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Garden Talk

bee hives in the Discovery Garden


Nick Schwab

By Nick Schwab
Assistant horticulturist & beekeeper

Every time I’m working with the honeybees in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, I get one question: Are you collecting honey? The answer nine times out of 10 is no.

Most of the time I am just checking the colonies to see if they are doing well. There are a number of things I check for, including making sure they still have a queen, evaluating their overall health, ensuring that they have enough room, and seeing if they need to be fed or supplemented. But once a year—usually in late June—I get to harvest the excess honey the colonies have made.

The honey harvest starts with removing the honey supers from the top of the colonies. We try to give the bees enough space to raise new bees and store honey, but we put extra boxes on top, where the bees can store excess honey. Those boxes are called supers.

We can’t simply remove the supers, since they have bees in them. But there are a couple of methods to remove the bees safely.

The gentlest way is using something called a bee escape. It allows the bees to leave the supers but prevents them from getting back in. Beekeepers install the bee escapes the day before they want to harvest.

processing the honey

The fastest method of bee removal is to shake off as many bees as you can and then take the box off and use a leaf blower to remove the few that remain.

Another way to get the bees out is to use a fume board, a board sprayed with essential oils that bees don’t like. It causes the bees to move down to lower boxes. This takes about 20 minutes, and it’s my preferred method.

Once we have the supers removed, I bring them inside and take each frame out. I use an uncapping knife (a knife that get hot when plugged in) to slice off the wax capping that is holding the honey in the frame. I place the freshly uncapped frame in an extractor.

After placing four frames in the extractor, I put the lid on and spin the honey out of the frames, like a centrifuge. All of the delicious honey settles to the bottom of the extractor, where I open the gate and let it flow through a filter to get the large wax particles out.

The honey sits in large food-safe buckets until it is ready to be bottled and shared as giveaways at special events. On a good year, a strong honeybee colony can make 50 to 150 pounds of honey!

pouring honey into bottles

bottled honey

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Photos by Julie Schoonmaker, Julie Bocchino and Megan Botzenhart.