Harvesting Honey with Karen

The other day Karen and I got up bright and early and met at 8:00 am in Eldo. to harvest honey from a totally full and very large custom built hive. We met early  to beat the heat but at 8:00 am it was already 75°. Whew! We could tell it was going to be a hot one that day!  As we opened the hive we realized they had built all the way to the back of the hive and were actually attaching to the false-back of the hive. We came just in the nick of time. What a vibrant colony of bees!!

As we worked through the hive, the bees stayed pretty mellow despite the heat.  While working in an efficient yet calm manner, we were able to successfully harvest a few bars of honeycomb with very little stress or agitation to the bees.

We had a large clean metal pot with a lid to place the clean comb into that we wanted to harvest, a crate for resting bars with bees on them to give us extra space while working in the hive (we would put these combs back into the hive when we closed it up) and a few empty bars and spacers. After herding the bees off of the false-back with the hive tool (slowly moving the flat side of the hive tool over the comb and into the hive), we cut off the attachment comb into our metal pot making sure to scrape off any pattern they  created from the comb on it so they won’t have an incentive to build comb on the false-back in future. Then, we went through the hive as if going through a filing cabinet, detaching the brace comb and inspecting the honeycombs for harvesting.

After setting the first few (smaller) combs in the crate to give us space to work in the hive, we got to the first fully built comb with about 80% capped honey. We decided to leave this one in the hive and go back to it later if we decided to harvest it. It was such a perfect comb that we thought it might be good to leave for the bees because of how straight it was. This turned out to be a good call because as we suspected from looking in the window of the hive, the combs started to get a bit wonky and not necessarily straight on the bar. This hive has the older style top bars with only a small notch in the wood as a guide for the bees to build their comb and many of the hives with these bars (rather than the triangle bars) didn’t stick to the part of the bars we would have like for them to build on. They built their combs across several bars making it harder for us to work in the hive without braking any comb as we worked. The triangle bars solve this problem by giving the bees a very clear indicator as to where the best place would be to build their comb. We worked our way through a few more bars bit by bit and chunks at a time to prevent any of the crossed comb falling into the hive. The comb was getting a bit melty at that point because of the heat. We knew we should finish up fairly quickly.

As we continued to work through the hive, we ended up harvesting quite a few of these little honeycomb sections, making sure to scrape off the old (crooked) pattern on the bars. When we started to see brood and the temperature kept climbing, we decided it was time to close up the hive and to put the combs we didn’t harvest back into the hive making sure to keep the combs in the correct order they were in the hive and the same orientation (front-back facing) they were in before we took them out. We harvested the equivalent of 4 top bars from a custom size hive similar to the golden mean hive but longer.

As we closed up the hive, we replaced the 4 bars we harvested with 3 empty tri-angle bars near the outskirts of the brood nest and 1 in the very back leaving all the other comb with bees on them near the same place they were in the hive originally. We also added spacers in between all of the honeycomb bars in the hive to help them keep in line with their natural “bee space” (1.38ths for brood and 1.58ths for honey).

Hopefully these bees will start building straight comb on the new triangle bars and have a great rest of the summer season.

Karen and I brought up the pot filled with honeycomb and crushed what we weren’t using for comb honey with our clean hands feeling a bit like wine makers as the comb and honey squished through our sticky fingers (what a treat licking our hands was afterword. Yummy!). We then poured the mashed up honeycomb into a strainer secured over the top of another stainless steel pot with the lid over it so the honey could strain down into the pot without attracting more bees.

We were both totally sweaty and hot by that time as it was nearing 11:00 am and with a mutual unspoken need to get cool, we jumped in the river (ah, the cool relief) before venturing forth to the next honeybee endeavour of the day!

(Written and photos by Claire Anderson)



Filed under Hive info

3 responses to “Harvesting Honey with Karen

  1. Sean Burns

    Hey Claire,

    thanks for the nice detailed & informative story! I have a question that maybe you (or someone else) can answer….my bees seem to be doing well (maybe too well?); for the past 3 weeks quite a few bees have been “hanging out” near the front of the hive…to give you a better idea what I mean, here is a link to a photo:

    they never seem to go inside. in the few weeks since the photo was taken even more bees are hanging outside the hive….it’s about 2-3 stacked on top of each other in the space above the entrance..i don’t think it’s a temperature problem because the hive is under two trees…and they didn’t do this the past two summers (the hive has not moved)…It seems to me it’s probably because the hive is already full of bees so there is a shortage of space….i wonder:

    1. have you (or others) seen this before?

    2. why don’t they swarm? (last year i saw swarm cells in the window and my bees swarmed/split in June, but this year I did not see any swarm cells).

    3. i have removed about 5 bars (mostly honey, but some nectar and some brood mixed in) in the past 3 weeks, but i have not ventured into the brood area….do you think i should just take out a comb every now and then and let the population gradually go back to “normal”? (i’m not sure what other options there are–but i was wondering if something like the extra level you put on one of your hives might be useful here? btw, how has that worked out?)….

    keep up the good work on the blog!


    • Hi Sean,

      Great photos! My bees have done this before during the very hot days of summer. It is quite incredible to see for the first time! I know that one of the main reasons for them doing this is that they are cooling the hive down on these sweltering days and generating more airflow. The bees brood up their numbers in the late spring/ early summer to be ready for the longer nectar flow so this might be part the reason there appear to be so many bees at the moment.

      Swarming season is mostly over now as a swarm in July might not be able to build enough honey-stores for the winter. I would probably stop harvesting for now, let them build back up the hive and when the hive gets full again maybe harvest one or two more honeycombs this year. It sounds like they are doing really well.

      I like your idea of adding an extra level like the super duper. It might be better to do it next year though because I think by this time they have already established their space and wouldn’t utilize the new space. Definitely a possibility for next early spring!

      I actually ended up taking off the super duper I added to my hive. They were taking all of the nectar out of the combs I had brought up from the main hive and I think they might’ve seen this new space as a foreign body or something. I’m going to try it again next spring and install it really early before they have figured their set space for the year. I’m also thinking about adding it to a new hive I have that they haven’t fully filled yet. When the hive is about 2/3 full, I’ll put the second level on (if it seems like a good thing to do then) and I’m hoping they’ll take advantage of this extra space and start building in it. It’s a bit of an experiment and we’ll see what happens!

      Good luck,

  2. Sean Burns

    Hi Claire,

    thanks for your thoughts and ideas—i agree that trying a super-duper should wait until next year….that clump of bees that is above my hive entrance (see photo from previous post) has now started building comb there!…yes, outside the hive, just above the hive entrance. I don’t t think there is a queen in this group, it seems like it’s a bunch of worker bees. the numbers that are hanging outside the hive (over the entrance) have started going down a little bit so perhaps we are now past the peak bee “bloom”…they stayed there throughout our cool/rainy weather a few days ago….

    The hive is full again so I think I need to get in there and open up some more space…i’ll probably try to do this tomorrow morning….

    see you!


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