Educational Guide

Honey Processing

The honey crop may be processed as cut comb, chunk honey, or extracted honey. Select combs that are completely capped if you wish to package cut comb honey. Remove the comb by cutting around the inner face of the frame with a hot knife; lift off the frame and cut the comb into proper size pieces. It is best to let the cut edges drain. Carefully place each piece in a separate container so you won’t break the caps on the cells of honey. Plastic containers are available from bee supply houses.

Chunk honey is a combination of cut comb honey and liquid extracted honey. If you prefer chunk honey, select combs that are filled and capped. Remove the comb the same way you do for cut comb honey, then cut it into pieces just large enough to pass through the mouth of the jars you plan to use. Usually, two pieces of comb honey are put in each jar. Honey that drips from the comb during the cutting process or honey that you extract or squeeze from the comb may be strained and poured over the comb honey to finish filling the jar. This makes a very attractive package. Many people prefer it because they like to chew the comb.

If you wish to package extracted honey, you must use a honey extractor that removes the honey by centrifugal force. Select combs that are at least two-thirds capped. Honey that has not been capped should have been in the comb at least 2 weeks before extracting. Combs must be uncapped to extract honey. Several kinds of uncapping knives can be used. You can also use large kitchen knives heated in water. Uncap the combs on both sides. Put combs of similar weight opposite each other in the extractor. The extracting procedure depends on the extractor you have. Follow the directions with your machine.

Drain the honey out of the extractor and strain it through cheesecloth or a similar fine mesh material to remove bits of comb and other particles. Put the honey in large containers. Cover them properly and allow them to stand for several days. During this time, air bubbles, bits of wax, occasional bee parts, and propolis will rise to the surface and can be skimmed off. Heating honey to a temperature between 140 degrees F and 150 degrees F for about 30 minutes will prevent granulation and fermentation if honey does not come in contact with air and if equipment is free from crystals of previously granulated honey. This step is not commonly done by most beekeepers.

Never heat honey over direct heat, but steam it in the top of a double boiler. Use a dairy or candy thermometer to check the temperature. After heating, honey must be cooled quickly to retain color and flavor. Proper heating also makes honey strain readily. Straining also helps to clarify honey. If honey does become granulated, it may be liquefied by placing it in the top of a double boiler and heating the water slowly to 140 degrees F to 150 degrees F. Do not let the water boil. Loosen the jar lid.

If you extract honey, save the frames of combs. These may be reused and your bees will not need to make new combs for surplus honey storage. Return the combs to the hive to be cleaned up by the bees if there is no danger of spreading diseases. If a nectar flow is in progress, the bees may refill these combs with surplus honey. If the nectar flow is over, they should clean the combs in about a week. When the bees have removed the honey and the combs are no longer needed for honey storage, remove the supers of empty combs from the hive, fumigate, and properly store them.

The main advantage to extracting honey is that the reusable combs save labor, money, and time. It also results in greater total yield of surplus honey. Bees consume about 8 pounds of honey to produce 1 pound of wax.