Learn to open a beehive and extract/store honey

New to beekeeping? This guide will teach you the proper technique to open a hive and harvest the honey, all while remaining sting-free.

Learn to open a beehive and extract/store honey

Make sure you're prepared

Before you start opening up the hive, use these tips as a checklist to ensure you're prepared.

  • Try to choose a sunny, windless day. Many bees will be out foraging and those still at the hive will be relatively calm.
  • As a beginner, you may prefer the protection of a veil and gloves when opening a hive. Thick gloves may be sting-proof, but they can make you clumsy and make the bees less tolerant. Tight-fitting kitchen gloves are a good compromise.
  • Veils are usually made of black mesh and the bees will sometimes pay more attention to the veil than to the rest of the beekeeper. This can create the false impression that they've become aggressive.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing when working with bees.
  • When you remove frames from the hive, some bees will fall to the ground and may crawl up your legs, so be sure to tuck your socks into your pant leg. Likewise, tuck shirt sleeves into the cuffs of your gloves.
  • The smell of some cosmetics can upset bees, so approach the hive scent-free.

Open the hive

  • Always move slowly and gently.
  • Quiet the bees with your smoker by puffing it into the hive. The most popular fuel for smokers is dried pine needles. Ensure that the smoke isn't too hot: you should be able to blow it onto your hand with minimal discomfort. Give the smoke a few minutes to take effect before proceeding to open the hive.
  • Pry the outer cover loose with your hive tool and lift it off. Blow more smoke through the hole in the inner cover. Remove this cover and blow smoke across the tops of the frames to drive bees down and out of the way.
  • Instead of smoke, bees can be cleared out with an escape board, which lets them move down but not up. Using a hive tool, pry up the super you want to remove and slide the board beneath it. Install the board 24 hours in advance to give bees time to leave the super.
  • Bees divide their hive into two parts: the brood nest near the entrance and the honey stores higher up. In the brood nest, look for a balanced mix of empty cells, eggs, young brood, sealed brood, and stores of pollen. In a healthy hive this mix will be distributed in a recognizable pattern. An experienced beekeeper can help you learn to recognize this pattern.
  • You don't need to see the queen: if you can see eggs, you know that she's laying.
  • Outside of the brood nest, look for the honey stores. Make sure that there are some empty frames ready to be filled with more honey. Look for honeycomb that's been built evenly within the frames you've provided.
  • Remove the super and pry the frames loose with a hive tool. Be careful not to crush any bees, as this will provoke other bees to attack. Shake off the bees clinging to the frames and brush away those that linger. A comb is ready if it's 80 percent sealed over.
  • Bad frames should be removed and replaced with good ones. If your bees have stuck parts of the hive together, you can use the hive tool to break the connections.

Harvest the honey

  • Each frame you've removed will fill about four .5 kg (1 pound) jars.
  • Uncap the combs in a bee-proof location, such as a tightly screened room. Slice the tops off of the combs with a sharp knife warmed in hot water.
  • If you're using an extractor, place the frames of uncapped comb in it and turn it on. If it's a manual model, turn the handle at moderate speed to avoid damaging the combs. Return the emptied combs to the hive so that the bees can clean and reuse them.
  • The newly extracted honey should be strained through cheesecloth to remove wax and impurities. Let the strained honey stand several days so that air bubbles rise to the top, then skim them off. If the honey naturally crystallizes, you can liquefy it by heating it in hot water and stirring occasionally.

Beekeeping requires a lot of work and perseverance. But once you taste your bees` honey for the first time, you'll understand what all of the buzz is about.

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