Harvesting the Honey

I presently have a single four-box Warre hive.  Actually, the top box is a Langstroth ‘Jumbo’ brood box.  The bees were delivered to me in the Langstroth Jumbo in October 2012.  After over-wintering I placed the Jumbo box (with a conversion board under it) on top of a three-box Warre hive.  The bees thrived last year. I had a prime swarm in the spring followed by several casts.  The neighbours were very understanding!

Since setting up my hybrid Warre hive last spring, I haven’t opened it.

Recently, on fine days, I have observed some bees leaving the hive.  Some are carrying out dead bees and others are bringing in pollen.

Assuming that the colony has over-wintered successfully, I imagine that the queen will soon be laying eggs and the emerging bees will start to bring in nectar and pollen.  At that stage I guess it will be ok to lift off the original Langstroth Jumbo and harvest any honey which the bees have not consumed.  At the same time I will put a new, empty Warre box at the bottom of the stack.

Does this seem ok, and what time of day is best to carry out this operation?

Thanks in advance for any advice given.


Graham Brookbanks (Chandlers Ford)

ps with regard to my previous query about setting up a second hive, I appreciate John’s excellent advice about siting the second hive at a significant distance from the first one.  Unfortunately I have only a small suburban garden and that luxury isn’t available to me.  The new hive will have to take its chance next to the existing one.  Fortunately I live next to a nature reserve so I don’t think competition for limited resources should be an issue.

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8 Responses to Harvesting the Honey

  1. johnmkubwa says:

    Graham, Colonies will be expanding rapidly during spring time and will base their rate of expansion on the state of the ‘larder’. The Bee will have to generate much heat to raise and maintain the brood nest at 35 degC; any cold snap in the weather (remember last April when it happened well into the honeyflow) will further stretch their resources. Someone taking away the stores at a critical time will cause significant stress.

    People have said one can remove surplus stores once the honey flow has started and the warm weather is established. What is surplus and what should be left? Some beeks reckon an emergency reserve of 5 kgs should be available, in season.

    In my experience, five Warré boxes can yield a surplus provided the colony does not swarm in year; 4 boxes rarely if ever. In autumn, I usually weigh carefully the whole hive then the top 2 or 3 boxes to assess the weight of bees, brood, wax and stores and always leave at least 16kg of stores for winter. In autumn, the colony is contracting and the brood nest shrinking as the Bee prepares to cluster for winter and builds the winter stores. In spring much of the ‘bee’ weight can be brood at a time of consumption and expansion; some of the brood nest is often in the topbox of 3 boxes.

    In your situation, after 2013 swarms, I doubt there will be a surplus of honey; the Bee will have collected ‘enough’ stores to over winter(2013/14) but it is likely the brood nest may well be in your Jumbo Langstroth brood box (it has a similar volume to 2 Warré boxes). You have a few options:

    1. Leave the colony undisturbed. If they are near native bees they may well not swarm this year and could be heavy in autumn. It may be possible to harvest the whole Jumbo brood box, but I doubt it.
    2. When the weather is warmer, at least 16 degC you might check the state of the Lang box.
    a. If there is no brood present you could remove the box and honey but ensure the colony has the lion’s share of the honey in a feeder.
    b. If there is brood but also a few broodless honeycombs, you might remove the odd comb and reduce the space in the box with a divider board and packing material.
    c. If there is brood present, and some comb in a Warré below, you could find and confine the queen in the Warré with a queen excluder above it to stop the queen returning to her brood. After 24 days when all brood has hatched you might remove the topbox. Note, that after brood hatching, the bees will clean out cells and prepare them for new eggs; when the queen does not lay they will fill empty cells with honey. Eventually the queen will lay in the Warré.
    d. If you cannot find the queen, all the bees will have to be brushed/shaken off the Lang frames in to the Warré boxes. The frames (with brood) should be replaced in the Jumbo box over a queen excluder; nurse bees will return to cover and rewarm the brood.

    If you decide to follow option 2 you will need to find extra equipment (second Jumbo box etc) and to think through the operation carefully. Be under no illusion; this disruption will stress the colony.

    Some beeks with bees in ‘inconvenient’ hives have decided to leave the bees undisturbed to live as a source of swarms to populate bait hives or a chosen hive system.

    Hope that helps John, Stockbridge Hants

  2. salp111 says:

    How about totally rethinking your hive design. Make your own that will cause least disruption when you wish to take honey, so you only take a tiny proportion when they can spare it. A whole box seems an awful lot to me.
    For example….a vertical log hive, most of which you would leave alone completely with a small skep on top. The whole thing then topped with an insulated roof.You could remove the small skep in an exceptional year & replace with another. It does mean they have to go up rather than down, but I believe it’s not unthinkable. We don’t, as natural beeks have to stay inside “the box”. We can think outside of it in as many ways as our imagination & the bees comfort will allow! 🙂
    (The other thing about the log design is you can make it look really attractive to both you & the bees.)
    Have fun!

  3. grahambrookbanks says:

    Thanks, John, for your comprehensive reply. It’s certainly given me a lot to think about! I am very new to beekeeping and decided to adopt the Warre route after hearing your presentation at the Bee Convention in 2012.

    I thought that the brood cluster moved down the hive, leaving the honey stores above and the ‘classic’ Warre method was to harvest from the top and add new boxes to the bottom to provide expansion. I’m interested to learn that the brood is probably in the top box (the Langstroth Jumbo). I’m curious to know what is in the bottom three boxes. I wish I’d provided viewing windows! The new box (which I had intended to place at the bottom of the hive) has a window and it was my plan to convert the other boxes in subsequent years as I removed them from the top of the stack.

    I think I’ll wait until the warmer weather as you suggest and then open the hive to see what’s going on before deciding what action to take next. I appreciate that this will inevitably cause some stress to ‘the bee’, but not as much as opening it every week as is done conventionally.

    I can’t weigh the hive because it has a double wall – the outside wall serving to support the Langstroth Jumbo box on the top.


  4. johnmkubwa says:

    Graham, The brood does expand and move down the stack of boxes during the spring and summer. By the end of autumn the cluster should be sitting snug under its stores ready for winter. The winter bee will gradually consume stores and the cluster will move upwards, leaving behind empty comb ready for expansion next spring.
    The classic Warré approach is to harvest the top box in the autumn but the circumstances you describe ( swarm and casts) lead me to believe that the brood nest will be in the lower part of the Jumbo box. Hopefully at least one Warré box will have comb in it and you will have a new young queen which is less likely to swarm, if undisturbed.
    As for timing your manipulation; you could wait until April when the Bee is usually preparing to swarm and will be planning to reorganise the workforce and experience the disruption which accompanies swarming.
    By the way, I notice you are in Chandlers Ford. You would be welcome to join the Hampshire natural bees at one of their meetings. see http://hampshirenatural.bees.net for more detail or contact me direct. Best wishes JohH, Stockbridge

  5. grahambrookbanks says:

    Firstly, thanks to Sal for your suggestion about a log hive. It looks really good – the closest thing to a natural tree-trunk nest and something I may well pursue in the future.

    For now though, thanks again to John for his excellent instruction and advice. I will do as you suggest and wait until a warm day in April before disturbing the hive.

    I’ve been very pleased to see that bee activity has increased significantly during the last week. During the sunny afternoons there has been lots of ‘comings and goings’ with lots of pollen being brought back to the hive, so I think they’re doing ok.

    I would love to join a local natural bee-keeping group – I didn’t there was one. The link you embedded in your posting didn’t work

  6. grahambrookbanks says:

    I posted before I’d finished. John – please could you send me the link again? You could send it directly to grahambrookbanks@zoho.com. Thanks

  7. johnmkubwa says:

    Graham, Your e-address was rejected. Call me on 01264 781607 JohnH

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