Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Easy Small Batch Honey and Wax Strainer

With all of the bee drama settled for the moment, it was time to get at straining out the honey and the wax. Since the mostly empty comb I'd collected from the first hive had been thrown hastily on the ground in the craziness of re-hiving the swarm, it had gotten ants on it, so the first thing I did was put it in a kettle, weighted down by a plate (wax floats), to drown the ants. I let that sit overnight.

Then I found this ingenious idea on backyardhive.com - for small quantities of comb, simply mash it well with a fork (or potato masher)
put it into a quart-sized mason jar, cover the jar with a bit of window screen, screw the ring down to hold the screen in place, and tip it over onto a second jar. On the site they duct taped two large-mouth jars together; I simply used a narrow-mouth jar on top, which fitted nicely into the opening on the wide mouth jar on the bottom.
I found that the honey would stop dripping after a while, but that if you tipped it, a big air bubble would make its way through the honey still in the top jar, and this would let more honey run down into the bottom jar. To solve this problem, I wedged the jars between a picture on the wall and my cheese slicer (feel free to use whatever you have on hand - lol!) so that the air wouldn't get captured and stop the honey flow. I also just happened to have a batch of chicken stock simmering in the slow cooker, so I moved the honey jars next to that, hoping the extra warmth would help the honey flow.

The next morning, I found my first honey harvest strained and waiting for me - a full pint of sweet golden goodness! (Even though I have some older honey I'd purchased previously, I'll be using this up first, since most of the honey cells weren't capped. That means it has a higher moisture content than capped honey, so it's less antibacterial than properly dried honey, so it could possibly go bad sooner. Better safe than sorry - I'd hate to waste my first honey harvest! Of course the first thing we made was a batch of pumpkin spice honey butter. It made the whole bee drama a little more worth it!)

Once I'd gotten the honey out, I melted the wax in a double boiler, poured it into the narrow-mouth quart jar, and strained it the same way I'd done with the honey. This was a little more tricky, since the wax hardened quickly, and I had to keep re-melting it before I could get it all through the strainer (I tried a few different ways of doing this - the best way I found was to keep scooping it out of the top jar and re-melting it every so often. A bit putzy, but it worked. I also tried putting it in the oven along with a batch of pumpkin pie bars I was baking (yes, I know it's July, but the honey butter got me in the mood for pumpkin pie). When I took the jars out of the oven, though, the wax was bubbling, which apparently is a no-no (although the only reason why that I've seen for not boiling it was that it makes the wax darker, which I'm not super concerned about).

When you're done, the bottom jar will have a lovely hard layer of yellow wax, with some runny brown stuff on the bottom. It can be a bit tricky getting the wax out of the jar (without splashing the nasty brown stuff all over your shirt, anyway - don't ask how I know). The easiest way I found was to put the jar in the freezer, and the wax will contract and come out of the jar much more easily. If you leave it too long, the brown stuff will freeze too, but just defrost it in a bowl and then you can rinse it off in the sink.

With all of the honey and wax strained out, I was left with little brown lumps of pollen that wouldn't flow through the strainer. These are very high in protein, and can be frozen and saved to feed to your bees next summer (instead of buying "pollen patties"). I won't be giving them to my bees, since I baked them, but I'm assuming they'll also make a good protein supplement for my chickens.

So, ready or not, I've dealt with my first swarm, and completed my first harvest! 

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