A honey extractor is one of the most expensive individual pieces of equipment a beekeeper is likely buy †. If you’re lucky, your association might own one or more extractors and make them available to borrow or hire. However you get hold of one, after use they need to be thoroughly cleaned before storing (or returning) them.
Don’t, whatever you do, follow the advice on some websites or beekeeping forums (fora?) and leave the extractor outside “for the bees to clean”. This is a very bad idea. The feeding frenzy that results is a perfect way to spread disease.
Patience, cold water, more patience and a hairdryer
The used extractor will have quite a bit of residual honey adhering to the sidewalls and floor. You can scrape this out using a flexible silicone spatula but it’s a messy process and almost guaranteed to cover you from wrist to oxter in honey. It’s far easier to:
close the honey gate securely
tip the extractor up at a steep angle so the honey runs towards the gate
turn the heating up in the room and leave it overnight
The following morning the majority of the honey will have drained down towards the honey gate, this can then be bottled for home consumption or used for mead or marmalade making. It’s not unusual to get a pound or more of honey like this … it’ll be a bit frothy and might be less well-filtered but it will still be delicious.
To wash out the residual honey, wax and propolis from the extractor:
level the extractor
close the honey gate securely
fill it completely with cold or cool water and leave overnight
empty out the water, rinse well with more cool/cold water
mop up the dregs with clean kitchen towel
dry with a hairdryer set on ‘low’
Avoid using hot water as it melts any residual wax and makes it a lot harder to clean. The easiest way to complete this wash is to stand the extractor in the garden late in the evening (after the bees stop flying), fill it from the hosepipe and then empty it early the following morning. Almost all of the honey residues will have dissolved. The extractor can then be wiped out and dried with a hairdryer … I simply hang one inside the extractor for half an hour, set on the lowest heat setting and repositioning it periodically to get into all the corners. The stainless steel drum of the extractor warms very quickly, transmitting the heat throughout the extractor.
† Unless you’re semi-commercial or larger in scale in which case you might have bought anything from a €1600 bottling machine to a £really?! Unimog
[to paraphrase Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore] … actually, I love the smell of propolis more or less anytime. During the quiet winter period the warm, spicy scent of propolis is a lovely reminder of hive inspections during warmer times. It’s one of the characateristic smells I associate with beekeeping, along with the lemony scent of the alarm pheremone – something best avoided – and the pretty rank smell of brood frames sterilised in the steam wax extractor (definitely best avoided).
Clearer boards …
A couple of night ago I extracted the summer honey collected by the bees since moving to Scotland. There were only a small number of supers to extract; many of the colonies I brought North were nucs and have only recently moved up into full boxes, coupled with it being a rather poor summer. I’d added clearer boards under the supers the day before removing them then stacked the supers on top of my honey warming cabinet for a couple of days until I had time to do the extracting. By keeping the supers warm – the temperature in the headspace above the top super in the stack was only about 30ºC – the honey is much easier to extract than when cold and viscous.
The other effect of warming the supers is that the propolis softens and then sticks to just about everything it comes into contact with. The frames in these supers hadn’t been moved for 6-7 weeks and were heavily propilised to the runners and each other. Inevitably, prising the frames out and manhandling them in and out of the extractor meant my hands got covered with propolis. Like cooking with onions, the smell of propolis lingers well into the following day, irrespective of how well you wash your hands.
It’s been a rather poor second half of the season and many of the frames were uncapped. However, the honey – even when warmed – couldn’t be shaken out of the frames indicating that the water content was low enough to not ferment (and when measured it was almost all about 17%). The honey was sufficiently runny to filter through coarse and fine filters directly into 30 lb honey buckets for storage before jarring. This is the first honey produced by my bees in Fife and I’ll have to get some new labels designed that correctly lists its provenance.
Fondant block and Apiguard
Finally, before disappearing for a few days to Andalusia I added a queen excluder and an empty super to every hive to accommodate a 12.5 kilo split block of bakers fondant. This is a really easy way to feed colonies up for the autumn. They take the fondant down more slowly than they would take thick (2:1 w/v) syrup which I think ensures that the queen has ample space to keep laying – these will be the important winter bees that get the colony through to the next season. It also doesn’t seem to encourage either robbing or wasps – perhaps because there’s nothing to spill. It’s also a whole lot easier to prepare … just slice a block in half with a breadknife. I simply add the fondant face down over the queen excluder, reduce the entrance if the colony isn’t at full strength, close them up and walk away*.
* I also added a tray of Apiguard to a couple of colonies as the first stage in autumn Varroa treatment. The majority of the colonies are going to receive vaporised oxalic acid but I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of the effect on queen laying, so two colonies in one apiary received Apiguard.
I have previously described an easy-to-build honey warming cabinet. Having reviewed the links that bring visitors to these pages it’s clear that many are Google searches for honey warming cabinet plans. Despite the original pages having a reasonable straightforward description I’ve put together a set of plans and basic building instructions. If you intend to use the cabinet to pre-warm supers prior to extraction then the box needs to be a suitable size to stack two supers side-by-side. I use National hives and the plans describe a cabinet that is of a suitable size for these.
The plans and the illustrations on the original pages describing the honey warming cabinet are pretty-much self-explanatory. If you get a local wood merchant to cut the ply to the correct sizes the only tools needed are a screwdriver and a drill. All joints should be glued and screwed. Once constructed the cabinet is very strong. I’ve stacked 18 full supers on mine and regularly stand on the top when stacking things on the shelves behind it. Most of the 5cm thick insulation (Jablight, Kingspan etc.) can be cut easily with a sharp long-bladed knife. However, most of these types of insulation are easily damaged so cover all the exposed edges with strong self-adhesive duck tape (or similar). If you intend to add a small mains powered fan to improve heat circulation you will need to add another hole for the wiring. With the fan installed and a thermostatically controlled Ecostat heater element temperature control is extremely good.
This is a review of a 9 frame radial motorised Saf Natura Ritmo extractor, prompted by a recent discussion on the SBAi forum and the absence of many other reviews when I was researching the purchase. I hope it’s useful to others thinking of purchasing a machine.
Extractors are probably the single most expensive item purchased by the majority of beekeepers. Actually, that should have started “an extractor” because a well-chosen machine that suits your beekeeping should last a very long time. Try before you buy … borrow one from another beekeeper or, if your association owns one or more, book or hire one for a weekend to see how it suits your beekeeping needs. If your association is reasonably large it’s likely that demand will be high as the OSR finishes – honey must be extracted promptly or it will crystallise in the comb. Be prepared. Book the machine in good time and keep the removed supers warm to make extraction easier.
You may not need to buy an extractor at all. Many don’t. If you’re flexible about when you can extract, or well organised, you might be able to share with friends or use the association machine(s). I’m certainly not well organised and often have to fit extraction around inflexible work commitments …
Extractor size – 3, 4, 9, 18 frame?
This is my second machine … the first being a 4-frame Lega manual tangential model which, although excellent quality, was simply too small for the number of colonies (~10) I now have. Small or large extractors (in terms of number of frames) take about the same time to extract the honey per spin, so buy a larger model if you want to spend less time extracting. This has been extensively discussed elsewhere. Since I extract twice per year (OSR and late summer) from about 18-24 supers (~200+ frames each time) and don’t intend to scale up I’ve decided a 9 frame extractor will suit me for the foreseeable future. Famous last words.
Manual (hand cranked) or motorised?
Charles Atlas …
Motorised. End of discussion. Seriously. Unless you’re built like Charles Atlas, or want to be, I would strongly recommend a motorised extractor if you’re considering a 9 frame or larger model. My manual tangential model was hard work after a couple of dozen frames. 200 would have been purgatory. Remember that if you’re handling 20 or so supers you will already be moving about 1000 lb. of boxes around, before you start extracting, often in a warm room. For the model I discuss below the price differential between the manual and motorised version is about £280. I think this is a good investment. You can often retro-fit motors to manual models, but I have no experience of this.
Why a Saf Natura extractor?
After outgrowing my manual four frame tangential extractor I’d borrowed a polythene-barreled radial 9 frame motorised Thorne’s extractor from our association. I was convinced about the capacity and the motor but disappointed about the signs of wear on the polythene barrel. The machine had been used pretty hard by the association and would have become increasingly difficult to properly clean, so I wanted a stainless steel machine. All the standard suppliers sell these, at prices – for a 9 frame radial model – ranging from about £600 to £1600. The Thorne’s polythene-barreled model has a list price of approaching £800. I looked carefully Abelo extractors on show at the Yorkshire Beekeepers Association Spring meeting. Abelo sell 8 frame tangential and 12 frame radial models, but there were some rough edges on the stainless steel barrel of the model I inspected which put me off. I finally purchased a Saf Natura Ritmo extractor from Bee Equipped in Derbyshire. It was close enough to collect, so I wasn’t committed to purchasing until I’d checked the quality.
Ritmo motorised radial extractor
Manual motor …
The Saf Natura website provides details of this model. It is 52.5 cm in diameter and – once the bent angle coated steel legs are assembled and attached – stands 102 cm high at the top of the closed lid. The motor extends the height a further 12 cm. Note that the model illustrated on the Bee Equipped and the Saf Natura websites both show what is variously termed a Saf Natura motor, or – I think – a digital motor. These have an additional control box on the side, presumably controlling time of spin etc. Bee Equipped only sell this extractor model with a more basic manually controlled motor as shown in the images here. I presume this helps keeps the price down to a very attractive £620.
Resin cage …
The other clear cost-saving is the cage for the frames. In this model the top and bottom sections are moulded out of some sort of plastic or resin, rather than being constructed from stainless steel. The top and bottom sections are joined by stainless steel rods. The honey gate is also plastic. Half of the perspex (?) lid hinges up to add and remove frames for extraction, in doing so the motor safety cut-out (red and black in the image on the right) is engaged. The overall quality, rigidity and finish of the stainless steel is excellent. It looks and feels like a solid, well made, machine that should last a long time. I use Nationals and the extractor I purchased was set up for this frame size. By using longer stainless steel rods holding the resin cages apart it is possible to use Langstroth frames in the same model. I also purchased three mesh frames for tangential extraction from brood frames (deeps). Unfortunately these are only supplied in Langstroth dimensions so will need some minor butchering before being suitable for National frames (I’ll describe this later if I ever get round to it … the tangential meshes were only £25 for three and I didn’t want to have to pay postage at a later date).
In use …
It works well. The motor makes the expected whining noise as it speeds up or slows down. It sounds strained but I’ve heard exactly the same thing with other extractors and you soon get used to it. Full speed is amply fast enough to clear filled supers, even of viscous OSR honey. There’s nothing to stop you opening the lid or slamming the machine into reverse when it’s going full speed ahead … other than common sense and a small adhesive label stuck on the lid. I’ve not tried and I suggest you don’t either. As with all extractors it wobbles with an uneven load. I’m going to investigate castors or foam blocks under the legs. However, if the wobble is bad enough it’s worth rearranging the frames to sort the problem, rather than simply hanging on for dear life as it dances around the room. The worst wobble I’ve experienced, which got progressively worse as the length of spin increased, was due to my forgetting to uncap one side of one frame … D’oh! Crystallised OSR honey in part of a frame often causes problems for similar reasons.
I run the machine with the honey gate open, directly filtering the honey through coarse and fine stainless steel filters above a 30 lb. honey bucket. As long as you keep a careful eye on the level of honey in the bucket this method works well. A contributor to the SBAi discussion commented on the relatively short distance between the bottom of the barrel and the cage, causing the long frame lugs on National supers to foul the accumulated honey. This is avoided by leaving the gate open.
I’ve only had the machine for a season so cannot comment on longevity, spares etc. Dot at Bee Equipped told me they’ve been selling this model for at least a decade with no significant problems, other than some models damaged in transit. Redesigned or stronger boxes appear to have sorted this problem out.
In conclusion … highly recommended.
Note that many suppliers aggressively discount extractors in the spring shows (BeeTradex or the BBKA convention) and that the very worst time to buy an extractor is at the end of the summer 😉
Beekeeping involves a lot of lifting and carrying. In a good season this hopefully includes removing supers full of honey for extraction, each weighing perhaps 30 lb or more. Carrying these any distance is hard work, and carrying them over rough ground in a full beesuit on a hot day is crippling. Carrying a full hive, alone, any distance is also a thorough test of back, shoulder and arm strength. To make these tasks easier you could:
avoid apiaries you can’t get near to in a car
buy a Landrover
recruit a strong friend to help
All highly commendable, but not necessarily achievable. An alternative is to build a hivebarrow.
Beg, borrow or steal a wheelbarrow (or even buy one, in which case get one with a galvanised frame). The condition of the tray is immaterial, but the frame should be sound. For rough or muddy ground a wheelbarrow with a large pneumatic tyre is preferable. Finally, if you have a choice, get one in which the attachment points of the tray are horizontal when the barrow is standing (why will become obvious later). I bought a galvanised one with a plastic tray from B&Q for about £40.
The precise construction details are dependent upon the wheelbarrow frame you’ve acquired. I built the platform from a single piece of 18mm thick exterior plywood, 52cm x 52cm. I braced this underneath using two pieces of 46mm x 21mm softwood. You should only fit a ‘lip’ at the front – to stop boxes sliding forward when it’s in use – omit them from the sides and the back as this makes lifting boxes on and off easier and allows you to transport items wider than the platform (such as paving slabs). Finally, I fitted four pieces of 9mm stripwood on the top – this again makes lifting boxes easier and means you don’t have to recess the heads of the bolts holding the platform to the frame. Over time I expect these to get damaged but they can easily be replaced if necessary.
M8 bolt & cross brace
M8 nut & washer – top view
I bolted the platform to the frame using M8 bolts, with large washers to spread the load and standard and nylon lock nuts so they don’t shake loose over time. I then gave it several coats of preservative and, before use, took the axle apart, greased it well and reassembled it. You will need to use ratchet straps to stop hives or stacked supers from shifting during transport. Use two, front to back and side to side, and strap them down tight. Believe me, over rough ground, one is not sufficient! Finally, for those “more than three feet but less than three miles” moves (such as across the garden) you can use a hivebarrow with a horizontal platform as a temporary stand, simply moving the colony a few feet every few days.