Full frame of honey with turkey feather

Pulling Honey Frames from the Horizontal Hive

I had traditional, vertical (Langstroth) hives for 6 years, and now that I’ve transitioned to a horizontal hive, I feel like I’m back to square one in some ways.

For one thing, I don’t have the same equipment I used before, and since horizontal hives are still so new here, I can’t seem to find supplies made for them, even online.

Normally, to harvest some frames of honey, I would have put a one-way door—called a bee escape board—between the honey frames I wanted to harvest and the rest of the hive. A bee escape board with a one-way door allows all the bees leave the honey frames and go back to the colony, but doesn’t let them come back to the honey frames. Which means that when I go to harvest those frames, there are no bees, and particularly no upset, oh-no-we’re-being-robbed bees to be shaken or brushed off.

I have only ever been stung when harvesting honey, and mostly that was during my first years, before I learned about bee escape boards. Bees don’t like being shaken or brushed off their honey frames.

But I don’t have an escape board for this horizontal hive, and was faced with the unhappy prospect of shaking and brushing off upset bees to get the honey frames harvested. Lance tried to make a bee escape board for me out of cardboard (see photo below), but the bees were having none of that. They chewed through the cardboard and were busy hauling it out the front door of the hive and dropping it onto the ground in minutes.

Lance's cardboard bee escape board with one-way door
Lance’s cardboard bee escape board with one-way door

We just didn’t have the tools on hand to make one out of wood, and this was at least a thoughtful try at the thing. But I needed to get the honey pulled, rather than waiting any longer.

So. I had to think how to do it without the upset. And I remembered my neighbor mentioning in passing one time that he never used a bee brush, because the bees just hate it so much. Maybe it hurts them? Or rolls them painfully over, or causes injuries? Dunno. But my bees always hate the bee brush too. And they rise up in an angry cloud when I use it.

“So how do you get the bees off a frame then?” I asked him.

“Turkey feather,” he told me, and I thought, Huh. Wonder if that works. It would be a more delicate, flickery kind of tool, possibly less damaging.

So when the day came for me to pull my five frames of honey from the hive, I took two turkey feathers with me. The wild turkeys amble through here all the time, so turkey feathers are easy to find. I took two for the same reason I have two hive tools. I’m forever setting one down and don’t know where it is. When that happens I know I can reach into my tool bucket for the other one.

And the turkey feather worked reasonably well!

Well, the turkey feather, a calm beekeeper (yours truly), and another little idea I put into play…

Here’s what I did:

I pulled a full honey frame—covered with bees—from the hive, walked with it away from the hive (this is key to not riling up the entire hive), propped it up on the deck railing, then went to work with my feather, delicately flicking away bees and letting them fly off and back to the hive.

When I had a small cloud of irate bees, I simply walked another few feet down the deck to a new spot and kept gently working my turkey feather. By my second or third move, my frame was clear and I carried it into the shed and set it in a box. Went back out to the hive and got the next frame of honey.

Full frame of honey with turkey feather
Full frame of honey with turkey feather

Now I wouldn’t be able to do this very easily with ten hives, but I only have one this year, so it was no trouble. Five trips down to the hive, then up to the deck and over to the shed, five full frames of honey.

Not a single sting. Not even an angry guard bee bumping my veil, telling me to Desist Immediately and Go.

And I needed that second turkey feather, too. Coulda used a third, actually. Sigh. Maybe I just need to string one around my neck, like reading glasses.

I don’t know if these frames will fit in my extractor, or if I’ll have to use another method for getting my honey out of the frame, but I stuck my five frames in the freezer and will figure that out another day.

5 deep honey frames in freezer
5 deep honey frames in freezer

Today was a successful Double Turkey Feather Horizontal 5 Frame Honey Harvest day, and that’s enough for now.

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