honey harvest

Who knew? Possums like honeycomb

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A family of possums live in the trees behind our house, and every night they walk across our roof and around our back fence. While adorable in theory, in reality they ate our green roof, nibble on our ferns, and when really hungry, head to the front garden to munch through our vege patch.

What we recently discovered is that they also love honeycomb.

A possum on our back verrandah, munching away on our left-over honeycomb
A possum on our back verandah, munching away on our left-over honeycomb

To extract honey, I use a fruit press to squeeze the honeycomb. What’s left over is a thick lump of wax, honey and detritus. I left this on the back verandah for the bees to re-collect the honey, back into the hive.

One night, when watching TV, we heard heavy movements on the varandah. Turning on the lights, there was a possum, munching through the lumps, as bold as day. It was so fearless, I had to wrestle the tray off the possum, who was very reluctant to let it go.

The next night, we found the possum munching the left-over bits off the honey press. The cheek!

Who knew that possums love honeycomb?

Next night, the possum nibbled the left-overs off the honey press!
Next night, the possum nibbled the left-overs off the honey press!

Cross-linked comb and a big honey harvest

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Honey bees making their own patterns...
Honey bees making their own patterns…

One of the boxes of honey I harvested over the weekend shows what happens when bees “don’t follow the rules”. This is how they draw comb in the wild, in a space-filling organic pattern.

Extracting the honeycomb as one big cake...
Extracting the honeycomb as one big cake…

This is fine for the bees, but a bit of a hassle when harvesting. The only way to get it out is in one big ‘cake’ of comb, which is then cut away in pieces. Which actually proved to be fairly straightforward in practice, thankfully.

Not a bad harvest for one weekend!
Not a bad harvest for one weekend!

In total, I harvested a box of honey from two of my hives, generating a big honey harvest. 15 litres in total, divided up into 3 x 3kg tubs, 3 x 1kg tubs, 15 jars and 3 squeeze bottles.

Considering my 9 litre harvest from last weekend has already been sold out, I don’t expect this harvest will last long either!

Harvesting our first honey

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Getting ready to harvest honey from the hive.
Getting ready to harvest honey from the hive. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Bosett.)

With the very warm weather in Sydney, our bees have been very busy laying down comb, and filling it with honey. So when I added some empty boxes to the bottom of the hive, I was very surprised to find the top box very heavy indeed (and therefore filled with honey).

With the able help of Sarah, a fellow beginner natural beekeeper, we went up onto the roof last week to harvest our first honey.

I had put a “clearing board” on the frame the day before, which is a sort of one-way gate for the bees. In theory, this should clear the top box of most bees, although it didn’t work all that well in this instance.

There’s no particular magic to harvesting honey: lift out a frame, check it’s full of honey, brush off the bees, and put it in a container. (Repeat as required.)

In the end, there were three frames of entirely capped honey, and the remaining frames were a mix of capped and uncapped honey. While we probably could’ve harvested all of it, we decided to leave the uncapped frames in the hive.

Our first frame of honey. Photo courtesy of Sarah Bosett.
Our first frame of honey. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Bosett.)
One frame of honeycomb, fresh and full of honey.
One frame of honeycomb, fresh and full of honey.

In Warré hives, frames aren’t wired. So to harvest the honey, you simply cut it out of the frames. (I then put the empty frames back into the hive, to fill the gaps in the top box.)

Honeycomb, ready for the honey to be extracted.
Honeycomb, ready for the honey to be extracted.

At a small scale, extracting the honey is pretty simple. Put the comb in a sieve that fits on top of a 20L plastic bucket.

Breaking up the honeycomb, letting the honey drain out.
Breaking up the honeycomb, letting the honey drain out.

Break up the honeycomb, and let the honey to drain out. A fine plastic filter sheet keeps the bits out of the honey (shown above). It only took about 24 hours for the vast bulk of the honey to drain out, with a small amount of mixing up throughout.

Pouring the honey into jars :-)
Pouring the honey into jars 🙂

Hornsby Beekeeping  (where I obtained the sieves, etc) kindly put a pouring tap (called a “gate”) into the storage bucket, which made it super-easy to pour the honey into jars, without spilling a drop.

The final haul - 2.5L of lovely home-made honey.
The final haul – 2.5L of lovely home-made honey.

These are the jars of honey we ended up with, complete with “Lewisham honey” labels. That’s a lot of honey for a small and very early honey harvest.

The final stats:

  • 3 frames harvested (out of 8 in the top box)
  • 6kg of comb and honey
  • 2.5 litres of lovely honey

That’s not a bad start, I think! Particularly with more harvesting expected soon (of the whole top box and probably the second box.)