CAN YOU HARVEST HONEY WITHOUT AN EXTRACTOR?

Posted May 15, 2022
by Hilary

honey straining in metal sieve

Honey extractors are the standard when it comes to harvesting honey, but you can harvest without one. One method of honey harvesting called ‘crush and strain’ offers a simple alternative. Keep reading to find out when and why I use this method, plus how I do it.

What’s the Difference?

Honey extraction allows the beekeeper to spin the honey from the combs while keeping the combs intact. The beekeeper harvests frames of honey from their hives, slices off the top of the comb (the honey cappings) and places the frames (now with open cells of honey) in a  large, cylindrical piece of equipment called an extractor. The extractor spins the honey frames, flinging honey out of the cells using centrifugal force. The honey is now seperated from the comb and be jarred. The empty combs (stickies) are returned to the bees for reusue. This method allows the bees to make more honey without having to spend time and energy on rebuilding their honey combs.

The crush and strain method does not preserve the honey combs. The entire honey comb is crushed up and then strained through a sieve or cheesecloth which seperates the honey from the crushed comb. If you use this method the bees will have to rebuild their comb befofe they can make more honey. So, you might be thinking: why would you use this method? There are many scenarios where I prefer this method. I will list some below.

When I Use the Crush & Strain Method:
  1. I am harvesting from a different style hive like a top bar hive or warre hive.
  2. I don’t have time to set up and clean up the extractor, which is labor intensive.
  3. I am only harvesting a small amount of honey.
  4. I want to harvest the wax, not just the honey.
  5. The comb is old and I don’t want to return it to the colony.
  6. The wooden frames are old or broken and I don’t want to return them to the hive.
  7. I’m reducing the colony and do not intend to return the stickies to the hive.
  8. It’s the end of the season, and I don’t want to store empty comb over the winter.

image of honey comb in a frame

 

honey being crushed

 

honey processing
How to Crush and Strain Honey
  1. Start by cutting the honeycomb out the frame with a knife. Do this over a clean surface or in a large shallow pan.
  2. Finely crush the wax using dough cutter tools, so the honey releases.
  3. Next, chose a method to separate the wax from the honey. You can filter wax out using cheese cloth or a metal sieve.
  4. Once the honey is strained, put it in clean jars  and process the precious wax.

Click here to check out a fun video of my process on my Instagram.

Crushing Tip

Slicing the comb into strips with a crinkle cutter before crushing, as this helps make crushing easier. When cutting, aim for pieces that are about the width of your dough cutter or mashing tool. Keep in mind that if the comb is old, it can be hard or impossible to crush the wax fully smooth.

honey processing tool
Must-Have Tools to Crush & Stain

Most of these honey harvest tools are available on my Amazon Storefront.

  • Knife
  • Stainless Steel Dough Blender
  • Stainless Steel Crinkle Cutter or Dough Cutter
  • Silicone Spatula
  • Large Shallow Pan like a Bain Marie or Steam Table Catering Dish
  • Cheese Cloth or Metal Sieve
  • Honey Bucket with Spout
  • Large storage bin for Frames
Processing Honey
Cleanup

I like to make honey harvest cleanup easier by covering my work surface with large, thin kitchen towels or parchment paper to catch drips. Cleaning as you go helps a ton too.

I also keep a ceramic bowl or plate nearby to set my honey-covered tools on. Any honey pooled on the plate goes into the honey bucket, so none goes to waste.

Sticky surfaces and tools get wiped down with hot water, dish cloths, and a tiny bit of soap.

Learn As You Go

Every time I harvest honey, I learn something valuable about my tools and methods, or I sharpen a skill. I have a few blog posts, where I’ve documented little things I’ve learned along the way. For example, in How to Tell If Your Hive is Strong, I talk about how lots of honey is not always a sign of strength. If you have questions or have learned something along your jouney, please share in the comments below! And don’t forget about my in-person and online classes, if you’re itching to learn more or refresh your knowledge.

1 Comment

  1. B.B.

    After 5 “cut outs” and swarm retrieval, I was finally able to harvest a bit of honey.
    It looks like roofing tar and smells about the same! LOL!
    I crushed, drained, strained and filtered. Still, I won’t touch it. I’ll feed it back to the swarm I recovered.

    Reply

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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