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How to Harvest Honey from a Beehive

Extracting Honey from a Bee Hive

Almost every beekeeper looks forward to the day when they are able to reap the rewards of their hive - the honey! Local honey created by your bees is one of the best aspects of starting a hive. For those beekeepers who have never extracted honey from their hive, the process can feel a bit overwhelming. However, if you follow the steps below, you should be able to harvest at least a few jars if not a couple gallons of your marvelous honey in a few hours and have honey to share with your friends, family, and neighbors!

My honey!
My honey!

Brood Chamber Honey

Don't forget to leave honey in the hive for the bees. I never remove honey from the brood chamber; that honey is only for the bees. If you are going into wintertime, your bees need honey to survive. If you are harvesting in late summer, they should have time to replenish their stores.

Diagram of a beehive, including brood chambers.
Diagram of a beehive, including brood chambers. | Source

Recommended Tools for Removing Honey From Your Beehive

  1. Bee escape, escape screen, or Bee Quick and fume pad
  2. Honey extractor (You can extract honey without an extractor, but it's much more time consuming and messy.)
  3. Hot electric knife (this is also not a necessity, but definitely worth having if you can.)
  4. Bucket
  5. Cappings scratcher
  6. Filter
  7. Jars and lids
  8. Smoker for removing the frames from the hive

Suit Up and Use Your Smoker When Removing Frames

Don't forget to use your smoker and wear your bee suit during the process of removing honey frames, as the bees might not be thrilled that you are taking away their stores.

My beekeeping buddy.  She does not go into the hive with me but loves to observe the bees.  :)
My beekeeping buddy. She does not go into the hive with me but loves to observe the bees. :)

Step One: Use a Bee Escape for Easier Extraction

Before removing your frames, the bees need to be coaxed out of the honey super. This can be made easier by planning ahead.Twenty-four hours before you are going to remove your frames, place a bee escape in the hole in the inner cover of your hive, between the brood chamber and the honey super.

The bee escape allows bees to only travel in one direction through the device. Be sure to insert the bee escape the correct way so that the bees do not become confined to the honey super and aren't able to get down to the brood chamber - the opposite of what you want to happen. In the evenings, bees will cluster to keep warm. Those bees that are in the honey super will migrate down to the brood chamber and will not be able to return to the honey super.

If you don't have twenty-four hours, you can use a product called Bee Quick that is sprayed on a fume pad. The bees dislike the smell of the Bee Quick and will move away from the smell. If you use this method, be sure to remove the Bee Quick within a short period of time or your bees may leave the hive!

Step Two: Remove the Frames from the Hive

Before you can begin extracting honey from your hive, you need to remove the desired frames. Some beekeepers decide to extract all of their honey at once, others that have many hives, divide up their extraction time. I borrow the honey extractor from our local Bee Guild, so I extract all of my honey at one time.

Once your bees are out of the honey super, remove the super and take out the frames that are fully capped. A frame that is at least three quarters capped is ready can also be removed from the hive and processed. Honey that is not capped should not be extracted as it does not have the right moisture content. Bees will apply a wax cap on honey that has a moisture content of 17 to 18%. Honey with a higher moisture content is likely to ferment. If you eat this honey within a month, it should be fine, but I don't recommend harvesting uncapped honey unless your bees have abandoned your hive.

Remove any bees that are left on your frames with either a bee brush or another organic material, e.g., a feather, blades of grass, lavender stems, etc. You can also shake the frames in front of the hive to remove the bees, although this is a bit more disruptive. Once you have removed the bees from the frames, place the capped honey frames in a plastic tub to transport to your extractor.

Once the frames are removed from the hive, they should be kept indoors away from the bees to prevent robbing. The warmer your honey is the easier it will flow from your frames. If the room is between 80-90 degrees, the honey will flow from the frames at a much quicker rate. At a minimum, the honey should be room temperature. Honey that is stored at cooler temperatures, especially those under 57 degrees, will likely cause granulations. However, you can freeze honey supers if needed. I will usually place my honey near a heater before extracting and warm the room where I will be extracting.

Remove Honey Frames Easily Using a Bee Escape

Step Three: Set Up Your Work Station

Before you begin extracting, get all of your materials ready as you will be a bit sticky once you begin! I recommend making the following items readily accessible:

  1. The extractor
  2. Plastic gloves (optional)
  3. A honey bucket
  4. Your heated electric knife and/or capping scratcher
  5. 400-600 Micron Filter
  6. Table
  7. Extra tub for wax cappings
  8. Jars washed and ready
  9. Space heater (optional)

Our honey extraction work area.
Our honey extraction work area.

Step Four: Remove Wax Cappings from Frames

A heated electric knife is the easiest way to remove wax cappings from a frame of honey. Hold the frame over a tub that will collect the wax cappings. To remove the cappings, start at the top of a frame, holding the frame vertically, and slowly and carefully move the knife down the frame removing the wax cappings. Obviously, it is ideal if you only remove the capping and not too much of the honey; plus, you want to give your bees their beautiful built-out frames back!

I tend to prepare all of the frames before I extract the honey, but if you have a partner helping you, one person can remove the cappings while another works the extractor. Most extractors require three frames to begin extracting.

Don't forget to keep your wax cappings to make candles, lip balms, or lotions!


Uncapping the Wax from the Honey Frames with a Hot Knife

Click thumbnail to view full-size
My good friend helping in the honey harvest!Cutting wax off a bee frame with a hot knife.  Beautiful golden honeyFrame of honey with wax removed.  Yum!
My good friend helping in the honey harvest!
My good friend helping in the honey harvest!
Cutting wax off a bee frame with a hot knife.
Cutting wax off a bee frame with a hot knife.
Beautiful golden honey
Beautiful golden honey
Frame of honey with wax removed.  Yum!
Frame of honey with wax removed. Yum!

Step Five: Extraction Time!

Place your honey bucket and filter under the spout of the extractor and close the spout. Be sure to place your frames in the proper way. Try to place frames of equal weight opposite one another to balance the extractor. If frames of differing weights are opposite one another, the extractor will violently shake and rattle.

Most extractors will remove honey from only one side of the frame at a time; when one side of the frame is empty, you will need to switch the frame around to remove the honey from the other side of the frame. Begin spinning the frames slowly, then speed up. I recommend spinning the frames for 4 minutes, then switching around the frames. Repeat this until all of the honey is removed from the frame.

How quickly the honey is extracted from the frames depends on the quality of the extractor and the heat of the honey; warmer honey will flow quicker than cooler honey. Once you have honey at the bottom of the extractor, you can open the honey gate/spout and see your honey beginning to flow!

If you don't have an extractor, you can leave your uncapped frames to drip into a bucket overnight. The room should be at least 80 degrees. I don't recommend leaving your frames out in the hot sun because they are at risk of being robbed by other bees, but I have seen this done. If you are a member of your local bee guild, they will probably lend you an extractor. If you are not a member of a local bee group, I highly recommend it!

Extracting Honey from a Treated Hive

Do not extract honey from a hive that is being treated with antibiotics or any type of mite control. If your hive has a honey super on it, do not apply any treatments. If you are going to treat your hive, do so after the honey flow and when you've removed your honey super. Personally, I don't treat my hive, so this isn't a problem.

Extracting Honey from the Frames

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Frames in the Honey Extractor.  Try to balance the frames to prevent the extractor from wildly vibrating.Spinning the ExtractorYou can see the filter.  Without the filter bee bits and wax cappings would be in your honey.Honey Flowing out of the Extractor into a BucketFrame after Honey was Extracted
Frames in the Honey Extractor.  Try to balance the frames to prevent the extractor from wildly vibrating.
Frames in the Honey Extractor. Try to balance the frames to prevent the extractor from wildly vibrating.
Spinning the Extractor
Spinning the Extractor
You can see the filter.  Without the filter bee bits and wax cappings would be in your honey.
You can see the filter. Without the filter bee bits and wax cappings would be in your honey.
Honey Flowing out of the Extractor into a Bucket
Honey Flowing out of the Extractor into a Bucket
Frame after Honey was Extracted
Frame after Honey was Extracted

Step Six: Bottle your Honey!

Most honey will have air pockets in it after being extracted. If you let your honey sit for a few days before bottling it, the air bubbles will rise to the top of the bucket. Buying or making a bucket with a valve on the bottom will allow you to pour the honey from the bottom of the bucket into your honey jars without the air bubbles. My first time extracting, I did not allow the honey to sit and all of my jars had air bubbles at the top. This isn't a problem except for aesthetics.

Bottled Honey

Beautiful Honey Bottled.  This honey was from my first harvest three and a half months after receiving my bees.  Not bad!
Beautiful Honey Bottled. This honey was from my first harvest three and a half months after receiving my bees. Not bad!

Harvesting Honey Video: Removing Frames to Bottling

Step Seven: Return Frames to your Hive

After you have removed the honey, return the frames to the bees so that they can sufficiently clean out the "empty" wet comb. If your honeyflow has ceased, remove the super of empty, clean comb after a week has passed.

Honey Nutritional Facts

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 Cup
Calories 1031
Calories from Fat0
% Daily Value *
Fat 0 g
Saturated fat 0 g
Unsaturated fat 0 g
Carbohydrates 279 g93%
Sugar 278 g
Fiber 1 g4%
Protein 1 g2%
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 14 mg1%
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

Healing Properties of Honey

Honey has been known to be beneficial and helpful:

  • As an anti-inflammatory
  • To stimulate new tissue growth
  • As an antimicrobial agent
  • To provide quick energy
  • To retain calcium in the body
  • To counteract alcohol in the blood

Common Issues with Honey

Problem
Definition
Cause
Solution
Fermentation
The process of turning honey into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
High water content in the honey, honey stored at wrong temperature, or honey has yeast spores.
If honey becomes fermented it is no longer viable. Do not feed it to your bees as it may poison them.
Granulation
The crystallization of honey.
Honey that has a higher proportion of glucose to fructose will granulate faster. This ratio is dependent on the type of nectar that the bees bring back to the hive.
Granulation is usually not a problem. You can easily reheat your honey and the honey will return to its former liquid property.
Thixotrophy
Thick, almost solid honey.
High protein content in honey.
A special type of extractor can be used, or when honey is spread it becomes less viscous. Pure grapefruit, Manuka, and Ling honey are known to have this issue.

Enjoy your Honey!

Let us know how it turns out in the comments section and if you have any other added pieces of advice for our fellow beeks!

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Comments 7 comments

Rich 5 months ago

Going to extract my first batch of honey tomorrow. This is my first year and this article and the video were extremely helpful. Rich,


Robin profile image

Robin 2 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks, Dressage Husband. If you ever decide to keep bees, let me know! I'm on my third year and it's great!


Dressage Husband profile image

Dressage Husband 2 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

I really liked this article as it is well written and presented. If and when I get my Haskap Orchard set up I will be back to learn! Interesting and useful to me. I will be back to read more about your bees!


Rehan Ahmad profile image

Rehan Ahmad 2 years ago from Indonesia

Its great to see you harvesting honey... Thanks for giving us such a close look of honey farm.


C.V.Rajan profile image

C.V.Rajan 2 years ago from Kerala, India

Your well written article brought me fond memories of my childhood when my father was keeping beehives as a hobby for a couple of years. Ah! Nothing more tasty than a home-extracted honey!


Robin profile image

Robin 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi Vinaya,

It's great fun! Do you maintain the hives on your farm? My hive this year is doing fantastic; it's really fun to see. If you try to harvest the honey, I'm happy to help with any questions!


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal

Robin,

I have never done this even though we have couple of bee hives in our farm. Maybe I should try this.

I have watched people harvest honey. This a a fantastic documentation of the harvest process.

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    Robin Edmondson (Robin)2,269 Followers
    84 Articles

    Robin has been keeping bees and harvesting honey for 4 years and enjoys being a backyard beekeeper.



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