Time - Space - Equation - Winnie-the-Pooh vs. Bob Beeson

Leonard Lea Frazer

Man’s quest for gathering honey in nature and his observations of honey-bee behaviour have helped develop the Science of Beekeeping.

Early Egyptians believed bees were the tears of Ra. Workers blowing smoke on a beehive and removing honey combs are depicted on the walls of the Sun Temple of the Pharaoh Nyuserre Ini (2400 BC). During medieval times, baskets, in the shape of cones, were woven and covered in a coat of clay and mud. These became the homes for honey producing bees. As sugarcane was unknown at that time, the honey from natural and man-made hives became an important sweetener commodity.

My first encounter with extracting honey was in 1966 when I saw the animated featurette based on the first two chapters of the book, “Winnie-the-Pooh,” by A.A. Milne. It was a Disney film that included songs the main characters loved to sing, like, “The Honey Song.” - “Everything is honey, Everything I see. Everything is honey, and that’s alright with me.”  (There’s more, but hey, on with the story).

 After Pooh Bear finds a beehive in a tree and is unsuccessful at stealing some of the sweet stuff, he develops a more scientific method of extraction to help soothe that, “rumbly-in-his-tumbly.” By using a small blue helium balloon (courtesy of Christopher Robin) the chubby little bear is able to float up to the level of the beehive and gorge himself on honey.

Bob Beeson with his bee colony.
Bob Beeson with his bee colony.

My second encounter with extracting honey was in 1977 when I was invited out to visit the late Bob Beeson of Valemount. Bob had bees at his Cedarside property and on the day I was present I was able to photograph the different steps involved in extraction: removing honey-filled frames from the wooden supers (where the bees hung out producing honey), slicing the honey combs with a hot knife, placing the frames in a stainless steel extractor, spinning each frame to remove the honey by centrifugal force, and opening up the tap, at the bottom of the extractor, to fill a jar full of honey.

Mr. Beeson’s equipment included beekeepers’ gloves and hat, a smoker with a set of bellows on the side, wooden frames, each with a coating of foundation wax, wooden containers for the frames (the supers), a small scraping tool and his big steel extractor. The following instructional story is for would-be beekeepers who love the taste of honey.  This may prompt you to start your own bee colony.

Raising Bees and Extracting Honey

In northern British Columbian communities such as McBride, Dunster, Valemount and Blue River, sugar syrup may have to be given to your bees as a supplement food, because in early April the bees won't be getting their carbohydrates from nectar producing plants. The main goal of the beekeeper is to build the 8,000 bees (you can purchase in a package) to a good colony of 60,000.

Bees on a frame.
Bees on a frame.
One frame being examined for signs of honey.
One frame being examined for signs of honey.

In May the bees get only enough food, in the form of nectar, to feed the brood. These are the new bees, which the queen will be lay­ing at the rate of 1,200 to 1,500 eggs during every twenty-four hour period.

To get your beehive rolling, start with one super and borrow a frame that already has comb started from a neighbour beekeeper. Place this frame in the centre of the super with the new factory made frames. The bees will be more likely to accept the hive with the old frame mixed in with the new ones made from new foundation wax. Shake the bees from your Bee Package into the super. Then, take the queen from her Queen Cage and place her at the entrance to the hive. If she accepts the hive she will go in. This is basically how you start a new hive.

When the frames in the first super are almost filled with baby bee pupae, the second super is placed on top of the first. (There should be only two frames on each side that haven’t been filled with bees.)

Time - Space - Equation - Winnie-the-Pooh vs. Bob Beeson

When the second super becomes full, you can put on the Queen Excluder (screened lid) on top and then the third super. The drones and the Queen can't get through the Queen Excluder and into the third super. This super is for the production of honey. Only worker bees can gain entrance to the uppermost supers through the extruder from the lower brood chambers. A drone is approximately twice as large as a worker bee and the Queen three times as large.

Initially, the first crop of honey is less than the second, and the second less than the third. The bottom two supers should be left for brood, unless you plan on killing your bees at the end of the seas­on. If this is the case, you could take the top two supers for the honey. If you want to keep the bees over winter leave them their honey and, in the second year, the bees will have an earlier start and will be a lot stronger than their first year. They won't have to prepare a brood chamber and can concentrate only on the task of making honey. Remember, supers are added as the bees move up­wards in the hive.

Two Ways Using an Extractor

Time - Space - Equation - Winnie-the-Pooh vs. Bob Beeson

Towards the end of summer (middle of July) the frames inside the top super will become full with honey. Some frames take longer to fill, so the hive must be checked periodically to see when each in­dividual frame is ready for extracting. A layer of capping wax will be seen covering the cells. It is now time to remove the honey from these cells.

Beekeepers find this is the best time to use their smoker. After all, the bees plan on saving the honey for their winter food supply and now this guy in a funny looking hat has come to steal their honey away. If the modern extractor is to be used (as shown in my photos) four full frames can be taken from the hive. Carry the frames away from the colony. Some bees may follow you.

Before each frame can be placed into the extractor, the capping wax must first be removed. This is accomplished by using two sharp knives, dipped alternately in a container of boiling water. Use the hot knives to melt and cut the capping wax away from the honeycomb. Save the wax; it can be used for making candles. Four frames will slide into purpose-made slots inside the extractor.

The cells that bees make are at a nine-degree angle so that the honey doesn't flow out.  The frames should all be facing the appropriate direction in the

Liquid Gold pouring out of the extractor tap.
Liquid Gold pouring out of the extractor tap.

extractor. Once the frames are in place, the extractor is engaged. This is done by turning a crank at the side of the extractor. The frames inside the machine begin to move in a circular motion; centrifugal force throws the honey out of the open cells against the inside walls of the extractor and soon the frames are empty on one side. Repeat the procedure for the other side of the frames (cutting away the wax and spinning).

On a cold day, the extractor should be warmed up to allow the honey to flow inside. The extracted frames, once removed from the extractor, can be left out for the bees to clean up. Most modern extractors have a tap at the bottom for convenience.

After you have caught all the honey that comes out of the tap, it should be filtered through cheesecloth to eliminate any bee parts or wax that it may contain. If the honey is heated to cause it to run thinner, the temperature should be kept down around 200 degrees Fahrenheit to be on the safe side. If the honey is heated over the maximum temperature, which is 300 degrees Fahrenheit, it will lose its nutritional value and become sugar. When the honey is filtered, it can be called "Pure Honey".

Alternate Way

Another method of extraction is done outside on a sunny day. Set a large galvanized washtub on a table. A tap can be installed on the side of the tub, near the bottom, although this is not essential. Some wood slats should be placed in the tub, to keep the frames off the bottom. Fill the washtub with honeycombs already sliced off, upside-down frames. Cover with a piece of black plastic. Leave exposed to the sun. Gravity will cause the honey to flow from the combs. Make sure the plastic doesn't get too hot, otherwise you could melt the combs which would destroy the cells of each frame. If this should happen, your frames would then have to be rebuilt, using new foundation wax. The honey can be poured out of the tub, filtered, and stored in containers. Honey ready for you to enjoy.

Conclusion

When winter is approaching and all your honey has been extracted, you will then have to decide to kill your bees or winter them. If you’re not sure what to do, contact your local or regional Bee Association for advice.

Perhaps you’re interested in a harvest of "liquid gold" next fall. Beekeeping and the extraction techniques required could become part of your lifestyle in the future. Perhaps you’d like to get started right away. That’s great! However, forget about the helium balloon method of extraction!