It was a steamy day in late August. The bees seemed to have slowed in their pollen
collection. The three supers on each of the established hives that we purchased from the
beekeeper’s widow were heavy with Straight Creek honey. It was time for our first honey
The sugar shed was not quite complete, but it was framed in plywood and lined with
plastic. We had stapled screening over the window cutouts and had a plywood door that
we could latch from the inside. Greg built a temporary work bench along one wall where
we had all of our honey harvest supplies laid out and ready for use. We thought that we
Once again, and as always, Straight Creek Valley Farm is off the gird, so we had
purchased a hand cranked, stainless steel, four frame honey extractor from Bee
Commerce. We also ordered two uncapping knives and an uncapping tank. The process
was to work like this:
1) Open up the top of each hive and remove the three honey laden suppers. (We had
placed bee excluders under the supers a week earlier so that there would be few if any
bees remaining in the top part of each hive).
2) Carry the heavy supers over to the sugar shed and stack them on the work bench.
3) Remove a frame from one of the supers, and place it on a screw tip pointing up from a
wooden bar over the uncapping tank.
4) Remove one of two hot knives from the pot of boiling water on the Coleman stove on
the far end of the bench and slice it neatly along the edge of the frame, cutting off the
cappings from the honey cells. (As the knife cooled, reach for the second knife).
5) Let the wax cappings, wet with honey, fall into the uncapping tank’s holding bin.
6) Place the uncapped frame, along with three other similarly uncapped frames, into the
four frame holder at the top of the extractor.
7) Place the lid on the extractor and crank, crank, crank until the honey is all flung out of
the honey cells and onto the walls of the tank so that it can drip at its leisure into the tank
8) Turn the frames around so that the spinning of the extractor can drain the honey on
the other side of the frames.
9) Open the pit cock at the bottom of the extractor tank, and strain the collected honey
through a wire strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth and let it drip into a
settling bucket for later bottling. (We also had several layers of cheese cloth on top of the
extractor’s holding tank, so that when the honey dripped down from the walls of the
extractor, any debris would be caught up in the cloth).
We had everything all laid out, ready for our first honey harvest. We were excited and a
wee bit nervous, but that was to be expected. We had never done anything quite like this
Collecting the supers off of the two hives went quite smoothly. We used the smoker to
keep the bees down in the deeps and were pleasantly surprised to find only a few bees
up in the supers. The few stragglers that we did encounter, we simply brushed away with
our trusty bee brush (a long handled, soft bristled brush). We carried the supers over to
the sugar shed and set them on the counter. I noticed that a few of the stragglers followed
us to the shed.
The first few uncappings were a bit sticky. We had read that if one ran the hot knife from
the bottom of the frame up to the top, that the uncappings would neatly peal away and
drop into the tank below. Greg was the uncapper. I handed him the alternating hot knives.
His first few upward cuts with the hot knife resulted in honey drenched wax landing in our
hair and on the walls. After a few sticky attempts at upward uncapping, Greg settled on a
downward run with his knife. The uncapped wax still fell neatly into the tank below and we
did not have to worry about pealing it out of our hair.
We had the frames from all six supers uncapped in well less than two hours. As we
worked, we noticed a few bees buzzing against the screening we had stapled over the
window openings. We worked some more and noticed a few more bees flying about inside
the shed. The more we worked, the more bees we noticed. The buzzing intensified. It soon
seemed as though a hoard of bees swarmed at each window. We kept on working. We
were almost done with the uncapping. I was so excited and really wanted to bottle just a
few bottles so I could put our Straight Creek Valley Farm Honey label on our new red
capped jars. Greg opened the pit cock from the extractor tank and I held the first jar ready
to catch our first harvested honey. It was definitely hot inside the sugar shed, so my arms
were bare. As I held that first jar and watched as it slowly filled with clear honey, I noticed
several bees land and walk along my arm. I then noticed that there were bees buzzing in
my hair. Only then did I realize that the air inside the sugar shed was filled with bees. I
asked Greg what we should do. He calmly said let’s clean up and call it a day. So I proudly
put the lid on my first jar of Straight Creek Honey and we set to cleaning up.
Once I was not so totally focused on the extraction process, I became aware of literally
thousands of bees inside the shed. Spilled honey lay in sticky droplets all over the
counter and floor. Greg propped the shed door open and we took the extractor,
uncapping tank and settling bucket outside to wash off with the garden hose. As we
walked in and out of the shed, the bees flew all around us. Once we had the equipment
outside, we assumed that our next task would be to clean up the spilled honey, but we
made an amazing discovery. The bees were cleaning up the honey for us! They did a
very thorough job. Within a week every drop of spilled honey was gone and the shed was
as clean as ever. Perhaps we inadvertently stumbled on a solution to the sticky mess of
honey harvesting. Let the bees do the clean up!
But how had the bees gotten into the shed? We had window screening stapled over each
opening and the door was latched tight. What had we missed? It did not take long for
Greg to figure out our leak. I had stapled the screening to the inside of the window
openings. The bees had gained access through the sills at the top and the bottom of
each opening. We had framed the window openings with two by fours standing on end so
that there was a gap in between the set of two by fours at the top and bottom of each
opening. The bees had found these gaps and happily flown in to join our first harvest.
Those first few stragglers had quickly flown back to their hives, danced to their fellow
bees, and shown them the way to the sugar shed. Once at the shed, the first few bees to
gain entrance through the gaps, had somehow alerted the others that there was a small
entrance to our honey harvest going on inside. And so we were joined by countless bees.
I was intrigued and somewhat amazed by the fact that we were not stung once. We did
move slowly about inside the shed as we cleaned the equipment and put it away. We were
hot and tired and speedy movement seemed out of place. Perhaps our slow deliberate
movements did not threaten the bees, or perhaps they were simply intent on recovering
their stolen honey. I had heard that “robbing” is another way to describe harvesting
honey. I now understand why. Our bees were certainly very busy tracking down and
recovering what had been theirs. I remember thinking, as I stood inside the sugar shed
with all of the bees buzzing about, that this must be like what it feels to be a bee, deep
down inside the hive. The sweet smell of honey filled the air. The buzzing was a constant
background sound to our work, and the sticky texture of all that we touched reminded us
to touch only what was necessary. And so we worked, along side the bees. I think that I
now understand what is means to be busy as a bee. It really is a compliment.
And life is interesting indeed. I was so excited about getting that first jar of Straight Creek
Honey that I hardly noticed the bees swarming inside the shed until they began to crawl
on my arms. I was focused on the task at hand, so focused that when a friend from the
office stopped by with his girlfriend and sister, I hardly even noticed them as well. They
watched from a safe distance outside the shed, and once that first jar of honey was
poured, capped and labeled, I proudly handed it over to them. Something that I was so
excited about getting for my self, felt so right to give away. I wondered if in time our bees
would get used to sharing their honey as well.
By then end of our first season of beekeeping, we collected one hundred and sixty jars of
light, clear Straight Creek Honey, all of which, except for a few jars that we kept for
ourselves, we gave away to family and friends. Everyone exclaimed how good the honey
was. I do not know if they were just being nice, or if its because the price was right, but I
personally believe, even with sticky hair and bees watching over my shoulder, that our
first honey harvest was a great success.