If you have honey bees and dream of one day owning your very own honey extractor, you might just find that you can save that money for something else after you check out this method of harvesting your natural honey. Considering that most backyard beekeepers will only need to harvest a few frames at a time in most cases, this method could be quite useful for you.
I do what is called “crush and strain”, where I take a frame of honey out of my hive and simply cut the entire comb out and then crush it in a bucket and strain it before putting it into a jar. This method works particularly well for those beekeepers that manage their bees using wax foundation, or foundation less comb guide frames where the bees build the entire comb themselves without the use of plastic style foundation. Top bar beekeepers are very familiar with this method since this is the only way they can harvest honey.
Here is what you’ll need:
- 2 Food Grade plastic buckets
- 1 Potato masher
- 1 honey strainer or nylon window screen
- 1 long serrated knife
1. I use a 5 gallon bucket for my harvesting because that’s what I have, but you can use almost any size that works for you. I see people use 1 gallon or even 3 gallon buckets. Just make sure they are clean before you begin.
2. Drill several 3/8” diameter holes in one of your buckets and place this one over the 2nd bucket with a honey strainer or piece of nylon window screen in between the 2 buckets. This will strain out chunks of wax and other stuff like bees just in case you get a stray one by accident. I use a couple of pieces of wood to support the top bucket over the other one.
3. Get your frame of honey and hold it over the top bucket and use a long serrated knife to gently cut the wax comb out letting it fall into the top bucket. After you cut the comb out, just use a potato masher to crush the comb allowing the honey to flow out of the capped cells. Just keep mashing until you know that all the cells have been ruptured allowing the honey to come out. If you have several more frames of honey, simply repeat this step until you are done. I can usually harvest a dozen frames of honey before the bucket gets full.
4. Now all you have to do is let the honey drip out through the 3/8” holes and the strainer into the 2nd bottom bucket. One tip that will help make this easier for you is to do this on a very warm or hot day. The honey runs quicker in warmer weather. After I crush all the honey comb and it begins straining, I get a big plastic trash bag and cover the 2 buckets from top to bottom and let it sit all day. I usually leave it over night and by the next day, your bottom bucket will be filled with sweet honey ready to pour into jars.
5. Now just get several jars and pour your honey. I find that 1 medium frame yields 1+ quart jar. So a good rule of thumb is to have 1 jar for every medium frame you intend to harvest. If I have 5 frames to harvest, I’ll bring 6 jars because they tend to be on the plus side. After pouring into jars, I like to mark the date on the jar lid for reference.
Another tip, is to harvest away from the bees if you want to work in peace. Once they know you are harvesting honey, they’ll tell their buddies, and you’ll have all kinds of bees flying around getting into the honey. So keep your bees safe and harvest in an area that they can’t get into the honey and die – which they seem to be experts at. Perhaps you can harvest in your garage or a screened porch.
After you are all finished, you can leave your utensils that are covered in honey out for the bees to clean up. They’ll reclaim every drop! So there is never any waste – which is the really cool part about using this method. Just don’t give your bees a bucket of honey to dive into and drown themselves. If you have a little left that you can’t pour into a jar, just dump out the crushed wax from the top bucket and pour the excess honey on it. Your bees will enjoy working through the wax collecting all the honey you couldn’t harvest and they’ll bring it back into the hive for you to get next time. Talk about efficient!
If you happen to use plastic foundation, you can still harvest by using your clean hive tool to scrape off the combs into the bucket. I think a lot of beekeepers will find that this method works fine for backyard beekeepers. I run an average of 40-60 colonies and I’ve never owned an extractor, so don’t’ feel as if you are missing out on some important gadget if you don’t have one.
I have a video of one of my recent honey harvests using this method if you want to check it out and see how it’s done, watch below or click here. Enjoy that sweet honey, and as always, Enjoy Beekeeping!