Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Spring Honey Extraction!

Frames of capped honey waiting to be extracted
Spring honey is one of Western Pennsylvania's most amazing delicacies. Nectar from early and late spring tree blossoms, especially the black locust and tulip poplar trees combine to create a delightfully light and delicious spring honey.  With all the rain in early spring, we were worried we wouldn't have much of a spring crop.  Rain can dilute the nectar so much that the bees have trouble turning it into honey.
     Once foragers collect the nectar, they store it in their "honey stomachs" and take it back to the colony.  At the colony, waiting house bees take the nectar from foragers in a mouth-to-mouth transfer.  The house bee will work with honey for about 30 minutes, moving it in and out of her proboscis, a process that adds enzymes and helps with evaporation.  Nectar is usually about 80% water, while honey is about 17% water-very dry!  Once she works with the nectar, she'll place it in a cell to evaporate more.  She and her sisters will fan the nectar until most of the water in it has been evaporated.  At that point, they'll cap the cell with a bit of beeswax to prevent moisture from getting back in.
A close up of nectar and just-capped honey (as well as some pollen)
Here's a close up photo of nectar on the verge of being capped.  In the top left, you can see some that the bees are starting to cap some of the cells.  The shiny cells have nectar not yet ready to cap.  In the lower right, the cells are filled with solid, colorful pollen. Nectar and honey are the bees' source of carbohydrates.  Pollen provides their protein.


Uncapping the honey to get it ready to extract
To extract the honey, we remove the beeswax cappings using a hot knife. The frames are then put into the extractor.









Here's a photo of "Big Green," our four-frame "antique" honey extractor, which we use when we don't have a lot of honey to extract.  The extractor spins the honey out of the cells using centrifugal force.

"Big Green" our 4-frame extractor  

And voila! Honey flows from the extractor into a strainer and a gated bucket.
Fresh spring honey!

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