Many beekeepers get into keeping honey bees for the simple purpose of producing honey. The key to success is having healthy productive hives that produce enough honey for themselves and the beekeeper. Once this is accomplished, it is time to learn how to remove honey from a beehive with a minimum of disturbance. This means the honey harvest is sure to bring a lot of excitement and maybe just a bit of nerves.
How Beekeepers Collect Honey from Their Hives
Of course, we want to disrupt the honey bee colony as little as possible. Honestly, the bees will probably not be thrilled about giving up part of their food stores.
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Also, removing the honey crop is about much more than just taking up the boxes. We must consider if their really is an excess of honey stored in the hives.
Bees do Not Produce a Large Honey Crop Every Year
In many areas of the country, beekeepers do not normally get to collect honey from new hives the first season.
Even with supplemental feeding, new colonies may need the whole first season to get into good shape before Winter. On average, it will be the second year before you can enjoy the golden goodness.
How Much Honey Should You Leave Your Bees?
Honey bees survive Winter by consuming honey and generating heat within the bee cluster. Deciding how much honey to leave your bees will depend on where you live?
Those of you in a climate with long Winter months will require more honey stores. Also, some colonies keep a larger population over the Winter and require more honey.
Leaving around 60 pounds of honey for the bees is a general number to start with. Use your climate as a guide. Experienced beekeepers in your region will know how much honey you should leave on the hive.
How Often do You Remove Honey from Your Bees?
Honey is often collected from the hives after a “flow“. This refers to a period of time when the natural world has abundant nectar available.
Beekeepers in some regions may have several small harvests during the season. Other beekeepers have a shorter time when honey production is high. They may only pull honey off the hives once a year.
Most of the honey in my area is made in the Spring. I do not have a true Fall flow where the bees make honey for me to harvest.
When you remove honey depends on your climate. In my area, I only make excess honey during Spring. So, I will take the ripe honey from the hives in late May or Early June. If I am lucky, I may get to pull another batch of honey in late July. This will be Sourwood Honey.
Is the Honey Ready to Take from the Hive?
Each cell of honey is sealed with a wax cap when ripe. In general, honey bees will not cap honey cells until the honey is ripe and ready for storage. This usually happens when the moisture content of honey is about 18.6%
A frame of capped honey is ready to harvest. If only a few open cells are not capped this is okay. But if most of the frame is uncapped, the bees may need a bit longer to finish.
What to do if Your Honey is Not Capped
Can your honey be uncapped and still ripe and ready to take? Yes! I have had some years when the nectar source was abruptly cut short by weather conditions. Once, several days of storms ripped blooms from the trees.
My poor bees had finished the honey making process but they were struggling to cap the full cells. Bees need food in order to produce beeswax. And, they need wax to cap the ripe cells of honey.
In most instances, you should listen to your bees. They will cap the honey when it is ready but you can always test a frame if you are in doubt.
How to Get Bees Out of the Honey Supers
Ok, we have a super of honey that is mostly capped and ready to harvest. But, there’s bees in there! How do we evict the bees from their bounty?
There are several ways to remove bees from the honey supers. None of them involve using a smoker. Smoke causes bees to move away but they take honey with them.
Ways to Remove Bees from Honey Supers
- use bee escapes
- remove bees with a blower
- use a bee brush frame by frame
- use a fume board
If you live in a region with cool nights, you may use “bee escapes” to separate the bees from the honey. This is a one-way gate. The bees leave the super and cannot return.
This does not work in my area because the temps are hot at night and bees remain in the honey supers. They also require opening the hive twice and are not my favorite item.
Also, if you live in an area with Small Hive Beetles you risk them infesting the unguarded honey super.
Using a Bee Blower
Some beekeepers use a leaf blower to blow bees out of the honey supers. They remove the super and stand it on end.
The air from the blower removes the bees. This method is a bit too exciting for me but it works if you need to harvest a lot of boxes. A bit messy for smaller scale beekeepers in my opinion.
A bee brush is a useful tool for many beekeeping activities. If you have just a few boxes, you can remove the box and gently brush the bees from each frame.
Sometimes this works well but the bees do not like it. And remember, we want to avoid using the smoker.
If you want to use your brush, have an extra box with a tight lid nearby. After brushing the bees off a frame you can place it in the tight box.
Fume Board & Liquid
The use of a fume board is the most common method for small scale beekeepers. A liquid is sprayed on the inside of a special top.
The bees move away from the scent, leaving the honey super almost bee free.
This is my way of harvesting. There are several approved liquids that can be used to remove the bees. One works very well but smells like dead things – I do not use it.
Bee suppliers have an almond/cherry scented product the smells great and works almost as well. I would choose either – Bee Quick or Honey B Gone.
My Method of Pulling Honey Supers
Want to learn how to harvest honey the “Beekeeper Charlotte” way? My harvest begins during early morning.
Hopefully, most of the foragers are out working. And remember – no smoke.
My tools are a fume board, liquid and a bee brush. Using the special fume board, spray liquid on the inside of the top. You do not have to use very much.
Gently open the hive, remove the outer cover and inner cover of the hive – set aside.
Now place the fume board (that has been sprayed on top of the first super to be harvested.
You will hear an increased buzzing. In a few minutes (8-10) the majority of the bees will leave the super. It works faster on a sunny day.
When most of the bees are out (you can check by lifting the fume board to peek in), remove the super from the hive and set it on a nearby stand.
Place the inner cover back on the hive to keep the bees inside calm.
Now, I take each frame out of the harvested box. I gently brush off the few bees remaining and place the honey frame in an extra empty super or tight box.
Close up the hive and take your harvest away from the bee yard quickly. You do not want it to attract the attention of other bees! They may take it back…LOL
Next, we need to get the liquid honey out of the comb. Process your honey right away, especially if you live in an area with Small Hive Beetles.
Any beetle eggs in the comb can hatch and destroy your harvest. Do not leave honey sitting around for days.
How to Extract or Process Honey
An extractor is a special piece of equipment used to process honey. Do you have to have one? No? You may choose to use the “Crush and Strain Method” for processing your honey.
Honey extractors come in many configurations and styles. They are available in manual and electric models and hold from 2 frames to 9 frames or more for hobbyist beekeepers.
In “How to Extract Honey“, I cover the details and give some tips on the easiest way to extract your honey crop.
Find Thoughts on How to Remove Honey from a Beehive
As you complete taking your honey harvest from the hives, don’t forget the left over beeswax. Beeswax cappings are valuable and have a lot of potential.
After you clean or process the cappings , they can be used for may beeswax recipes and projects. Collecting honey from bees can be messy but it is a lot of fun.