Your Honey House

By Kim Flottum, Editor of Bee Culture magazine and author of The BackYard Beekeeper, The Honey Handbook, and Better Beekeeping. All are available from Kelley’s.

Not everyone is a beginner, but beginners seem to get most of the attention. Of course we seasoned beekeepers want them to stay awhile so it’s necessary to help them get a good start, but for those who have passed the entrance exam—kept your bees alive and watched them thrive for two, three or more seasons—the time for a honey house is right about now.

Hauling supers into the basement, tying up the garage, or destroying the kitchen has worn out its welcome with everybody in the family. Get out and stay out, and go to a honey house for everything you need. Here are some thoughts on what to do.

Visit beekeepers that already have a honey house. Find out what they like and don’t like about it, what they’d do different if they had a chance, what doesn’t work at all, and where they’ve wasted money, and where they should have spent more.

That should give you a good start.

From there, start thinking about the outside:

  • Entrances and exits and loading docks

  • A dust-free driveway and parking area

  • Parking for workers and customers and vendors

  • A turnaround big enough for any vehicle

  • Outside storage tanks for syrup

  • A covered lean-to for weather-neutral storage

Then think of what you’ll need inside:

  • Room for moving supers with carts, even forklifts (think positive and down the road)

  • Tough walls and heavy duty, sealed floors

  • A warming room that can double as storage at other times

  • More than enough light from windows, skylights and food safety lights

  • Uncapping, extracting, filtering, scraping, and bottling equipment

  • Bulk honey storage tanks, barrel and pail storage, plus empties

  • Jar, label and box storage for off season

  • A workshop, assembly room, wood shop, and mechanical tool room

  • Repair area for trucks, lifts, and booms

  • And what about wax processing? A spinner, heater, piping, mold storage and wax storage

And before you begin any of that, check out every zoning, permit and regulation at the city, county and state level. Don’t even think of starting until you have everybody and their brother signed off on this project in triplicate. The new honey regulations have already begun to inflict pain on honey processors and you don’t want to be caught up in something that used to be legal.

At the same time, check out any local, county, state and even federal health regulations that you might run into, and know what your sewage, water, electricity and drainage requirements are. And certainly check with the neighbors. Suddenly having a factory next door might not be what they had in mind, and even if what you are doing is legal, hardly anybody likes surprises.

We’ve mentioned lighting, but what electrical needs will you have—110, 220, 440? How many lines? Drop cords or outlets? How many and where? What kind of heating and cooling will you have, and will you need later? Ventilation? Insulation? Will your uncapping, extracting, filtering, and wax equipment be moveable so you can double use the space, or will it be permanent?

We also mentioned loading docks outside, but what about truck bays inside for bee-free unloading, or simply leaving all those supers on the truck until tomorrow because you haven’t had a wink of sleep for three days? Ramps for two-wheelers? Doors wide enough to easily get through with a cart full of supers? Which way will the doors open? Is there anywhere a forklift can’t go, even though you don’t have one yet?

A good rule of thumb is, once you bring something in, how many times will you have to move it to get the job done? If the answer is more than twice, your design isn’t efficient enough. Do it over.

Next time we’ll look at hot rooms, uncapping and extracting systems, honey storage and cleaning it all up afterwards.

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