Extracting raw honey

One of the most common questions I am asked concerns the process of extracting raw honey from our hives. The pictures below hopefully help explain the natural and sympathetic methods used.

Andy Bennett bee apiaryWe start in the apiary with the hives. The box at the bottom is called the ‘Brood Box’, where the queen lives and lays her eggs. This is the only permanent part of the hive. On top of this box are the ‘Supers’; the stronger and larger the colony the more Supers we add. They are shallow boxes, where the worker bees store the honey and are the boxes which we remove and extract the honey from.


honey extracting 1Here my helper is carrying a Super back to the house. They weigh around  20kg when full.







honey extracting supers 2honey extracting 3The far left picture  shows the pile of Supers ready for extraction. The second picture is of the view looking down onto the top of a Super. You can see the frames in position, with one frame laying on top. It is fully ‘capped’, with wax covering over the honey filled cells, indicating that the honey is ripe.





IMG_20150821_105121 honey extracting 4 honey extracting 6

The 3 pictures above show the extraction process. The first stage in extracting the honey from the frame is to remove the wax capping. The first picture is a little misleading as, what looks like a drum is actually a spinning brush. It is used to brush off the wax cappings from the frame, which you can see held under the brush.

The second picture shows the uncapped frame (you can see the honey glistening) being inserted into the extractor: a motor driven centrifugal spinner. The frames sit like the spokes in a wheel. As the wheel spins, the honey simply flies out. The third picture shows the honey draining from the bottom of the extractor into a food grade container.

The honey is now stored until needed. It will then be warmed gently to turn it liquid (as all honey will set in store), before jarring up.

That really is it.

None of the goodness is removed and nothing done to damage the complex structure or subtle make-up of the honey.  Raw honey is a good description and you can find out more about how to buy it here.

Final honey extraction

beekeeping frame It is time for the final honey extraction of the year.

More pictures will follow, but here is the first, showing me checking a ‘super frame’.

This is also the publicity picture I have supplied for this year’s Chelmsford Ideas Festival, where I will be giving my ‘A Year In Beekeeping’ talk.

This frame isn’t ready, as there is no wax capping over the stored honey, meaning that the water content is still too high and the honey would ferment under storage.

Blacksmithing grape vine support

Not all of my blacksmith forge projects are big complicated ones. I also enjoy bringing simpler ideas to life.

blacksmithFor this project I made a simple but elegant support frame for a grape vine. It needed to be strong, and capable of taking the all year weight of the vine. It also provides the shape around which the vine will be trained and pruned.

This picture shows the support, which I painted in zinc rich primer and matt black to give it some extra weather protection.





blacksmithAnd here it is in the pot with the vine. I have pruned the vine to give the 3 main stems to provide the shape. It will take a couple of years before the vine fills out, but already it looks better than in its old home at the end of the garden up against a fruit cage.

The permanent home will be in the citrus area, which you can just see top left.

Hens at home

I don’t think I have included a picture of our free range hens before, so here they are in their scratching bed.

garden hensThere are many benefits from having fresh eggs available at the end of the garden. Perhaps surprisingly, price isn’t one of them, as this is not a cheap way of getting eggs. I’ll explain.

Hens begin laying eggs at around 18-20 weeks of age. In a commercial environment, hens are only kept for about one year, their peak egg laying period, laying perhaps 300-320 eggs.  At this point they are disposed of, which is where ‘rescue hens’ come in. But that’s another post, as I am against this practice. It gives legitimacy to sometimes harsh ‘enriched cage’ commercial egg production methods and spreads often unhealthy, ragged and ‘disturbed’ hens through to an ill-prepared public, who could be buying healthy young birds from professional breeders.

The result of this slick industrialised process is the plentiful supply of cheap eggs. ‘Free Range’ is a positive move, but beware ‘farm fresh’ or similar, it means nothing in welfare terms and may be masking the use of cages.


coloured hens eggsWe buy our hens from specialist breeders we trust. They are mostly more expensive pure breeds, but they are worth the extra cost.  Partly because we are supporting their continued breeding, but also because they lay eggs of different colours, dependent on the breed, from white, to chocolate brown, to blue.

They also lay fewer eggs a year, some only 250 or so, as they have not been over-bred like modern hybrids.

We believe in giving our hens a good life. We feed then an organic diet and keep them until their natural death.  Our oldest hen died at nearly 10 years old and she was still giving us an egg every month or so.

As I think you can now understand, keeping hens the way we do is not a cheap route to a source of fresh eggs. What it is, is an ethical way of keeping hens. Allowing them to roam naturally in a comfortable flock size and giving them the opportunity to live out their days to old age, without counting their financial return.

The also genuinely taste better than supermarket eggs, as the people who buy our ‘excess’ tell us every week.

double yolk egg

And finally, here is what you will very rarely find in a supermarket egg, a double yolk. Once a week or so, something goes slightly wrong with a hen’s egg making process, and it lays an extra large egg, which means a double yolk.

Apart from it being eye watering to lay, the double yolk eggs are always a bonus for us, and another part of making our hens that little bit more special.

Home Food Smoking

The process of smoking food was begun out of simple survival. Meats hung in smoky huts and caves were found to last longer than ‘unpreserved’ meats. This accidental discovery from a smoky fire gave early man a way of saving food in times of plenty, and became a part of the survival of the fittest, or cleverest.

Smoking now offers a way of improving or changing the taste of foods. Unfortunately, this also has led to artificial smoking, where food is dipped or sprayed with artificial smoke flavouring.

A few years ago I saw a programme with Dick Strawbridge ( a bit of a hero of mine, from his Scrapheap Challenge days, through to a number of programmes around sustainable living), where he, and his son James, made a simple smoker from a barrel.  I was then given their ‘smoking’ book last Christmas and I was away.

Following our principles of doing what we can for ourselves, I decided that it really was simple and would give it a go. I started with a ‘hot coal vacuum cleaner extension’ from Aldi (our favourite supermarket, but that’s another post), for my drum, and then made a cold smoking container on my forge, based on a bee smoker. Hey presto, a food smoker was born.

We have some friends visiting from Germany this week, so the smoker came out yesterday in preparation. Smoked food is much better if left for a day or two; it allows the smoke to permeate into the food and become smoother in taste.

I use hard woods for smoker fuel, a by-product of my wood carving, as softwoods contain excess tar that makes the food taste bitter.

smoking salmonStage 1 for wild salmon fillets is to cure in a sugar and salt mix for 6 hours. This pulls out moisture from the fish and begins the curing process.





smoking salmon stage 2Stage 2 and it is loaded into the drum. The fish is going onto the bottom, so that it doesn’t drip onto the cheese and other foods.





smoking cheese and garlicStage 3 and the cheese, eggs and garlic go onto the second shelf.  Note that anything likely to drip is in an aluminium food container.







smokerStage 4 and the separate fire box is alight. As noted above, it is designed to work exactly like my bee smoker, providing cold smoke to the food.





food smoingStage 5  and the smoke is  directed through a tube into the main container and out through a grill (OK, its a tea strainer I bought in a pound shop). This stops any undesirables flying into the food.

As the fire box is quite small I refill it after abut 30 minutes. This gives me a total smoking time of about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. This is much less than some recommend but I find that it is surprising how little smoke is required to give a good smoky taste, against smoking for preservation.


smoked foodhome smoked salmonAnd here they are, the finished smoked products. I won’t go on about how lovely they taste, but just try a couple of cloves of smoked garlic next time you cook, or egg sandwiches with smoked egg mayonnaise.  Delicious.