Cut Comb Honey Harvest

Last September I harvested some honeycomb from one of my Warre hives.  In Spring of 2008 I had hived a huge swarm, and over the summer they built up a big hive with lots of good looking honey comb.  I decided I would harvest a box of cut comb honey from this hive.

Warre Hive Ready for Harvesting

First, I removed the roof and the quilt. This exposed the cloth that covers the top hive box. Then, I carefully peeled back the cloth on the top box, and took a look at the bees. They were happily attending to the honeycomb. I used my smoker to blow some smoke into the beehive to move the bees into the lower boxes. Then, I slowly twisted the top box in a circle to break the propolis bond the bees had put into place to seal the hive boxes together.

Warre Hive with Quilt RemovedTwisting the Top Warre Hive Box

As I worked, I made sure I was gentle and calm around the honeybees, and I also tried to make my movements smooth and efficient. This goes far to help the bees to remain calm.

As I took off the top box, a cluster of honeybees gathered on the top bars of the next box to gather some of the honey which dripped from the honeycomb in the top hive box. You can see these bees at work in the photo below.

Warre Hive with Top Box Removed

I needed to put the cloth back onto the hive, so I took my smoker and gently smoked the bees back into their hive. Unlike those misrepresentations of beekeepers in “The Bee Movie,” I do not routinely smoke my beehives to the point of annihilation. I prefer to use either no smoke at all, or a gentle spray of sugar water. Actually, this was the first time I used the smoker on this beehive all summer!

Smoking the Bees Back into the Warre Hive

I gently replaced the cloth, and laid the quilt back on top of the hive. Then I replaced the hive roof. Now I could focus on how to get the bees out of the hive box and back into the main beehive. Even though I had used the smoker, there were still plenty of bees in the hive box.

Warre Hive with the Roof Replaced

Go on to the next page to continue the adventure!

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44 responses to “Cut Comb Honey Harvest

  1. I might have freed the sides of the comb first, then lifted each comb out still attached to the top bar – probably much less messy.

  2. Ralph – Yes, that would be easier. However, the rebates on this particular box protruded into the the comb area. (The rebates support the top bars.) The bees had formed the comb around the rebates, rendering it impossible to lift the comb our without taking off the top bar.

    I have since started cutting the rebates into the sides of the box instead of nailing them to the sides. This makes the box compatible to the method you recommend.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. That is a great way of bee extraction. Makes the job much easier than using an extractor.

  4. Paul – I think so too. It even works for liquid honey. All you have to do is crush and strain the comb honey…then filter it and you have liquid honey. Wash off the wax in water and you are left with fresh, clean beeswax for candles and such.

  5. Hi Nick – Great site and really interesting blog. I’m new to BK myself having started 2 horizontal top bar hives this year in the UK thinking these to be sustainable. Having read more now I am converted to the Warre philosophy so have built 3 of these ready for population from next year’s swarms. You seem to be fully converted yourself, have you still got any Langstroths or have they all been converted?

  6. Robin – Thanks for your compliment! Yes, I am pretty much converted to Warre hives. I have one or two Langs left…but I will probably sell them next year. Good luck with your beekeeping venture!

  7. Hello Nick,

    I am Hobby-Beekeeper in Brazil and ready with 2 Warré Beehives waiting to catch two africanised bee swarms.
    In the Warré instruction they recommend to put a empty box under the box tower when you take out a top honeycomb box to have a continuous comb renewal.
    My congratulations for the fotos and work explanation.

    Dietrich

    • Dietrich – Thanks for your comment! Yes, Warre does recommend to replenish your hive by replacing boxes in that manner. Good luck with the Africanized swarms. Are they very aggressive towards you?

  8. Hello Nick,

    In my opinion it depends of the climate ( temperature, wind, rain, etc.) and quantity of honey. Sometimes, the same beehive, can be very calm and other time very defensive. What they don’t like is dark or black hair or the dark mesh in the head-mask.

    Dietrich

    • Dietrich – Very interesting! I have heard that it is best to wear light colored clothing when working with any type of bee. Your comment seems to support that theory.

  9. Hello Nick,

    Yes, that is right. White or light green, but white is the usual here in Brazil. But the face mesh is better to be black. With a colorless mesh you can not see right. The result of black mesh is, that the bees fly in front of your eyes and nose. Advantages and disadvantages.

  10. thanks now i know how i can extract the honey at home without buying an extractor. what would be the best type of bees for me to get i was told italian is that the type you would suggest

    • ryan – You can also crush and strain your honey using cheesecloth or nylon paint strainer bags. Use a clean bucket to catch the strainings.

      Yes, most people like Italians for the quick spring build up. They are calm, so that is helpful for a new beekeeper. Carnolians overwinter better, but they are known to be swarm happy. Italians are a good choice for beginning beekeepers.

      I like to use feral, or wild, bees exclusively. I travel around and catch swarms in my local area. It is fun, but it takes some practice.

  11. Hi – I’ve been wanting to try backyard beekeeping for years and had decided this was going to be the year. Then after realizing the startup costs for Lang hives and a honey extruder, I thought I’d have to pass again.

    But just this morning found out about TBH’s, and then the Warre variation via your site. Looks like I’m on again! Thanks for so much great info. I’m looking forward to building at least one hive and the bees are on order. :)

    • Dave – Wow! From “no bees this year” to bees on order in less than one day. :)

      Congratulations on getting started with backyard beekeeping! I know you will enjoy it.

  12. Hi Nick. Great site! I hope soon to start a hive or two. I am a transplant and now reside in California. I joined a local beekeepers assoc. and drew a few blank stares when I mentioned the Warre method. I’m hooked on Warre’s as -natural-as-possible approach, but I have one problem- can you tell me where to buy a metric tape measure?!! Only kidding.Thanks again for a very easy to read and informative site

  13. Nick,
    Wow! I really like your site. My daughter and I try to do many things on our farm to create a more sustainable way of life. Bee Keeping is on our list of things to experiment with this year. What do you think of putting a hive or six out in a field–unattended? Do you think there would be problems with raccoons, possums etc? Thanks again.

    • Garth – Thanks for your compliments. If you are going to put your Warre Hives in a field, you will want to make sure they have some shade during the hottest part of the day. If you have raccoons and possums in your area, you will have to deal with them wherever you put your hives. Predators can go anywhere, especially skunks. ;)

  14. Nick,
    I just love your website! For some reason I was a bit overwhelmed by looking at Beekeeping for All causing me to procrastinate, but you’ve made it all seem so easy. Thanks for taking the time to do this. I’m very interested in installing windows. I’m just wondering how much extra work it will be. Do you have any success with that?

    • Laura – I do not use windows since they are just add time to the building process. You need to cut out a side of the hive box, then inlay a piece of glass or plastic, and then build a shutter to cover the window when not in use.

      Once finished, a window looks very nice. I will build a hive with windows someday.

  15. Nick what a site I found it 3 or 4 days ago I know now that my bees will be in the Warre Hive come Spring Keep up the great work Dan

  16. Hey Nick,
    I just came across your website by “accident” and am feeling this incredible wave of relief. I have been trying to find someone who can tell me about natural beekeeping for sometime but to no avail. You and your site appear quite genuine, thank you.

  17. Hi there! Your site is great for learning, as I am. I have two Warre hives and a bottom feeder (as shown in the plans you posted). The bees are happy so far, but unfortunately have built comb right down into the bottom feeder (they have been in the hive for 5 days. I only had one Hive bo on. I am at a lost of what to do. I would like to add another box to the bottom, but this would mean that I would break the comb they have built in the process. Do you have any suggestions as to what I should do?
    Thanks,
    Kirsten

    • Kirsten – Ooops! Sometimes the bees can build the comb very quickly indeed. I would gently try to remove the feeder. Just peel away the comb from the feeder. It is new comb, so you can (gently) remove the feeder. Maybe use your hive tool to carefully cut the feeder away from the comb. Then put a new box on under neath the top box.

      Let me know if that works, or if you fixed it another way!

  18. Hi Nick. Thank you for all this info. Very nicely done. I am going to look further into the Warre method now. My dad kept bees using Langstroth hives. I got to observe a wild hive once that set up in a 4-6″ space between two doors on an old, unused cellar. What a wall of honeycomb! I can see how the bees must like this method. Thank you for making your construction tutorial freely available. I can tell you are passionate about your bees. :)

  19. Hey Nick – question: how d’you lift the stack of boxes to add a new box at the bottom? It seems like the stack could weigh 50+ lbs and is a little precarious? Thanks

  20. Hi Nick, sounds like you had a great summer. Did you nadir the boxes w/o a lift, or just muscle them? I have an IBM lift at work that’s giving me ideas…

    BTW, had enough stores; will finally attempt overwintering up here in the Interior. They’re currently in a Lang-Warre setup (8 frame w/quilt)

    A side comment for some of the folks who want to set up next year, do check and see what your local ordinances are for beekeeping, if any- good luck to all!

  21. wow thanks for all tha tips,think my mom will be freekt out when she sees a teenager working with bees

  22. Nick wrote:

    ‘I have since started cutting the rebates into the sides of the box instead of nailing them to the sides. This makes the box compatible to the method you recommend.’

    Could you post a photo of how you are “cutting the rebates into the sides…”?

    Thanks!

  23. Great site! The photos suggest that the top bars are nailed to the rebates. Is this typically how the WH is assembled?

  24. My first top bar hive came thru the snowiest February of all time here near Pittsburgh. I had put hay bales on top and on each side. The one comb I robbed last year had knotweed honey, dark and delicious. I have never been around a hive before and did this with my mentor from GA via cell and internet, reading and adapting to this northern climate. No treatments, no chemicals. I did see varroa in the fall. Looking forward to a split or baiting a new hive. The warre looks great, but I can’t beat my TBH for it’s simplicity and ease for the beginning beekeeper.
    Regards,
    Carrie

  25. Hi Nick, I am new to bee keeping and have got a warre hive set up and am now waiting for bees. I l have joined a local bee club and I told them about the warre hive, one of the older members said you couldn’t eat the honey from a warre hive because there would be brood in the comb because there is no queen extractor could you tell me if this is the case.

  26. Hi Debbie, Warre hives are still being pooh-poohed Stateside; they’re widely used elsewhere.
    The inside of the hive is very dynamic; where the queen lays changes a lot; the bees prefer to have their stores above the brood nest; you don’t have to pull the brood frames, just the supers with honey. To harvest, most use a fruit press or something similar. I don’t know off hand what Nick is using; he mentions a method up above. You’re welcome to ignore your club member’s comment and enjoy your experience with your ‘girls’.
    Best of luck to you!

    On the topbars, I cut a notch into the end of the topbar, then put a brad in the rebate to hold it in place; the notch acts like a pair of fingers holding a straw in between. Hope that helps a few folks.

  27. Hi there! Found your website after googling topbar beehive construction, and I’m happy I did! I’m planning to have two hives built in the next month or so, and hope my spring bees will be happy on their new farm home! :D

  28. I am in the processs of building two Warre hive’s with a friend. Scott and I live in Colchester Vermont. I have a question about the thickness of the hive walls. We used 2″ rough cut pine for the walls. Is this ok?..compared to the 3/4 or 1″ average thickness.

  29. Hi Montechello,
    My Warres are full-dimension 2″x8″, so roughly the depth of a Lang medium. I salvaged the topbars off my Lang deeps to use, so it’ll be 8 bars and change. I put a strip of foundation on a bottom bar to take up some of the bee space, with the intention of leaving in the one end of the super; works well. Simply stay true to the inner dimension of the hive and you’ll be fine with that thickness.

    Be mindful they are hefty with this dimension, so do consider building a lift to complement your apiary accessories.

    Good luck!

  30. What is the deep orange stuff in the honey?

  31. Great sit I enjoyed it very much. I started last year with 2-TBH and one Lang. I am building traps for the spring in hopes of Swarms.I have 58 AC. of Apple Orchards and plenty of Clover and Alf.

  32. BBKA members emphasise the importance of checking for disease – how do you do that in top bar hives? Also if you’re not meant to check them because of not wanting to reduce the colony temperature, how do you know that the bees have enough food to overwinter on? Am new to beekeeping and am starting by doing a local BBKA introductory course.

    • Hi Allison, checking for disease is extremely important. In a Top Bar Hive you can still lift the top bars off to inspect and in a Warre style hive you can use half frames in order to do inspections. I’m not sure what your asking as far as the temperture, you shouldn’t open any style of hive in the dead of winter. As far as how much to leave in honey you should talk with your local association membership. Long hard winters require you leave more stores but folks that live in a warm climate can leave less due to a short winter. Hope that helps ~Nick

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