Friday, October 16, 2015

Honey Press

Correction: I wrote that the newer presses from Woodland Fruit & Wine Press Company will have a stainless pressing plate. According to the company rep, the newer presses have a stainless steel drip tray and basket, but the pressing plate will still be enamelled metal. I apologize for that misunderstanding.

I've done crush & strain harvesting in the past, but the amount of honey that doesn't drain off of the comb has always been a disappointment. This year, I did a bunch of research on honey presses like this one and on the kind used for heather honey (which has to be pressed because it's thixotropic). I actually found a couple of European presses made specifically for honey, but they were more than I wanted to spend. (The cheapest one, with shipping, was about $500. Industrial ones were in the thousands of dollars.) However, I did find some promising fruit presses and requested one for my birthday. My generous DH gave it to me a full month early, though, so that we could use it for this year's honey harvest. :-D

My birthday gift! Thank you, dear!

About the Press
I really wanted a 14L press, but at the time of ordering, nobody (not Amazon, not eBay, nobody) seemed to have one in stock. Plenty of smaller ones were available, but not the larger size I wanted. It was explained to me that this has been a very good apple year, so larger presses just flew off the shelves.

Instead, I ended up buying a 9L one from Woodland Fruit and Wine Press Company. I chose that one because I liked that the container for holding fruit/comb had a bottom with holes punched into it. Woodland's press just looked sturdier than other presses (btw, it is indeed very sturdy), many of which seemed to a bottomless cage for holding fruit. I also liked that the basket and catch plate were made of stainless steel. The press plate that pushes on the fruit is enameled metal, but the salesperson indicated that once they get rid of all the old models (like mine), the new models will have a stainless steel press plate as well. Last but not least, I found their videos helpful, and their salesperson was super nice taking a lot of time answering my questions and providing loads of useful info. My press arrived about 2 days (whee!!!) after I ordered it, so we broke it in immediately by making cider with some apples we had just picked. Sweet! (BTW, I'm not getting paid by Woodland. I just appreciate excellent customer service.)

Even though it isn't the larger model, 9L isn't as small as I thought it would be. It accommodates about 3 or 4 of my combs, maybe even more if I really shove them in there. More importantly, it works pretty well for what I wanted it to do, which is basically squeezing more honey out of the comb. Actually, 9L turned out to be a good size for me because it takes quite a lot of torque getting honey out of that last bit of comb.

Press container filled with 3 combs

The Downside
Overall I'm glad I got this tool, but there are a couple of features that are less than ideal for harvesting honey:
  • The catch pan is too shallow. It's fine for juice which runs out of the pan quite quickly. However, honey is thick and goopy, so you have to stop pressing fairly regularly to make sure that the pan doesn't overflow.
  • The pour spout on the catch pan is too narrow. Again, because of honey's viscosity, it really needs a wider spout so that it can flow out. We overcame this obstacle, though, by propping the back legs of the press on blocks, thereby tilting the spout forward and using gravity to help things along. A curved spatula also encouraged honey out of the pan.
  • The fruit/comb container & catch plate keep sliding around. When we pressed apples, the container stayed put. However, when pressing honey, it kept trying to slide around on us, blocking the catch pan's pour spout. Twisting the press would also cause the catch plate to twist, especially when twisting hard at the end. To get around these issues, one person had to hold the container & catch plate in place (not an easy job) while another turned the press. 
  • Difficult to remove pressed wax. Ironically, one of the reasons I chose this press -- the sturdy bottom of the fruit/honey container -- made it harder to harvest honey. The honey & wax practically glue the container to the press, which makes it very difficult to back the press plate up when done pressing. BTW, honey glues everything together, so when you back the pressing plate up, someone has to push down on the catch plate and the container so they don't come out, too.

    Unless you use some sort of barrier between 1) the comb and bottom of the container and 2) the comb and press plate, good luck trying to remove the pressed wax. You have to pry it off. I tried pressing 3 different ways. Once with the comb in the container (no strainers or anything). Impossible to remove. Twice with different types of barriers. (More on those barriers in a minute.) It was much easier to remove the wax, but the wax didn't come out nearly as dry.

    Also, when the press plate is all the way at its top position, there are some catches that allow you to release the crossbeam that holds the press plate and move it away from the fruit/comb container. However, there is very little clearance between the press plate and container. So unless you have some sort of barrier between the press plate and wax, the wax sticks to the press plate, and you can't move that crossbeam away from the container until you get the wax off. But it's very hard to get the wax off when it's a sold block that's bridging that gap between the press plate and comb container. 
Kids on duty guiding honey out of the catch pan.

Propping the press up lets gravity help out a bit.
Next year, I'd like to build a stand for the press, so I'll have to keep adjustable legs in mind.
The crossbeam is supposed to tilt backward like this,
but it can't when a block of wax is stuck to it.

This is what I mean about the wax sticking to the plate without some sort of divider.
Also, notice the tight clearance.

About those wax barriers... 
When we pressed the second batch of comb, I tried putting the comb in the accessory strainer bag that I bought along with the press. It definitely helped the comb release easier, but the presser plate didn't seem to press it as well. I think the top of the bag was bunching up and creating uneven areas that weren't getting any pressure from the plate.

When we pressed the third batch of comb, we placed the comb in a nylon strainer bag from Brushy Mountain. It also helped the comb release more easily, and it worked well with the presser plate, too. Another nice thing about this bag is that the very fine mesh meant we could skip the step of straining the honey after pressing. (Guess that's why it's called a strainer bag, duh me.) However, quite a bit of honey gets trapped by the bag as well, so the comb wasn't nearly as dry as when no bag was used.

I still plan to continue using some sort of divider because the lost honey is worth the lost pain of trying to release the wax. Also, I feel like even with the bags, I still saved more honey than I would have just by crushing & straining. However, next time, I may try something simpler (i.e., less absorbent/less likely to hold honey in), like a little bit of cheese cloth or butter muslin placed under and on top of the comb.

This comb was pressed without a bag around it. It's quite dry.
Sorry this isn't a great photo. This comb was pressed inside the Brushy Mountain strainer bag.
A lot of honey left on the outside of the wax, but the inside is pretty dry like wax in the previous photo.

Comparison with crush & strain
Even with its PITA features, I prefer the press to crush & strain. For people who love tables like I do, here is a quick comparison of methods.

Crush & Strain
Fruit/Honey Press
Ease There is nothing easier than crush & strain. All you need are the most basic tools. I know someone who crushes comb with his top bars.

The only thing I've found to be burdensome is not having a container big enough to strain all my comb at once (i.e., a bucket-sized strainer). All I have is some filters that fit on top of my honey bucket, which don't really hold all of my comb very well.
While not hard work, you definitely get a workout in your arms and back turning the press and trying to keep that blasted container & catchpan still. Admittedly, I'm a wimp, but I was a little sore the next day.

It's really fun, though, to see all of the honey come gushing out. The entertainment value of that alone is totally worth the burn in my arms.
Time Crushing honey takes only a few minutes. However, it takes several days to let it strain, and you have to remember to stir it up periodically to move honey around so that it can drop out of the strainer.

Also, when honey is uncapped, it absorbs moisture, so if it sits in the bucket too long, it can spoil (or pick up enough moisture that it spoils later). If you live in a humid environment like me, you might even have to run a dehumidifier while it strains, which means checking on the drip pan for that, too.
A press requires a definite time committment. You can't walk away like you do when crushing & straining. We started pressing 10 combs about 3:00 in the afternoon, and we finished around 9:00 pm.

Of course, that's not a real time estimate since I was distracted by things like people stopping over, making snacks & food, cleaning floors and knobs, etc. Plus, I had kids helping, which always adds a considerable amount of time to any task. But even if I subtract a couple of hours for distractions and "helpers," it was still a big chunk of my day.

On the other hand, when you're done pressing, it only takes a couple of minutes to strain the honey (unless you press it in a straining bag), and you're done. There's no waiting for days afterward. (You might wait overnight for any foam to rise, but the honey doesn't have to sit around for days on end.)
Efficiency I guess it depends on how one measures efficiency. For me, it's measured in terms of how dry the comb is after the honey has been harvested. I feel like there is always too much honey left over with this method. The comb is pretty dry when it comes out of the press, much drier than it ends up using the crush & strain method.

(See my notes above though about the downside of this press and using a wax barrier.)
Clean-up Crushing honey, doesn't make too much of a mess, I think, if you crush it in a bucket and pour that directly into a strainer.

Except for the fact that you have a bucket of honey sitting around for days after crushing, the clean-up is pretty easy, too.
Even though I put towels down under the press, it was still a messy business. (Note to self, next time, put down a tarp or something that covers the entire floor.)

I tried to stay on top of things by periodically wiping everything down -- the press, the floor, cabinet handles, door knobs, etc., but there was oh-so-much sticky everywhere anyway. (This situation was not helped by my kindergartner waving spoons full of honey in the air. If you don't have a 5-year old, you may have a tidier experience than I did.)

However, cleaning up the press isn't so hard. The container went into the dishwasher, and I washed the catch plate by hand. The rest of the press went outside for a hose-down followed by some thorough wiping.

Have you ever used a press for harvesting honey? What are your tips or thoughts?


  1. Great write up! It's good that you had a couple of iterations to figure out what works best. I like the idea of a couple of barriers (one on top, one on the bottom). Can you wrap a strainer around the press plate, or is the fit with the sides too tight? I wonder if you could use the nylon strainer on the bottom, cut so it wouldn't bunch up under the plate (maybe 3" up the sides) and use the cheesecloth on top. I use paint strainers which you can get at Ace in packs of 3 - it would be interesting to see how the mesh on those compares to the Brushy Mtn one. They are cheap, so cutting one wouldn't feel so bad. Cheesecloth on the bottom might not filter as much as you'd like.

    I never thought about the moisture getting into the honey when I crush and strain since I live in such a dry environment, but that's something to think about. Maybe I need to get a refractometer to compare the first honey that comes out with the honey after a couple of days of straining. The real key is to eat up all the honey as soon as possible afterwards before it can go bad. ;-)

    So, now you have honey and apple juice - time to make cyser! (First google hit: Enjoy your harvest!

    1. Once again, you've proven yourself to be a creative problem solver!!! I <3 <3 <3 the idea of wrapping a strainer around the pressing plate. There's definitely more than enough clearance around the sides, and it would be nice to have one less thing to remove between pressings.

      You've actually given me another idea as well -- I'm handy enough with a needle and thread to sew a customized bag to fit in the basket. Elastic could hold it snugly in place. Then I wouldn't have to deal with taking wax out of a messy bag with every new batch. Will have to run down to Ace for some paint bags. (Again, awesome tip! Thank you!)

      While beekeeping is a gateway hobby, I have to draw the line and say no, no, no on the question of meadmaking. (Though I'll still happily drink it!) I have too much to do already, and I'm too busy eating my honey as soon as possible so it doesn't spoil. LOL!


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!