A honey house is a sanitary space where beekeepers process their honey harvest. Also, beekeepers use honey houses for other beekeeping purposes that occur away from the apiary, such as:
- Rendering beeswax;
- Handling pollen and propolis; and,
- Assembling, repairing, and storing equipment.
Backyard beekeepers with only a few hives typically use their kitchen or another clean home area as their “honey house.” With a larger apiary, a dedicated structure may be a more suitable honey house.
Sideliners and commercial beekeepers should check local regulations regarding the sale of honey. Commercial activity may require a honey house with mandatory specifications, similar to those for a commercial kitchen.
Why Use A Honey House?
Processing honey outdoors is an open invitation for every bee, yellow jacket, and other insect attracted by the scent. Being swarmed by insects is not conducive to extracting and packaging honey cleanly.
Your goal is to get the harvest into an enclosed space, i.e., the honey house, with a few bee stragglers as possible. Zero bees are ideal but not always possible.
Hobbyist In-Home Honey House
I think even backyard beekeepers with just a couple of hives would love to have a dedicated honey house. For most hobbyists, though, a separate honey house is not necessary, not feasible, and not worth the expense. A clean location in the home usually serves as a part-time, temporary honey house.
When choosing a honey processing space in your house, consider factors such as:
- Processing honey can be a sticky endeavor. Think about the need to clean surfaces in the room.
- Does the room have access to hot and cold water? Clean up is a lot easier with water handy.
- How much space do you need? If you only have a couple of supers and no mechanical extractor, you won’t need much room.
- How long will your processing take? Tying up the kitchen for several days may not endear you to the rest of the family. Maybe a different room is a better option.
- How accessible is the location? You can walk your supers right into the garage. Carrying those same boxes full of honey frames downstairs to the basement may be difficult.
With some preparations, you can keep your in-home honey house from getting too sticky. Here are some of the steps we take to minimize clean-up:
- Keep doors and windows closed to exclude those hungry bees.
- Baking sheets under supers catch dripping honey. We capture as much of that honey as possible, and the sheet washes easily in the sink, except if they collect wax (see our note below).
- Plastic drop cloths help keep honey off the floor. Newspaper or other drop cloths can work just as well.
- Extracted frames still drip some honey. Put them in a container to keep honey off the floor. Take the container and wet supers out to the apiary. The bees will clean them off.
- Have paper towels or rags handy.
- Working near the sink makes it easy to wash the honey off our hands and equipment. NOTE: Do not flush wax down your drain. Wax can harden and clog your pipes. If you need to wash off wax, do it outside.
Our Kitchen Is Our Honey House
Our easily accessible kitchen is the ideal room to serve as a honey house. With hot water and hard surfaces, clean-up is relatively easy.
Our honey extraction methods do not require a lot of equipment. We cut comb honey and get liquid honey by crush and strain methods.
Without a mechanical extractor, our largest “tool” is a food grade honey pail with a honey gate. Space is not an issue.
Figure out what works best for you and your household.
Dedicated Honey House Structure
If your apiary gets large enough, using a room temporarily in your house may not be suitable. Or maybe you are still a hobbyist but are ready for a dedicated honey house to make things easier.
There are general considerations in planning a honey house, such as:
- Budgeting constraints;
- Space needs that account for future changes, all desired uses, and workflow;
- Zoning regulations and building codes;
- Availability of water;
- Accessibility; and,
- Your neighbors, among others.
Honey is a food product and, as such, is subject to food safety regulation by local, state, and Federal governments. If your honey house is for commercial purposes, understand those specific requirements.
Honey may qualify under less stringent food safety laws, often called cottage food laws, that apply to small producers of low-risk foods. These laws allow the use of “appliances in their homes to bake, cook, can, pickle, dry or candy certain low-risk foods for sale. By contrast, state laws require all other food producers to process foods in licensed kitchens.”[i]
See the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services’ publication Cottage Food Operations for an example of cottage food guidelines.
Some of the food safety requirements for a dedicated honey house may include:
- Blocking access by pets, other animals, and pests;
- Bee and wasp exclusion;
- Access to hot and cold potable water from a public source or a regularly tested private well;
- Proper drainage;
- Smooth, easy to clean surfaces;
- Separate areas for honey processing and other activities such as wax rendering;
- Adequate electrical supply; and,
- Handwashing stations.
The Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturist’s brochure Honey House And Equipment Layouts is a detailed guide that can help you plan.
I also recommend viewing Kim Flottum’s YouTube video “Setting up the Honey House” below.
Kim Flottum has an excellent suggestion for beekeepers thinking about their first honey house. Visit some operators in your area. Check their setups and ask questions. These visits can be beneficial.
Whether you are a backyard beekeeper or a large commercial operation, you need a clean, enclosed space to process honey.
Hobbyists can set up a temporary location in their homes. As your apiary grows, a dedicated honey house may become necessary. For commercial beekeepers, a honey house compliant with food safety regulations is imperative.
If you are considering your own honey house, take the time to plan carefully.