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So now you have reached the goal line
You have a beehive that has enough honey to last the winter bees all winter long AND there is a honey super the bees have been kind enough to fill with honey for your taking.
But all at once you realize there is more to harvesting this delectable gold than you had thought about.
This article will lead you through all the steps of harvesting from “how do I get the bees off the honey frames so I can remove them from the hive for harvesting” to the end product of that golden honey in a Mason jar.
We will discuss all the different options to extract the honey from the full honey super frames to the unframed honeycomb when bees are allowed to build honeycomb without influence from the beekeeper.
What are the steps of harvesting honey?
- Remove the bees from the honeycomb to be harvested.
- Transport the honeycomb to an extraction site.
- Choose the appropriate extraction technique for that type of honeycomb.
- Filter the extracted honey to the desired appearance.
- If possible, replace the extracted honeycomb for the bees to fill with honey again.
Be sure the entire frame of honeycomb is capped honey cells.
Uncapped honey is not dehydrated to pure honey yet and the moisture content of the uncapped honey can ferment.
The above steps are the basic steps for harvesting honey regardless of the type of beehive, honeycomb foundation, or lack of any honeycomb support foundation philosophies used by the beekeeper.
Honey bees do not recognize the action of honey harvesting as something detrimental to the beehive, therefore they become no more excitable than they would become at a normal hive inspection unless the beekeeper is using a chemical bee repellent to drive the bees off the targeted honeycomb to be harvested.
However, move as quickly as possible to remove the honeycomb to be extracted from the donor hive.
Exposed honeycomb will attract bees, both from the hive being harvested as well as Robber Bees from surrounding feral and attended hives.
It only takes a robber bee about 5 minutes to relay the information to other foraging bees from the Robber Bee’s hive and then all hell can break loose.
The hive bees of the hive being harvested will quickly turn aggressive with the presence of Robber Bees, so work as quickly as possible at removing the honeycomb to be harvested and get it into the transportation box!
And make SURE there is a lit and functioning smoker ready to be pressed into action as needed
What is the best way to get the bees off the honeycomb I wish to harvest?
The safe and easy way to remove bees from honeycomb to harvest is with the use of an escape board or an escape porter.
This technique takes about 24 hours for bees to vacate the honey super but allows for quick easy removal of honeycomb.
Using the bee escape board is an easy setup and does not irritate the bees.
The downside is the beekeeper needs to make certain that there is no way for robber bees to enter the honey super through small holes or gaps over the 24 hour period it takes the honeybees exit the honey super.
See beehive escape board on Amazon…..
The hive guard bees, once out of the honey super, have no way of protecting the honey from robber bees if they gain access to the honey super.
Many beekeepers use tape to seal all outside holes and seams just to be safe.
An alternative to purchasing an escape board is to use an escape porter.
Remember that strange oblong slot in the top of the hive cover board?
There is a piece of equipment that fits snuggly into that oblong opening and performing the same function as an escape board. It is called an escape porter.
This bee escape porter allows the bees to exit through this bee escape into the lower boxes of the hive but prevents the bees to return to the honey super. It is a “one-way” passage out of the honey super.
See beehive escape porter on Amazon…..
Impatient beekeepers can accomplish this same goal of honeybee removal from the honeycomb and harvest the bee-free honeycomb within several minutes by using bee repellent on a fume board to drive the bees out of the honey super very quickly.
What is the quickest way to get bees off the honeycomb I wish to harvest?
- Use a fume board with bee repellent.
- Use a bee brush to remove any remaining bees on the honeycomb.
- Use an assistant to prevent bees from entering the transportation container.
The quickest way to get honeybees off the honeycomb the beekeeper wants to harvest is with the use of a honeybee repellant, the use of a bee brush, and an assistant to decrease the amount of time the transportation container is open to receive the bee-free honey frames and prevent bees from entering the transportation container.
The big downside to using bee repellent to drive the bees off the targeted honeycomb to harvest is the irritation it causes for the honeybees. They really hate this stuff!
An irritable bee is a bee that is prone to aggression, so the beekeeper is at a much bigger risk of being attacked.
Add to that, if the beekeeper is not fast with the harvest, the harvesting will attract robber bees, and that makes for a very dangerous situation for the beekeeper.
Never try to harvest honey without having a lit, functioning smoker within easy reach!
Read my post on Robber Bees…..
Another downside to using bee repellent on fume boards is the use of some pretty smelly, sometimes toxic chemicals.
Plus, once the beekeeper has decided to use a fume board and repellent, they are committed to completing the harvest before they leave the hive.
Unlike the bee-free honeycomb using the escape board or escape porter, the fume board technique will result in a few bees remaining on the honeycombs being transferred to the transportation container.
The beekeeper will remove the honeycomb frame and brush off the few remaining bees on the honeycomb with the bee brush.
The beekeeper’s assistant will quickly slide open the lid of the transportation box allowing the beekeeper to insert the bee-free honeycomb frame into the transportation box, and quickly close the transportation container’s lid before any bees can enter (and they will be attracted to the honeycomb frames in the transportation container).
This operation must be as quick as possible because within about 5 minutes there would normally be robber bees showing up trying to steal the honey.
Read my post about Robber Bees…..
How do I use a Fume Board to remove bees from honeycomb?
- Spray the inside of the fume board with a bee repellent.
- Place the fume board on top of the honey super.
- Wait about 10 minutes
- Remove the honey super from the hive tower and set it on a flat solid surface.
- Place a flat slidable board on top of the honey super.
The honeycomb frames are now ready to transfer to the transportation box.
Fume boards are easily constructed.
They are simply a flat thin sheet of metal, the same size as the honey super, with material attached to one side of the metal. The material can be a simple as old newspapers or as fancy as felt material.
The other side of the metal sheet is painted black so the sun will heat it, making the bee repellent more effective.
Next, add a ram around the entire edge of the board, on the side with the material, about an inch or two in height. It will line up with the top edges of the honey super. These rams keep the bee repellent felt material slightly above the top of the honey frames.
Spray the material with the bee repellent.
Placed the sprayed fume board on top of the honey super which is still on top of the hive.
In about 10 minutes most of the honeybees will have moved lower into the hive and the honey super will be nearly bee-free.
Remove the honey super from the vertical hive and set it on steady a flat board.
Remove the fume board and replace it with a flat board that can easily be slid open and closed.
Replace the inner cover and hive lid back on top of the beehive.
The beekeeper is now ready to transfer the honeycomb frames from the honey super into the transportation box.
Fume boards are the easy way to go if a beekeeper is a DIY kind of person, but a simple solution is to cut a cardboard template to fit the top of the honey super, spray the cardboard template with the bee repellent, place the homemade fume template on top of the honey super (fume side down), and set the hive lid back on top of the newly made fume cardboard template.
The concept remains the same but instead of placing the fume board and escape boards horizontal on top of the vertical hives, the fume board and escape board are placed in the horizontal hive vertically with the intended harvestable honeycomb situated between the fume board and escape board.
So what about the impatient beekeeper that wants honey, and they want it NOW!
To get the bees out of the super quickly there are three products that can do that.
Bee-Quick by Fischer
This product is easy on the beekeeper’s sense of smell. It pleasantly has a hint of almond smell but the bees hate it!
Bee Quick is non-toxic.
Check out Fischer’s Bee Quick on Amazon…..
This product is NOT easy on the olfactory sense and is very offensive to the nose, even if it is from a fume board that has been put in the trash several yards away.
You will learn to HATE this smell, and so will your neighbors.
Plus it is an acid and can do damage to a beekeeper’s eyes should some be slashed into the eye accidentally.
This product is a kind of middle ground between Bee Quick and Bee Go.
It could be considered the abridged version of Bee Go. It is still made with the same acid
The product of your choice is then applied to one side something called a “fume board”. A fume board is simply a piece of cardboard box that is cut to the same size of the super the beekeeper is intending to harvest.
This fume board is then placed (fume side down) over the top of the honey super driving the bees to the bottom of the hive to get away from the smell.
The importance of driving bees off the honeycomb to be harvested:
Big commercial beekeeping operations won’t really care if there are a few bees left on the honeycomb they intend to harvest because they have a “Honey House” where all the extraction takes place in an area that is not adjacent to their homes.
Most beekeepers are not fortunate enough to have a “honey harvesting house” and are required to extract the harvested honeycomb in their garage or kitchen.
And no one wants to find an exasperated honeybee in their bedroom as they are exiting the shower naked.
So it is important to this type beekeeper to make sure all the bees are left at the beehive, not in their homes where their family live
The easiest and best way to make sure there are no bees on the honeycomb being transported for honey extraction is to drive all the bees off the honeycomb before transferring the honeycomb to the transportation container.
This is best accomplished using the escape board or escape porter technique.
What is a honey harvesting transportation container?
A honey harvesting transportation container is an empty beehive box sitting on a flat board with a flat slidable board on top.
Honeycomb frames are moved from the beehive to the transportation container and taken to where the honey will be harvested.
What materials do I need to make a honeycomb transportation container?
- A couple of cargo straps.
- Two flat pieces of plywood slightly larger than the transportation container.
- An empty hive super that matches the frame size being harvested.
The honey harvesting transportation container can be set up while the beekeeper is waiting for the bee repellent to drive the bees off the honeycomb frames targeted for harvest.
First, lay down a couple of the cargo straps on a level surface.
See cargo straps on Amazon…..
Second, sit one of the flat boards on top of the two cargo straps.
Arrange the cargo straps about 25% away from the back and front of the transportation container’s bottom board. This will add good stability as the beekeeper loads the transportation container into the car or truck.
Third, sit the empty hive box on top of the bottom board so that the bottom board sides are slightly showing under the empty hive box.
Fourth, sit the second flat slidable board on top of the empty hive box
When all the honeycomb frames to be harvested are in the transportation container, ratchet the cargo straps tight so none of the transportation container parts will slide while being handled.
What are the steps to move honeycomb frames into transportation containers?
- The beekeeper replaces the hive lid and inner cover with a flat slidable board.
- The beekeeper quickly slides back the top cover, removes a honeycomb frame, and slides the cover to the honey super closed again.
- The beekeeper then brushes off any bees remaining on the honeycomb using a bee brush
- The beekeeper’s assistant quickly opens the transportation container by retracting the slidable cover board to allow the insertion of the bee-free honeycomb frame into the transportation container.
- The assistant closes this cover lid as soon as the honeycomb is inserted into the transportation container.
Getting the honeycomb frames targeted for harvest from the honey super to the transportation container bee-free is a two-man job. Those honey bees are really fast!
See bee brush on Amazon…..
The impatient beekeeper using bee repellent to rid the honeycomb of bees will always have some bees on the honeycomb that will require being brushed away for a bee-free transportation container.
Using the longer technique of bee escape boards or escape porters should be totally bee-free in 24 hours but some beekeepers recommend waiting three days.
And the honeycomb does not need to be harvested in 24 hours, it can wait until later, as long as the beekeeper has sealed any potential ways for robber bees to enter the bee-free super.
Failure to adequately seal the escape board technique can result in a total loss of all the honey in the targeted honeycomb!
What is the best time of day to harvest honey?
- Mid-day is the best time to harvest honey from a beehive.
- At mid-day, all the foraging bees of the hive are out of the hive and working the fields of flowers.
- Mid-day is the best time to anything at the hive, including inspections.
So now that the honeycomb has reached its destination for extraction, bee-free, how is the beekeeper going to extract the honey from the honeycomb?
What techniques can I use to harvest honey?
There are three ways to harvest honey:
- Extract the honey using a centrifugal extractor.
- Extract the honey from the honeycomb using the crushing technique.
- Harvest the honey by retaining the honey in the honeycomb.
How the beekeeper harvests honey is largely dependent on the beekeeper’s philosophy, and that was determined by what type beehive the beekeeper chooses and the type of honeycomb that type hive and the beekeeper’s philosophy encourage the honeybees to build.
Centrifugal Extraction Technique
What equipment will I need:
- Uncapping tub
- Uncapping tool
- Honey Jars
Uncapping tubs comes in a variety of sizes, complexity, and costs but the function is the same regardless of the size, complexity or cost and is used in almost every honey harvesting technique
The function of an uncapping tub is to provide a receptacle to gather the honey drippings and wax caps as the wax caps are removed from the honeycomb before placing the frame inside the centrifuge to extract the honey.
The simplest of the uncapping tubs will be a plastic tub about 24” x 16” and about 16” deep. This size container will accommodate up to 10 frames of honeycomb.
The uncapping tub will have a flow valve located at the front/bottom of the tub to allow drainage of the honey in the tub.
See the simplest uncapping tub on Amazon…..
Many DIY beekeepers make this uncapping tub with components easily purchased from any home improvement center.
Most beekeepers simple balance the honeycomb frame on the edge or corner of the uncapping tub and keep the frame vertical to tilting slightly forward.
From this position, they begin uncapping one side of the honeycomb frame and then turn the frame around and uncap the other side of the frame. The frame is now ready to place in the centrifuge.
There are a number of uncapping tools on the market as well.
The function of the uncapping tool is to remove the wax cappings of the honey cell so the honey will flow out of the honey cells as the centrifuge spins the honeycomb around.
Removing the wax cap from honey cells is essential if the beekeeper is using a centrifuge to extract the honey from the honeycomb.
Manual tools, although a plethora of designs, still center around the technique of “scraping” the wap caps off the honeycomb cells.
Manual uncapping tools vary in effectiveness but most require significant time to individually open those honey cells that were not opened with the “scraping”.
See this scraping tool on Amazon…..
The most efficient uncapping tool is the heated electric Honey Uncapping Knife.
It slices off the thinnest of layer of the wax capping by using the two sides of the honeycomb frame as a blade support and the trimming of the wax caps drops into the uncapping tub.
Normally honeybees build the honeycomb out past the frame walls so there should be no need to open individual cells, a huge time saver!
See Heated Electric Uncapping Knife on Amazon…..
Centrifuges come in two categories:
- Manual Power
- Electrical Power
Manual power centrifuge
Manual power centrifuge is exactly what its name states.
It is manual.
That means someone needs to crank the handle to make the centrifuge spin and extract the honey.
And remember, the honeycomb will need to be extracted from both sides. That means two manual spin-ups of the manual extractor to harvest the number of frames the extractor will hold.
That could be a lot of cranking!
The best bang for your buck is a manual centrifuge that will extract up to four frames of honey at a time. Most honey harvests will yield at least three or four frames even for the smallest of beekeeping operations.
See Manual Centrifuge on Amazon…..
Make sure the honey extractor you choose will accommodate the frame size that is being extracted.
Electric Power Centrifuge
Electrical power centrifuges are the dream of every beekeeping when harvesting with a manual extractor, especially after a few honey frames for harvesting.
The cost factor is about twice that of a manual extractor but most beekeepers know a least one other beekeeper, so splitting the cost of an electrical centrifuge is about the same as each beekeeper buying a manual extractor.
Many beekeeping groups purchase a good electrical honey extractor and just sign up for dates and times they wish to use the equipment.
See an Electrical Power Honey Extractor on Amazon…..
Honey Container Jars
Most beekeepers prefer to store the harvested honey in one pint Mason jars.
They are the perfect size for daily use and the wide mouth of the jar makes the honey easily accessible with a spoon.
The best bang for the buck is to purchase one-pint Mason jars. in quantities of four dozen or more.
See one-pint Mason jars on Amazon…..
Some beekeepers selling honey in their store, or at farmers’ markets, or simply giving as gifts may choose a more decorative honey jar.
See decorative honey jar containers on Amazon…..
The crushing technique is popular with beekeepers following the “natural” beekeeping philosophy, meaning the beekeeper is not using any type of template or foundation for the bees to follow when constructing honeycomb, but rather, allow the honeybees to decide how they want to build the honeycomb structure.
This type of honeycomb does not hold up to the spinning in a centrifuge unless the centrifuge can accommodate some type of “cage” to support the free-form honeycomb and keep it intact while being spun.
- Placed the harvested capped or uncapped honeycomb into a large bowl and mash it like you are mashing potatoes.
- Place a large kitchen sieve over a larger container (perhaps an uncapping tub).
- Inlay the sieve with cheesecloth allowing it to hang over the edges of the sieve.
- Place the crushed honeycomb into the cheesecloth-lined sieve.
- Allow draining for about 24 hours
- Keep the crushed draining station away from windows and doors and cover it with a bath towel. This is to discourage any bees looking for an easy score.
Crushing technique is the oldest honey harvesting technique and it remains a viable option today and the frequent choice of backyard beekeepers for two reasons:
- The cost of purchase or rental of a mechanical centrifuge extractor.
- A beekeeping philosophy that promotes natural honeycomb construction as opposed to using manufactured honey frames and foundations.
Uncapping tools are not essential when using the crush technique to extract honey but it is still desirable to uncap the honeycomb BEFORE starting the crushing process because it uncaps most the honeycomb cells and takes a lot of the manual labor out of the crushing process.
Crushing is effective but it is difficult and time-consuming to make sure EVERY cell is crushed open.
Keeping honey in the honeycomb
Harvesting honey and keeping it in chunks of capped honeycomb is gaining favor for beekeepers selling honey.
The beekeeper simply cuts out sections of the honeycomb to the desired size honey-filled honeycomb, puts it in a container (a Mason pint jar still works, some choose rectangular plastic Tupperware style containers).
The public, visiting their local farmers market, is usually much more attracted to the honey-filled honeycomb and are willing to pay a premium price. That premium price is justified as the bees will now have to construct that harvested honeycomb wax from scratch again and that will delay the next projected harvest from that beehive.
Harvesting honey-filled honeycomb in chunks have some special needs:
- The honeycomb to be harvested must be foundation free, the bees need to construct the honeycomb without the solid foundation which prohibits cutting the honeycomb into squares.
- The honeycomb to be harvested can have wire supports in the frame but the wires will be the limiting factor on the size of each harvested chunk of honeycomb.
There are honeycomb frames designed to have the honeybees construct their honey-filled honeycomb inside an individual plastic container, within the honeycomb frame, that is removed, lid placed on the container and the container of honey-filled honeycomb is packaged and ready for sale without a human ever touching the honeycomb during harvest.
Late Honey Harvest:
Occasionally, in milder climates like southern California, a beekeeper may get the opportunity to do one last honey harvest in the fall. This honey build up has taken place after the last nectar flow, so where are the bees finding nectar? They are finding it in the lushly landscaped yards of homes within a few miles range of the hive, so it really depends on the landscaping lushness of the area of the hive.
This last fall harvest requires the added honey super to have drawn comb in the super. Without the already drawn comb, the bees just don’t have enough time to produce that one last harvest.
If a beekeeper is going for that last fall harvest, be sure not to wait until there is a cold snap. A lot of the fall honey harvest will probably be Ivy nectar because Ivy is a fall blooming plant. However, Ivy honey is more easily crystallized and all honey starts to crystallize in cold weather.
If the honey crystallizes in the honeycomb it becomes difficult to extract with a honey extractor.
- Centrifuge extraction of honeycomb needs to start medium speed until a large quantity of the honey is extracted. The weight of honeycomb full of honey, when spun a full force of the extractor, will most likely blow out the honeycomb from the frame. Not good!
- The crush extraction method takes about a day to fully drain. During this period of time, the crushed honeycomb needs to be protected from bees looking for an easy score.
- Extracted honey is frequently judged by its clarity of the honey and the lack of debris particles from the harvesting procedure, as such, harvested honey may require additional steps of straining through finer and finer filters until the desired clarity and lack of particles is achieved.
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