In traditional Langstroth beehives, the honey is extracted via a centrifuge that spins the golden liquid out of the comb and allows it to run into your pot. In a top-bar hive, honey collection is quite different, as is the rest of the top-bar hive beekeeping process.
As the bees build their home in a top-bar hive, they will start with brood comb first and then begin to make honey. When you are ready to harvest, the bars that you want to take will be towards the left of the hive, where all of the newest build should be. From regular inspections, you should have a good idea of what is available.
Do not take uncapped honey as it is not yet ready for harvest. Moving in from the uncapped combs you should find capped honey combs before you hit the hive’s brood area. Remember not to take too much of their winter supply and if your bees don’t have enough honey, be prepared to feed the hive with sugar water during the flowerless months.
It is easy to extract the comb from the hive. Simply cut along the edge of the bar. Bees will linger on the comb, simply brush them off or wait for them to dissipate. Once you’ve collected enough bars, it will be time to process your honey.
Unlike Langstroth hives, top-bar hive’s honey is extracted by crushing it out of the comb. There are a number of ways to do this, and a few good extractors available from top-bar hive specialists today. One of the simplest methods I have seen demonstrated is to place the comb in a large bowl and cut it with a knife into very small pieces, allowing the honey to escape from its casings. This mash can then be strained through a mesh bag and left to drip out in a warm place over the course of several hours.
Another method is to use a mason jar or similar container and smash the comb into it until the jar is full. A strainer of some kind, such as cheesecloth, can be sealed over the top with a rubber band and the jar can be turned upside down to drain out the honey. Once again, this will take several hours in a warm place.
One option for top bar hive honey is to leave it in the comb. You can cut small sections of comb out and keep them in a mason jar or tupperware, and have the honey freshly dripped out when you are ready to enjoy it.
Once strained, the honey can be poured into whatever container you prefer and stored. If left for long periods it will crystallize, and will need to be slowly warmed to return to its liquid state.
The honey collection system for a top bar hive is fairly simple and another reason that this beehive style is so popular among hobby farmers today. Not only are the hives easy to keep and more natural for the bees, but the honey is harvested in a simple manner with tools most farmers will have on hand.
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen farms about 2 acres of a suburban homestead using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Days Ferry Organics and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.
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