Sept. 8, 2022

Removing Honey (090)

Removing Honey (090)

Harvesting your honey crop isn’t about keeping bees, in fact, it is hard work. It’s when you start questioning your spring decision to expand your number of colonies. On the other hand, it’s a good measure of how well you kept bees during the...

Harvesting your honey crop isn’t about keeping bees, in fact, it is hard work. It’s when you start questioning your spring decision to expand your number of colonies. On the other hand, it’s a good measure of how well you kept bees during the season. And there are a lot of ways to convince the bees they should share what they have made this season, mostly due to your stewardship.

Removing well capped, honey filled frames can be complicated but easy, or uncomplicated and a lot of work. The uncomplicated techniques only require a bee brush, hive tool and a container that you can store your now bee-free frames. You start by removing a frame, brush the bees back into the hive body and place the frame in a container that the bees can’t enter.

Or, you can use bee escapes, fume boards or and of the blowers out there to accomplish the same thing. The trick is to take the supers of honey back to your extraction area with as few bees as possible or none, if you’re good. Today Jim and Kim explore all the ways you can make this work for you, and, of course, all the things that can go wrong.

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Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 90 – Removing Honey


Kim: Jim, I got to get my honey off my hives here really quick, and I was looking at the bee yard the other day and I was thinking about what you got. You got a bee yard, we're both backyard beekeepers. We both got neighbors, but your situation is a whole lot different than mine, and I'd like to explore what you do because you obviously are doing it pretty good. Maybe I can learn something.

Jim: Well, I'll be happy to, Kim, I don't know if I can teach you anything. I can teach you what not to do. How about that?


Kim: Okay. Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: And I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: We're here today at Honey Bee Obscura to talk about taking off honey.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a long-timer or just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.

Kim: Jim, let me describe, you haven't been up to my bee yard, I think, since I moved it in my yard. Let me describe it. It's three colonies, and they're facing both ways. Some of them are coming into my yard and some of them are going over a brush pile into another part of my yard, so I don't see those very much, but it's a mowed lawn, it's flat, it's easy to get to, it's easy to work with. I got a hive stand that holds three colonies, but there's room for four, so I've always got a place to put a box. For me, this isn't too much of a task, but you've got a much different setup.

Jim: In a way different and in a way not different. I've got a few more colonies. I don't really know how many are back there, Kim, maybe 10, no more than a dozen, and I'll bet 10 and probably aare 8 or 9 or producers, but, Kim, if you've looked to any of the videos or any of the articles that I have pictures in, my yard is just notorious. I don't spend a lot of time cutting grass. I'm not a young man anymore, and I've got a very fixed labor potential. I only cut grass when it needs it, and one of the things I have to do this time of the year is get that tall grass and weeds knocked down so I can get to the colonies and deal with them with the carts and the wagons that I'll subsequently be using. I'm a lot like you with a little bit more insanity.

Kim: [laughs] Well, mine works pretty easy. I got a trailer put in the back of my lawn mower tractor, and I can drive that trailer right up so it's touching a hive. I can get that close. I don't get quite that close, but I can get that close. I get my trailer out there, and then I got a big box that, I don't know, came out of somewhere, a long time ago, and I get that out there and what I do then is in a flow here. I get the super off, I get the bees out, and I put the super in the wagon, and when I've got all the supers I want, I take the wagon away, but it's getting from getting the wagon out there and starting this process to getting the supers out of the wagon into the-- they go into my garage. Start with you, how do you get your bees off? How do you get your supers off and the bees out of those supers?

Jim: Well, while you were talking, I was desperately trying to think of some way to make this sound like a happy, enjoyable job, something that everybody would want to go do. Kim, I came up dry on that one, boy. This is work. I was thinking earlier this morning that this is kind of a test. This is the reason that that new beekeeper bought the protective gear and learned a lot about using a smoker and learning how to put a hive tool in to separate those boxes. This is no-nonsense beekeeping. This is heavy work. It's sticky work.

There's going to be a lot of bees there, and they're not going to be happy about giving up this honey. Make no mistake about it. This is big work for a big reward, but this is real. How do I go about it? Yes, I've got the grass cleaned up as much as I can. Let me tell you point-blank, Kim, something that I've just never been able to make work.

I read that people my and your age should take out frames one at the time and then transfer them over instead of trying to pick up full boxes. Well, there's a good reason for that because I'm old and my back hurts, but when I started trying to take out one frame at the time and it's glued in, it's propolized in, and there's burr comb and honey all over it, there's bees stuck to it, it is as though we took a bad job and made it worse. So, no, I don't take out one frame at the time and move it over like that.

I do exactly as you say, somewhere right there. I either have a small trailer behind a small tractor, or I've got a hand truck with pneumatic tires and a board on the bottom, something. I got to have wheels somewhere right beside me because it is only the briefest time that I can pick up that box and move it before I'm done. I don't take a step. I don't walk. The most I'm going to do is just twist and pivot and drop that box.


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Kim: That's kind of how I do it because I don't have so many in the way I got it set up. I got my wagon and I got an unused cover on the bottom of that wagon, then I'm going to stack these supers on so that it's bee tight on the bottom. I'll take the cover off from the first super that I'm going to take honey off them.

I've already examined them yesterday to see how many supers down I'm going to have to go, so I know how tall my stack is going to be. That's already done. I just know I'm taking only one super off this hive, two supers off the middle one, and one super off the other end one. I know how much I'm going to have to move, so I'm ready for that kind of volume.

You know that box I told you about? I got that situated so that I can take the cover off that first hive and the inner cover, and I just take the super off and I set it on that box and then I take my leaf blower, and I'm close enough that I can run an electric cord out to my leaf blower, but you can use a gas one or a battery one, and I can blow all the bees out of that super and I'm blowing them towards the front. I'm standing behind my row of hives and I'm blowing them right to the front door. Suddenly, they're not in the hive, but they're almost home. They're not scattered all over the neighborhood and all over my yard.

I get all the bees off that box and it doesn't take long. Now, this is an eight-frame medium. I went to eight-frame mediums a long time ago, and my back has said thank you every day. It still groans, but it says thank you every. I take that eight-frame medium, and I put it on that cover in my trailer and I put a cover on top of that and then I get ready for the next one. For me, I've made this as uncomplicated as I can and as easy as I can, but you are still exactly right. What does a 10-frame super weigh? 100 pounds full of honey?

Jim: If it's a deep, yes, that's about 85 to 90 pounds. That feels like 217 pounds when I'm picking it up.

Kim: [laughs] Well, my 40-pound eight-frame medium feels like about 65 pounds, but I can't handle 65 pounds anymore. How do you make that work? How do you go from getting your stuff out there ready to go to going?

Jim: Same way. I don't use bee repellants. Years ago in my lab, I had technicians and I had students who constantly used fume boards and bee repellants. I used them then, or they used them then, but I've never personally used them, so there's that. Secondly, I don't use escape boards, just because I have to handle the equipment so much. You got to go out, break all the colony apart, get the escape board put in place, put the equipment back on, have a night or two - or three - of low temperature or not get any robbing started, then go back, and in theory, most of the bees have voluntarily left the supers and there's fewer bee. No, none of that, Kim.

I get out a gasoline-powered bee blower and I blow bees all across the county. I mean, I'm not trying to be funny, but I need to get those bees out. This is an ugly job. The bees don't want to give it up. I don't want the bees attacking my neighbors who's reasonably close by. I don't know how far the bees would go, but I'm causing so much confusion. I have to assume they're going to be checking out the neighborhood.

I just go for a blower, and I used to use the bee industry-manufactured blowers, but anymore, everybody has a leaf blower, and I even have a little battery-powered blower that's just more of a dust gun for those hard-to-reach spots, and I still can't get them all out. I have to tell you; I get out 99%.  But back in my shop, that 1% looks like a million bees. I just blow them out, standing the super up on its edge. I've got a small rack that I use in the yard that I built a sawhorse contraption that I set them on. I'm fully suited.

Kim, I want to make that point. This is the time that I am fully suited top to bottom to include about a third of a roll of duct tape, somewhere on me. This is not a time for a casual, lightweight, mid to early spring bee suite. You need the “big boy” suite for this. I want to encourage the “big boy” smoker too, and have that thing going? I'm the guy who said, don't use a lot of smoke. Don't breathe smoke, don't do….well an on and on. On that particular day, on this particular job with these bees being this crazy, me opening 10 colonies, taking honey from them, they don't want to give up, that's the day that you need smoke. All deals are off on that day.

Heavily dressed, using smoke, two hive tools of different sizes to break those big colonies apart, gasoline blowers running, sticky gloves on, everything you described - the drip boards on the trailer, all of that. Get those colonies off, get those boxes off, get those bees blown out, twist, drop that thing off that colony. I wonder how many more years I can do this. I don't drop it per se, but I can't gently, just lightly, set down an 80-pound box.

Mine's really the same procedure as yours. Like I said, just a little bit more insanity. I mean, I just go probably double to triple the number of colonies, and I got to get them off. I got to get that stuff off, Kim, because it's time to treat for mites, golden rod right now. If you noticed up in your area, that golden rod bloom, that tight bloom on top, it's ready to go.

Kim: Started yesterday.

Jim: Yes. You can put it off, but golden rod and the bees don't put things off, they are right on schedule.

Kim: I got a friend a lot like you. He's got a lot more colonies than I do, and he's got neighbors that are closer, and he's still using those deeps. One thing that he did, he started doing a few years ago, is he went yesterday when he was cleaning up his yard, he put an escape board below the last super that he was going to take off. There was one or two or three or whatever it was, but he put on an escape board on so that when he got out there this morning, there were hardly any bees in there anyway. Now, I don't have it an escape board. I don't use them anymore, but I'm thinking about even doing that next year is putting an escape board.

You mentioned one thing about bringing a million bees back, and I don't bring a million, but I bring a bunch, some. Then what do you do? You got bees in your eye. I take mine and I put them in the garage, and people have to go into my garage twice a day any day because that's how I get my garage attached to my chicken coop. I'm locking them up at night and I'm closing them or letting them out in the morning. You’ve got to go in there.

One thing I found was that I got two windows in my garage and I cover one of them with just a-- I made a thing about a whole long time ago. It takes a light out. Any bees in there are going to go to the only window I got left. Now, I can do two things. I can open that window. It cranks open and it opens vertically and I can let them out, or I can take soapy water if that doesn't work. I don't like the soapy water trick, but sometimes that's what you got to do.

I don't want bees in my garage because I'm not going to extract that. I don't extract my honey. A friend of mine does that for me, but they're going to be there overnight until the next day. I got bees in my garage. You get bees in your what? How do you handle bees in your storage there?

Jim: I was just thinking of all that work you're doing. First of all, I get as many out as I can, and you do that too. That's common sense, but you just can't get them all out. Even though I cover them in the yard, you can't get them all out. The bees that come back to my shop where I extract, I need to tell anybody listening that I love my bees. I do whatever I can to keep them healthy, but a lot of those bees are going to die, Kim. They're going to die up at the windows, on the shelves, in front of the windows.

They were already older bees. I try to tell myself they were going to croak anyway, but they fly around the lights. You know what I do, Kim? I just tell people don't go in the shop unless you're a trained beekeeper - don't go in there. I mean, I have high ceilings. The ceilings are about 12 feet from me. They're up buzzing around the lights, but when there's 200 bees up there, they're dropping and buzzing and doing whatever.

What do I do? I'm ashamed to tell you, Kim, I get as many out in the field. Then I just deal with those that get brought back to the shop where I'm trying to extract. If I raise the door to let them out, but then I just let that many more in that are out there buzzing around because of the smell. I just replace the bees with the new batch. I'm sorry, I don't do much.

Kim: Well, you hit the magic term there, getting ready to extract, and that's a whole different depending on your space and your time and the number of supers you got to take honey out of. We could be here for another hour just talking about getting ready for that. I think we got our honey off. I think we got honey from the bee yard safely into where we're going to extract it or store it or whatever it is.

I do it without a lot of work. My back says, "You're not doing a lot of work anymore." I got to do it without a lot of work and I try to do it safely so I don't bring hardly any bees in. The bees that are left outside are close to home. They're not terrorizing the neighborhood. It's the best I can do. I've lived through it for 30 years. I guess I'm not going to change much.

Jim: I was just sitting here thinking, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. It's work, Kim. There's nothing I can do to make it any easier. I mean, it's work. This is not re-queening, this is work, but it does lead me with this point. I guess I'll finish after this. [chuckles] When someone hands me a pound of honey in a jar that's not sticky, and that it's all nice and filtered, I fully appreciate what a gift that is and what they had to go through to get that honey in that jar that is nice, clean, and neat. That is a true gift, Kim.

The work and the labor that had to go into getting that honey and that jar for them just to say, "Here. Here's a pound of my honey." That's like giving me two pints of their blood. [laughs] I mean, that was a lot of work to get to that point. I take them kindly and I realized what they went through. Removing supers - I have to do it. It's big work, big reward. It's a part of beekeeping that you have to grow into.


Kim: I think that's a good way to put it. Big work, big reward. Good way to end this one. I think maybe soon, we're going to talk about extracting, getting an extracting area ready, and then going through that process, but that's for another time.

Jim: That's for another time. That's just as much fun as getting it off the bees, getting it out of the cold. All right. Thanks for everybody for listening. Kim, I enjoyed talking to you.

Kim: We'll see you next time.

[00:18:36] [END OF AUDIO]