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 of gallons of your marvelous honey in a few hours and have honey to share with your friends, family, and neighbors!
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.
Recommended Tools for Removing Honey From Your Beehive
- Bee escape, escape screen, or Bee Quick and fume pad
- Honey extractor (You can extract honey without an extractor, but it's much more time consuming and messy.)
- Hot electric knife (this is also not a necessity, but definitely worth having if you can.)
- Cappings scratcher
- Jars and lids
- 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.
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 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:
- The extractor
- Plastic gloves (optional)
- A honey bucket
- Your heated electric knife and/or capping scratcher
- 400-600 Micron Filter
- Extra tub for wax cappings
- Jars washed and ready
- Space heater (optional)
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
My good friend helping in the honey harvest!
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 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
Frames in the Honey Extractor. Try to balance the frames to prevent the extractor from wildly vibrating.
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.
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 honey flow has ceased, remove the super of empty, clean comb after a week has passed.
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
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.
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.
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!
Questions & Answers
Question: I want to ask the same question in a different way, when finished extracting honey and there is still nectar flow, can I add the same frames back? Will the bees build onto those frames?
Answer: Yes! They will add more honey to those frames quickly. I highly recommend adding back the frames you just extracted from and they will fill them back up!
Question: Do I need to sterilize the bottles when using them to store honey?
Answer: I wash the bottles in my dishwasher a few days ahead of time so that they are completely dry when I put the honey in the jars. The only way that honey will go bad is if it is in contact with moisture, so make sure they're dry.
Question: When removing frames to extract honey, should I replace each frame with a new one, or just leave the hive empty?
Answer: It depends on the time of year. If you are removing frames before the winter months, you should be reducing the hive anyway. So, I would remove the frames and box(es) and winterize the hive. If this is your first harvest of the spring, you will need to add the frames back or replace them. If at all possible, try to remove and extract within a couple of days. You can leave the empty box on the hive so the bees have room at night, and add back the frames after extraction. The bees will fill them up quicker if the comb is built out and they still have some honey left over from the extraction. If you have built-out comb, you could add those frames instead of adding back the extracted frames.
I know that beekeepers also add the frames back for a day or two even if they are reducing the hive just to clean up the frames, but this seems like a lot of work to go in the hive again.
Mrs. Carolyn Olinger on November 15, 2018:
Fantastic video. I would love to do this but I am allergic to bees
Nemi on June 12, 2018:
Thank you. I've read several how-tos about honey harvesting and yours is the most helpful one.
Deborah Minter from U.S, California on August 27, 2017:
What a fascinating thing to do at home. Wonderful article!
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on August 14, 2017:
Hi Annette! Congrats on your new hive. If you have a super (box) that is full of only honey, you can harvest it. It's almost always the top box on the hive, so you can go in your hive and take a look. They tend to fill the outer frames first, so if your inner frames are full, you are probably good!
However, remember that you need to leave some honey for the bees over the winter, so never take any honey from their brood boxes. You also will likely want to reduce the number of frames come winter and build up rather than out. I like to leave frames of honey directly above them so it's easy to go up and get honey during the winter time when they aren't foraging. There's enough time right now to harvest and they might fill up the returned frames with more honey for the winter.
Make sure that the cells on the frame are capped, at least 80-90%. As soon as you're done extracting, you can add the frames back to the hive for the bees to either refill them or clean them up for storage. I'm not sure where you live and the weather, so it depends on how cold it gets in the fall. I'm in California, so they keep filling up frames with honey until October time. Good luck and let me know how it goes!
Birungi Annette on August 13, 2017:
I got a brief explanation about beekeeping from project manager of Hossan beekeeping project. I picked an interest and I started a small project of ten hives and all are now full of bees. They entered at the end of June. The question is when am I to harvest. Please let me know. Blessings to all!
Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on March 17, 2017:
I too am interest in honey bees. My beekeeper friends sparked my interest. You gave a great explanation about beekeeping.
Rich on July 03, 2016:
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 Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on September 25, 2014:
Thanks, Dressage Husband. If you ever decide to keep bees, let me know! I'm on my third year and it's great!
Stephen J Parkin from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada on September 25, 2014:
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 from United States on August 20, 2014:
Its great to see you harvesting honey... Thanks for giving us such a close look of honey farm.
Disillusioned from Kerala, India on August 08, 2014:
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 Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on May 29, 2013:
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 from Nepal on May 03, 2013:
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.