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For beekeepers, the approaching time of the honey harvest is filled with much excitement. After all, this is what you (and your bees) have been working for all year. But, beyond the buzzing frenzy in the bee yard, there is another component to the harvest you must consider: a honey house. While legal requirements may mandate it’s existence in some cases – not every beekeeper needs one. If you are not ready for a dedicated bee honey house yet – you still need a processing area with some of the same requirements.
Bee Honey Houses: Form and Function
Before deciding whether or not you need a honey house, we need to understand what one really is? In general, this beekeeping term refers to a special “place” where the harvest from the hives is “worked up”.
Honey supers full of ripe honey are brought to this interior room awaiting processing. Then, using a honey extractor, the beekeeper removes liquid honey from the comb.
Or, the old “crush and strain” method may be used. Where honeycomb is crushed and placed in a filter bag to allow liquid to drain out into a bucket.
Once, the honey processing is done (by either method), the honey house can be used as a place to properly label and bottle your jars.
A Separate Building?
Is a honey house a real house – separate from your home? No, it does not have to be. You may have an extra room in your home that is not used for everyday traffic. Maybe you can dedicate it to processing honey for a few days. But, be prepared for a mess – it is sticky business.
However, beekeepers often do build or buy a building especially for honey extraction. The small storage buildings that you see for sale are good options. Electricity and plumbing can be added to make these structures comfortable and useable.
Does Every Beekeeper Need One?
No, it is not necessary for every beekeeper to have a separate honey house (or dedicated room). However, if you sell honey to the public – your state may require you to have one that is registered and inspected.
In some cases, homeowners have fitted a rarely used room in their home to serve as their processing area.
This too can work as long as it is out of everyday foot traffic and meets the requirements of the state (if needed). Check with the local beekeeping associations in your area – they should know the state’s requirements.
For a large majority of beekeepers (even those that do not sell product), having a honey house is a big advantage. Extraction is a messing job. You will drop bits of wax on the floor.
Also, when using an electric extractor, a fine sticky mist gets in the air and everything seems sticky. So, having a special house or room is not always a requirement but it sure is a perk!
Can You Use Your Own Kitchen to Extract Honey?
If you are planning to use your honey for the family only, yes you can probably get by using your home kitchen.
But, once you have spent the next 5 months finding small bits of wax stuck to the floor – the expensive of making a honey house seems more affordable than before.
For the backyard beekeeper with a couple of hives, I understand your feelings that the investment for a special building is too much.
But for heavens sake, make sure you have plenty of drop cloths to put down – and do not pour honey/wax water down the sink!
Honey House Requirements
So, what do you need to do to make your own honey house. Let’s cover the most minimal requirements for the ease of the beekeeper.
Beyond that – contact your state department of agriculture to see if there are more requirements in your state.
These can include but are not limited to: proper sink and hot water, lights with covers in case of breakage, washable floors, walls, ceilings, cleaning supplies locked away etc.
Simple items that every honey processing area should have:
- bee-tight space
- access to hot water
- sink to clean utensils
- adequate lighting
- tables and storage
- various tools and supplies (Clean buckets with tight fitting lids, cloth rags for clean up, extraction tools etc.)
Bee Free Work Space
Your work space must be “bee-tight” or those little darlings will attempt to reclaim their bounty. Doors, windows, etc. must be screened and tight fitting enough to keep them out.
Because of this, having a fan or small air conditioner is money well spent. The room needs to be warm for honey extraction but the beekeeper must survive too.
Even if you do not require a state inspection, trying to process honey in the garage is not a good idea.
If the weather is warm enough to do the job right, you will soon have thousands of flying visitors – keep it inside.
Clean Hot Water
Cleanliness is important. You want a sanitary space to work. Extracting honey is a messy job – no matter how careful you are. A water source is a must. You may get by with some buckets of water or a hose.
However, it is worth the expense to purchase a small tankless water heater. This makes clean up so much easier – thank goodness honey is water soluble.
Easy to Clean Sink
Most regulations require that you have a sink large enough to wash your largest container. A sink big enough to lay a 5 gallon bucket down in is usually sufficient. I used a plastic laundry tub (similar to this) for years.
A used stainless steel sink can often be found for sale on local craigslist or at a restaurant supply. It is not always a necessity but makes clean up so much easier. It also gives you a spot to temporarily sit sticky containers etc.
If you decide to fit out a purchased building or shed for your honey house, lighting is an important consideration.
You may need the help of a licensed electrician to add good lights and a few electric outlets. Sometimes, you can purchase a storage building that is already wired – that’s what I did.
Sturdy Tables and Furniture
Honey is heavy. A 5 gallon bucket of honey can easily weigh over 60#. Likewise, full supers are heavy.
A strong table is necessary to safely work up your boxes. It will also save your back after working in there for a few hours – less bending.
Optional Accessories for Your Honey House
The method you use to extract or process your honey determines which tools you need. Some people will use a manual or electric extractor – others will not. But, these are some items that make life in the honey house much easier.
- strong fan
- black out sheets for windows
A strong fan with adjustable height is a big plus during honey processing It helps cool the beekeeper.
It can also be used to “dry” honey that make be on the border line for moisture content. Buy a refractometer– it is a a valuable tool that every beekeeper needs. If the water content of your honey is too high it will spoil!
A dehumidifier is one of those appliances that you don’t have to have. However, it is so useful – especially to beekeepers that live in regions with Small Hive Beetles (SHB).
Harvested honey supers can have some tiny beetle eggs in the box – even if you don’t see any adult beetles.
Many a beekeeper has delayed extracting honey supers for 5-6 days only to find them infested with beetle larva. Imagine – the total harvest ruined!
But, a dehumidifier set on a low setting can keep the humidity in the room low. This helps dry out honey that may have an elevated water content. But, it also, prevents SHB eggs from hatching – giving the beekeeper a few extra days.
I no longer bother with window coverings. However, in my early years of beekeeping I always ended up with too many bees in the honey house.
It was rather confusing. Those bees wanted out – I wanted them out. Outside bees wanted in – it was a mess. My building had 2 windows and a small window in the door.
By covering the windows from the inside with black material, the inside bees flew towards the tiny window in the door. I could open the door and swoosh them out quickly.
Personalize Your Beekeeper Shed
A honey house is not something you have to acquire your first year or so. However, if you plan to sell honey, you may wish to have the maximum number of beehives that you can manage. In this case, – you should consider making a dedicated space.
In addition to a safe, clean place to extract and bottle honey, it is also a great place to store clean supplies.
Best of all, beyond any state regulations that you must comply with, you can personalize it to fit your beekeeping style.
It becomes a little “beekeepers haven” when you want to get away from everyone – “don’t come down here – there might be bees around ;).