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George Imirie's PINK PAGES
May 2003

The Do's and Don'ts of Harvesting Honey

Part 1: Getting most nectar capped
Part 2: Four methods of removing honey
Part 3: Extracting procedures and tricks
Part 4: Cleaning the extracted frames
Part 5: Storing drawn comb until next year

Getting most nectar capped

Beekeepers destroy so much good honey each year by extracting UNCAPPED nectar, which causes the honey to be higher than 19.6 specific gravity and the honey ferments. Bees do NOT CAP their honey until they have removed most of its water content and have allowed the necessary time for the enzyme, invertase, which they have added to the nectar to convert the nectar sugar, sucrose, into two simpler sugars, glucose and fructose, a process often referred to as "curing" or "ripening". Only when the nectar is totally cured or ripened do the bees CAP the cell which preserves it for its intended purpose - winter stores. The bees never did plan it for YOU!

The task of curing honey is difficult for bees in our high humidity area over most of Maryland, so we can give the bees some help. Near the end of our nectar flow, which is about the last week in May for most of Maryland, "shrink" the storage space in the supers by removing all slightly filled or zero filled frames, and move the UNCAPPED (but almost full) frames to the lowest super (the one next to the brood chamber), and leave everything quiet for a week or ten days until EXTRACTION TIME. The frames that you removed can be stored on another colony (like a swarm you caught) OVER the inner cover; and the bees of that colony will go through the inner cover hole, remove the nectar or honey and take it below for brood chamber feeding.

Near the end of June, and the year's crop of honey for human consumption is over, all your frames are at least 90-95% fully capped, your extraction equipment is clean and you are ready to extract. Now all you have to do is get that honey off your colonies, and get it to the extractor while it is still WARM, because uncapping and extracting is so much easier with WARM honey.

Four methods of removing honey

There are primarily FOUR ways of removing honey from bee hives: Using the Porter Bee Escape; brushing bees off of frames of honey; using an electric bee blower to blow the bees off of the frames; and, using some chemical like BeeGo, HoneyRobber, Benz- aldehyde, or Bee Quick to drive the bees away from the frames of honey with a smell they don't like.

The use of the Porter Bee Escape in the hole of the inner cover SIMPLY DOES NOT WORK IN OUR WARM MARYLAND NIGHTS, so I will not waste your time describing its function. It can only be used in places of warm days and CHILLY nights.

Many of you have concern about your neighbors feelings about your bees stinging them or their guests particularly when having a swim party, outdoor reception, or a cook-out. I strongly suggest that you do NOT brush your bees off of frames to harvest your honey, because you will lose your status of a community friend! Irregardless of how good a Bee Brush you have purchased or the care that you use with the brush, bees interpret your action as aggressive and perform their genetic duty and DEFEND their colony so it may survive. This action can involve a large area and hence maybe a large number of people, many of which think that the only place for bees is FAR, FAR AWAY. However, some die-hards are going to brush bees anyhow; so I have to tell you some tricks that might help. Have an empty super sitting in a hive top and some big WET TOWELS. Remove one frame of honey, "Rap it" or "Hit it" on its end against the ground close to the front entrance of the colony to jar most of the bees off the frame, brush it quickly, but lightly, put it in the empty super, and quickly cover the super with the wet towel. Repeat this same procedure for each frame, one at a time. Do not try to brush EVERY bee off of each frame because you will just get the bees more and more excited and defensive. When you get the super inside your house, remove the wet towel, most of the bees will fly right to a window or door. NEVER LEAVE A SUPER OF HONEY OUTSIDE FOR LONG - As soon as you fill the super, take it inside, and bring out an empty super for the next load of honey, or use the super that you just emptied of bees and honey.

Hopefully, some one else is in the house to start the uncapping and extracting work while the honey is still "hive temperature" warm; while you secure the 2nd super, etc. Many hands make light work!

Few beekeepers have a bee blower because of expense; but it is the best, easiest, and fastest of all honey removal systems. It doesn't seem to bother the bees any more than a windy breeze bothers them. You remove the super, stand it up on its end, point the blower nozzle at the spaces between frames and BLOW the bees out who will just fly home. Some times, you have to blow from both the frame tops and the frame bottoms to get those last "hold-on hard" bees, but you can usually blow 98-99% of all the bees out before you put the super on your cart and cover it. I recommend a bee-blower if you can justify the $250-$350 cost and have a source of electricity at your apiary.

Lastly, the chemical on a fume board is far and away the best system for everybody that does not have a bee blower. Let me explain the many good points! It works "automatically" freeing the super of bees while you just stand and rest; and you use NO SMOKE that will make the bees break the cappings. You buy or construct a FUME BOARD. A fume-board is identical with a hive top except its outside dimensions are those of a hive body, and the inside of the top has some absorbent material like burlap, a blanket, or an old winter cloth coat. The absorbent material is there to absorb and hold the liquid chemical that drive the bees away from it. How do you use this "critter"? You drip perhaps 1,2,or 3 teaspoons of the SMELLY chemical all over the absorbent - Don't use too much or it will stupefy the bees before they can move away. Remove the colony inner cover, using NO SMOKE, put the fume board on in place of the inner cover, and go get the mail, smoke a cigarette, eat a piece of pie, or just wait 5-10 minutes. VERY HARD TO DO! Remove the fume-board and remove the super under it (which should be completely empty of bees now), and put the super in some bee proof place. Repeat the process on the 2nd super, etc., etc. The amount of chemical you use for success will depend on your plan based on the temperature, the chemical used and amount of chemical, how long you left the fume board in place, and the number of bees in the colony and how easy or hard it is for them to confine themselves to less space, e. g., just two brood boxes and no supers. If you use too much chemical on a HOT humid day, you will stupefy some bees before they can "get below" in fresher air, or if you leave the fume-board on too long, you will find most of the bees outside of the hive clinging to the colony sides to get some fresh air. Neither of these events hurts or endangers the bees, they just have to wait until the air inside clears of chemical smell. Conversely, if you use too little of the chemical, or the temperature is cool, or you did not let it work a long enough time, you will find the bees have not totally left the super, and you will have to re-adjust one of the aforementioned variables. Once you "get the knack of it", you can remove a super totally free of bees about every 5-7 minutes; or use TWO separate fume boards and do two colonies at one time.

At this point, many of you are saying "Why is George being so evasive or non specific about what chemical to use?" Well, I delineated all the "goodies" about fume board removal of honey first, and I have left the SMELLS, the cost, the shipping restrictions to last. Here they are: The SMELLY ONE is butyric anhydride (my first college degree was chemistry) called BEE GO; and some suppliers have added oil of cherries to BEE GO to "soften" the STINK and named that Honey Robber. They both cost the same, about $16 per quart or $50/gallon plus shipping, and shipping is a problem. US POST OFFICE will not accept either chemical, and UPS charges an EXTRA SURCHARGE of $12 and only allows one quart in a shipment. WOW! Why? If you get some on your clothes, you can wash them a dozen times in Clorox, tomato juice, or gasoline, and you can still smell something akin to rotten eggs. IF you spilled some in your car or cab of your truck, you will either always drive alone or buy a new set of wheels. Take it from an old chemist - butyric anhydride STINKS!

Let me mention a beautiful odor - the oil of almonds - it is a lovely smell - it is the chemical, benzaldehyde. To my knowledge, Mann Lake Ltd., 1-800-233-6663 or e-mail: is the only supplier left, and it cost the same as Bee Go, $52 /gallon, no quarts that I know of - you would have to ask. I have used Benzaldehyde for umpteen years and would not even consider that STINKY BEE GO. There is also a NEW, fine smelling product out there named BEE QUICK that I am told, works great.

It is most interesting that as much as these chemicals STINK or smell pretty, if used correctly as I have described above, they leave absolutely no odor at all in your honey, beeswax, or frames - BUT IT WILL CERTAINLY STAY ON YOU if you get it on you!

Extracting procedures and tricks

All these "organic" people of today are concerned with "Was the honey HEATED or not" before it was bottled. I wish they knew as much about the chemical properties of honey as they know about how to formulate asinine rules for concerning the fitness of product. Do they know that the interior temperature of the brood nest must be maintained at 92-96 degrees for the queen to lay eggs and the brood to survive? When the temperature in the shade is 95 degrees, what does this "organic" seeker think the super temperature is on a colony sitting out in the sun? There is no argument that excess heat damages honey: kills some nutrients, darkens the color, changes the flavor, etc. BUT, HOW MUCH DOES THE WORD "EXCESS" MEAN? Surely, in nature, the highest outer range of honey temperature might be 120 degrees, and 100 degrees might be the temperature in the sun in May or June, whereas 80 degrees would be a warm, non air conditioned house temperature. Numerous physicists (my post graduate degrees are physics) have researched honey under all sorts of various conditions concerning viscosity (meaning resistance to movement), effect of temperature on viscosity change, and pressure applied. Keeping it simple for all you non-scientists, research on honey at these three temperatures with no pressure applied (in other words - how thick is it) shows the following: Honey will flow through a large pipe over twice as fast at 100° than at 80 degrees, and over five times faster at 120° than at 80 degrees. Forget science, and limit ourselves to the difficulties of extraction at temperatures we can handle. If we can rush our honey from the hive right to the extractor in a room of about 80° degrees, extraction can be done with a little effort and sweat; but if we let that honey sit overnight and it cools to say 70 degrees, extraction and handling honey is going to be slow, tedious and maddening. Now, knowing how important heat is in honey handling, let us stack the supers in a tightly closed empty closet in your house (or make one from plywood), and put a lighted 100 watt bulb inside that closet WITH A THERMOMETER and leave it over night or 48 hours. It is easy to get honey up to 100 degrees (still lower temperature than out in the sunny field in June). Maybe you only need a 60 watt bulb, or maybe your closet leaks air, so you have to use 150 watt bulb. So what? All you want is your honey to be 95-100 degrees so it will extract easily and rapidly, go through a strainer rapidly, and settle rapidly allowing the "trash" to come to the top as foam. YOU HAVE USED THE TEMPERATURES THAT HONEY WOULD BE EXPOSED TO IN NATURE, so it is Natural Honey. The "organic" nuts can go {someplace}, but my customers will buy my honey because they trust ME.

Let me tell you about "straining" or "filtering" honey. Filtering is just a higher form of straining in that filtering removes smaller pieces, e.g. pollen , whereas, straining only removes the "nuts and bolts" left in the honey after extraction, e.g., pieces of frame wood, propolis, bee leg or wing, or a piece of brood. I do both straining and filtering; straining because few people want a bee leg in their honey, and filtering because I try to remove much of the pollen in order to slow crystallization particularly with high glucose clover honey and surely with fast crystallizing goldenrod honey, if I was forced to keep it for human consumption. When the honey comes out of the extractor drain, it goes into a 5 gallon bucket that has a screen wire honey strainer on top of the bucket which removes about 90% of the "nuts and bolts". This honey goes back in the warming closet overnight to get its temperature back to about 95-100 degrees. I hope most of you remember your grandmothers crochetting hoops, which are two interlocked wooden round hoops that you put material tight across the surface in order to crochette patterns of colored thread onto it to make a pillow cover, e.g. Depending on how fine I want to filter the honey (not very fine for locust or tulip poplar, finer for clover, and real fine for fast crystallizing goldenrod), I stretch various materials over these hoops to run the honey through them. I use high denier (shear) nylon panty hose, or nylon slip material, or several layers of thin bridal veil, marquisette. NEVER EVER use CHEESECLOTH because this animal fiber will leave LINT in the honey. Always use some MAN MADE fiber like nylon or rayon, but not silk (made from silk worm web which leaves lint). Your 95-100 degree honey will pass this filtration quickly, but not rapidly into clean 5 gallon buckets. Close them up to keep the honey from sucking moisture out of the air and let the honey settle for at least 3 days, a week is better. Open them up, skim off the foam top with a skimmer and prepare to bottle from the bottom drain, so that you get no foam in your jar.

Finally, when your bees have worked until they died to gain this GOLDEN HARVEST of Mother Natures, and you have worked in heat, missed your dinner, got all the doorknobs of the house sticky, prove to the world that you are a beeKEEPER who is trying hard to save honey bees for their pollination efficiencies so we humans don't run out of food; then don't ruin the whole program by packing the honey in some old peanut butter or pickle jar, adding some stupid computer label, and INSULT the value of both you and your bees by selling this "jar of golden delight" for a degrading $2 or $3 per pound! BE PROUD - SELL YOURSELF - I think you are worth more than $2-$3/pd. - DON'T YOU?

Cleaning the extracted frames

Let me assure you that the bees will do a far better job cleaning frames than ever you could do. Further, you may well change their stretch points, loosen the beeswax hold to the wood, or introduce some foreign substance onto the wax; and lastly, the presence of bees clearly indicates to the greater wax moth: I AM NOT WANTED HERE So, how do you clean the frames the easy way - the natural way - the bee way? Select one of your good strong hives, remove the telescoping cover, but leave the inner cover in place and the center hole open. Pile your dirty, honey wet, supers filled with either 9 or10 empty frames on top of the inner cover, 5-6 supers high if you want, and seal a top on the topmost super so no bee can enter the stack. The bees should have these supers sparkly clean, ready for next years "fill up" of new honey, in less than a week, However, because I am lazy, I usually leave them on there longer for two reasons: The bees prohibit the entrance of the wax moth, and if for some unknown crazy reason, bees locate some nectar source, they have all this empty place to store it, and I can use that for winter feed. I remove these supers when I put menthol in my colonies on August 15th, and tightly stack them in my honey barn protected from wax moths by PDB (para- dicloro-benzene) which is the subject of Part 5 of these PINK PAGES.

Storing drawn comb until next year

How many dozen times have I told you that "Drawn comb is the beekeepers most valuable possession"? EVERY ONE of you has had trouble making bees drawn foundation and has made mistake after mistake trying until you finally broke down and went back to the basics that I have repeated ad nauseum. So, saying THAT and reminding you that I am correct and your lack of attention to detail has caused you to LOSE YOUR DRAWN COMB TO WAX MOTHS! It is so simple to do, so GET OFF YOUR FAT BUTT, and do it. Don't go off halfcocked again and be persuaded to get the WRONG stuff because it was cheaper, some friend said it was better, or old Joe, that mountain man who has kept bees in gums for 100 years told you that he just stores his comb out in cold shed with his moonshine whiskey and creosote fence post preservative. If you lose your comb this winter, don't look for me 'cause I'm tired of repeating instructions over and over and over again and again. The chemical you want (NO SUBSTITUTES) is PDB which stands for para-dichloro-benzene. It is a white crystalline material that sublimes (turns from solid to gas bypassing the liquid stage) at high room temperature. It has two common uses that you see quite often: it is the better type of moth balls to keep the moths out of Grandad's bedroom winter rug and it keeps moths out of Grandmothers winter lamb wool coat while hanging in the summer hot attic. It is also used as a 99% concentrate formed brick as a deodorant in men' urinals in restrooms You can buy PDB from the bee supply houses for about $2.50/pound + shipping; or any hardware store should have it if they sell rugs or urinals, and even the Giant and Safeway grocery stores sell it. BUT READ THE FINE PRINT TO MAKE SURE THE PRODUCT IS PDB (paradichlorobenzene) AND NOT SOME PETROLEUM PRODUCT. It is much easier to use the small crystals than pieces of a big solid block, so I prefer the crystals for rugs or clothes rather than the urinal block which I have to break up with a hammer. Now there is NO TRICK to its use - just exactly follow my directions. Fit a super with frames into an upside down hive top, add a second super of frames, put 2-3 teaspoons of PDB crystals on a 8x11 piece of paper and set that paper on top of the frames of super #2, on supers 3 and 4 put another piece of paper with 2-3 teaspoons of PDB crystals on top of frames in super #4, repeat for supers 5&6. Put a Hive top or board on the topmost super and seal it on with masking tape. Now take masking tape and seal the crack all way around between supers. When the crystals of PDB turn into gas, it is HEAVIER than AIR, so it goes down towards the floor; but it performs all of this in a sealed unit with masking tape. Since wax moths are a warm weather critter, they are not active in cold weather. Hence, make this stack of sealed supers with PDB in your barn, your garden shed, your carport, your outdoor porch, or your cool basement - but the colder the better. I do this on August 15th (when I install Menthol on the bees), and I repeat it about October 1st when I put my winter Apistan strips on my bees for 8 weeks. I sometimes have to repeat it again about the time I start feeding 1:1 sugar syrup which is about February 15th. When I install supers for next years crop on April 15 of every year, I break open these sealed up supers 3-4 days in advance of 4/15 and let them air out in the sun and breezes. YOU HAVE PRESERVED YOUR PRICELESS POSSESSION, DRAWN COMB; AND YOU CAN ALMOST FORGET ALL THAT FOUNDATION TROUBLE!

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper