If your bees have done well this year, you may be getting ready to harvest some honey — which means you’ll need to remove the bees from your supers. Like most things in beekeeping, there are multiple ways to do this. Take a look at our tips and advice for preparing for your honey harvest, and see our top three ways to get the bees out of your supers before harvesting.

Prepare before beginning your honey harvest

Honey harvesting can be hot and heavy work, so prepare ahead of time for your own health and safety, and so you don’t let a drop of your harvest go to waste. Before you start, set up a way to secure the frames, or boxes, once they are free of bees. You don't want to go to the trouble of getting bees out of the supers, only to have them get right back in. Keeping the bees out will also go a long way toward preventing robbing during the harvest.

Consider placing your frames in a tightly closed nuc box if you are planning to harvest just a few frames at a time. If you plan to remove whole boxes, you should have a bee-tight base and a cover for the stacked boxes. We recommend using an upside-down telescoping cover as a base and another cover for the top.

Is your honey ready to harvest?

When determining whether your honey is ready to harvest, check the frames: in most cases, the honey is ready if the frames are completely capped. But often there are some uncapped areas on the frames. Honey that isn't fully cured can ferment, so it's important to make sure it's dry enough. You can check this most accurately with a refractometer. A rough field test of whether the honey is ready for harvest is to see if you can shake any nectar out of the uncapped cells. If so, wait a bit longer, and check again. Explore our guide to harvesting and extracting honey to learn more.

Did you know? A pound of honey may have needed as many as 2 million individual visits to flowers and required more than 50,000 miles of flying. Each fully-capped medium frame of honey may contain 3 to 4 pounds of honey — and a 10 frame super may yield as much as four gallons of honey.

How long does it take to clear bees from a super?

Depending on the method you choose, it can take anywhere from a few minutes to up to two days to remove the bees from a super before harvesting. A fume board is the fastest option, while a triangle escape board can take 24 to 48 hours to clear the bees.

Nuc box and pair of covers A super sandwiched between a pair of covers to keep the bees out while harvesting other boxes.

Three ways to clear the bees out of supers

Explore these three common methods for removing bees from honey supers and choose the option that best suits your situation and comfort level.

1) Remove bees from frames manually by shaking or brushing

Guiding the bees out of your super with a bee brush or by shaking the frames is the lowest-tech way to clear your supers. This method is best suited for when you are harvesting only a few frames at a time.

Manually clearing off the bees is easy for a frame or two — but after a few frames have been taken, the bees will figure out what's going on and often get more assertive about their claim to their hard-won stores. So, make sure your protective clothing is thoroughly buttoned up, then follow these steps:

  • Select a frame, and — holding it firmly over the open hive — give it a sharp vertical shake to dislodge most of the bees. Shake a second time, if necessary.
  • Remove the remaining bees with a brush, using gentle little flicks with the tips of the bristles (not a broad sweeping motion). You may also try stroking the surface with a loose bunch of soft grass or your fingertips.
  • Keep shaking the emptied frame while carrying it to your collection box, then place the clean-as-possible frame into the receptacle and close it up tightly.
  • Repeat these steps until you have removed all of the frames you intend to harvest.
  • After closing the hive up, carry the collection box even farther away, then reopen it and shake or brush away any remaining bees.

Extract any frame removed from the super within a day or two. This helps prevent damage from wax moths and small hive beetles. The only safe way to store unextracted frames for longer is to freeze them, which kills the nearly-invisible eggs of insect pests. After 72 hours stored below zero degrees F, the frames can be removed, thawed, and carefully stored in insect- and mouse-proof containers at room temperature.

Harvesting note: In new colonies, there is always the question of whether the bees will make enough honey for themselves to live on during the winter and still, perhaps, yield a frame or two for harvest. You can hedge your bets by removing a few frames that are capped, and providing additional new ones to see if the bees and the late-season flow will combine to get them drawn and filled in time. If they do, then the removed frames can safely be harvested in the first year. If not, the removed frames can be returned to the hive later in the fall to make sure the bees have the stores they need for safe wintering.

2) Use a triangle bee escape board

Underside of boardUnderside of triangle escape board showing the maze.
Right side up of board Top surface of the triangle escape board in place on the hive; preparing to set the super down on top of it.
 After the fume board is removed, bees will be out of the uppermost super. After the fume board is removed, bees will be out of the uppermost super.

A triangle bee escape board is a clever tool that allows you to trick the bees into leaving the supers in the evening, but not find their way back through the maze-like design of the exit. This method requires 24 to 48 hours to work and works fastest during cool nights (but may take longer when night temperatures remain high). This easy method is harmless to the bees and offers the advantage of removing bees from multiple supers at once, keeping bees calm during the process.

If you don't use queen excluders and have supers with both brood frames and capped honey, the bees won't abandon the brood. So, you may have to temporarily separate the brood frames (in another box) from the honey-only ones before using the escape board.

  1. To install the escape board, lift off the supers you want to clear, then place the bee escape board with the small circle facing upward.
  2. Stack the supers back on.
  3. If you have a notch in your inner cover, pull the outer cover tight against the notch to seal it up (or tape it shut) to keep bees from re-entering through the inner cover.
  4. Check on the progress after 24 hours, but allow up to 48 hours if the nights are warm and muggy.
  5. When the supers are cleared of bees, remove them and the escape board and reassemble the hive.

Do not leave the board on indefinitely: the bees will figure out the maze eventually, and in the meantime, wax moths or small hive beetles will be uncontrolled by the vigilant bees. If your hive is particularly crowded with bees, consider installing an empty box with frames underneath the escape board to give the bees somewhere to go when they leave the supers.

3) Use a fume board to drive the bees out of the super

Fume boards are used with a very stinky or bee-avoidant product (either Bee-Go or Bee Quick) to drive the bees out of the supers. The advantage of this method is that it is fast, working in only 5 to 10 minutes per super. The chemicals used are so noxious to the bees that they will quickly flee down into the hive to escape. Even though the chemicals are overwhelmingly offensive to the bees, they are safe to use and cause no harm.

To use a fume board, follow these instructions:

  1. Prepare the fume board by squirting a modest amount of the chemical on the felt pad on the undersurface of the board.
  2. Remove the outer and inner covers and place the fume board (felt side down) over the uppermost super.
  3. In 5 to 10 minutes, the top super (and sometimes the one below it) will be nearly free of bees.
  4. Remove the super and repeat these steps for the next box below, continuing down through the remaining supers you wish to harvest.

When preparing for honey harvesting from a handful of frames or more, these three methods are our favorites for removing bees from the super. Choose the method that suits your comfort level, timeframe, and the number of frames you intend to harvest. For more beekeeping tips, explore our Beekeeper Guide.