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How do you Harvest Honey Supers?

Getting bees out of supers is the first step toward extracting. It can be a bit tricky because the bees usually don’t want to leave! You will find, however, that the warmer it is, the easier it is to get the bees out. They are quicker to move, fly, run, and so on. If it’s chilly, sometimes all you can do is physically brush them off each frame with a bee brush! The following is my take on the most common methods used:

Bee Brush:

This is the cheapest and perhaps most common method for removing bees if you have only a few boxes of honey to remove. However, it is a bit tedious!

  1. Equipment needed: Empty super with no frames, smoker, bee brush, and a damp sheet.
  2. Puff four or five puffs of smoke directly between the frames once you open the lid.
  3. After a few seconds, remove each frame of honey one at a time and brush the bees off at the entrance of the hive.
  4. Place the brushed frame in the empty super and cover it with the damp sheet to prevent robber bees from gathering.
  5. Move as quickly as possible and use smoke as needed, but excessive smoke can cause the honey to take on a smoky flavor.

Fume Boards:

Whether you have 5 hives or 5,000, this is the most common method for removing bees from supers. There is a great variety of fume boards, but the principle is the same for each. They consist of a wooden rim with a plastic, clear, or metal top with a cloth underside. A repellent is sprayed on the cloth (all repellents work, but the stinkier it is, the faster it works) to drive the bees out of the super.

  1. Equipment needed: Fume board, damp sheet, smoker, and repellent.
  2. When you open the lid, use a few puffs of smoke.
  3. Spray five to six sprays of the repellent on the cloth portion of the fume board, then place it on the hive. I like to place it slightly off-center to provide an upper escape for the bees if they want to use it. If you apply too much repellent or if it’s too hot and it works too fast, you may see some “drunk” bees on the top bars that are wet and appear unable to walk well. Remove the fume board for a few seconds to let the hive air out, brush the drunk bees off the top bars, and try again. Set the fume board even more off-center to provide some ventilation.
  4. After about a minute, pry up the top super and look at the underside. If you see only a few bees, pull the super off and move the fume board to the next super. Cover the removed super with a damp sheet to keep robber bees out of it. If, when you look at the underside, you see more than a few dozen bees, give it another minute. The repellent fumigates with heat, so if it’s a cool or cloudy day it will take much longer to drive the bees out. If it’s fully overcast and below 75 degrees, the fume board may not work at all.
  5. Check back on the progress frequently. If it’s a hot, sunny oriented day, the fume board can work as fast as 30 seconds. If a fume board is left on too long, it can drive all the bees right out the front door. While this won’t kill the hive, you do run the slim risk of losing your queen as she runs out of the hive.

I love our custom-made fume board! Here's a quick video showing you exactly how to use it and how fast it really is!

Smoke:

I do not recommend using smoke exclusively to remove bees for two reasons. One, it just doesn’t usually work well. A percentage of the bees will remain in the super, consuming honey. Two, if you heavily smoke a super of honey, the honey can actually absorb the smoke and take on a smoky flavor.

Bee Escapes:

A bee escape is a board placed between the brood boxes and the honey supers. A device can be purchased to place inside the hole of your inner cover, converting your inner cover to a bee escape. The device creates a one-way street for the bees to exit the supers into the brood boxes, but they cannot return. This process usually takes anywhere from several hours to a few days to work.

You need to ensure that there are no holes or gaps in your supers for robber bees to take advantage of the lack of workers in your supers. This method generally works, but there are a few things to watch out for. If the super of honey sits unprotected for a handful of days, it’s at risk from small hive beetles, robber bees, or melting if you have hot summers. As long as the escape works within 24 hours, it’s a great method. But if it takes longer than that, I’d recommend switching to another removal method.

Bee escapes create a one-way street for bees to exit.

Leaf Blowers:

This method is lots of fun and quite effective. But it can also make the bees pretty angry, so it’s not recommended if you have neighbors nearby! Simply stand your honey super up on its end so all the frames are vertical, fire up your leaf blower, and blow between all the frames. It’s fast, effective, and cheap if you already have a leaf blower.

The only caution is to ensure you are using a queen excluder. If you don’t and the queen happens to be in your honey super, there is a good chance you will damage her as she’s blown out of the hive. This method does work really well on cooler days when fume boards aren’t effective.

Whatever method you choose, move quickly to prevent robber bees from stealing the honey out of your harvested hive. Keep a damp sheet or some form of lid over the boxes of harvested honey to cut down on robbing. See “I'm Being Robbed!

Plan to extract your honey ASAP after harvest. Don’t let it sit in an air-conditioned space as it will become too thick to spin out in the extractor. Conversely, don’t let it get above about 90 degrees or the comb could lose structural integrity.

A lightweight, portable blower works great for blowing the bees off of supers! Photo credit: Bee Informed Partnership

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