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Harvesting Honey and Beeswax from Top-Bar Hives

1. How is honey harvested from tbh's?

2. Can top-bar combs be extracted and reused?

3. What are some practical ways to 'extract" the crop from tbh's?

4. Can comb honey be produced in tbh's?

5. What can be done with the wax that is surplused from tbh's?

6. Why is a solar wax melter a perfect complement to a tbh?

7. What can be done with the honey/water that results from washing the combs that were pressed or squeezed to remove the honey?

IV. HARVESTING HONEY AND BEESWAX FROM TOP BAR HIVES

1. How is honey harvested from tbh's?

The combs are cut off or broken from the tb's after the bees have been removed by brushing or some other means. The combs can be used directly to package cut comb honey. I think I'll try marketing full bars of honey, complete with the tb, taken directly from the hive and sold to customers who can appreciate comb honey directly from the hive. The combs and honey will require a good price, but some of my customers are already spreading the word that my honey is "the best that they have ever eaten." :) :) [big, big grin]

If it's desirable to have "extracted" honey, then the honey can be crushed in a bag, squeezed by hand, squeezed with grooved paddles, or can be hung in a warm, sunlit window to let the honey drip into a container below the bag.

I have made a press which has vertical plates that are pressed together by a scissor-type automobile jack. The honey flow downward and collects in a tub below the press. The pressed combs have very little honey left in them, though there is a little clinging to the mesh bag which contained the comb. I wash bag off in a tub of water, use the honey water to make honey pop, mead, or sometimes feed back to the bees. The crushed comb goes to my solar wax melter, and since it is virgin comb the resulting beeswax is exquisite.

No sticky combs and supers to be concerned about. :) The press is much easier to clean up than an extractor. The result is less honey, but more beeswax. If I ever want more honey, I'll make more tbh's.

I strain the honey through nylon hosiery (kneehi's work well), let it set overnight, then bottle it if needed; otherwise, it stays in bulk containers. Some very small bubbles may rise in the honey for several days after pressing. I thought at first the honey was fermenting, but I have come to the conclusion that pressing puts some air into the honey under high pressure and this air is slow to come out. Don't know for sure...I may be wrong about this, but the honey wasn't fermenting.

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2. Can tb combs be extracted and reused?

Probably. But I really don't care to get into that aspect for it takes me back closer to my former days of beekeeping. Imagine making a rack to hold a tb with a screen against which the uncapped comb could rest, then spin away in an extractor. Or, how about this. Take a bucket with a hardware cloth support that fits the top, uncap a comb, turn the bucket and support so that the support screen can be placed against the tb and comb. Rotate everything 90 degrees so that you're holding the bucket by the bail and the comb is resting on the support. Sling everything round and round...vertically?? Maybe two buckets on a rotating tree that can be slung around horizontally??? Too much bother for me...besides, I wouldn't get as much beeswax.

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3. What are some practical ways to "extract" the crop from tbh's?

The previous questions answer much of this area. I prefer to remove combs as they are capped and press the honey out. Ron Smithwick told me of uncapping combs (in frames) and putting them upside down in an ice chest which was then placed in the sun. The chest heats up and the honey drains from the combs. This might work for trying to uncap and reuse the tb combs, unless the combs became too hot and deformed.

Pressing, squeezing, smushing seems the best way to extract. Seems that I have seen ads for a grinding centrifuge that separates wax and honey. That might work well, but I'll bet that the aeration of the honey would impair the flavor in comparison to honey gotten from the combs by pressing only.

[Joel Govostes] Here is another method of "extracting" natural combs, once described by the late Mr. Allen Latham in his famous bee book:

Take a large container, such as a pail or drum, and droop strainer cloth (about the mesh of fly-screen or a little larger) across it, hanging down about halfway. Nylon mesh is a good material for this. Secure the cloth well with closepins, drawstring, tape or whatever, around the edge of the container, to ensure it will not sink down in any further.

Next construct a simple square wooden frame which will fit over and around the top of the container snugly. Staple or tack 1/2" mesh hardware cloth (metal screen) across this frame. Set the frame onto the pail or barrel, over the drooping strainer cloth.

Now..."extract!" Simply lay a large piece of honeycomb on the screen surface, and using a wooden paddle or other implement, mash the comb through the screen. This is easy and rapid. The crushed wax and honey falls down into the strainer cloth, and you proceed with several more combs until you have loaded up the strainer well. Cover it up and place it in a warm place, and over the next couple of days, almost all of the honey will drain through the wax and down past the strainer into the pail. It is remarkable how well the wax will "drip-dry" of honey this way, especially if the unit is kept warm. A number of the units can be made up very inexpensively to handle even a fairly large crop.

( Sometimes a vehicle with the windows rolled up is a convenient warm spot for draining, as the sunlight heats up the interior. Just don't let any bees or other insects get in there!)

Or--the unit can be set into a warmer made up of an insulated box or modified old refrigertator, with the heat provided by an appropriate arrangement of light-bulbs. Just don't let it get too warm! A temperature of about 100 degrees works out well.)

After pretty much all the honey has drained (2-3 days), lift the strainer cloth with its mass of wax out of the pail, and then treat the drained honey as you would any that came out of a centrifugal extractor. The cloth containing the wax can be tied and hung out near the bees, who will collect much of the residual honey through the material. Then the wax is ready for rinsing and melting into cakes.

This method is quick, neat, and reliable, as long as the honey is not unusually thick or granulated. (Not to mention--it's cheap!) The finished product will not look any different from honey taken from an extractor, and will retain its fine, fresh aroma and flavor.

The framed hardware cloth atop the container serves to rupture all the cells thoroughly as the comb is mashed, so that draining is very efficient.

Another way to support the mashed comb in the strainer for draining is as follows:

Cut a round piece of the same 1/2" mesh hardware cloth, the same diameter as the inside diameter of the pail about halfway down. Tack this round piece of metal screen to some wooden legs or a frame which, when placed down into the pail/barrel, will hold it about half way up off the bottom. Then you droop the strainer cloth down in over it as described above. The round piece of screen will thereby act as a sort of "table", inside the pail, supporting the weight of the wax/honey mash, and letting the honey pass through.

Note: Some of your harvested combs are bound to be of very high quality particularly attractive, and they can be cut to fit into cut-comb honey containers. The leftover scraps can then be processed into liquid honey as described above.

As with any extracted honey, a froth of air bubbles and wax particles will rise to the surface of the honey over the ensuing days or weeks. This is skimmed off prior to warming and/or straining a second time through fine mesh such as nylons. The honey can then be bottled as desired. (The froth skimmed from the honey can be recycled and not wasted, by feeding it (undiluted) back to your bees!) [end of JG's suggestions]

[Tim Haarmann] It is important that if comb is anything other than fresh, it isn't advisable to squeeze the comb too much, it seems to disflavor the honey. I gently break up the comb full of honey, put it in a butterfly net, hang it, and let it drip into a container. I then take the rest of the comb and squeeze the honey out, but I keep this honey separate from the other. I like the stronger stuff, but some people don't.

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4. Can comb honey be produced in tbh's?

The honey that is produced in tbh's *IS* comb honey . You will get some beautiful combs that can be cut into sections and boxed. If by the question it is meant that sections or rounds be produced, then I suppose that you could mix in frames or add supers to do what you wish. But that's getting a little bit away from the utter beauty and simplicity of the tbh.

See also section on extracting, above.

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5. What can be done with the wax that is surplused from tbh's?

Use it to make foundation, candles, wax your shoe laces, lubricatescrew threads before driving the screw, wax a string to make a tin can chicken squaker or to make tin can telephones...the list goes on and on.

Or sell the wax. Beeswax from this virgin comb that is produced when there are no Apistan strips on the hive should have no fluvalinate contamination. Should it not fetch a premium price, especially since it is very light in color?

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6. Why is a solar wax melter a perfect complement to a tbh?

You will get more beeswax by keeping tbh's because of what you will be doing and the management methods you will use. The passive solar rendering of the wax works well. Moreover, solar melters can be cobbled up from scrap wood just as can the tbh's. Using a solar melter is a low tech kindred philosophy to tbh beekeeping in my opinion.

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7. What can be done with the honey/water that results from washing the combs that were pressed or squeezed to remove the honey?

Use the mixture to make mead, honey pop, or add sugar (if desirable)to feed your bees. If you feed very dilute honey/water mixture, the mixture may begin fermenting before the bees have had a chance to take it in, and it may make a mess for you. It may well be that the bees will spend more energy harvesting the dilute honey than they will get out of it according to some statements I have read.

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James D. Satterfield email: jsatt@gsu.edu