Harvesting honey is the process of removing honey frames from the beehive for extraction. There are two management styles for harvesting honey. One is to harvest multiple times in the beekeeping season, extract honey, and put supers and frames back on the hive for a refill. This works if you have a limited number of honey supers or if you have honey customers who want honey all summer (like us). The other method is to continue adding supers to the hive and then harvest all honey at once in the fall. Both can work well.
1. How much honey should I take?
In Utah, you will need about 2 full, deep boxes to make it through the winter. Another way to tell if you are leaving enough honey is, when you pick up the bees (including the 2 deep boxes, lid, and bottom board), it should weigh about 100 pounds. If it does not weigh at least 100 pounds, you will need to make it weight 100 pounds. If you use all deep supers, and are under weight, you can trade a frame full of honey into one of the lower boxes. Honey is the best food for bees. Or you could feed heavy syrup to help them amp up their winter stores. Any surplus honey is yours to take.
If you extract throughout the season, you will need to guess how much honey bees will produce so as not to remove too much of it from bees’ winter food storage. This takes weather prediction-skills, a little experience, and some guesswork.
Here the beekeeper is inspecting his hives, frame by frame, to see which are full of honey to be extracted.
2. Go through the hive, frame by frame, to see which frames are full of honey and ready for extraction. Leave frames full of brood in the hive. If using all deep supers, you can move the frame of brood down into a lower box. The brood will hatch out of the frame in 2 weeks and you can harvest any honey from the frame then.
3. Remove bees from frames of honey that you would like to extract.
Our favorite method is to shake bees sharply from each frame, one at a time. It is the fastest way to remove the bees. You can shake them back into the box or in front of the hive entrance. This method requires confidence and a sharp jarring motion. Grasp the frame with both hands on the side bars, just below the ears. Then quickly move it downward a few inches and stop abruptly. The bees will fall off.
You could also use a bee brush, which we think just makes bees mad. Some also use chemical repellents like “Bee Go,” where you place a pad of stinky chemical under the lid of the hive, and the chemical drives the bees out of the hive. You could also use a bee escape, which is a one-way door placed between the super and brood chamber. A bee blower can blow bees right off of the frame. (You can substitute a leaf blower, or Shop-Vac set to blow.)
Whichever method you choose, remove as many of the bees as you can, and then move the frame to a relatively bee-tight place. We like to use an empty super. (Bees will go right back on frames left in the open.)
Grandpa with bee brush. I love how he is sitting down at the beehive. I think we still have that chair somewhere and that it still has the duct tape on the seat.
4. Take frames away from the bee yard to extract. Frames of honey will attract bees, and you will want to do this inside a bee-tight space.
See other posts on “Extracting Honey” and “Bottling Honey.”
Grandpa Arthur Andersen getting ready to extract some honey. This photo was featured in the American Bee Journal.