Professor Communication and Media
Denise is a devoted organic gardener who challenges herself to live as sustainably as possible in her home in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is a professor in the Department of Communication and Media at West Chester University with a Ph.D. from Kent State University. Her teaching and research areas consist of sustainability, close interpersonal relationships, integrating work and family, and conflict resolution.
Learn more about Denise
September 15, 2023
In the Garden of Deeden: The Honey Harvest
According to the US Department of Agriculture honey bees alone pollinate 80% of all flowering plants. Their pollination of over 130 different species of vegetables and fruits means that these tiny creatures have a huge role in global food production. Their precipitous population decline should send shock waves throughout the world. That’s why every effort to protect them and to expand their role in the food industry is so important.
In the Amazon, an amazing story is emerging among the Maijuna native people of northeastern Peru. The Maijuna have long relied on species of stingless bees for honey. But now, thanks to investment and support by the ACEER Foundation, native Maijuna communities are vastly expanding their sustainable harvesting of stingless bee honey and bringing products to local markets in Iquitos and beyond.
We all can emulate and support efforts like those in the Amazon to protect bee populations, and enjoy and share the health benefits of honey. In an earlier blog, I described the process of beekeeping. In this blog, I will share the excitement and joy of harvesting the honey.
My beekeeping mentor had an annual extraction day, usually in late July, unfailingly on a hot and muggy day. Bob and his spouse, Joan, had a very organized setup; they kept about 70 or more hives at two different farms. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of honey to harvest. Their extractor had to be manually operated, using centrifugal force to remove the uncapped honey from the comb. It could accommodate four frames at a time, which would require two times each since each side of the frame needs to be extracted.
I was afforded the ability to extract my own honey, but I always stuck around to help harvest the honey from Bob’s hives. Sometimes other neighbors and friends would come by and offer an hour or so of help. When extraction was completed, Joan would lay out a hearty lunch.
Bob stopped beekeeping last year and when he sold his extractor, I had to decide how I wanted to extract my own honey. I had a couple of options:
- The local beekeeping association has equipment that can be rented.
- The second option was to purchase my own manual extractor.
With only one hive, I decided to purchase a manual, two-frame extractor and it has worked out perfectly.
Preparing for extraction is roughly a two-day process.
First, I had to isolate the bees from the honey supers.
- “Supers” are boxes that contain no bee brood, only excess honey. Although there are several methods for doing this, I have only used what is called a triangle escape. Basically, the bees travel down the escape at night to be with their sisters, and in the morning they cannot figure out how to travel back up to the supers. However, they are clever. If a beekeeper leaves the escape on for more than a couple days, the bees will figure out how to re-enter the super.
- This year, I put on the escape around 9:30 a.m. and went back out the following morning around 7:00 a.m. There still were some bees in the super, but the number was manageable – enough to brush them or shake them off.
Next, I had to uncap the honey.
- Before putting the supers into the extractor, the honey has to be uncapped. This means removing the wax cap the bees put on the honey to keep the moisture content good and to keep it hygienic. Bob and Joan typically would use a specialty heated knife, but it also is easily done with a specialty fork.
- It is not advised to extract more than 20% of uncapped honey since it will be prone to fermenting.
- This year, I had one super of capped honey and one super of uncapped honey. I left the uncapped honey for the bees.
Finally, I would extract the honey.
- Because I was extracting alone, I took the opportunity to intermittently extract. Basically, I would spin the extractor approximately 100 rotations and walk away to do something else. I’d come back and switch sides. After all, the arm gets sore even if I’m only extracting 10 frames!
- I am currently waiting for my honey to separate. At Bob and Joan’s, I would bring a 5-gallon bucket so that my honey would be separate from theirs.The bucket has a gate – a lever that can be opened and closed to control the flow of honey when bottling it. This year, I will bottle directly from the extractor.
- Either way, it is important to wait a few days so that any wax has time to rise to the top, making it cleaner and easier to bottle.
Extracting honey is a time-consuming and hot and stressful process and totally worth it. This year I will have extracted about 25 pounds of honey. Liquid gold, nectar of the gods – delicious.
Honey harvest from a previous year