Removing Surplus Honey

Bee Health March 19, 2010 Print Friendly and PDF

The bees will fill the combs and cap the honey when they have cured it to approximately 18 percent or less water. Some of the frames of honey may not be capped until several days after the nectar flow has stopped. The frames and supers of honey that are capped can be removed from the colony. Avoid harvesting honey in uncapped cells. It is likely to be too high in moisture content and will ferment in storage without additional drying. Extract soon after removing super from the hive. Honey must be extracted within three to four days after removal from the hive to prevent damage by wax moths or small hive beetles. Be prepared to extract the honey when you remove the super from the hive. If extraction is not possible within three or four days, frames of honey can be stored below 32 degrees F for long periods of time without danger of crystallization. Open the colony and inspect the supers of honey. Frames of capped and uncapped honey can be exchanged between supers. The super of honey may contain many bees. Do not use smoke to drive the bees out of the super; excessive use of smoke may taint the flavor of the honey.


Methods to Remove Bees from Honey Supers

To harvest a small amount of honey, you can simply shake bees from individual frames. On the ground near the colony, place an empty super inside an outer cover turned bottom side up. An inner cover with a bee escape (see Bee Escapes below), a flat piece of plywood or an outer cover is needed to cover the super as you place the frames of honey that are free of bees into the super. Remove a frame of honey from the super of honey taken from the colony. Hold the frame by the ends of the top bar in front of the colony a short distance above the entrance. One or two short, strong shakes will dislodge all the bees. Immediately place the frame into the empty super and cover the super to prevent the bees from returning to the frame. Shake the bees from the remaining frames and load the super, keeping it completely covered except to insert the frames of honey. This method can be used very effectively with a small number of colonies. To remove bees from entire supers, you can use a bee repellent, a blower or bee escapes.

Bee Repellants

These repellents, such as Bee Go™, are aromatic liquids of butyric anhydride that are sprinkled in small quantities onto a fume board, which is placed on the top of supers. As the repellent evaporates, the odor will drive the bees out of the super within minutes. The fume board consists of an absorbent cloth or pad stapled onto a wooden frame or spare inner cover. The cloth side is placed on top of the super. Warming an outer cover for a few minutes in the sun before covering the fume board will accelerate the process.

Air Blowers

Blowers may be purchased from beekeeping supply vendors to remove bees from honey supers. A blower is made for this purpose. Or, you can use a blower made for home and garden use. A super must be held upright on its side while air is blown between the frames. Bees may be difficult to dislodge. Also, the noise and smell of the blower may irritate bees and make them more defensive.

Bee Escapes

Escapes provide a more passive method of bee removal. The Porter® bee escape fits into the center hole of an inner cover to allow bees to exit a super, but not to re-enter it. The inner cover with bee escape is placed between the honey supers and the brood nest. This method works best on cool nights when bees move down to the brood nest. Escapes usually must be left on colonies for at least two days to insure all or most bees have been removed.

If You Find Brood in Honey Supers

A queen may expand the brood nest up into the honey supers. Check all supers of honey to be removed for presence of brood. Locate the queen and return her to the brood nest below. Exchange frames with brood for frames of capped honey, consolidating all of the brood into one super. Honey stored in brood frames is food for the bees and should not be packed for human consumption. Place the super with brood on top of the brood chamber. Place a queen excluder over the hive bodies containing brood to prevent the queen from re-entering honey supers.

Avoid Robbing

Keep all frames and supers of honey sealed during honey removal. During removal, stack supers filled with honey between outer covers on top and bottom to prevent robbing bees and other insects from reaching the honey. For transport, honey supers should be well secured. Locking straps work well for transporting supers.

Source: Skinner, Parkman, Studer, and Williams. 2004. Beekeeping in Tennessee. University of Tennessee Extension PB1745. 43p.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.