After a year of providing hives for our European honey bees, we recently had our first honey extraction! On Sunday morning, August 7th the GSC team got to work preparing for the process. The GSC hives are maintained by volunteer Linda Walbridge and GSC’s Head of Horticulture & Grounds, Chandra Metheny.
Honey bees make hexagonal (6-sided) wax structures or honey combs on provided hive frames, where they store honey for winter. Have you ever wondered, what is honey? Bees collect nectar from flowers, break it down into simple sugars and then store it in honey combs. The bees work together to beat their wings, fanning the nectar to evaporate all liquid. What is left is a thick, sweet, sticky, delicious product called honey! Honey comes in different colors and flavors depending on what flowers and therefore nectar it started as. Honey is a special product that is engineered by nature to keep for a really long time and not ferment. In fact, intact, edible honey was found in the tomb of King Tut!
Fortunately, honey bees make more honey than the colony needs, which is why it is safe to extract excess honey. This process starts when the beekeeper smokes the hive to calm the bees. The beekeepers evaluate the hive’s overall health and check for hive beetles, mites or disease.
By placing a fumigator, or a hive cap coated in a smell the bees dislike, the bees move away from the top of the hive.
The keepers then pull out the top “super” or top box of the hive. Most of the honey will be in the top and since the bees have already moved away thanks to the fumigator, it is safe to take the super.Bees cap the honeycombs with bees wax so the honey doesn’t fall out. Beekeepers remove the caps with an uncapping scraper.
The scrapped frames are placed into an extractor which allows the honey to flow out of the frames. The extractor works like a salad spinner. By spinning very quickly, centrifugal force, throws the honey to the sides of the machine. Then the beekeepers let it set to release any air bubbles after draining out through a strainer. Then the honey is placed into jars and it is ready to eat!
Each year as the hives get older the amount of excess honey they produce will increase.The GSC staff will check the quality of the honey, and may provide some for the enrichment of our zoo animals on exhibit.