Church Street Honey

by Kitty Knight

T he day begins with a trip to the beehive, all suited and booted, to collect the honey supers.

These are the boxes containing frames of honeycomb, which the bees fill with honey. The bees are still quite sleepy, as it's a cool morning, so they aren’t too disturbed when we come and lift off the supers.

Overnight, bees tend to cluster together in the bottom box of the beehive, the brood box, so there aren’t too many to gently brush out of the supers with our special soft bee brush.

Taking the honey supers from the beehive.

Next, it’s time to bring the supers inside, and begin the extraction process.

First we have to take each frame of honeycomb, and uncap the honey cells, which are hexagonal wax cells topped with a wax capping. The wax capping is what shows the honey is ready to extract, as it’s reached the exact concentration that means it will not ferment.

We uncap the honey by heating a large, very sharp knife in a pan of boiling water, and gently cutting off the very top layer of cappings, trying to take as thin a layer as possible to leave most of each cell intact.

The heating of the knife makes it easier to cut through the wax, as it melts it a little as we go. The comb isn’t always exactly flat, so any cells we missed with the knife can be uncapped individually using a sharp pronged uncapping fork.

Uncapping a frame of honeycomb.

Once the honeycomb is uncapped, we need to extract the honey inside. This is done using a honey extractor — essentially a large bucket containing a rectangular wire cage, in which can sit four frames of uncapped honeycomb.

We then spin the cage using the handle attached, which causes the honey to fly out due to centrifugal force, collecting in the bottom of the bucket. This process has to be repeated for all the frames in the supers, which for us this year was 26 frames.

The honey we have now collected isn’t ready to be put in jars just yet though, as it contains lots of small pieces of beeswax left over from when we uncapped each comb, so after we have spun the frames we have to pour the honey from a tap at the bottom of the extractor into a settling tank fitted with a triple filter.

The first filter, the coarsest, catches the largest pieces of wax, whilst the medium and fine filters catch the very smallest.

The honey then has to be left to settle for about 24 hours, so that bubbles introduced when the honey was spun can rise to the surface.

Filling a jar with honey.

The next morning, it’s time to fill the jars with our precious honey, by slowly running the honey from the tap at the bottom of the settling tank into each jar. Then come the lids, the all important labels, and the honey’s ready to go.

All there’s left to do is clean everything up — not a simple task, as somehow everything seems to get very sticky!

Kitty Knight is a resident of Kidlington Village, Oxfordshire.

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