Why I don’t extract my honey harvest
People are sometimes surprised that I don’t extract any of my honey. I’ve gotten comments like, “Don’t you understand how energy-intensive that is? You are wasting the bee’s work! You could make a lot more money by extracting!” And so on.
So here goes. I will try to explain why I prefer to produce only comb honey.
- This first reason is the most important: I like comb honey. I’ve had trouble finding it over the years, so I decided to produce it myself. (Although I shouldn’t need any other reason, some folks find this insufficient.)
- I don’t want an extractor. In the first place, I don’t have room to store one. Also, they are expensive, hard to clean, and usually look unsanitary. (I’m sure most are very clean; this is just an impression I’ve gotten over time.)
- To me, extracting seems wasteful. By the time you cut cappings, manipulate frames in and out of the extractor, load buckets, run the honey through sieves, and fill bottles you’ve got honey and wax and stickies all over the place. You’ve lost a little part of your crop at every step.
- I’m a hobbyist—not a honey producer—and I have very little use for extracted honey. If I want to use some in a recipe, there is always enough dripping from the bottom of a cut comb.
- Related to the last reason is the fact that I don’t believe honey should be used for cooking. Honey produces hydroxymethylfurfural when heated to even very low temperatures, so I only use honey in uncooked recipes.
- I can get more money for comb honey than extracted. Although I seldom sell it, I get many requests for comb honey. The interest in natural and local foods has made comb honey very popular.
- You don’t need much equipment for comb honey production. Although you can buy supers for producing square or round sections, you can also just cut sections from a regular frame or from your top bars. You not only save on the extractor but you don’t need uncapping knives, buckets, sieves, funnels, jars, and lids.
- The use of an extractor requires either plastic foundations or heavily wired wax foundations which can stand up to the centrifugal force. This is a personal preference, of course, but I try to keep plastic out of my hives altogether. Plastic off-gases in the heat and can impart odd “plasticky” flavors to foods, especially high-acid foods like honey. Some people can taste this and others can’t but, in any case, I strive to keep my honey away from plastic.
- The last reason goes with the first. Comb honey has more flavor and aroma nuances than extracted honey. The wax comb is aromatic and differs depending on the forage the bees consumed while building it. Eating honey without the comb is like eating peanut butter and jelly without the jelly.
So there are my reasons. I have nothing against beekeepers who extract honey, of course. But don’t feel compelled to do it because someone at your local bee club (or your college) thinks you are a few cards short of a full deck.
Commercial producers like to re-use their frames because it does take a lot of bee energy to make comb. Estimates vary, but the bees have to eat about 7-8 pounds of honey to make a pound of comb.
Honey Bee Suite