How to check bees in the winter without opening the hive

When temperatures are cold, can be a bad idea to open the beehive. Opening the hive can break up the cluster. And possibly freeze the colony to death. However, there are several ways to see how your hive is doing without opening the lid. 

First, you can place your ear next to the wall of the beehive and knock on the hive. You will hear live bees buzzing inside. 

Another way is to look for a spot of melted snow on the outside of the lid, usually in the center. A healthy colony will form a cluster inside the hive around the honey stores. The heat from the cluster will melt the snow on the outside of the lid. Or if the snow is melted, it will cause the spot in the center to be drier than the rest. Don’t worry if this spot is off-center. It means bees are clustering on one side. 

A third way is to lift the hive and guess its weight. A hive full of honey stores will be heavy. We like a two-story hive to weigh about 100 pounds going into winter. 

Remember that the critical time to feed bees is in early spring (February-April) when the bees are brooding up and stores are running low. In December and January, they should have plenty, assuming hives were heavy enough going into winter. 

Preparing Colonies for Winter

We like to finish harvesting honey around Labor Day here in Provo, Utah. Any nectar bees collect after Labor Day will be used by the bees to build winter stores. 

Ideally, the colony will be 2 deep  boxes and weigh 100 pounds by November 1. Bees will fill both boxes and form a large cluster that covers 10 or more frames. If there are fewer than 10 frames of bees, we will often winter them as a single story colony or in a nuc box. This gives bees less area to heat in winter.  

Ideally, bees would eat HONEY in the winter. Honey is the best food for them. But, if bees are low on feed, meaning that the entire 2-story colony weighs less than 100 pounds, feed them heavy sugar syrup until the colony weighs 100 pounds. Just keep filling up the feeder when bees empty it. (See earlier post on mixing sugar syrup).

Within the hive, most of the frames with honey should be located in the top box. Bees like it when there are a couple of empty-ish frames in the center of the box, with honey in the outer 7-8 frames. The empty frames will give bees a place to cluster. This is the way bees naturally arrange honey stores going into winter. When harvesting honey, try to put it back that way. **If you are reading this in December, don’t run out to change the frame order in your hive and freeze your bees to death. Trust the bees to rearrange things how they want them. 

In winter, DRY is more important than warm. Removing moist air is key to overwintering bees. Moisture is released when bees consume honey, which is 20% water. Some lids have a built-in ventilation hole. Others require an inner cover. We like to have lids with the ventilation hole. It makes it so we don’t have to store another piece of equipment. For extra ventilation, we also drill a 5/8” hole just below the handhold in each box. This serves as an entrance and moisture vent. And the bees seem to like it. 

Below is a photo of an inner cover vent. Bees plugged it up with propolis. 

Here's what happened in inside of the lid without a working vent. The moist air froze to the top instead of venting out.

In the photo below, notice the drilled hole below the handhold. Also notice that the hole in the lid to vent moisture is filled in with frost. It is working.

Place a fist-sized rock on top of the lid to prevent it from blowing off. 

Wrapping hives: The decision to wrap or not wrap hives is a management call. We don’t typically wrap our hives. Wrapping and insulating hives will increase bees’ activity during winter. Increased activity means bees will consume their winter stores more quickly, and there will be more labor to feed them. Not wrapping means colder temperatures, which causes bees to slow down, giving them a well-deserved break during the winter months.  However, wrapping can be beneficial if you want bees to raise brood in the winter, like if you are sending bees to California for almond pollination, or if you want an earlier start in the spring. Keep in mind that in colder states, like Minnesota and South Dakota, they do wrap hives for overwintering success. It is much colder there than in Utah. 

If you decide to wrap, make sure there is ventilation to remove moist air. Removing moist air is more important than wrapping in Utah. Bees also need to be able to go on cleansing flights on warm winter days. Be sure they have an entrance to do this. 

Below are hives we insulated to prepare them to go to California for pollination. 

When hives die, inspect the equipment, clean off any burr comb, and store it in a cold, pest-tight place. (The wax will attract wax moths, wasps, mice, etc.) It is important to remove it from the apiary to prevent robbing. You can reuse disease-free equipment when dividing hives in the spring. 

Look inside your colonies on a warm day in March. If needed, feed honey or light syrup and pollen substitutes. If a colony is dead, remove it to prevent robbing. Feed as often as necessary. When bees finish honey or syrup, fill up the feeder again. Repeat until they stop eating it. Bees prefer real nectar and will stop eating sugar water when there is a nectar source. 

Hope this helps!


What's happening to our honey bees?

I wrote this article while working for USU Extension. Thought it was appropriate to share here. 

What’s happening to our honey bees? 
By Alicia Moulton                                                                     
Honey bees are on the decline throughout the world.  Here’s why.  

Honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder is a complex matter with many contributing factors that have compounded over time.  These factors put “an enormous burden on the immune and detoxification systems of bees, eventually ‘putting them over the edge’” (Spivak and Reuter, 2007a).  Scientists have assigned the name “Colony Collapse Disorder” as a placeholder until its nature can be identified. 

Factor 1 As we grow in population, we see a decrease in green, open space and an increase of buildings, roads, and other structures.  This means there are fewer plants for bees to forage for food sources.  Bees do best when there is a variety of pollen and nectar sources with flowers continuously blooming all season long.  Farms often grow one crop type each year.  This means fewer plant species and shorter periods of time when plants are in bloom.  

To help bees, plant a garden with a variety of flowers, fruits, and vegetables which bloom throughout the growing season.  It is also a good idea to leave unmown, herbicide-free strips of land for bees to seek refuge in if you do have to spray.  Choose strips of land that do not contain noxious weeds, as the noxious weed law says weeds on the noxious weed list must be controlled.  Removal of several of these weeds requires herbicides.  

To help bees you can also teach your children the value of bees.  Bees pollinate many of the fruits and vegetables we like to eat, and flowering plants we like to see in the landscape.  They also produce honey, wax, and royal jelly.  Teach them the difference between bees and wasps (See Table 1).  Bees have stout, hairy bodies and are not usually aggressive towards people.  Wasps have smooth bodies with a constricted waist, and are often found scavenging near garbage or picnics.  Sometimes wasps can be aggressive and will sting people.  Remember that while wasps are annoying if they nest around your home, some are considered predatory and beneficial insects.

Factor 2 Crop pesticides used to reduce pest insects can also kill beneficial insects like bees.  Many pesticide applicators are aware of declining bee populations and use chemicals with low toxicity to bees where ever possible.  However, a new class of systematic pesticides moves through plant tissue to reduce crop pests.  These can add to stress on bee immune and detoxification systems because the pesticides may be present in pollen and nectar (Spivak and Reutar, 2007a), which are bees’ primary food sources.  

To help bees, minimize insecticide use by only spraying when necessary.  Be sure to read all pesticide labels for proper application directions.  There may be several insecticides used for the same pest.  Choose products least harmful to bees.  Also, avoid insecticide use while plants are flowering to minimize bee kill.  

Factor 3 Beekeepers are seeing depressed local honey markets.  To make money, beekeepers ship bees all over the country to fill pollination contracts for almonds, blueberries, cranberries, etc.  The number of acres of these crops is increasing faster than number of bees used to pollinate them, which causes pollination contract prices to increase.  These crops require large numbers of honey bee colonies for pollination.  For example, over 1 million bee colonies are required for California almonds in early spring.  Having large numbers of bees in small areas puts nutritional stress on bees as they compete for pollen and nectar.  Increased movement for pollination leads to disease transfer.  “Shipping bees for pollination is like sending your kids to school,” said one beekeeper, “They come back with all the sicknesses around.”  

To help bees, buy local honey.  If beekeepers make more money locally, they may not need the extra money from pollination and can leave their bees home.  Local honey is fresh, delicious, and it gives a warm feeling to know that you are helping local folks and getting a good product.  Also, you can ask the beekeeper directly how honey is handled and if chemicals were used in production.  Buying locally can create more sustainable agricultural systems.  

Factor 4 Bee diseases and parasites are often present in honey bee hives. Over time, colonies can become weakened or less productive. Diseases contributing to colony collapse disorder are not new, but have been affecting bees for a while.  

Varroa mites (Varroa destructor) were introduced in the U.S. in the 1980s.  These mites attach to bee larvae and parasitize bees, living on the outside of the bee’s body.  They are relatively large compared to the bee, about 1/6th of the bee’s body weight.  To eliminate varroa mite infestations, beekeepers sometimes put insecticides (pyrethroids and organophosphates) in the beehive with the bees.  Mites are becoming resistant to the insecticides and beekeepers risk residue build-up in beeswax and honey (Spivak and Reuter, 2007b).


The varroa mite is also a possible vector for several honey bee viruses, including Acute Paralysis Virus and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus.  These viruses can severely weaken bees and makes them more susceptible to other diseases (Bakonyi et al., 2002).  

Acute Paralysis Virus and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus eventually cause paralysis in honey bees.  Bees are found dead outside the hive.  Both viruses contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder of varroa mite-infested colonies.  

Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae are internal parasites that cause nosemosis, or acute diarrhea, in bees.  Honey bees are generally very clean insects and defecate outside the hive.  Nosemosis causes them to be so sick they cannot make it outside to defecate.  Thus, spores from fecal matter are able to infect other bees in the hive.  Nosema is what causes complete disappearance of bees in the hive.  

Foulbrood and chalk brood are spore-forming bacterial diseases which infect honey bee brood (Hansen and Brosgaard, 2003).  Without proper sanitation, foul brood can weaken or kill a colony in one season.  

Honey comb infected with Foulbrood                                  Healthy Honey comb
                           www.usda.gov                                          http://www.pbase.com/beekeeper/bees

Nosema species, foul brood and chalk brood spores can be stored in old wax combs for years.  Therefore it is important for beekeepers to remove old wax combs from hives. These can contain disease spores and pesticide residue. 

Beekeepers are fighting these diseases using innovative strategies and by developing genetically resistant lines of bees.  For example, some bees exhibit “hygienic behavior,” in which worker bees detect and remove 95% of diseased brood from the comb before hatching (Spivak and Reuter, 2007b).  Bees which exhibit hygienic behavior detect and remove varroa mite, Nosema and Foulbrood-infected larva.  Queens can pass hygienic behavior to their offspring.  This means beekeepers can select for this trait and make their hives more resistant to disease!  

www.extension.umn.edu/honeybees. University of Minnesota Bee Lab

Bakonyi, T., E. Grabensteiner, J. Kolodziejk, M. Rusvai, G. Topolska, W. Ritter, and N. Nowotny. 2002.  Phylogenetic Analysis of Acute Bee Paralysis Virus Strains. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 68(12):6446-6450. Available at http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=134446. Accessed May 21, 2008. University of Minnesota.

Cranshaw, W. 2008. What is a Wasp-Hornet-Yellowjacket-Bee?  Available at http://www.coopext.colostate.edu/4dmg/Pests/whatis.htm. Accessed Sept. 25, 2008. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Entomology.

Hansen, H. and C.J. Brosgaard. 2003. Control of American foulbrood by the shaking method. APIACTA 38:140-145. Available at http://www.apimondia.org/apiacta/articles/2003/hansen_1.pdf. University of Minnesota Bee Lab.

Vetter, R. 2002. Identification Guide for California Yellowjackets. Available at http://wasps.ucr.edu/waspid.html. Accessed Sept. 25, 2008. University of California Riverside. 

Spivak, M. and Reuter, R. 2007a. Why are honey bees collapsing? Available: http://www.extension.umn.edu/honeybees/components/03-26-2007_whycollapsing.html. Accessed Sept. 25, 2008. University of Minnesota Bee Lab.

Spivak, M. and G. Reuter.  2007b. A Sustainable Approach to Controlling Honey Bee Diseases and Varroa Mites. SARE Fact Sheet #03AGI2005. Available  http://www.sare.org/publications/factsheet/0305.htm. Accessed May 21, 2008. University of Minnesota Bee Lab.


Queen Bee

We found this photo of a queen bee in Grandpa’s files and wanted to share. Can you spot her? Queen bees have a longer abdomen and are larger than the other worker bees present. Here you see her laying an egg in a cell of honey comb. 

Bees vs Wasps

We often get calls for swarm removal. Before heading out, we like to make sure the colony we are dealing with is honey bees and not wasps. Here are some of the major similarities and differences between bees and wasps. 

In this photo, you can see bees and wasps drinking from the same sugar syrup, which we spilled outside the hive. 


Belong to order Hymenoptera
Females raise young on a diet of pollen and nectar.
Hairy-bodied and hairy-legged (helpful for collecting pollen)
Honey bees build nests out of wax and fill the wax comb with honey.

Honey comb

Honey bees do not actively seek to sting people unless they feel threatened.

Females play a major role in plant pollination.
When bees sting, their stinger remains in the skin because of one-way barbs on the stinger.  Stinging kills the bee.

Two Categories of Bees:
1. Social bees
2. Solitary bees

Social bees produce a colony.  Examples include honey bees (Apis Mellifera

Honey Bee 

and bumble bees (Bombus spp.).  Bumble bees annually establish new colonies. 

Bumble Bee

Solitary bees individually create colonies underground or in a soft substrate.  Examples include leafcutter bees (usually Megachile spp.) and digger bees.
Leafcutter bee (and crab spider)


Belong to order Hymenoptera
Young develop as a predator or parasite of other insects or are scavengers.
Smooth-bodied and smooth-legged

Social wasps build paper nests.

Baldfaced hornet nest

Wasps can be aggressive in late summer, when their diet changes to sweets.  At this time, they may sting more frequently. 
Males play a minor role in plant pollination. 

Wasps can withdraw their stinger to sting again.

Three Categories of Wasps:
1. Parasitic wasps
2. Solitary hunting wasps
3. Social Wasps 

Parasitic Wasps lay eggs in or on other insects.  Young usually kill the host.  Females have a long stinger for laying eggs.  They are non-aggressive and if they do sting, it causes little pain. Parasitic wasps are considered beneficial because they kill harmful garden and crop pests.

Parasitic wasp

Solitary hunting wasps create rearing cells in some sort of nest.  Females paralyze prey to provision nest cells, then lay eggs in the cells and seal them.   Nests are made by digging into soil, mud nests, and piths of hollow plants. Examples include Sphecidae and Pompilidae families.  Sphecidae hunt insects and have a mild sting, Pompilidae hunt spiders and have “the most painful sting of any insect” (Cranshaw 2008).


Solitary hunting wasp (digging wasp)

Social wasps (family Vespidae) most often sting humans.  Social wasps establish colonies annually and die off each fall, leaving a few fertilized queens for next season.  They make paper nests from chewed wood pulp.  Examples are western yellow jackets (Vespula pensylvanica) and hornets (Polistes and Mischosvttarus spp.).  Adults feed larvae chewed up prey and larvae secrete a sweet substance, which adults enjoy. 
Yellowjackets conceal nests out of sight, like in children’s playground equipment or fence posts.  They feed on insects and scavenge sweets and proteins.  They can be a nuisance at picnics or around uncovered garbage cans.


Hornets sting humans less often than yellow jackets, but are more readily observed because they build large paper nests in trees or under house eaves.  Hornets primarily feed on other insects and don’t frequent outdoor meals.
Bald-faced Hornet

Paper Wasp

Why we use deep boxes exclusively

We only use and sell deep boxes. This is a management preference. All beekeepers do things a bit differently and this is our favorite way. We think our way is more efficient because we don’t have to store several sizes of boxes and frames. (And we’ve had 25 years plus 4 generations of experimentation. Trust us!)

Running all deep boxes also makes equipment interchangeable. It is useful to be able to interchange frames from box to box when splitting hives, if the queen lays eggs into the top boxes, and when sorting individual frames to extract honey. It is also nice when splitting a hive, as a super can double as a hive body box by attaching a bottom board.  

When using only deep boxes, you don’t need a queen excluder. If the queen lays eggs in the upper boxes, you can just move the frame(s) down into a lower box, or leave them there. The eggs will hatch out and bees will refill cells with honey. We like to let the queen decide where she wants to go in the hive. 

Not having a queen excluder is advantageous because, as they say, “A queen excluder is a honey excluder.” Queen excluders slow down the hive and can dramatically reduce honey production. (But they can be useful in some methods of splitting hives and queen rearing.) When running a hive with deep box on the bottom with medium or shallow supers on top, you will need a queen excluder. 

The preferred size of box and frame for beekeepers *and bees* is the deep Langstroth box. Mr. Langstroth worked out the optimal size of brood nest, honey, and pollen for the average sized colony and used this optimization to create his deep, 10-frame box. The Langstroth “deep” box is still most commonly used by commercial beekeepers. 

Three deep boxes are the same volume as 5 medium boxes. The 3 deep boxes will hold 30 deep frames. The 5 medium boxes will require 50 medium frames. 

Using all deep boxes means fewer frames to handle, for the bees and the beekeeper. This means more continuous space for the queen to lay her eggs, and less burr comb to build. It requires more energy for bees to move from frame to frame than within continuous frame space. 

The advantage to medium or shallow boxes is that they weigh less, especially when full of honey. This is the only advantage. If weight is an issue, but you want to try deep boxes, consider not lifting the whole deep super full of honey at once. Instead, inspect individual frames in the bee yard and take the full frames of honey back to extract. 

Some beekeepers bring the entire super home to extract without looking inside much. Then they take the box back and inspect frames in the honey room. We think it is better to inspect individual frames at the hive. I guess we’d rather be outside. And it also means fewer bees in the honey room. 

Thanks for reading! 

Alicia Moulton


Bees on the front entrance of the hive

Often in hot summer weather, bees gather around the entrance porch of their hive to cool off. This is normal. It would also be normal to see 2-3 times as many bees as this. When this photo was taken, it was more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit in early evening. Bees pictured are calm and walking about. Some bees will fly in and out of the hive. 

Sometimes beekeepers worry that this looks like swarming behavior, but is actually just cooling behavior. 

Here's what the hive looked like inside. The box is not at capacity yet. 

With swarming, there would be a large cluster of bees in late morning or early afternoon, with hundreds/thousands of bees pouring out of the entrance and a loud “buzzing” noise. Bees will be flying in circles around the hive and very active. They are usually not aggressive when swarming. Bees will come out all at once and fly away to hang in a cluster, like the one below. 

Notice the difference in number of bees between this cluster and the cooling behavior photo above. This is a basketball-sized group of dense bees, all hanging on each other. There are tens of thousands of bees in the cluster. 


Water Sources for Honeybees

Do I need to provide water for my honeybees?

This depends on where you live. In Utah, in an isolated desert area, the answer is definitely yes. In a residential area, where broken sprinklers, and fountains abound, you may not need to, but it would be a considerate thing to do if your bees have invaded the neighbor’s swimming pool. Here are a few low-cost ways to water your bees, if you choose to. And you’ll probably be surprised how much water a colony of bees will drink, especially in dry, hot summer sun.

One way to provide water for honeybees is to provide a chicken waterer with some stones in the base (see photo above). Bees can use the stones as a perch while they drink. They are not good swimmers and need a shallow water source. This is the easiest way for us to water bees, as the water tray refills itself until the tank is empty. There is also less waste and evaporation than other methods. 

Bees will learn the water source location and come back to it as long as it doesn’t dry up. Naturally, they do this with streams, drinking from them until they are gone, then finding a new source. Consider where you put the waterer carefully, and out of high traffic areas. 

Our bees’ favorite watering hole is a broken sprinkler that runs over a rock wall. The little spots you see in the photo below are honeybees. We call it the honeybee day spa because there are flowers, water, and pollen all nearby. Water flows about knee-deep for the bees. They seem to prefer this rock over all other water sources. 

Another way to water bees is to use a jelly roll pan filled with a shallow amount of water. This is a convenient way as they are common in kitchens. Watch the water level closely, as you may need to refill it more than once on a hot day. The water will evaporate quickly as there is more water surface area. 

(The photo is from an experiment in alternate ways to extract honey. This one is the result of letting an uncapped frame sit on a cookie sheet for 2 weeks. It really didn’t work. There is only a scant amount of honey for 2 weeks of waiting in 90 degree weather.)


Beginning Beekeeping Course Outline

Beginning Beekeeping Course Outline May 2013 
The Honey Company

1. Welcome and Introductions
2. More beekeeping info at www.thehoneycompany.com under “Blog” then “Archive”

3. Expectations for Beginning Beekeepers
a. Expect to have honey surplus.
b. Expect to have bees die. (Winter, 2 years old, when beekeeping)
c. Expect to have disease and pests. 
d. Expect to have swarms. 
e. Expect to get stung. 

4. Equipment: 
a. Parts of the hive
b. What do I really need?  
Now: Hive boxes, bottom board, lid, frames, foundation, hive tool, smoker, gloves, helmet, veil, suit or protective clothing, pallet or hive stand 
Soon: 3 supers with frames and foundation for each hive, inner cover (winter), feeder tray 
c. New Product for comb production
5. What should I focus on my first year?
a. Colony life cycle
b. Timing of nectar flow in your area, plants bees prefer
c. You should have a relatively disease-free first year. Save this stuff for next year. 

6. Moving bees
a. 3 miles for 3 days 
b. When all bees are home (dark or storm)
c. Place hives before dawn tomorrow morning
7. Where should I put my hive?
a. Sun or shade? Which compass direction? Can I mix bees and livestock? How close do hives need to be to water and nectar sources? What about playgrounds and sidewalks? Windbreak? Accessibility (24/7)? Visible or hidden? 

8. Reproduction (see attached sheet)
a. Types of bees (queen, worker, drone)
b. Queens take 14 days to hatch, 1 week to mate, 1 week to lay eggs, total 4 weeks
c. Workers take 21 days to hatch
d. Drones take 24 days to hatch
e. Why do I need to know this?

9. Inside the hive
a. Things bees produce/collect: honey, pollen, propolis
b. Location of honey, pollen, brood chamber within hive
c. How do I know if there is an active queen? 
d. How do I recognize eggs?

10. What do I do when I check on my bees?
a. Timing: inspect your hive every 7-10 days through the summer
b. Look for: eggs, brood, crowding, queen cups, honey stores
c. Continue feeding bees in the spring until they stop eating it.
d. When do I add a super? How do I prime it? 
e. How do I prevent swarms?
f. Why do you use all deep supers? 
g. Demonstration: How to transfer frames from nuc box to hive body box

11. Honey
a. When do I harvest honey?
i. As bees produce it (requires guesswork) –OR— 
ii. All at once in the fall
b. How much honey should I leave for bees in the fall? 
c. Last year’s CRAZY weather
d. Extracting demonstration

12. Wintering bees
a. How long does a queen live?
b. How do I feed bees?
c. What is an inner cover? Do I need one?
d. Do I need to wrap or insulate my bees?
e. How often should I check on them in the winter?

13. Increasing or Maintaining Hives
a. Raising queens/making splits
i. What do queen cells look like? 
ii. How to make a split
b. Need to increase to maintain hive numbers, plan for hive death after second year

14. Bee diseases
a. Diagnostic hive
b. Diseases and pests
i. Verroa Mites
ii. American Foul Brood (bacteria)
iii. Nosema cerenae (intestinal fungus)
c. Integrated Pest Management: Strategies to avoid medications. 
i. See Honeybee Diseases and Pests for awesome IPM strategies! 
ii. Medications are expensive, can be harmful, and diseases become resistant
iii. Monitor disease loads and only medicate as a last resort
d. Hygienic Bee Behavior (Genetic disease resistance)
e. Cleaning wax comb every 3-5 years
f. Laying Workers

Beekeeping in Northern Climates and Honeybee Diseases and Pests by Marla Spivak and Gary Reuter of the University of Minnesota Extension Bee Lab. Around $20 for both, including shipping.

The page above was copied from Dadant’s The Hive and the Honey Bee, page 992. We consider this book the Beekeeping Bible.

Bottling honey

Finished Product
The ultimate goal: a beautiful jar of homegrown honey!

For this post, I will assume honey has been extracted from the frames. This is a common way of bottling honey and we think it's easy and fairly inexpensive to do yourself, with a little help from gravity. 

Make sure honey containers (jars, bears, etc.) are washed and dried before beginning. And NEVER leave the room when a honey gate is open. Trust me on this one. 

We use three 5 gallon buckets for bottling. With two buckets, we attach a honey valve. We call these the “settling tank” and “bottling tank.” With the third, we cut off the bottom and use it as a spacer to hold up the screen. I made a diagram of our bottling system. (And to show off my 4th grade drawing skills. Don’t worry, actual photos follow.) 

First, we elevate the settling tank by placing it on a counter. Then we place the screen, spacer, and bottling tank below it, as shown in the photo below. Then we open the honey valve on the settling tank, and allow honey to flow down through the screen and into the bottling tank. 

After it finishes running into the bottling tank, close the valve on the settling tank, place the bottling tank onto the counter, and place your desired honey container under the valve. Open the valve and fill the container. Close valve. Attach the lid to the container tightly and enjoy. 


Bottling tank from top to bottom: 
  • Screen for screening out large wax particles, available from a beekeeping supply company. It rests on top of the spacer or can also rest directly in a 5-gallon bucket.

  • Spacer, a 5-gallon bucket with the bottom cut out. It rests on the lid to the bottling tank, which lid has a hole cut in it so honey can flow through. Most of the lid center has been removed. (Think doughnut). 

Lid with center cut out

In another style of spacer, we cut the spacer bucket about 2 inches below the top rings. The 2 inches rest inside the bottling tank. This works well if you are not trying to fill a 5-gallon bucket clear to the top with honey. 

  • Bottling tank, a 5-gallon bucket with bottling valve attached. The photo below shows bottling tank with smaller spacer on top. 

  • Valve. Beekeeping supply companies sell the gate-style valve pictured above. This can be hard to find locally. Below is another valve we use. It is a food grade ball valve, and can be found at your local plumbing supply store (or Lowes or Home Depot). It needs to be at least 1 inch, otherwise, you will be waiting too long for honey to flow out. (3/4 inch is too small.) You will need a PVC fitting and O ring for the inside of the bucket. You will need to (carefully) cut a circular opening into the side of the bucket for the plumbing to fit. We used a pocket knife. 

Extracting Honey: The Process

Photo of Grandpa Arthur Andersen uncapping a frame of honey with a hot knife.

You have a pile of frames full of honey! Congratulations! Now it is time to get the honey from the frame and into a honey jar. I am assuming that you have harvested the honey from the beehive and moved to a bee-tight place, gathered your extracting equipment, and are ready to extract. 

It is ideal to extract honey the day you remove it from the hive. This ensures that honey does not crystalize in the frame (making it impossible to extract), and that it will not draw moisture from the air and ferment (not a huge problem in the deserts of Utah). Be sure to store honey frames in a warm, dry room. Some beekeepers heat the room to about 95 degrees F to extract so that honey flows better. 

The first step in extracting is uncapping. Below are some photos of Grandpa Arthur as he uncaps a frame of honey. First, he props the frame onto the capping tray stand. (AKA large metal tub). Then he carefully scratches the thin, top cappings layer off of the frame, leaving the comb and honey in tact below. He continued doing this until all of the cappings were removed from the frame. When beekeepers first start uncapping, there is a tendency to scratch too deep into the wax. Practice helps remedy this. Try to keep your scratcher parallel to the foundation in the frame. And be sure to remove all of the capping wax on each frame. 

Here is a photo of Grandpa Andersen uncapping a frame with a hot knife. Whichever uncapping tool you use, try to only remove that thin, top layer of cappings.

After you uncap one frame, place it in the extractor. Continue until extractor is full. Elevate the extractor so that when you open the honey gate, honey can flow into a container below. Some come with a stand, or you can use a counter as well. 

The extractor pictured below is a tangential, hand crank extractor that we use for demonstration at our beekeeping classes. 

Start spinning the extractor slowly, and then increase speed as frames empty. Starting too fast can damage the comb. With a tangential extractor, extract part of the first side , then flip them so the inside is out. Fully extract the second side, and then turn them again to finish the first side. This will help balance the load. 

With a radial extractor, be sure frame ears point away from the center of the load. Bees build comb with a 3 degree slant so honey does not run out. If you put the frame ears in, the honey won’t come out. Not that I tried this when we were first married or anything. . .  Okay, maybe I did. 

It can take between 5 and 30 minutes to remove all the honey. You will need to be there to make sure your extractor does not “walk” away while spinning. 

When honey pools at the bottom of the extractor, open the bottling gate (yellow in the above photos). Allow honey to run into a settling tank. (We use a modified 5 gallon bucket, see post on extracting equipment.) 

After honey is extracted, you can either return frames to the super on the beehive, or store them in a bee-tight place (and rodent-tight and wax moth-tight). Before storing, you can put them back in the hive for the bees to clean up any extra honey. 

At this point, you will have a container full of honey, ready to be bottled! Stay tuned for a post on bottling honey!