Harvesting from top bar hive bodies
Whether you are harvesting honey from standard Warre hive bodies or from octagonal hive bodies, the procedure is the same. First, you'll place the box on its side on a piece of paper. If you can get blank newsprint on small rolls from your local newspaper's printing center, that works very well because you wont have the problem of ink getting on you, as well as on the floor, hive body, etc.. Use your hive tool to scrape the propolis from the top bars and allow it to collect on the paper. Propolis can be saved and used for several purposes, but regardless of whether or not you plan to keep it, we need to get the bulk of it out of the way before we start processing, or it will end up in the honey strainer with the wax comb.
After the propolis has been removed from the top bars, place the box upside down and cut each comb loose from the sides. Shown here, I am using a serrated bread knife to do this, but the flat end of a frame lifter hive tool works even better.
Note that you can see where there were box-to-box connections that were broken when this super was removed from the hive. You can also see how the bees cleaned everything up for us while the bee escape board was in place.
After you have cut the combs loose from the side of the box, turn the box back over and use your hive tool to pry loose one of the top bars. Again, a frame lifter hive tool is excellent for this job, since the lever-end can easily pull the bar straight up and loose from the box.
Then, carefully remove the top bar with the comb attached.
Use your hive tool to cut the comb from the top bar and into the top bucket of the strainer.
Cut the comb into several pieces as you do this.
Scrape the top bar down to the wood on each side of the comb guide.
As you continue to remove top bars with combs and place the combs into the strainer, keep track of which top bar goes where so that you can reinstall them when you're finished. In the photo below, you can see that some of the brads that were securing the top bars have remained in the box, while others have remained with the top bars. Unless you want to reinstall the top bars using all new brads, you do not need to remove any of the old ones. Simply pressing the top bars back into place using the existing brads will extend the life of the equipment and will retain the bars well enough for normal use. If, in the future, you need to install a package of bees into this hive body, you will want to secure the top bars with all new brads.
This method of honey harvesting is very frequently referred to as "Crush and strain", but I prefer to use the more accurate term of "Cut and strain". The idea is to pulverize the comb and leave nowhere for honey to be trapped. You want to cut the comb rather than crush it. Crushing the comb (say, with a potato masher) will cause wax to be forced down into the holes in the bottom of the bucket; plugging some of them and slowing down the straining process.
Once you have placed a few combs into the strainer, use a bread knife to slice and pulverize them until they have a consistency that is similar to oatmeal. Cutting up the combs before they get too deep in the bucket will make things easier for you and, again, using the bread knife prevents damage to the equipment due to its rounded tip. Once you have cut up the first few combs, continue adding more of them to the strainer and repeat.
Note that the bottom bucket is where the strainer is located. A cut-out lid is used to support the upper bucket, allowing the honey to flow through the strainer and into the the bottom (bottling) bucket.
Nearly all of the wax will remain in the top bucket as the honey flows and/or drips into the bottom bucket, where it will soon be ready for bottling.
How long it takes for all of the honey to flow from the upper bucket into the lower one depends on several factors including; the moisture content of the honey (how thick it is), temperature (you can speed things up by placing the strainer/bottler in the sun) and how often you stir the honey/wax mixture in the upper bucket. Usually, the majority of the honey will flow into the bottom bucket within 48 hours as long as you stir it 2 or 3 times. A small amount of honey will remain in the wax after this time and you may have to stir the mixture several times over the course of a few days to get the rest of it. You can tell basically how much honey is still trapped in the wax by lifting the upper bucket slightly to get an idea of how much it weighs. Honey is quite heavy, while wax is very light. As the honey fills the bottom bucket, small impurities will float to the surface. You can begin bottling your honey anytime after the first 24 hours. As long as the humidity in your home is controlled to a level of 40% or less, it will not hurt anything if you leave the honey in the strainer longer than that. However, if the humidity in your home is high (you don't use A/C), you should definitely begin bottling after only 24 hours to prevent the honey from absorbing moisture from the air. If you are able to air condition your home during honey processing, it is highly recommended that you do so.
Now that you have removed all of the combs from the hive body and placed them into the strainer, press the top bars back into place. There is no need to wash anything.
Once the top bars have been reinstalled, it's time to let the bees to do the clean-up for us before we store the box(es) away for the winter. Do this by placing it (or them) back on the hive(s) for 24 hours, or by simply open feeding. If you have multiple hives, we recommend open feeding in order to help prevent robbing. Just be sure to place the equipment far away from any of your hives. The bees will work feverishly to have your equipment clean in no time. If it gets dark before they are done or if the weather is bad, give them more time. When they pay little or no attention to it during fine weather, clean-up is complete and the equipment can be stored away.
After nearly all of the honey has been strained from the cut-up combs, the wax can be melted down and used for making many different products.
An upper bucket that is filled with cut-up honeycomb will pretty much equate to a lower bucket full of honey ready for bottling. The wax occupies only very little space.
Ahh... the sweet reward!