Once you’ve harvested your natural honeycomb from your Warré (or other kind of top bar) beehive, it’s time to get some of that goodness into jars! Fortunately, like many other aspects of natural beekeeping, getting the honey out of natural comb is easy and simple, once you know how.
We’re just at the start of our beekeeping journey, but still, even though we don’t have whizz-bang equipment, we found this a wonderfully tactile and rewarding experience. It’s pretty much just a case of crushing the comb, sieving it, and bottling the results. 100% organic yum, with all the goodness of the honey still utterly intact.
At first, this seemed just a bit to easy – don’t we need extractors, hot knives, spinning things and somewhere to store all the frames? Not when doing natural beekeeping, you don’t. You simply cut the comb off the top bar, crush it up, strain it through a sieve and, um, that’s it.
Tim cuts the honeycomb off the top-bars
Warré honeycomb, all ready to crush
Nick tucks into a spare piece of semi-capped honeycomb
The comb is crushed and mashed
Then into the sieve over the honey bucket
Getting all the crushed comb in, including some older stuff from a previous harvest
And proceed to get squishy! It’s quite a sensation
The result — pure, cold-pressed organic honey
The advantages of harvesting honey in this way include:
- You get everything that was in the comb, in your honey. Pollen, propolis, the lot. Which is ridiculously good for you, in all sorts of ways.
- Because the natural comb is not re-used year after year, there’s less chance that environmental toxins that might be present in the comb can build up, affecting both the colony, and the honey.
- You get a big glob of organic beeswax, which you can then use creatively (we’re using ours for sealing the ends of our shiitake mushroom logs).
- You get honey that is not heated in any way during the process, which means none of the delicate antibiotics and enzymes within the honey are destroyed. It all makes it into the jar.
The advantages to the bees by harvesting honey from hives managed in this way include:
- The bees get to build natural comb, with no plastic or pre-set foundation. This benefits the colony in heaps of ways including but not limited to: communication (vibrating the comb to send messages), general hive health, toxin accumulation, and so on.
- By getting to build new comb, the bees get to re-set their cell size according to what is needed in that comb at that point (did you know they make all different gauges of cell size, given the chance?).
Tim Malfroy’s tips for a happy honey harvest from Warré comb:
- Have all your gear washed and ready, and process the comb soon after you return from collecting it in the hive. The honey will be more liquid at this point.
- If for some reason you have to wait to process the comb, put it in the sun before crushing it to gently warm it. It will make everything quicker and easier.
- If you’re not going to process the comb straight away, cut if off the frames and store it in slabs of comb. While it’s in the comb, it is sealed and pure, and will last much longer than broken up.
For this harvest, we placed a big sieve on top of a honey bucket with a ‘gate’ on the front, then simply crushed the comb in a bucket and then tipped it into the sieve. To speed the process up, we all squished the comb by grabbing great handfuls – this meant we expelled the honey from the wax much quicker.
At the end of this process we had about 5kg of strained honey (from 3 combs – we’ll be harvesting more later) and about 0.5kg of beeswax in lumps.
The beeswax we’ll melt down in water and skim off, from which brew we’ll be left with honey water, which is what mead is made from! But we’ll probably just drink that straight – it’s an awesome cocktail-like honey hit of propolis, pollen and honey.
So there you have it. Honey harvest the simple way. I dare say we’ll get more experimental and advanced in our techniques as we go, but as a starting point, this was great fun!
If you’d like to read more about Warré beekeeping, head to Tim Malfroy’s Natural Beekeeping website, which is full of great info about this very permaculture-minded approach to bees.
Sunlight in a jar. So many millions of flowers went into making this….
Many thanks, Milkwood bees!