First honey harvest

I checked my beehive a couple of days ago and was stunned by the amount of honey bulging out of the frames! As a test, I removed two frames (out of 20 in my hive) and used Kirk Anderson's crush-and-strain honey extraction method. Here's a video showing how he does it:

I got 28 ounces of honey this way:

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I'm going to add another box to the hive, because it seems like the colony wants to grow.

My next step is to take the leftover wax and mix it with some oils of coconut and peppermint and make lip balm. I'll put them in 1 oz glass jars like this.



  1. Your honey is so incredibly light compared to mine… I noticed a lot of urban honey tends to be lighter. I have yet to try the crush-and-strain method. I will definitely give it a shot.

    Right now I noticed nectar here in NorCal was flowing in, but we are also having a lot more rain than usual. I however already caught a swarm, and the Napa Valley beekeepers have been catching a lot of them starting in April already.

    1. Yes, the honey is very light colored and delicate tasting. I’m glad it turned out that way!

      Kirk and I got these bees (from a park in Chinatown) on September 3, 2009. I gave them a few baggies of sugar water to get them established, but after that they went crazy feasting on the blossoms in the Hollywood hills and canyons.

      I am interested in making mead, too. I’m not much of a drinker, but I could foist it on visitors.

    2. Not all urban honey is lightly colored. The honey that Kirk was getting from the now defunct Echo Park Community Garden was quite dark and richly flavored by wild fennel.

  2. Awesome!! I love the smell of beeswax. I’ve done beeswax collage before and the smell of the wax makes the art medium seem so homey.

    Yum on the honey.

  3. Beautiful! Your chapter on raising bees in Made By Hand was super interesting. Congratulations on sticking with it – not sure I would’ve been brave enough to keep going.

  4. HOORAY, I had no idea you were doing bees, which, the world, the environment needs many more of.


  5. Used to keep bees when we were kids, until it turned out that Dad was allergic to stings. I miss that smell!

  6. Mark…

    You need to stop this. You got me started on keeping chickens in my yard…and of course I then build an automated coop. Now I want bees.

    The wife is really not liking your influence on me.

    Last week our chickens had been with us a full year…60 dozen eggs and counting.

    1. She doesn’t like deliciousness?

      I kid, I kid. Get her involved; my wife has been trying to talk me into chickens. I’m not ready since we’re still renovating the old house and so have two houses to keep up at the moment…

      1. last year when my dad and i did an early harvest, early-June, up here in Massachusetts we got 35 Pounds of honey.

        Yes, you read that correctly 35 lbs.

        that’s been pretty much our standard per super for the last 3-4 years.

        I think using a centrifuge helps us keep the honey pure and allows us to collect more of it.

  7. Mark, as a long-term homebrewer, I’d be happy to assist with a mead project. I’ve been thinking about putting together a beehive of my own for just that purpose, but I’m not sure there’s enough flowering foliage in my suburban neighborhood.

  8. Cripes, Mark, do you ever sleep? ;-)

    Or maybe you’re some kind of many-bodied gestalt creature able to keep chickens, maintain a beehive, raise kids, write books and edit a magazine?

    * * *

    I like that the 1 oz. bottles cost $.39. What can you buy for that little these days?

  9. Congratulations on your first honey harvest!! I’m mad to try my hand at beekeeping. I am moving to New Zealand, so I can’t wait to try my hand. Well done!

    (you don’t need to post this, it was only to congratulate you!)

  10. My granddad kept bees in town (small town). His two hives would yeild up to 50lbs of honey a year. He used a turkey cooker to seperate honey from wax. I loved the giant block of wax it produced.

  11. Yeah…by the end of year two they will have paid for themselves, however I didn’t do it for the monetary aspect…but to step away from factory farming and be able to see what I feed them has a direct reflection on what I put in my own body. Plus they are a hoot. If they hear me open the door they know some raisins or old bread or sunflower seeds or scraps are coming and they just run over. They are a blast.

    BTW…my newest creation. I had to figure out a way to keep the chickens off the deck (they like to hang at the back door and leave me little presents), but I also needed to allow the dog to get off the deck. A trip to Lowes…and I made this gate with a doggie door. All of these parts had other uses, but I tailored it to work.

    And I put together a RFID dog collar…so if the dog tries to go into the chicken coop (she loves their feed) the door closes on her.

  12. Lookin good! Mead’s really, really easy too. But it does take some time. I’d recommend getting a gallon of honey together and making a 4 gallon batch of mead. Here’s some Tips For Mead I’ve learned over the years:

    * Don’t bother heating the honey. Just add one gallon of honey (I like Orange Blossom because I can get a gallon for about $25 around here!) and top up with water to 4 gallons total. Swirl and mix as best you can, either in the carboy or in a pot with a whisk. If your first gallon of water is warm it helps the honey mix, then you can add the rest lukewarm. Add some yeast nutrient (a couple teaspoons) and two packets of dry wine yeast (I like Lalvin Narbonne) and you’re good to go. The whole process should take about 20 minutes. Then the initial ferment will take a couple weeks, then once it’s clarified a bit rack it to a clean carboy.

    * Sanitization. Cleanliness is next to godliness. That said, honey is pretty resilient stuff. Don’t stress too much.

    * Add fruit into the secondary. If you want, you can freeze it first which kills off some of the nasty bugs and more importantly causes the fruit cells to rupture, meaning more fruit flavor and aroma. You can use campden tablets to sanitize the fruit must if you wish. The slower fermentation in the secondary will not blow off nearly so much of the aromas, whereas if you put it in in the beginning you risk messy explosive blowoff and loss of flavor and aroma.

    * Add acid blend. It really helps round out the flavor, making your mead less of a one trick pony. If you add acid blend at the beginning, which can help the yeast, go easy. I say ‘can’, because yeast do like an acidic home, but honey is acidic, and some honeys are more acidic than others. I have had a fermentation get stuck because the PH dropped too low… Try 1/4 tsp for 4 gallons. You can always add, but you can’t take it away. Then add to taste at bottling. I only put about a half teaspoon total in these.

    * Patience. Let it clear before bottling. This could take 6 months to a year. If you use bentonite or sparkaloid, mix it in very well then wait at least a week.

    * You can always sweeten to taste at bottling. Just be sure fermentation is done, and consider adding sulfites and sorbate to keep fermentation from starting up again.

    * Bottling. Move your carboy to where you’re going to rack from at least a day before you plan to bottle. This applies to wine too. It’s amazing how those sediments shoot up into suspension. Then rack into another carboy or bucket to get it off the lees. Then you can filter if you wish, or don’t bother.

    * If you’re going to make it sparkling or petilent (a little bubbly) use beer bottles and bottlecaps. Otherwise your corks will shoot out. If you aren’t down with sulfites, use bottlecaps in case you get a renewed fermentation in the bottle.

    Here are some posts I’ve written about my more recent mead projects for more info.

  13. Mark, are there books you would suggest for someone who wouldn’t mind getting into this hobby? Are some climates more suitable than others?


      1. Thanks Mark, I’m going to order that book this evening. I have an acre of land but I do have neighbors so I’m a bit worried about how close the hives would be. Thanks again. Congrats on your bees!

  14. Congratulations on the honey harvest!

    And what a wonderful old man that is in the video. I’d like to meet him someday.

    1. Kirk isn’t really old (but you are probably so young that he seems old to you, and I am so old that he doesn’t seem old). In any case, he is an amazing and delightful person. He’s featured prominently in my book, Made By Hand.

      1. I’m 50. I suspect it was an accent trigger that made me think of him as old. Stupid on my part.

  15. I helped my dad with his hobby hives years ago, and the biggest problem was swarming caused by crowding of the brood chamber. This usually happened in June (near Ottawa, Canada), and we could avoid it by adding a second super for more brood space. In a good year we would get two supers carrying 40lbs of honey each from each hive.

    Keep up the good work on these projects!

  16. I am sure the process of raising bees is a lot of work, but it sure seems to have an awesome payback! I am planning a tour around the Napa area soon (chartering a bus through Events West) and I was wondering if there is a place to stop and see some bee-raising in action? I think it would be a blast to see some fresh honey harvested, not to mention buying some fresh honeycomb!

  17. There’s a German proverb about the number of opinions generated by two or more beekeepers, but it’s become obsolete in a world where commercial queen breeders have succeeded in chopping off the genetic contributions of drone bees who visit and survive their hive’s local conditions (diseases, pollution and all) daily. In other words, if drone bees can’t breed, natural selection can’t occur and everything that’s peachy in Georgia, where a lot of artifically-inseminated queens come from, becomes hell in Minnesota. Backwards Beekeeping seems like forty thieves in the right direction to me. Let a thousand flowers bloom, to quote somebody or other, and not just the queen bee factories.

    1. So now I have to start an indie band named “Queen Bee Factory”, and I don’t even play an instrument.

      1. Sooo… you’re the singer then! Find an instrumentalist and someone for your rhythm section and you’re good to go :D

    1. Although there are plenty of nurseries that sell those genera out here, most of the soil is basic (think ocean proximity).They don’t really do very well out here. On the eastside, not a chance.

  18. An old Russian friend of the family has bees and only collects the honey by cutting the top off the cells and leaving them to drain naturally without crushing. It takes much longer but gives the honey a different slightly different taste as there should be virtually no crushed wax in the collection.

  19. omg! i work nearby and we’ve always wondered where the heck those bees come from.

    sometimes trapped in those tiny take out condiment cups at the jamba juice… ah the memories of the yearly bee invasion.

    and now i finally where they’re coming from! this is awesome! im glad to see some of the bees do make it back to their hive. we worry about them when they show up. im glad they are okay and producing so much yummy honey.

    out of curiosity, does your honey ever taste… coca cola-is? because they looove to eat out of the old cans and i’ve always kind of wanted to eat their possible coca cola honey.

      1. i work in studio city. its true that the residential areas are not exactly nearby specially not actual houses. it’s just off the 101 in fact.

        but we do get lots of bees in certain seasons.

  20. What is your mixture for lip balm? I make a body butter with 2 parts bees wax to 1 part each coco butter and olive oil. the butter and oil moisturize and the wax helps to protect the skin. It’s a bit stiff for the lips though.

  21. leave the peppermint oil out of your lip balm, please. That tingly feeling you get from peppermint and menthol ingredients in lip balms is the feeling of the very thin, sensitive skin on your lips being irritated and screaming in pain. Dermatologists generally recommend against using lip products with these ingredients because they have the opposite effect of being a balm. A cynic might say irritants are common ingredients in lip balms because they make you want to apply more lip balm.
    that said… mmmm, honey. I hate that my urban dwelling has a shared roofdeck and not one of my own for such experimenting.

  22. Mark–When you render the wax, you can save the leftover slum gum and use it as fire starter. It smells good when it burns. I wrap the gunk in newsprint like a little burrito and tie the paper shut with cotton string.

    Gorgeous honey harvest! It’s so clear and pretty.

  23. Go on, get a centrifugal extractor! My dad had a hand-operated 4-frame one when I was a kid, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. It had a huge bevel gear on the top, and a chunky lever to disconnect the hand-crank from the gear ‘or it would break your arm’.

    Apart from that, it makes the honey much clearer.

  24. Your bees might be ready to swarm – that is break into two colonies – when you see production that is super fast it’s a sign something is going on.

  25. I heard that a lot of queen bees were being shipped without being bred, due to the bad weather/delays. That has resulted in a lot of swarming this year.

    Our local beekeepers association uses The Beginner’s Guide to Beekeeping. It’s a detailed, full-color photo book packed with information. If you have an extension office nearby, it can be a great resource if you are starting up.

  26. There is already a girl band called queen bees in Beijing.

    The name is a vulgar play on words in Chinese.

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