How to harvest honey from a bee hive

Kirk, the leader of our Backwards Beekeepers club here in LA, shows how to harvest honey. Film made by fellow bee club member Russell Bates.

Backwards Beekeepers TV: The Honey Harvest


  1. Complex sugars that persist all day, an antiseptic, and euphoric deliciousness!

    My environmental science teacher in high school was a beekeeper and gave an entire unit to his classes on honey.

    I vaguely remember him explaining something about how you could move the queen to another location and the bees will transport the entire hive to the new location. Amazing! (I was so inspired by this video that I went to the cabinet and had myself a heaping tablespoonful of unfiltered sweetness)

  2. My father used to keep a couple hives of bees when I was a kid in NY (finger lakes region). We used the ‘traditional’ extraction method of cutting the caps with a hot knife and spinning the frames in a centrifuge. I remember being fascinated with the process and being very impressed with my dad when I was little boy. Unfortunately the hives died in one of the many waves of infections the bee keepers have to deal with, and my mother developed (adult onset) a bee sting allergy. So, that hobby came to an end.

  3. Yum!!!

    I love beekeeping… Well, reading about it and such. I live inside a city and while rural is packed enough that I’d not be that popular doing it… I’d love to beekeep someday, in the meantime I help the beekeepers lobby when I can.

  4. That low-tech 3-bucket system is brilliant. The usual technique is to use a spinner extractor, but this is quieter, is much cheaper, and works just fine. I’d be tempted to sit the first bucket (with the chopped-up honey & comb) in a sink of warm water for awhile, to loosen up the honey before trying to pour it out.

    Another trick that most folks wouldn’t notice: most beekeepers cut out the entire comb from each frame section, and then replace it with a sheet of beeswax already imprinted with a hexagonal comb pattern, as a guide map for the new comb. Leaving a strip full of honeycomb in each frame is nicer to the bees and likewise gives them their guide map for refilling the frame.

    Now I want to have some honey!

  5. #3 mstoddard

    I remember my father roping me in for that amazing experience when I was a teenager. There was only one beekeeper’s suit. Guess who wore it.

  6. @5
    I live in an urban area too, and would LOVE to have a bee hive. Actually, there are urban bee keepers, but they kind of keep it a secret (for obvious reasons). The problem is that neighbors perceive bees to be dangerous, when actually they are very healthy for community gardens. If you have a community group, garden, or the like, you should get involved. Get to know each other and educate them. Maybe you can be the neighborhood bee lady/dude.

    Search around on teh interwebs. I’ve read about hives on rooftops, in courtyards, hidden in parking lots. Lots of rogue, urban hives out there, just look.

  7. Also- just wanted to add, I’ve read that an old remedy for arthritis is bee stings. My grandfather agrees with this too, but I don’t think I’ll be testing it. I also don’t recommend anyone else testing it.

  8. I was also a kid in upstate NY, my Dad also kept bees, also used the centrifugal extractor. You’d spin the supers with one side facing out, then flip them around (they were hinged like doors), and spin with the other side out. The honey would coat the inside of the extractor -about the size of a 55-gallon drum- and flow out a spigot at the bottom.

    We did this in our basement. There were always bees at the basement screen door trying to get in, as though to reclaim their honey.

    My Mom also developed a severe allergy to bee stings, but we kept the bees.

  9. I wann know how to train them and send them against my enemies.

    KILL! Kill, my little ones!


  10. #15 I think you need Lady Esme Weatherwax to control the bees.

    Another thing, the poor bees won’t die of starvation will they? does he give them some sugar or something in exchange for all the honey?

  11. I think there’s a major typographical fubar in the title of this article.

    I’m pretty sure it should be “How to NOT harvest honey from a bee hive”

    One thing’s for sure – beekeepers the world over do things a little differently.

    Couple of things of note, if there are drone brood in any of your honey supers (@1:35 in that video) … you’ve not been using a Queen excluder?! I for one prefer my honey without mashed up dead insects in it. It’s a completely passive step to put in a grille to stop the Queen getting upstairs to lay any eggs in the honey stores.

    Cut and Crush. I just don’t get that. I think I’ve read someplace that in terms of activity/energy consumption it takes the bees just about 10 times the amount of energy expended to lay down fresh wax cells as it does to collect and nectar and store honey in pre-existing comb. So, for every kilogram of smashed up wax that has to be dealt with at the end of that you’re not getting 10 Kg of honey next year.

    Backwards beekeeping indeed.

  12. We host a beehive right in the middle of London. They really are not a hassle at all, only one neighbour even knows they are there. We have our lovely outdoor sitting area about 6 feet from the hive.You really don’t notice that there are very many more bees around than usual. They spend their days foraging flowers anything up to 3 miles away. We had our first honey from them last month, it is amazing! I think it is more complex than country honey due to all the exotic flowers in people gardens etc. It is almost too intense to put on toast, so we have it with fruit and thick greek yogurt. It is a golden colour and really floral, like an expensive desert wine.

  13. I read a survival book once that said you shouldn’t eat wild honey (or poorley controlled honey) , due to the chance that the bees might have collected from a poisonous plant. I’m too lazy to look it up right now though.

  14. I don’t think it’s so much of a “what not to do” as “here’s our method for doing it”.

    For one thing, these bees are in Southern California, so wintering isn’t as much of an issue. I’d be worried about my bees in New England expending so much energy on remaking comb because of the shorter active season. These hives are probably active all year.

    He says at the outset and at the end that these are wild bees left to be wild. Controlling the queen’s access to parts of the hive is clearly not their priority.

    I used to do this as a teen in Maine and I’ve been interested in picking it up again, but I never knew I could do this in a city. I’m really interested to find out that it is possible to do urban beekeeping.

  15. Wow, @Bellebouche, thanks for letting your biases hang out so rudely.

    Many natural beekeepers choose to practice a passive management style, including not using Queen excluders. Some bees don’t like passing through them, and they obviously do influence how the hive structures it’s comb. It is a simple task to scan the comb for brood when harvesting. If there are only a few brood cells, cut them out. Easy.

    Point taken on the Cut and Crush vs. an extractor, though I keep top bar hives, and extracting isn’t an option.

  16. @bellebouche: queen excluders are generally eschewed by all but large scale beekeepers in my experience. I know some individuals that use them for their couple of hives, but usually they abandon the practice after a season or so. The bees will naturally keep their brood seperate from the honey stores and only rarely lay eggs up in the honey. If you do get a few eggs they can be strained out.

    Also, you are correct about the drawbacks of the cut and strain method, but then again some people like getting more than just honey from their hives. using the cut and strain I can collect a TON of wax to make lip balm, candles, and a wide assortment of other goodies. You can also get bunch of pollen if you’re careful when you extract the comb (yes I know you can also install pollen collectors at the gate, but I’m just pointing out that crush and strain isn’t nearly as backwards as you make it out to be). Also, extractors will run you about $300-400.

    All this being said, I think the guy in the video did a pretty bad job of showing how to extract frames and did an excellent job of showing what happens when you do it poorly (namely: getting stung like 20 times). If you’re gentle with the frames and the bees and give the smoke a little time they will not sting you at all. Last time I harvested from my hives there were 2 stings total and those two were due to me being too rough with a frame.

  17. @#12. I used to work in the Entomology Dept at Michigan State. One of the post-docs that worked in our dept routinely would allow himself to get stung on his hands due to debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. He said it was the only thing that helped.

    Here’s their website:

  18. @23
    How nice to know that those folk remedies sometimes do work. I’m doing some history research on folk remedies/recipes and female work, 18th c. I come across some very, very strange things.

  19. Just another comment. Not a slight, but this approach would not work in the north. As mentioned, excluders are not needed. The queen should stay low and she usually need the honey near the brood chamber for overwintering in northern climates. Significant honey production is lost when cutting comb. Also, honey should only be taken when capped.
    As far as an extractor, one can be easily built from a 55 gal plastic drum and stuff from your hardware store. It’s a great hobby and you feel real reward with your first spoonful. Remember 1 of ever 3 bites of food come from bees. Become a beekeeper!

  20. So, in his rush to grab the honey he kills how many of the bees? Forgot to smoke? Come ON now!

    And if that doesn’t bother you, how many smashed up bees are in that honey before it’s strained? Gross!

    I prefer what I like to call “Hippie Beekeeping”. Check out a user named Beeguardian on Youtube. THAT guy is my role model. :)

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