There are lots of tricks the beekeeper has to saving time. This is one of my favorites. When I worked for an apiary with 4,000 hives, it was run by just 7 beekeepers. A trick I learned from them is to use bitter almond oil to get bees out of a honey super so you can harvest the honey.
When using bitter almond oil to clear out a super, it's recommended that you use a fume board or breeze board to disperse the scent throughout the hive. However, I really hate buying equipment that I will only use once in awhile, nor do I have the room to store all of this stuff, so I try to use what I have laying around whenever possible. This makes for some "interesting" beekeeping on my part, but, hey, I find it fun :)
In the YouTube video above, I show you my experience using bitter almond oil without a fume board or breeze board. First I try using a smoker to billow the scent into the super. This is recommended on Fischer's instructions as an alternative to using a fume board and it didn't work well for me. I billowed the smoker for so long I got a cramp in my hand, but there were still a lot of bees in the box.
The second idea I had was to use a shop towel and a lid as a makeshift fume board. It worked pretty well! If you'd like to watch how I did it, check out the video.
If you want to use the smoker option, you'll have to use a larger piece of fabric and really soak it with the oil. Personally, I think this is an expensive option and I don't recommend it.
After you take the makeshift fume board off, leave the box on its side at least 10' from the beehive for at least 20 minutes. Ideally, until sunset. This will allow for the stragglers still in the box to get out.
Use the bitter almond oil for the first box. Do not use it for every super. To be honest, I'm not sure why. However, this is what I was told to do at the commercial apiary I worked for and what I read online. Does it mess with the queen's pheromones or overly aggravate the hive? Maybe? Either way, I was always told to use just once per beehive.
The first super where the fume board is used will have hardly any bees in it. The next super, will have more bees in it. You can get these stragglers out by leaving it on its side, away from the hive until sunset or by slamming the box over a stack of empty supers.
Something I want to mention is that this is bitter almond essential oil. Not sweet almond oil, not any other kind of almond oil. This is very important because sweet almond oil will not work. A lot of beekeepers seem to be confused as to what kind of oil it is. They just know it has "almond" in the name.
Sweet almond oil is a fixed oil while bitter almond oil is an essential oil. Fixed oils don’t evaporate and are typically what you think of when you hear the word oil. Essential oils can evaporate and are not so much oil as they are the “essence” of the plant material from which they came from.
Bitter almond has been used historically in small amounts for flavoring in dishes such as almond syrup and amaretti. However, due to its potential for toxicity, its use internally has been discontinued in the present day. Since the oil does not come in contact with the honey or comb and is only on the hive for under 5 minutes, I do not believe it has a harmful affect on the honey.
That being said, I use Fischer's Bee-Quick. I'm not positive they use real bitter almond oil or if they use a synthetic scent that is similar. All I know is that the label says it's "a natural, non-toxic blend of oils and herbal extracts for honey harvesting".
This is the only way to get bees out of a super. If you're bringing the boxes into your house, this may not even be the best way to go. Although using bitter almond oil will get almost all of the bees out, you will usually have a handful of bees still in there. These bees will then be flying around your kitchen light for the next 24-48 hours. If you're harvesting in a shed or garage, this might not be as annoying.
Check out the video above for other ways to get bees out of a honey super.
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