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By Marieke Mutsaers, Nigeria
(figures not shown - please contact Bees for Development for a photocopy of the original article with figures)
A centrifuge (honey extractor) is very efficient for honey removal from combs in frames, but it can also be used for combs attached to top-bars. During transport some combs may break off the top-bars but this can be avoided during extraction: most of the empty combs can then be returned to the hives. This leads to future increased honey yields as bees are saved the effort and resources of rebuilding honeycomb.
Removing honeycombs from the hive
Take top-bars with honeycombs carefully out of the hive and transfer them to an empty hive: we call this the 'harvest hive' (Figure I). Replace the removed top-bars with empty ones or with top-bars with extracted combs. The harvest hive should be of a small size (not more than 10-15 top-bars) or, if larger, it should not be filled up completely. This is because ten combs may weigh 10-1 5 kg, which is a heavy load. Try to keep the combs intact - attached to the top-bar - until reaching the place of processing. Broken pieces of comb can be put on a tray or in a container. Use a harvest hive which does not have the bee entrance at the bottom, but higher up. This will prevent honey from running out of the hive.
(Assuming that three people are participating in the honey harvesting)
Ideally two people should do the uncapping while one person turns the centrifuge.
The extraction should be done indoors. If this is not possible then do it early in the morning or in the evening. If there is frequent honey and wax processing there will always be bees around which will recruit others. In less than 20 minutes there may be thousands of bees, reclaiming their honey and making work difficult.
Clean the inside of the centrifuge with a clean, wet cloth and dry it with clean, dry towels. Clean the mesh frames and put a container under the centrifuge (Figure 2). Put the trays with comb support, uncapping forks and capping containers (Figure 3) ready on a table. Put on a large apron.
Place a comb on each uncapping tray. A comb should always be manipulated vertically, to prevent it from breaking off the top-bar and to avoid loss of honey. This is illustrated in Figure 8. When placing it horizontally on the tray for uncapping, it should therefore be supported with the rack.
Uncap one side, turn the comb carefully, and place it on the tray with the second side up while supporting it. Uncap the other side. Now lift it up with the comb hanging vertically. Turn the bar carefully (Figure 8) and place it in the centrifuge.
With two combs in the centrifuge, spin the centrifuge at half-speed. After a little while stop the centrifuge, turn the combs (vertically only) and spin again. This time the centrifuge can be spun at full speed, until the cells on one side are completely empty. Now the combs are turned back and side one is extracted fully in a third run. In the first run the cells should not be emptied because the weight of the honey in the cells at the other side may cause the comb to break off.
While the first pair of combs is being extracted the other persons can start uncapping the next two combs.
Extracting broken comb using the centrifuge
Combs which have become detached from the top-bar are placed in a hinged, double-mesh frame (Figure 5), and then put into the centrifuge. This frame should also be held only vertically, otherwise the honey will drip out and the wire may even come off as the weight to be carried can be more than one kilo.
Use of a honey press to remove honey from cappings
The cappings which were put in plastic containers (Figure 3) are now transferred to the sack with netting at the bottom, which fits in the double pot (Figure 6) The sack is closed and the double pot is put under the honey press (Figure 7).
The honey which dripped on to the trays during uncapping is scraped into a container and sieved.
The honey press can be used for processing small quantities of honey (1-2 kg), but a centrifuge is more efficient for quantities above 2 kg.
The extracted honey is stored in plastic containers of 5-10 litres. It is important that the honey is not kept in open containers, because it will attract moisture, become dilute and start fermenting.
Replacement of combs
After extracting the honey, empty combs should not be left at the house, but put back in the apiary. The bees will clean out the remaining honey, stored pollen and bee bread. The (cleaned) combs are now used to replace combs harvested on following days from other hives.
Comb honey, a special product
Whole comb honey with white or pale coloured capping is an attractive and palatable product. Fresh white honeycomb occurs in hives when much honey is stored in a short time. These combs are very good for selling as cut-comb honey.
The weight ratio between wax and honey in a comb is about 1:30, so comb honey contains 3-4% wax. Wax is not digestible by humans but it can be eaten without any harm.
Before extraction with the centrifuge the combs which are suitable for comb honey are selected.
The comb is put on the same tray as used for uncapping. A container about 3 cm high is put upside down on the comb. A portion of the comb is then cut out with a knife tracing the shape of the container. The container is now turned and the piece of comb is slipped in carefully by lifting it and sliding it into the container. A little shaking of the container may help to make the piece of comb go down to the bottom (Figure 9). I use oval plastic containers, which contain 500 g of comb honey. The pieces of comb remaining after cutting out the comb honey can be centrifuged as usual.
Comb honey may be sold at a higher price than extracted honey.
[Bees for Development Journal #19]