Harvesting Honey From Our Apiaries

The spring honey flow is nearly over. It has been a wonderful and bountiful season. Our hive girls flew countless sorties deep into the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. They did not disappoint. After all, we’re dealing with professionals here.

Consumers of Killer Bees Honey need to know how we harvest honey.

Step #1: Remove the bees from the honeycomb

How does a beekeeper remove the bees from their honeycomb? Killer Bees Honey uses triangular bee escapes. This escape board is a one-way door. It is placed between the honey supers where bees store honey and the hive body (brood chamber). The bees in the supers come down at night to be with their sisters and their queen. It’s laborious for the beekeeper. You have to insert the escape, then come back several days later to retrieve them along with the honey supers. Tough when you’re managing numerous hives in several yards, but it’s totally innocuous to the bees. They just walk into another part of the hive. Most commercial honey producers use either leaf blowers to blow the bees out of the supers, or fumigation boards to drive them out. The former can be very harmful to the bees. I don’t care how careful you are, you end up killing and maiming hundreds if not thousands of bees as they’re being blown into the woodenware. It also causes drift. Fume boards utilize repellents which contain Butyric Anhydride. If applied incorrectly, you can make a hive abscond or even kill the bees within minutes.

Step 2: Check the moisture level of the honey

Moisture level (ML) in honey is very important to the bees. Bees wait to cap honey until the moisture level is approximately 17.8%. Yeast, like bacteria, exists everywhere in nature. Honeybees know their honey will ferment with an ML higher than 20%. Fermentation spoils the honey and outgasses methane in the hive. No Bueno. Many beekeepers will hurriedly spin out honey before their bees fully cap the comb. This will eventually cause spoilage problems for the consumer. It also dilutes the intensity of the honey’s flavor. Artisanal honey should have a moisture level of 18% or lower. We pull our honey when all the frames are capped and then spot check each honey super’s ML using a digital refractometer. The above photo shows the ML of wildflower honey from our hives at Skyterra Wellness Center. The <15% ML is stunningly low with a flavor intensity that is astonishingly good.

Step 3:  Immediate honey extraction

Honey is hygroscopic meaning that it will begin to absorb water the moment you remove the honey supers from the hive. Each honey super contains ten frames. Large honey packers place hundreds of supers into large rooms with industrial fans and dehumidifiers. This drops the high moisture level (ML) from uncapped frames. Honey extraction begins sometimes weeks or even months after honey super removal. To retain our already low ML, we begin extracting honey within hours of leaving the bee yard. Using a Lyson uncapping machine, we uncap at a rate of five frames a minute. 

Step 4: Minimal filtration

Unlike commercial honey packing plants which use heated and pressurized 50-micron honey filtrations systems (ultrafiltration), we gravity feed our honey through cheesecloth or 700 micron SS sieves. This guarantees high quality, high pollen count, flavorful honey. 

Step 5: Warm the honey

Commercial packers of honey flash heat honey at 150° - 170° for 15 to 30 minutes. They do this to kill the yeast and thus, prevent fermentation. This provides infinite shelf life. Unfortunately, excessive heating degrades the beneficial health effects of honey. Honey varietals have many subtle and nuanced flavors. Heating any honey above 104° begins to rapidly degrade both health benefits and flavor. We warm our honey to just 92° which happens to be the internal temperature of the hive and the only reason we heat our honey is to assist in bottling. Killer Bees Honey is so viscous that our German-made bottling machine will not operate with honey at room temperature.

Bees are generalist pollinators, as such, they are both the heartbeat and lifeblood of a natural environment. They play a crucial role in sustaining the biodiversity of the forest. We truly believe our ethical treatment of bees and the painstaking efforts we utilize during the harvest, maintain the integrity and purity of the honey they work hard to produce. What we do is best for our bees, best for the environment and best for consumers of our honey. 

Killer Bees Honey is committed to a healthy environment sustained by healthy bees. We support this effort by donating 20% of all honey sales to honeybee scientific research and education.


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