Soon school will be back in session. Whether you’re packing a lunch box or preparing lunch at home, healthier snacks are at the top of the grocery list. When you shop in-store or online July 29 through September 15 at Whole Foods Market, add a snack multipack from our featured supplier partners who will donate 10¢ per purchase to Whole Kids Foundation to grow school gardens. Check out our fantastic supplier partners for a variety of products for families to enjoy, support the brands that support Whole Kids Foundation!
Whole Kids Foundation is committed to educating kids and their families about the importance of pollinators. They play a role in 1 of every 3 bites of food we take! Occasionally, one of those bites is sweetened by the honey produced by honey bees, the most productive pollinator.
My family did not start keeping bees for the honey - despite the fact that our whole family loves the sticky-sweet liquid gold.
I’m a hands-on learner, so my motivation was to really understand all of the potential lessons honey bees have to teach us. My husband, John, started with a strong desire to help restore honey bee populations. In our first year, he rescued dozens of colonies from water meters, people’s homes, trees, you name it!
Beekeeping is also a lot of work. But the first time we harvested honey — WOW! It really brings all of the magic to life.
The first thing we learned is that you can harvest honey with no tools - just your hands OR you can invest in a few smart tools.
The first little piece of honeycomb we brought in presented us with challenges. Can you crush all that hard honey bee work to release the thick liquid? We managed and the reward was SWEET!
If you just have one hive, you can easily crush and strain your honey - which is exactly as it sounds. You put the comb in a strainer and crush it to release the honey. Our bee family grew quickly and now we have about 30 hives.
The tools we use that make the harvest manageable include:
- Serrated Knife > we use an offset knife to cut the caps off the honey cells. We’re careful to catch the cappings and strain the honey they contain.
- Honey “Rake” > this is a little comb looking tool that lets you remove the caps from corners and nooks.
- Stainless bowls & pans > Honey cleans up easily with warm water. We always keep a bowl of warm water handy to rinse hands and tools.
- Filter (Strainer) > We use a fine mesh sieve that catches the little wax particles and any stray bee parts. Most folks just buy paint strainers at the hardware store
- Extractor > This is a large stainless drum with a rack inside that holds the frames. A motor spins the frames and slings the honey out of the cells
- Bucket with Honey Gate > You drain the honey from the extractor through a filter into a bucket. The honey gate is made to stop and start the flow of honey for packaging.
Harvesting Honey 101
It’s time to harvest the honey when the flowers have stopped blooming, most of the honey cells are capped, and any that aren’t pass the “shake” test. You give the frame a good shake and if the honey stays put…it’s dry enough.
Moisture level in honey is important. If honey is too wet it will crystallize. Some beekeepers use a refractometer to measure the water content. Since we keep our bees in Texas, and we’d just had two solid weeks over 100 degrees…we were certain our honey was dry!
This is a full deep frame of honey. The bees did a great job!
A single deep frame of honey can weigh 10 pounds or more. Deep refers to the size of the frame. Deep frames are 9” and mediums are 6”.
This is a close-up view of a honey frame. You can see each individual honeycomb cell has been sealed or capped to protect its contents.
In order to get to the honey, you have to remove the cappings from both sides of each frame. We use a serrated knife.
When removing the cappings, a good bit of honey goes with the beeswax in to a bucket.
Here you can see the cappings in the bucket. We strain the honey out and then melt the beeswax to make hand salve.
Cappings removed, the frame is ready to go into the extractor. Ours holds four deep frames.
We rotate each frame three times to get all the honey out of the cells. An advantage of spinning frames is that it preserves the honeycomb. We give the frames back to the bees to save them the work of building new comb.
After you’ve spun the frames, the honey pools in the bottom of the extractor.
Then we filter the honey through a strainer that removes the waxy bits and any bee parts.
This is a frame after it’s been spun. The bees will fix all of the cells that are damaged and get right to work filling them again.
Some people enjoy honey in the comb. This is considered a premium since you sacrifice the comb & honey. Local honey sells for about $1 per ounce. Honey in the comb can sell for $2-3 per ounce. To cut the comb, you use a sharp knife and a spatula to carefully transfer to the package.
Bees eat a rainbow of pollen and nectar from different plants. That makes their honey different colors. We have bees in two yards 30 miles apart. You can see how different the color of their honey is.
The final step is to store your honey. On the left is honey from our bee ranch. The primary forage is sap from the black hickory and yaupon trees along with some native wildflowers.
On the right is honey from our farm where the nectar is sourced from Mesquite blooms and alfalfa.
One reason honey bees are so important to our food system is that they are productive. If nectar is bountiful, they make far more honey than they need for the colony to survive. That’s because in nature there are predators - like bears - who LOVE to steal their food.
Because we manage our hives and protect them from predators, once a season WE get to be the bears! We’re always very careful to leave plenty of honey on each hive to carry them through the winter. And when nature doesn’t make enough resources, we provide a pollen supplement or sugar water to make sure their colony thrives.
Everyone in our family loves honey. I add a dash to my morning chai. My son loves a drizzle on his yogurt. And my husband sweetens his coffee with honey. I’ve learned to reduce refined sugar and substitute honey in lots of baked goods. My favorites are honey cardamom cookies and fig and honey jam with fruit from our backyard tree! Learn how you can make the honey swap.
We LOVE sharing our honey bee bounty with friends and even selling a little locally. Every time I open a jar I say a little grace for healthy bees and bountiful forage.
When you think about the THOUSANDS of flowers one honey bee has to visit to make just 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey…it humbles the effort we put in!
So grateful for these superheroes of the food system!