|Bee Escape in use|
Harvesting honey from a Warre hive is not as straightforward as harvesting from a Langstrom hive—or from a top bar hive, for that matter. There are three essential problems: bees on comb, comb attaching itself to the box, and comb breaking off of the bar. With a few extra tools, these problems are, if not solved, much reduced.
- · Box full of honey
- · Bee escape
- · Empty box
- · Hive tool—bright yellow is good
- · “Ultimate Hive Tool” from Bee thinking, which cuts the comb from the side of the box
- · A big platter
- · A colander and bucket or bowl
Problem One: Bees on the comb. Photographs of honey harvest always show a beekeeper, calm and pristine, gently brushing a dozen bees off of a honey comb, which is always in one piece, and one beautiful curve, hanging from the bar. In my experience, this is not what happens. My comb, if it holds together, is covered with bees. If I am able to brush some off, many remain and are squashed by the harvest. Bee Death is distressing. I have wrestled with this problem for years. Early this year, I borrowed a triangular bee escape from a friend, but it was sized for a Langstrom hive and did not work. Still determined, I purchased a circular escape (four dollars, folks! This is a deal!), attached it to a board, and slipped it under my full box of honey, with an empty box—no bars—underneath. Within three days, the bees were gone. Not all of the bees—there were a couple of dozen really fat drones left behind (I don’t think they could fit through the gaps)—but enough so that I could brush them off of the comb. A Bee Escape, sized for your hive, should come with every hive, every “beginner’s kit.”
Comb Attached to the Box: This is one that never appears in the bee keeping books, but, along with crossed comb, happens regularly in the hive. Bees build comb out to the edge of the bar and attach it to the side of the box. It makes sense; the comb is much stronger when it is attached on three sides. It can hold more honey. It can reach down and bond with the box below. Attached comb creates a huge honey mess and more Bee Death. I’ve resolved this issue with a clever tool I found at Bee Thinking, the store in Portland where I buy my hives. It’s about a foot long, has a sharp flat blade on one end, which can be run down the side of the box when you turn it over to free the comb, and a turned blade on the other end, which can be fed down between the combs, turned, and drawn up, releasing the comb. It is a little short and is quickly covered in honey when I use it, but it has transformed the Comb Attachment problem. I use it before I attempt to loosen the bar and I have been able to lift out whole combs, if not on the bar, at least with my hands. I can also use it between bars to push aside crossed comb. It does not replace the hive tool, which I still use to separate boxes and pry out bars, but it fills a lovely niche. Much better than the old bread knife I was using.
Comb Breaking off of the Bar: This is the dirty secret of Natural Bee Keeping, when you allow your bees to build comb without a foundation. It is never discussed in the books, but Comb Breaks Off. Regularly. If the bar is completely filled with honey, it will break. If it comes right out, then you know that it is not full. It does not matter if you hold the comb straight with the ground. It breaks. Even after I have cut it away from the sides of the box, it breaks. This is where the platter comes in really handy. When the comb breaks, if it is not covered with bees, I can reach in, lift it out, and drop it on the platter, which catches the dripping honey nicely, and move onto the next bar.
Once I have harvested all of the comb, I put it into a colander, set it over a big bowl, break it up, and put it in the greenhouse, with all of the windows shut, to drain. It is essential to place the draining honey somewhere where the bees will not find it, as it will be quickly covered in insects if you do not. Inside the house can be a good idea, if the harvest went well and you do not mind a few bees buzzing around inside. They are not interested in you, after all, but the honey. When it has drained, I pour it into quart sized canning jars for storage.