One of the most frequent questions we get asked about a top bar hive is how to harvest honey. Welcome to The Hippie Geeks! If you enjoy this video, be sure to subscribe and leave a comment below!
Our bees died off this winter during a cold snap. While it is sad, it is also a part of beekeeping. On the upside however, this gives us the opportunity to harvest the remaining honey from the hive. Once we opened the hive, we found ten full bars of honey. At this point we had already processed half of them, as five full bars are about all that you can fit into this strainer bag and still have room in the bucket for honey.
The first thing to do is cut all your combs off the bars and into a bowl. Be sure that you are only putting completely capped honey into this bowl, as uncapped honey will have too high of a moisture content to be able to be stored long term. Take any uncapped honey along with the empty comb, and place it into a separate bowl to be processed later. Harvesting honey in a top bar hive requires that you destroy the comb in the process. While this does make more work for the bees as they cannot reuse the comb, this allows you to harvest the wax for other purposes, such as candles or lip balm.
As you can see, I should have used a larger bowl, but I managed to make it work out in the end, mostly because I decided to keep one of the bars aside to be cut into comb honey. If you have never seen comb honey, stick around until the end of the video to see what I am talking about.
Once everything is cut off the bars, it is time to set up the strainer. You can use a fine mesh kitchen strainer or cheese cloth for smaller batches, but when harvesting larger amounts of honey from a top bar hive it is better to use one of these five-gallon straining nets. They fit directly into a five-gallon bucket, and while they are designed to hold onto the edges, we have found that they tend to sag into the honey when they are full of comb. To solve that problem, we just cut the center out of the lid for the bucket, and lock it on over the mesh bag to keep it in place.
After that grab a chunk of the honey comb that you cut off the bars, and start squishing it. You want to break open every single cell that has honey in it, so that it can drain out into the bucket. This sounds more tedious than it is, and will go fairly quickly. Take your time and do it all correctly now, so that you don’t have to go back thru and do it all again later. Once it is all crushed up and in the strainer, set it aside and let it drain out. The time it will take varies, depending on how much comb you have in there and how warm the room you are draining in is. I had it set in the living room where it was around 70 degrees, and it drained out in right around 16 hours.
Now it is time to take care of the comb honey. One of the bars was newer than the others, and had never been used for brood. When bees use comb for brood, they place a cocoon in the cell for the developing bee. While it isn’t harmful, it also isn’t something that you are going to want to chew on so using fresh comb for this is important. Again, I only want to use the fully capped cells, and I am just going to cut chunks out of it that will fit into my jars. This can be a bit of a messy process, but it gives you the opportunity to get the honey directly out of the comb, which is an experience not to be missed.
Once the comb in the bucket is completely drained, you can remove the wax from the bag to either process immediately, or place it in the freezer to deal with it later. I went ahead and processed it, which is something for another video. Here is the end product cooling down, and you can see the wax cooling and forming on the top of the water, which is pretty cool in itself. Do any of you folks raise bees? We will be getting treatment free package this spring from Backyard Farmer here in Eugene, and hopefully getting a feral swarm in the other hive.
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