Beekeeping in June sees the first honey harvest of the year. The rape crop has now gone over and it is time to remove the supers from the hives and extract the honey. Supers are the boxes placed above the brood box and queen excluder where the bees store their surplus honey. The usual rule of thumb is to take the honey when the bees have capped it. This means that they have extracted the excess moisture from the honey and it will not ferment. However, rape honey crystalizes very quickly so the beekeeper will do a “shake test” to see if the honey is ripe. If nectar doesn’t splash out of the frame when shaken it means that it is ready. We can also use a refractometer to test the moisture content.
The first process in removing honey is to clear the bees from the supers. There are several ways to achieve this but the simplest is to use a clearer board which is placed under the supers that you want to remove. The clearer board will have a one way device in it which allows the bees down to the brood box but not back up. After a few days the supers should be almost clear of bees and any remaining bees can be gently swept off each frame before the honey is taken away.
The cappings are sliced off each frame before it is put into an extractor. This is a very sticky business. The frames are whizzed around until the honey has been forced out. The honey is then filtered and put into a settling tank so that any bubbles can rise to the surface before being jarred. We are frequently asked what the difference is between the golden runny honey and the creamy set honey. Well the only difference is how quickly the honey crystalizes and granulates. The set or creamed honey in the UK is largely from the rape crop. All honey will eventually crystalize but this shouldn’t be a concern. Pop the jar into a pan of hot water and the crystals will soon dissolve.
Nothing goes to waste in beekeeping. The cappings that have been sliced from the frames are made of the cleanest wax. They will be washed, melted and filtered to provide the best material for making pure beeswax candles, polish and cosmetics. I did read the other day that one beekeeper rinsed his cappings in vodka thus making a very palatable honey vodka – I think I must try that!