Harvesting Honey without An Extractor​

The successful end of a honey flow is cause for celebration for any beekeeper. At this stage, there’s a supply for your bees to thrive on and enough left waiting to be eaten and sold. You’re ready to reap, but there’s only one problem — how do you get the honey out of the comb?

The way you choose to draw out honey is important as each method has trade-offs. Expense, time and damage to the colony are all considerations. Using machinery — called an extractor — to remove honey is one of the most common methods. However, it might make sense for you to opt for another approach, one that involves extracting without an extractor. 

What Do I Need to Extract Honey? 

Extracting honey is the process of removing honey from the frames. The extracted honey is liquid, without the comb.

Before you perform any extraction, you need to prepare yourself:

  1. Remove the bees: Extracting without harming the worker bees is so important. Use a bee brush, bee repellent and/or a bee escape to get rid of the bees on the frames that you’re harvesting honey from. 
  2. Appropriate location: Extract away from other bees and insects. The flowing honey will attract more insects.
  3. Uncap: Uncap the honey first before you draw it out. You uncap the honey by drawing a heated knife, or a special uncapping knife, over the hard beeswax that covers comb filled with honey.

How to Extract Honey Without an Extractor

The standard approaches to extracting without machinery are:

  • Crush and strain
  • Cut comb honey
  • Do-it-yourself extractor

Crush and Strain

The crush and strain method involves removing all the comb and straining out the liquid. 

  1. Cut the comb: After uncapping, cut or scrape the comb off the frame — you can use something like a spatula for this. 
  2. Collect: Collect it all in a container lined with a fine mesh, like a cheesecloth for straining. 
  3. Break it down: Mash the cut comb with a potato masher until you get it as fine as possible. 
  4. Temperature: Warmth helps the honey flow out of the cells, so you can aid the process by heating the temperature of the space you’re extracting in. 
  5. Separate: Strain out the honey through the mesh, leaving behind as much of the solid beeswax, pollen and other parts of the hive behind. 
  6. Collect and store: Collect this honey in large batches to remove impurities before putting in jars.
Linden honey in a transparent glass bottle on a dark background

Cut Comb Honey

Cut comb honey is the least labor-intensive method of enjoying honey. It may not technically even be “extraction,” since you’re enjoying it still in the comb, but it’s still off the frame.

You just need a knife for this process. Slice directly through the comb. You’re aiming for uniform pieces of uncapped honeycomb to package. 

To produce comb honey, you need to cut through the drawn comb. You can’t cut through plastic foundation. If you choose the cut comb approach, you need wire frames in your hive. 

Do-It-Yourself Extractor

Your final option is to make an extractor. If you don’t want to cut your foundation and have some DIY skills, you can take inspiration from others who’ve crafted affordable extractors. 

Some beekeepers use cheaper materials to make an extractor that mimics the design of professional ones. Some adventurous harvesters have kept the principle of extraction but completely altered the design. 

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiQrSuaSaVg

Pros and Cons of Extracting Honey Without an Extractor

The main downside of releasing your honey from the comb without using an extractor is that it can cause a setback to your colony. With the cut comb and crush and strain methods, you’re destroying the drawn comb that your bees make before they can deposit honey. 

You need to plan for this blow to the hive. Your bees will need time in the next honey flow to rebuild drawn comb, which will affect the amount of honey they’re able to produce. 

Spending hundreds of dollars on an extractor versus investment in a new foundation for the next year is still a cost-saving.

Why Extract Honey Without an Extractor

If you’re looking to extract only once or twice a year with a small colony, buying a mechanical extractor doesn’t make economic or environmental sense. Without investing many more hundreds of dollars, you can extract your bees’ honey without using an extractor. Crush and strain, cut comb and DIY extraction are cost-effective ways to end the honey flow season.

For those that want the least hassle, the cut comb honey method is the fastest and least labor-intensive option. The crush and strain method is the most standard method of extracting without an extractor. It’s the middle ground between the other two when it comes to mess and investment. DIY extraction is an amazing option for the crafty and handy beekeeper.

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