honey production how to

Crushing and straining . . . and moaning

Normally, I do not extract any of my honey. In fact, the reason I keep my own bees is so that I can have a steady supply of comb honey. On those occasions when I need some liquid honey for a recipe, I just gather the drips that accumulate under the comb in my honey dish. No problem.

But when my daughter visited recently, I asked if she needed more honey. “No,” she said, “I still have four combs.” Then, much to my dismay, she added, “We are going to buy some honey so we have it ready for recipes.”

What? Buy honey? When I can’t even find room enough to store it all? I was appalled. (Although I’ve noticed her weirdness quotient increasing since she got married. I suppose that’s normal.)

At that point, I set about doing something I said I would never do: I deliberately removed honey from its comb. Oh, so sad . . . like separating the chunks from peanut butter or the skins from potatoes or the seeds from raspberries. What is the point? What is food without texture?

Alas, setting aside my personal hang-ups, I referred to a recent post at Mudsongs.org and followed the crushing and straining instructions exactly. I cut the comb out of the section boxes (trying not to think about how hard it was to get them filled in the first place), stacked them in a big flat-bottom bowl, and squashed them to a pulp with a potato masher (nothing short of heart-wrenching, believe me). Next, I poured the smashings into a strainer and let the honey drip through.

Much to my surprise this actually worked. I put the strainer in the sun (yes, on rare occasions the sun winks upon western Washington) and the dripping proceeded at a steady clip. In no time, I filled two pint jars.

Now this honey is going to my daughter who is used to comb honey, so I know she won’t freak over a few specks of wax. For more discerning clientele, I suppose I would next put the honey through a fine mesh to remove all the little floaters. After it set overnight, though, I was able to skim most of them off the surface. It looks pretty good considering I have none of the “proper” equipment.

So now I can add “crushing and straining” to my ever-expanding list of beekeeper done-its. And the bees, thinking they died and went to heaven, are cleaning up the crushed wax which I piled inside an eke on one of the hives. For the moment at least, everyone is happy.


Honey dripping through the sieve

The white containers support the handle and plastic wrap keeps out the dust. Those shadows are caused by the sun. Really.

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  • I crushed and strained another medium frame last night and got a little more than 4 half-pint bottles from it this morning (250ml each), somewhere between 3 and 4 pounds (I’m not sure about the weight). I used a reusable paint strainer this time around. No waxy bits.

    My bees are going crazy for the honey-soaked left over wax too.

    I want to cut comb from most of our remaining foundationless frames, but I can’t find a Canadian supplier for those plastic square containers.

      • Our air is so dry here, the honey tends to be thick. Not sure if you ever have that “problem,” but here’s a tip from Marty Hardison. Prewet the paint strainer by dunking it in water. Squeeze it out and give it a good shake so it’s not excessively wet. You just want to break the tension, so the honey flows through easily.

  • It hurts me to mess up any comb, after all it takes the honeybees a lot of honey to remake it . . . When you take the comb it is like pouring honey on to the ground . . . I just do not like to waste it . . . Besides if you have many hives, comb would be more work for me . . . ALF

  • Thank you! 🙂

    Love the comb honey, but sometimes you just need the sticky part! I’ve been rescuing the honey that drips out of the comb to make salad dressing, toast crumbs and all. It will be great to have a supply of honey (in a jar) for more recipes!

  • I also use a paint strainer (disposable) in a 1 gallon paint can. I lift the dripping cloth strainer and set it inside a metal strainer, just like the one in your photo. The steel strainer holds the cloth one above the can. This helps contain the stickiness to a small area of the kitchen, but next time I’ll try doing it outside in the Florida sun, like you.

    After the dripping stops, I empty the gallon can into my bottles, place the cloth paint strainer containing the wax back into the paint can and set the whole can into a large double-boiler. When the wax melts, I remove the cloth paint strainer and discard it. After the wax cools and hardens, I remove it carefully and pour one more jar of honey from the bottom of the can.

    That’s the Bonus Jar!

  • Plus, I get to keep all the yummy smelling wax, with which I plan to make hand dipped bees-wax birthday candles to give away at Christmas time.

    We once placed birthday candles into a freshly baked apple pie and were displeased with the taste of paraffin added to the pie. I think we’ll find the bees-wax variety far more palatable, not to mention more sincere.

    • Paul,

      Sounds like a good idea. I love the smell of beeswax candles. They would be great on a birthday cake.

  • Think about all the resources the bees expend to build new comb after every harvest.
    A huge expense of bee energy and resources.

    Why not uncap the comb and extract the honey?

    We have been removing the frames, freezing them to eliminate wax moth problems, letting them defrost and then extracting the honey. Then we return the wet frames to the hives they came from. We have been doing it this way because we don’t know “the right way”.

    The bees clean up the comb, add that honey to their stores and have clean comb available (with some repairs) for honey, pollen and/or brood. It’s honey we want, not candle wax.

    Can’t say I really like the feel of wax on my teeth. LOVE the taste of clean, unheated, marginally strained honey! A paint strainer should work but VERY slowly. Way too fine for our use, I think. ???? What do others think?

    We have been using a common metal kitchen strainer. Get a little wax, etc. but just enough to remind us of it’s source.

  • I read that the metal paint cans are lined with a coat of teflon or lacquer.

    Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_a_paint_can_made_of_including_the_inside_lining#ixzz21K3Yz2dz,

    Does anyone know if they are lined with BPA?

    Foods in #7 plastic containers and the majority of canned foods are exposed to this toxic chemical. Bisphenol-A is a plastic and resin ingredient used to line metal food and drink cans, and it’s a main building block for polycarbonate (PC) plastics. Even at low doses, Bisphenol A has been linked to cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, obesity, and insulin resistance, which can lead to Type II diabetes. Refer to the Environmental Working Group report on BPA for more information.

    Also, many people have asked me about Tetra Paks – which at one time were thought to be safe. Recent studies show the plastic liners leach endocrine disruptors just like canned foods.


    Avoid all type #7 (PC) plastics. The most common plastic items of this type are those hard water bottles and some baby bottles. As an alternative, look for stainless steel bottles that are not lined with a plastic coating. Klean Kanteen is a popular brand, and has been tested for leaching.

    • Susan,

      I do not know if paint cans contain BPA nor do I know how insects react to BPA. However, I have a real aversion to plastics and I try to avoid them whenever possible, including inside my beehives. Over the years I have gotten rid of any plastic frames, plastic foundation, and plastic section boxes. I try to keep my hives as natural as possible for the bees, and I can’t see anything natural about plastic.

      Nor do I want to eat honey that has been in contact with plastic. Honey is extremely acid and will probably dissolve any number of chemicals that are routinely found in plastic packaging. Perhaps I’m being extreme, but I can taste plastic flavor in foods that have been stored in it, and all I can think of is the myriad of chemicals that went into its manufacture.

  • I just found your website and I am loving it!

    I just go ahead and use comb honey in my recipes. I’ve never noticed any negative results in the finished product. I do, however, feel a little guilty sometimes for not enjoying the honey au naturel.

    • Nancy,

      Interesting. So if a recipe calls for 1/4 cup of honey, you just throw in the whole thing? Sounds like a lot less trouble.

  • I’m a new beekeeper as of this spring with 2 hives. One is doing great with 2 supers almost completely filled with honey (or sugar water) and capped. The other hive is not doing as well. This one also has both supers on. Sugar water was left on this hive a bit longer in hopes they would build out the comb. The 1st super was adjusted to the top position when it had all but maybe 1 1/2 frames completely built out. Unfortunately in the inspection of a few days ago the 2nd super (which we place directly above) the brood box had absolutely no comb built out. The top super was completely combed out and full of mostly capped honey or possibly sugar water. The far 3 north frames had cells with pupae, eggs, & larvae. Yep the queen was there–above the excluder. She’s back in the brood box now. So what can be done to get the comb built out? Is it a beehive “NO, NO” to take the empty super from the struggling hive and place on the successful hive? The 2 supers have been rotated so that now the full one is next to the brood box.

    By the way, I love Honey Bee Suite!

    • Mary,

      Different colonies with different genetics behave differently. Definitely take off the empty super and give it to the strong hive. I usually don’t add a second honey super until the first is filled about 80% with honey. The queen excluder thing is not unusual. Excluders keep out most queens most of the time, but not all. You can’t force comb building if the bees are not ready, so be patient–it probably won’t be this year.

  • Isn’t comb honey just beautiful? It broke my heart to crush those combs, but my aunt really wanted the wax.