole.
Then, in 1864, an amazing event occurred – the extractor was invented! The extractor is a large cylinder that spins frames of honeycomb so fast that the honey is thrown out of the cells, leaving the beekeeper with liquid honey and the honeycomb intact, so it can be returned ot the bees.
The extractor makes beekeeping considerably easier because:
• You can harvest many frames in a short period of time;
• The honeycomb is not harmed, allowing the beekeeper, to give them back to the bees.
Watch the Video Where I Show You How to Extract Honey with an Extractor
Who an Extractor Is For
I don't recommend extractors to beginner beekeepers. This is because they are large and expensive. Give beekeeping a shot and see how it goes. Maybe you won't like it. Maybe you won't have more than 1 or 2 hives and won't need an extractor. OR maybe you'll love beekeeping so much that you'll end up with 20+ hives 3 years later and will need a much bigger extractor.
Keep in mind, many beekeeping associations have an extractor that they let members use.
Extractors are best for beekeepers:
- With 3+ beehives;
- In their 2nd or 3rd year beekeeping;
- Are harvesting at least 10+ frames of honey a year.
Extractors are not recommended for people that are:
- Still learning about beekeeping and don't have any hives yet;
- In their first year beekeeping;
- Have 1 or 2 beehives.
Your Extractor Alternative
If you do not use an extractor, your alternative is to use the crush and strain method. This method can be done on frames with foundation, but works best and is faster when you do not use plastic foundation.
The flow hive is another alternative to harvesting honey without an extractor. However, that is equipment you have to purchase in advance, before putting a honey super on your beehive.
How to Harvest Honey Using an Extractor
You will need:
- Sharp knife or uncapping knife
- Fork or uncapping tool
- Jars, bucket or some type of food grade container to store your honey in long term
- Large baking sheet or other large flat bottom container to hold your frame while uncapping
- Empty super inside contractor's trash bag or large bin to put frames in once they are done being extracted
Honey Harvesting Step 1 - Prep
- Gather your equipment.
- Wash thoroughly.
- Lay out to dry overnight.
It is very important that there is no water in your equipment when you harvest honey, or it can cause the honey to ferment (and go bad). I like to wash everything the night before I extract, so I'm not wasting time hand drying equioment the day of.
Honey Harvesting Step 2 - Uncap Frames
Next, you want to slice the thin beeswax cap off of the cells of your honeycomb so that the honey can get out. You can do this with an uncapping knife (sold at beekeeping supply stores) or with a bread knife or other sharp knife you have in the kitchen.
Tip! Try not to cut too much of the honeycomb off when uncapping the frame. You should be able to see the blade of the knife through the beeswax.
Once you sliced off the majority of the wax, take a fork or uncapping tool and scrape open any cells that still have a cap over them.
Honey Harvesting Step 3 - Spin Frames
Next, it's time for the fun part, spinning! Put an uncapped frame in each part of the basket. If you have a 2 frame extractor, there will be 2 baskets for your frames, directly across from each other. If you have a four frame extractor, there will be 4 baskets. Check the manual for your extractor to see how to insert your frames.
Very Important! You do not want your extractor to be off balance. If you put an especially heavy frame on the left side, balance that frame with a heavy fame on the right. If the frame is fairly light, find another light frame to put on the other side.
Honey Harvesting Step 4 - Empty the Tank
If your extractor has a holding tank below the extractor with a pouring spout and strainer, you can ignore this step. If your extractor is simply a cylinder with baskets inside and does not have a separate holding tank below for the honey, you will have to open the spout and pour the honey out of the tank after a few frames have been spun. It's up to your discretion when that is. Just keep en eye on how full the tank is getting with honey and empty once you're finding yourself struggling to get the extractor going and effectively emptying the frames.
Honey Harvesting Step 5 - Storage
Once you're done spinning all of your frames, you're going to need to store your honey in an airtight, food grade container. This can be glass jars, honey jars, canning jars, a 5 gallon bucket and 2.5 gallon bucket. It's really up to you. I like to store my honey in 5 gallon buckets and pour honey into jars as I need them throughout the year. Just make sure the container has an airtight seal so moisture cannot get inside and cause your honey to ferment.
And you're done!
Helpful Links About Harvesting Honey:
- How to Store Frames of Drawn Out Honeycomb Over the Winter
- How to Harvest Comb Honey
- How to Get Bees Out of Your Honey Super
- How to Harvest Honey Using the Crush & Strain Method
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