Ask 10 beekeepers the best way to remove bees from honey supers and you’ll get eleven answers. As with anything else, every beekeeper has their preferred method for accomplishing any task. In this post, I’ll examine how to remove bees from the super so the honey can be harvested. When a hive is opened, bees crawl over nearly every frame in each box. This is a good indication that your hive is healthy with a good population of bees. But having hundreds of bees crawling on the capped honey is not helpful when you are ready to harvest. There are three distinct methods to remove bees from honey supers: chemical, manual, and escape.
Chemical means of forcing bees out of the super involves the use of a fume board. A fume board is the same shape as a honey super but only 4-5 inches high. A cloth or felt pad is tacked over the board and sprayed with a repellent chemical. Popular brands are Bee Quick or B-Gone. Within minutes, the bees flee the super and it can be removed from the hive. The chemicals come with serious warnings about the damage it can do on human skin, as well as respiratory risks. For large operations that need to remove a lot of supers quickly, this is likely the most efficient method. For a small hobby operation with a desire to reduce the use of chemicals in all areas of life, this just doesn’t fit.
Manually removing bees from the supers requires removing each frame from the super, freeing the bees from the frame and placing each into another box. This requires a lot of handling of each frame and a helper to keep the bees from entering the new box. This process can be completed with a bee brush or an air compressor set to a very low volume. The key is to be gentle with the bees and patient in the process.
A chemical-free and less labor-intensive method is to use a bee escape. Bee escapes are a one-way door that allows bees to exit the honey super but not find their way back in. There are three primary styles: Porter, triangle, and vortex. Porter escapes are inserted into the oval hole in an inner cover. Place the inner cover underneath the super that will be harvested approximately 24 hours before you expect to remove the super. Bees will move into the brood box during their normal course of business and not be able to re-enter the honey super. Essentially the triangle board is a more complex system of a one-way path out of the super as is a vortex.
I have not used either of these but am intrigued enough to get one for next year. I have found that 24 hours does not really allow enough time for a significant number of my bees to leave the super and more than 72 hours seems to allow the bees time enough to find a way back in. In these instances, I end up brushing off each of the frames anyway and transferring each to a new box.
After using a bee escape of any variety, it is useful to place asolid board over the top of the super and lift off the entire package: bee escape board, super and solid board. Be aware that some bees may still be clinging to the bottom of the bee escape system. You will need to brush these off before bringing the box into your honey house for harvest. There may also be a few stray bees in the super, brush these off with a bee brush as well.
Using a bee escape requires the most planning. You must account for the timing and weather conditions for not only the day you place the escape but the day you plan to remove the super.
After experimenting with a Porter bee escape, the low-pressure air compressor and a bee brush, I am still not settled on the best system for our operation. Next year will definitely see us trying the triangle escape.There is always some kind of learning activity at Five Feline Farm. Sometimes it is planned and sometimes trial and error. Stop by to see the latest.
To learn more, check out 9 Tips for an Easier Honey Harvest.
Guest post from Julia Miller of MOTHER EARTH NEWS
I actually have a question…if you bees die over the winter and there is still honey and candy board available to them, is there evidence as to why they died? Can you tell if mights killed them? Or, is there something else that you might see that can gives clues to their death? If condensation, will there be ice left behind or a puddle? Just trying to get more of a grip on the winter die off thing. Thanks for your articles. They are informative.
I have used both the ‘porter’ bee escape and the triangle escape, the latter is by far the better method. Haven’t heard about the chemical method.