Farm Industry News Blog

The ultimate honey-do list

Jeff Ryan takes readers through another adventure on his Iowa farm as he embarks on a mission to find a good place to extract honey.

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. I wasn't completely prepared when an opportunity arose, but I ended up getting a bit lucky anyway. That's how my world works.

Let's say you raise some bees. All of those bees hopefully generate enough labor to yield some honey. That honey doesn't just magically appear in bear-shaped bottles. Not even close. It must be extracted from the frames where it is originally produced and stored. That extraction process can be a little bit involved, or it can be majorly involved. It's your choice. My preference was for some significant mechanical involvement. The other option was to get ourselves a manual extractor. We're talking hand-crank equipment in that scenario. It's on par with churning our own butter.

Get real. I'm more of the "flip-this-switch-and-see-what-happens" variety of entrepreneur. So we bought a halfway decent extractor that is powered by an electric motor. Take the frames out of the hives, carefully set them in the extractor so that they are balanced against one another, then toss the cover on that puppy, flip the switch and stand back while all of the golden stream of revenue starts to flow from the bottom of the machine.

The concept sounds good, right? Now let's review the background for the scene. Bees aren't terribly wild about you coming into their hive and swiping all of their frames of honey. You can do it, but a few things have to happen for you to do it without any kind of retribution on the bees' part. The removal works best if you do it toward the very end of the day, under cover of darkness. The bees are relatively quiet then.

Actually, it's not so much the removal of the frames that's time-critical as it is the extraction of the honey. Put yourself in a full-body bee suit and you can do the removal any time you want. Here's where the irony comes back to kick your butt. Honey flows best when it's warm. Bees are most active when it's warm. Do your work in the dark and you won't be at risk of being stung by the bees. Do your work in the dark when it's cool and your honey will flow a bit like molasses in the winter.

Now consider the geography of the extraction. Why not just bring the work inside and do it in the house, you ask? Hey, why not butcher the beef right there at the kitchen table, too? Take your pick. You can have a bloody mess in your kitchen, or you can have a sticky mess in your kitchen. Some stuff is best done outside. Other stuff is best done in a dedicated facility. We don't bring ears of corn inside to shell the kernels. We do that outside with mechanical help from a combine. We take animals to a meat locker to get them converted from live beings to packages of steaks and burgers.

We did our honey extraction last year after dark. We also did it in the yard, since we didn't want to mess up the kitchen with honey dripping everywhere and we didn't want to build a stand-alone facility for honey extraction. Playing with bees and honey in the middle of the night gets old in a hurry.

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The Farm Industry News Blog features commentary from Willie Vogt, Daryl Bridenbaugh and Jeff Ryan.

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