Your Honey House Part 2
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.
Editor’s Note: Last month, Kim covered considerations for planning and setting up your honey house. This month, he looks at handling, warm rooms, and extracting.
While most of our readers will never get to this stage, it is fun to dream! And if you’re beyond the dreaming stage, consult with Kelley’s for all the equipment you’ll need.
There’s an old rule about manufacturing that applies to honey management:
Plan your space so that the product (in this case honey in supers) begins at point A, travels through all the appropriate steps (warming, uncapping, extracting, settling or filtering, storing, bottling or packaging), and ends up on the truck heading to the customer. Way too often, because we don’t plan ahead, we end up having to move everything—supers, pails, bottles—far too many times. There’s an old saw that says on average we beekeepers lift a pound of honey at least seven times from hive to customer.
- Lift the super off the hive onto the truck (tough to mechanize this step).
- Lift the super off the truck and into the honey house, preferably directly into the warming area. A two-wheeler or forklift can do this, but you may just skip it and move on to step 3.
- Move the honey out of the warming area (or directly from the truck) into the uncapping area. Immediate processing makes avoiding the heating room possible.
- Remove frames and uncap, either by hand (ugh) or one at a time into a machine. If by hand, figure you lifted it twice because you have to do each side; if by machine, figure twice because you have to take it out of the uncapper and onto some sort of holder/waiting area to get to the extractor, or directly into the extractor, so that makes five or maybe six times, and then drain extractor into a pail, then pump through a filter or directly to a holding tank.
- Carry pail to truck, or move it with two-wheeler or forklift.
- Move it off truck and into warehouse, store, farm market stand. Then move it back. That makes seven.
So it might be seven or as many as eleven if you are really unorganized. The goal of your honey house plan is to make sure it’s no more than seven, fewer if possible. If it’s more you’ll wear it out before you even sell it.
So you’ve figured out your loading ramp or truck bay situation and now have to look at the next step. That’s either directly to the uncapping area or a quick stop in the warming room.
If you want a warm room, figure drip trays for every stack so the bottom super is sealed and isn’t sitting on the floor and drips are caught in the, yes, drip tray. Air circulation makes this work because warm air should enter at the bottom and naturally move up, to be either expelled—especially if you are also drying the air—or re-warmed and recirculated. You’ll need fans and vents and dehumidifiers for all of this, so get an HVAC expert in to advise on cubic feet of air to move per minute, venting outside (some places require an inspection and permit for this, so don’t forget to check), and of course some way to warm that air before it gets to your honey. A small, simple space heater may solve all your problems, but it won’t for long, so think furnace or other heat source.
But small hive beetles have changed how we look at warm rooms. You just can’t leave honey supers without bees sitting around any more; any beetles hiding inside will have a field day and ruin your crop. You have a short window of time to get supers in, warmed if needed, and out to the uncapping area and moved along. If you harvest on the warm side of summer you should be fine, but many don’t take honey off until it begins to cool. Warm rooms may have to change from slow and easy heat to flash hot—say 90 degrees in a hurry—with good insulation so the honey warms fast.
If you don’t have a warm room, and even if you don’t have beetles, consider the humidity of the area the honey is in. A closed garage can be a tad humid and honey will take up that moisture, which could be enough to set it over the fermenting edge. That means trouble later.
Here’s where you can really waste a lot of time, or speed things along. If you remove caps by hand with a knife, I recommend having two or three knives on hand so you can always have a hot one ready—placing them on a hot plate works well. Make sure the knife is warm enough but not so hot that it boils the honey on the leading edge of the blade. Keep it below 100 degrees, all the time.
When you are uncapping, keep everything at a comfortable height to avoid unnecessary bending, twisting, and reaching. This means your supers should be at the same level as the surface you are uncapping on, and your catch tank should be below that surface. To unglue the frames, place a board beneath the super in your uncapping area so when the super is in place, the board pushes all the frames up.
If you plan your uncapping space for efficiency and ergonomic comfort, you’ll work faster and your back and shoulders will appreciate it.
Now you’ve harvested, moved and uncapped. Next time we’ll focus on extracting and more.