Here is a series of posts on how it was done, the end to end process. There are many possible variations on these methods, but I find this works for me.
Before we start . . .
(I think) it is important, at this point, to step back for a moment and consider how we will harvest our honey.
The conventional approach is to use a centrifugal honey extractor. Even non-beekeepers think that is 'how it is always done'. If you question that wisdom, the response is usually that 'it is so much faster'. That may be true if you are a professional honey producer, but probably not if you have one or two hives in your garden.
The important point here, from a Natural Beekeeping (NB) perspective, is that once you decide to use an extractor (bought, hired or loaned) then you lock yourself into a whole way of keeping bees which involves more work, money, equipment, complexity and (in our view) less bee-friendly hives. All this and more for the aims of 'more honey' and 'easier harvesting'. I wrote more on this topic here.
The alternative is the low tech/low cost/simple (NB) approach. You have a decision to make and each method takes you down a different and important beekeeping track. If you are already a top bar beekeeper, you have limited choices anyway.
Here we illustrate the more Natural approach.
First job - take the honey from the bees
Here's how the hive looked at the start - two Ideal supers, which I planned to remove for harvest. I'm using Ideals for their lower weight and for their flexibility in management.
|Before - Warre'd Lang with Kenyan|
From above, the top super looked to be full of capped honey, I later found it it was only capped at the tops of the frames and the rest of the comb was near full of nectar - probably close to being capped, but I didn't want to mix that in with the capped honey, so I later returned the top Ideal to the bees as extra winter stores. You can't extract and store nectar or mix it with mature honey in case it causes fermentation. I believe 20% is the maximum amount of nectar advised in a harvest.
Once the (Warre) roof was off, I used a little smoke to encourage the bees to move down and out. I don't believe in using a lot of smoke - it disturbs the bees and it can taint the honey with smokey smells and that's the last thing you want!
|The supers with their temp base and lid with two 'witches hat' cones for exits|
You could return the frames, close up the hive and leave the brood for upto three weeks (depending on its maturity) and then harvest once it has emerged. Or, if you have a number of honey supers on the hive and wanted to harvest that day, you could swap the frames (containing brood cells) with frames of capped honey from a another super. That way you have at least one box full of capped honey to harvest and the brood returned to the hive.
Of course, 'queen excluders' were invented to prevent the inconvenient appearance of brood in pristine honey supers. In NB we do not use them as they are an additional, avoidable, imposition on the bees which we (and they) can live without.
Once the boxes were removed from the hive, the next job was to get the bees out (clearing the box). Rather than manually intervene with brushes and smoke, I took the no-stress approach pioneered local by our group convenor, Andrew Janiak. This is to:
- place a plastic covered base under the boxes (the plastic catches any honey dripping from broken comb) - in this case I used a spare Lang lid covered with a cut-up shopping bag;
- then place a top on the boxes with some 'witches hats' built in. I made mine from a simple timber frame with a plywood cover - I cut two holes in the plywood and placed flywire cones in the holes. Assembly and attachment of the cones was a bit tricky - but not too hard. I don't have three hands, so used a staple to hold the shape while I attached them to the wood (with more staples and tape).
|Bee leaving via the cone|
I left this for about 3 hours, noting that most of the exiting traffic ceased within the first hour. I strapped the 'hive' together and moved it to the house, ready for honey extraction. I opened up the box to check for bees before bringing them in for harvesting - there was one single bee with its head in a cell - I gave it a nudge and it buzzed off. This surely has to be the easiest, most stress-free way to separate bees from the honey!
|The boxes removed to the house - now empty of bees (bar one)|