The most obvious use of honeybees is of course the production of honey. Thousands of years ago people would rob wild hives for the sweet substance. Over time, ancient peoples developed different styles of hives and semi-domesticated the bees. Today, honey production has grown into a massive commercial industry. In 2007 the average yield per commercial hive was 60.8 pounds.
When the bees process the honey it takes several steps. First, the foragers bring back nectar from the flowers. It is mixed with enzymes from the bees’ glands. It is then given to the house bees in charge of storing honey. These bees continue the process of adding enzymes and depositing it into the honeycomb cells. The bees will work as a group to move air through the hive by beating their wings. This process helps evaporate almost all of the water from the nectar. When a satisfactory amount of evaporation has occurred the bees will seal combs. This is called capping. Honey that is stored properly can last almost indefinitely.
With an effective hive box, the frames can be easily removed for harvesting. The honey supers are removed, and the frames are taken out. Because the bees have capped the honey with wax for preservation, a hot uncapping knife must be used before extraction. The frames are then placed in an extractor, which is a centrifuge. The machine spins the frames around and the centrifugal force draws the honey out of the combs. The honey will collect at the bottom of the extractor and flow out through a spigot or ‘honey gate’. The honey is then strained and ready to go. A large commercial operation will utilize much larger machinery. After uncapping, the frames can be returned to their supers and large numbers (of supers can be spun in the giant extractor at a time.
One of the major benefits to this method is that when done properly the honeycombs stay almost completely intact, maintaining their shape and stability. This means the beekeeper can return the frames to the beehive for them to fill again. This saves the bees loads of time and the beekeeper a lot of money.
|A typical honey extractor. This one holds 20 frames.|