Volunteer Robin has kept bees for many years, and has a series of hives over at the Grange Estate (if you get a chance to try his honey, make sure you do as it's amazing!)

But many of us have never see a bee hive up close, let alone seen how the honey comes out of them - so as a bit of a behind the scenes experience, Robin very kindly filmed himself inspecting two hives and removing the last crop of honey back in 2018, and has provided a detailed timeline so that you can see how it all works!


00:00 – Smoking the hive entrance mimics a bee calming pheromone. The yellow drawing pin near the hive entrance reminds the beekeeper that this hive is occupied by a 2017 queen.

00:06 – The roof comes off first.

00:11 – Next is the crown board, which seals the top of the hive. There are only a few bees in the top of this hive as a “clearing board” had been installed the day before.  (more on this later). The red tool is called a hive tool and is a beekeepers most used tool.

00:17 – This hive tool has a hooked end to lever up stuck frames. The other end is flat and is used to lever other hive pars apart.  It is also used as a scraper. 

00:27 – A soft brush is used to gently sweep of any remaining bees. In the old days, beekeepers would use a goose feather. I’ve tried this – a brush is easier!

00:49 – Each full frame can weigh more than 1 kg. The bees have sealed up the honeycomb cells. 

01:17 – The bees haven’t finished building the honeycomb in this frame. The wires help support the honeycomb during the extraction process. 

01:23 – The upper (honey) boxes are called supers (as in superimpose). Several supers can go on top of a hive. If all the frames a full, a single super can contain more than 12 kg of honey.

01:36 – Bees generally fill a super from the centre, working outwards, sealing the outer frames last. 

02:25 – The dark-looking cells are filled with pollen. Pollen is protein and is used to feed bee larvae (baby bees).

03:00 – Using the hive tool to prise off the clearing board. A clearing board is like a none-return valve for bees – they can go down into the bottom (brood) box but find it difficult to get back to the top of the hive.  A beekeeper uses a clearing board to clear out the supers before removing them for extraction.

03:32 – How many bees? Note how calm they are.

03:40 – Removing the queen excluder. This is a device with slots just big enough for the workers to fit through but too small for the queen.  It confines the queen to the brood box (where the brood is reared) and prevents her from laying eggs in the supers. 

04:00 – Care is needed here as the queen excluder can stick and then ping bees into the air!

04:34 – Carefully examine the underside of the queen excluder – the queen might be there, and you wouldn’t want to lose her!

04:50 – A quick shake to remove the bees and then some smoke to keep them calm. 

04:57 – The hive tool scraper end is used. This is beeswax and it's surprising how much can be collected this way over a whole summer.  The beekeeper might use the beeswax for making candles, furniture polish, lip balm, hand cream. It has lots of uses. 

05:38 – A brood frame removed. We are now inspecting the bees for several things; general health, signs of swarming (April to July) and signs that the queen is in the hive somewhere. Eggs take three days to hatch and are a sure sign that the queen has been around in the last three days. Brood frames are much deeper than the super frames and can be very heavy. 

05:53 – These sealed sells on the brood frame contain pupating worker (female) bees which will emerge in a few days. 

06:40 – Queen found.  Note how much bigger she is compared to the other bees.  She has been marked with a yellow dot painted on her back.  A painted dot makes it easy for the beekeeper to find her.  It is also a colour-code system that tells the beekeeper that this queen was born in a year ending in a 2 or a 7.  This is a 2017 queen.  This colour code system is also used in other areas of the hive. 

07:09 – The bees on the clearing board need returning to the hive. They are simply shaken off the board. The yellow disc is the device that acts like a none return valve, mentioned earlier. 

07:57 – A little smoke helps usher the bees into the brood box so the crown board can be fitted without squashing them.

08:01 – With the honey removed, essential medication is added to control varroa mites. The mites are a nasty disease-carrying parasite that (officially) arrived in the UK in 1992.

08:43 – Beekeepers often give the hive an appreciative pat when they are finished and we should always say, ”thank you” to the bees.   

Thanks to Robin for the video and timeline information!

Honey bee photo credit to Sam Odell

For more information about bee-keeping, we recommend the Bedfordshire Beekeepers Association - their website has loads of info and they (normally) run events throughout the year.