There are three methods for safely getting the bees out of your honey super before you harvest your honey.
- Shake and brush method
- Use of a clearer or escape board
- Use of a mechanical bee blower
Before I outline each of these methods, you must ensure you have enough extra honey to harvest and leave the surplus for the bees. The amount that you leave will vary according to the strength of your colony and the time of the year.
As a general rule, it is essential that enough honey is left in hives for winter. If flora is plentiful and the weather is good, then you have the possibility of removing honey more than once in a season.
Combs of honey that are fully capped contain ripened honey and these are ready to be extracted.
Combs that are partially capped may be taken also. Just make sure you check that the uncapped honey on the frame doesn’t drip from the cells when you turn the frame horizontally. If it does drip then leave that frame as it’s not ripe enough to extract.
Shake and Brush Method
The shake and brush method is an easy and inexpensive way to remove the bees from the honey super. As such, it’s probably the preferred method for a beekeeper with only a few hives.
It simply requires the beekeeper to shake the bees from each comb back into the hive.
It demands no specialized equipment either, just a bee brush, a bucket of water, and a spare super (box) with a lid. A large, clean plastic tub will also work if you don’t have an extra super. You will need your smoker and hive tool, too.
To begin, smoke the hive gently as you normally would for an inspection. Then, remove the lid and use the hive tool to carefully separate the honey frames apart and lift one out.
I usually take the second frame in from the side, because the first frame has usually been glued to the side of the box and isn’t so easy to remove. Be careful to not roll or squash any bees.
Next, lean the frame against the side of the hive near the entrance. You now have a gap between two of the remaining frames in the hive – and the gap is made wider when you remove the next frame.
Hold this frame firmly over the honey super (box) by the top bar lugs. Give it a sharp downward flick by snapping your wrists into the gap in the honey super. This will remove most, if not all the bees and they will fall from the comb into the gap.
Remove any of the remaining bees using your soft bee brush. The bristles can be made either of nylon or hair.
Place each of the shaken frames into your spare super and cover them with a lid to prevent any nearby bees from entering. I use a large plastic storage tub with a secure lid as I find it easier to transport to where I want to harvest the honey.
I’d also have a bucket of water at arm’s reach for washing the bee brush to keep it free of honey. The bees don’t like to be covered in honey.
When you have removed all the honey frames required, put the first frame you removed back into the hive and replace the lid.
The advantages of this method are that it is simple and inexpensive and ideal for the hobby beekeeper. It also is quite gentle on the bees and requires only one trip to the hive.
Escape or Clearer Boards
An escape or clearer board is a one-way device placed on the hive below the honey super. It allows the bees to leave the honey super but not return to it.
If you are a hobby beekeeper with only a few hives this is another method you could use.
The most common type of clearer board has four escape devices, one in each corner.
Alternatively, there is one escape device in the center of the board.
You should open the hive the afternoon before you are going to remove the frames of honey, as you need to leave the escape board on overnight to allow the bees time to leave the honey super.
During the late afternoon, gently smoke your hive and open it.
Temporarily remove the super of combs to be extracted from the hive. Then put a super of empty combs in its place above the brood nest because you want the bees to have room to move down.
Next, place the escape board on top of this super, making sure it is the right way up.
Put the super with the combs of honey back on the hive above the clearer board and replace the lid.
The next day when the weather is warm enough, check the super containing the combs of honey to see if the bees have left the combs.
If only a few of the bees are left, the combs to be harvested may be removed from the super (box) and then brushed to remove the remaining bees.
If only a few bees have left the honey super, allow another day for the method to work. Check to see that none of the escape devices are blocked.
You can then remove the frames of honey and place them in a large clean plastic tub with a secure lid.
The honey super and hive cover above the escape board have to be in good condition, and importantly they should be bee-proof because you don’t want uninvited guests stealing your honey.
You should take care when using this method during hot weather because the colony cannot control the temperature in the super above the escape board, and you could find some meltdown of your honeycombs.
The advantages of this method are that it is simple and doesn’t require any handling of the bees by the beekeeper and therefore reduces the likelihood of being stung. As a result, it causes minimal disturbance to the colony as a whole.
However, it does mean that you have to open the hive up twice in two days, so it requires a bit more work.
Mechanical Bee Blower
A mechanical bee blower is used by commercial beekeepers with a large number of hives as it is a fast and efficient method of removing bees from the honey supers.
If you are a hobby beekeeper like me, with only a few hives, you most likely wouldn’t use one of these, because it is both expensive and noisy.
If you want to explore this option further, consult a commercial beekeeper for advice. Looking on the internet for a bee blower is also an option.
The blower is motor driven and it generates a stream of air that is directed along with a flexible plastic hose or pipe. The air comes out of a restricted outlet and is placed between the combs to blow the bees from the frames.
This method might sound harsh but the bees are removed without being injured.
When the bees are blown from the frames they generally fly around but you have to take care not to squash them when they land on the ground.
A disadvantage of this procedure is you would be more likely to be stung as the mechanical blower is a noisy device that creates quite a disturbance.
However, to the commercial beekeeper with many hives to harvest it is a fast and efficient method of removing the bees from the hive.
Removing bees from your honey super without too much disturbance to your colony is an important part of managing your hives.
The first two methods I have outlined above describe how to do this quickly and effectively without needing a lot of equipment and are ideal for the hobby beekeeper.
You can then enjoy harvesting your honey knowing you have used the best and most gentle method to remove the bees from the honey frames.