Late summer/early fall signals many things. It heralds the changing of colors in the tree canopies. The end of the warm season crops in the garden. Cool evenings. And for beekeepers, it’s the time when they can pull honey frames from their hives.
Removing honey frames is the first step in collecting honey at the end of the season. To help things go smoothly, there are a few things to keep in mind. For starters, select a day where the temperature is 70F or warmer (you don’t want to chill the bees and brood in the hives). Next, have your materials needed for frame removal gathered and ready in advance of the actual removal. This is not the time to make trips back and forth to where your bee supplies are kept. To help with your preparation, this list will keep you on track.
Items to have on hand
- bee veil
- hive tool
- bee brush
- frame grabber/lifter
- empty honey supers
To start the process, place dried materials in the smoker. Remember, the goal is to create smoke and not to have flames shoot out the nozzle when the bellows are compressed on the smoker. Once you have smoke, you are ready to start.
Be sure to don a veil and gloves. This is a time of year when even the most gentle honey bees become grumpy and easily agitated. (Their goal is to protect their honey stores and they will view you as an intruder). Also wear long pants (with cuffs snugly secured with rubber bands or tucked into boots) and a long-sleeved shirt. If you have a bee suit, you may wear that as well.
Next, remove the outer and inner covers of your Langstroth hive. Place them to the side so you don’t accidentally step on them. If you have a top feeder, remove that as well. From there, use your hive tool to pry up the corners of the top honey super which is the upper box(es) where honey is stored as the bees will have probably placed propolis (a sealant bees place in unwanted small gaps… such as the space between honey supers). This substance is resinous and sticky and may take some effort to pry apart the supers from one another.
If the bees are agitated or lined up between the frames so they are facing you, get the smoker and gently puff some smoke across the top of the frames. This should help calm them so you can continue with your tasks. Use a frame grabber/lifter to pull up the outer frame. NOTE: you may need to use the hive tool to pry up the corners of the frame from the super first. Remember that propolis that was mentioned earlier? Yeah. The bees use that everywhere. But once the corners are no longer affixed to the honey super, position the frame grabber/lifter over the middle of the frame and gently pull upwards until the frame has cleared the super.
Inspect the frame. Is the frame just drawn comb? (The outer frames may be just comb and not have any honey). Or do you see capped honey? Capped honey has a whitish surface. There will probably be bees on the capped honey frames. With your other hand, use the bee brush to gently sweep away bees as you don’t want to transport honey frames with bees. Don’t forget to brush both sides of the honey frame.
After the bees have been brushed from the frame, set down the brush and pick up a towel. Drape this towel across the top of the honey super. Not only will it help keep the bees in the super from following you, but it will also help reduce the chance of robbing by opportunistic insects such as yellow jackets or a feral bee colony.
With honey frame in hand, place it in the empty honey super. NOTE: this super should be in a location where bees won’t be able to get to… such as a garage or enclosed porch. If those are not an option, cover the honey super with another towel to keep bees from settling on the honey frame. The ultimate goal to end up with a honey super(s) with honey frames, not honey frames and bees.
Continue this process until all honey frames from the honey supers on your hives have been removed. Use the smoker as needed to help keep the bees calm. If bees begin to bump your veil at face-level, this is an indication they have had enough of your presence as this is their way of warning you. (There may also be a noticeable increase in the buzzing volume at the hive). If this happens, close up the hives by replacing the feeder (if one was removed at the beginning of the process) and the covers. You can go back later to finish the extraction.
But if you were able to remove all of the honey frames from the supers on the hives… congratulations! Now remove the empty supers from the hives and replace the covers on the hives to protect the deeps (boxes with bees, brood, and their honey supply for the winter). You may now store the empty supers for the season.
Breathe a sigh of relief. You have now removed the honey frames from the hives! Now you can move the supers that you filled with honey frames to where honey extraction will take place whether that will take place on your property or at another location.