Mommy, where does honey come from?
Have you ever wondered how that jar of delectably sweet honey got to your home from a comb? Before getting into the mechanics of honey extraction, let’s go a bit further back.
Little miss honey bee has just earned her wings, rather she has mastered the art of foraging. Once she deciphers the dances of her sisters, she heads out in search of whatever the colony needs – water, nectar, pollen, or propolis. Following the workers’ directions, she heads out in search of tasty nectar. Eureka! The blue flower is signaling that nectar awaits inside it. Our little hero drinks up as much as she can fit into her honey stomach and heads back to the hive. With the guard bees’ welcome, she finds an empty cell and fills it with the nectar which now contains enzymes that help turn nectar to honey.
Off she goes, so it’s time for the bees inside the hive to get to work. To create honey, the bees must use their wings to fan the nectar, evaporating nearly all of its water content. Once the nectar becomes honey, the bees cap the cell with beeswax for later use.
This is where we come in. See, honey bees generally make more honey than they actually need. Because of this, we can take some without harming the hive. Once a colony has plenty of capped honey, extraction begins. Inspecting a hive’s health, we determine how many frames of honey to remove, load them up, and head to the extraction facility.
Back at HQ, the fun begins (i.e. the messy part). The first step is to remove the wax caps that safeguard the honey. This is done using a heated knife or a cap scratcher (a rake-like tool with many sharp prongs). Now we know what you’re thinking, “How the heck do you remove a thick viscous liquid from tiny, delicate wax compartments?”
It’s quite a workout: we take each frame of uncapped honey and vigorously shake it up and down until the honey eventually drips out….
You don’t actually believe that, right? Of course not! Thankfully a past genius realized that if you spin the frames really fast, the honey will come flying out. This is done by centripetal force, the force that pulls outward when something is spinning.
Honey extractors take advantage of this force. A honey extractor spins multiple uncapped frames inside a bucket-like basin so that the honey literally flies out of each cell and onto the inside wall of the basin, then drips down and collects at the bottom. At this point it’s simply a matter of filtering the honey to remove any wax chunks, bottling it, and you are good to go! And yes, we return the frames back to the hive after we extract the honey. Believe it or not, the wax honeycomb remains mostly intact through this spin cycle so the bees can reuse it and start the process all over again.