Honey Extraction Adventure

September 21, 2004
After Jordan and I got home from Burning Man it was time to harvest honey. We needed to find an extractor so I called our source for all things bee related, Jean at Beez Neez Apiary in Snohomish. She gave me Terry Beedle’s phone number. I gave him a call and he had time to extract my honey (ooh, that sounds naughty) that very day. I donned my trusty Carhartts and had Jordan help me load four honey heavy supers into the Subaru. I came home from BM with a couple of cracked ribs from my encounter with an Igloo cooler and was not really fit to be lugging heavy boxes. I want to state again how AMAZED I am with what our little winged girls put away in just a few months time! I put a Johnny Cash CD in the stereo and headed out to find Terry’s operation, located in the wilds of Duvall. After a couple of improbable twists and turns I found him and almost immediately the local bees found me and my supers.

I quickly lugged my supers from the car into his workroom. Terry’s deathly allergic to bees so he tries to minimize the number trapped in the room with him. As one would hope the room was very clean and well set up for its purpose with a sink, uncapping tub and a big scale for weighing the goods. On the phone, I had told Terry that I wanted to learn the art of extracting and to do most of the work myself. He was into that, and immediatedly we fell into our teacher/ grasshopper roles. He gave me an overview of the key equipment: uncapping knife, comb scratcher and the centrifugal extractor itself. He demonstrated efficient uncapping technique, using the knife, which plugs in and heats up, to cut through the majority of the caps and turning to the the comb scratcher to break the wax in low areas of the frame.

Once the honey was exposed we dropped the frames vertically into position in the stainless steel drum of the extractor. When it was my turn to try my hand at uncapping, I discovered that Terry was making this business with the hot knife look very easy. It took me a few frames to find a good cutting angle, and at first it felt wasteful to cut deep into the frame, but I got over it once I discovered that the cutting tub has a drain at the bottom for draining the honey that comes from the cut caps.

Once we’d loaded up a super’s worth of frames it was time to turn on the extractor. I took a number of photos of the extractor in action because it was visually very interesting. It was satisfying to watch the honey whip out of the frames and ooze down the inside of the drum while imagining the batch of hot biscuits I’d want to serve with the first jar. Mmmmmm, yummy. I was impressed by the thoroughness of the extraction process, the frames come out of the extractor 99% empty with just the occassional remaining low cell.

As a bonus to the extraction process, Terry turned out to be quite a trip. He is not only a Master Bee Keeper but also a Reiki Master and firewalking instructor. We had a lovely conversation about Burning Man, healing arts and the curative powers of bee pollen. I can’t remember what led to it exactly, but Terry convinced me that I could bend a piece of re-bar with my body weight. He grabbed a piece of re-bar bent into an arch and told me that a 12 year old girl had bent it. “Do you want to try?” he asked. I believe my response was, “What the hell.”

We went out into the yard where he found a straight 6′ length of 1/2-inch re-bar and fitted the end with a little rubber cap. He had me rest that end in the notch at the base of my throat and he placed the other end at the same height against the wall. The only direction he gave me was take a deep breath and step into it and that’s what I did. Ouch. I felt like I was going to skewer my self. It didn’t seem possible but if a 12 year old could do it… I tried again, same result. Nothing but an uncomfortable pokey feeling in my neck. Frustration set in. Then Terry started in with the “step into your fear” bit and I became annoyed. I’m not afraid well then why is the re-bar still straight. Wait, I thought I was having my honey extracted. What happened? Finally, when I was good and pissed I took a nice deep inhale and strided forward. The re-bar bent right into a lovely, graceful arch. Neat.

Back inside we continued with the extraction process. Terry sat in a chair while I found my groove. I was sweaty and sticky and had to resist the urge to lick my fingers. We set up a five gallon bucket with a sieve on top beneath the spigot of the drum and began filling the bucket. Liquid gold, I tell you. Beautiful, thick and amber colored. I brought 2- 5 gallon buckets with me not really knowing how much to expect. We filled both buckets to within a couple of inches of the top. Once all the frames were extracted and the buckets filled the only thing left to do was to weigh and pay. The buckets were shockingly heavy and I guessed they weighed around 75 or 80 pounds but I was floored when the scale read 110 lbs minus 5 pounds in bucket weight for a total of 105 pounds of honey! What a haul! I managed to schlep the buckets out to the car where I wrote Terry a check, gave him a big hug and thanked him for a fabulous experience.

Jordan warned me that I would be covered in honey from head to toe by day’s end. That, my friends, was an understatement. I arrived back in Seattle a sweaty, sticky mess and with a huge grin on my face. It took me a few days of thrifting and craigslisting to round up enough Mason jars of various sizes to bottle it all but once it was all jarred Jordan and I made labels and began to share the wealth with our family and friends.

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