Escape boards: Separating bees from honey
Separating bees from honey can be accomplished by either physical or chemical means. The physical means can be divided into fast and expensive (bee blowers) or slow and inexpensive (bee escapes). The slow and inexpensive can be further divided into those that work and those that don’t.
Chemical repellants (often called repellant boards, fume boards, or acid boards) are most often used by commercial beekeepers because they are quick, cheap, and require only one visit to the apiary. The chemical used (usually butyric propionic anhydride or benzaldehyde) is spayed or sprinkled on an absorbent pad affixed to a board. The board is then place over the top of the honey supers. In about five minutes, the bees will have left and the supers can be removed.
These chemicals are toxic, temperature dependent, excite the bees, and smell horrible. Your family may not let you back in the house after you’ve used this stuff. Worse, if used longer than about five minutes, off-flavors may be imparted to the wax cappings, honey, or both. In my opinion, chemical repellants should not be used by hobbyists.
Bee blowers, aside from being expensive, can also be hard on the bees. If the outside temperature is cold, bees blown away may not be able to return home. In addition, you run the risk of blowing away your queen. If you own a leaf blower, you may want to try this method, but be careful about the air temperature and the whereabouts of your queen before you start.
Bee escapes come in dozens and dozens of designs although only a few are commonly available from the bee supply houses. If you like to build your own equipment, a quick search of the Internet can provide you with plans for the simple to the complex. All bee escapes work on the same principle: they provide one-way passages so that once the bees leave the super, they can’t find their way back in.
Bee escapes are mounted in or on boards known as “clearer boards” or “escape boards.” The board is placed between the honey supers and the hive. At night, when the temperature drops, the bees go through the escape and descend into the hive to form a cluster. In the morning, they can’t find their way back into the super.
Besides being a relatively slow process (usually 24 to 48 hours for complete removal of bees) the use of bee escapes requires caution:
- If left on the hive for more than about 48 hours, the bees will eventually learn their way back into the supers. Also, they may begin building bridge comb (burr comb) in or around the board.
- There can be no cracks, openings, or holes above the escape boards. Any holes will be used by returning foragers, robbers, or predators (yellow jackets) to get to the honey. If a robbing frenzy begins, there may be no honey left by the time the beekeeper returns.
- Although they are inexpensive, bee escapes usually require more than one day and more than one trip to the apiary.
The types most often seen in the beekeeping catalogs are the Porter bee escape and the triangle escape board. Although I try to keep an open mind about most pieces of equipment, I draw the line right here.
The Porter bee escape costs almost nothing—and you get what you pay for: almost nothing. In fact, because bees seem to multiply behind the Porter escape, it is worse than nothing. For the life of me I cannot get these things to work.
The Porter escape is a little plastic gadget that you insert in the hole of an inner cover. Then you take this modified inner cover, place it below the supers, and wait for the bees to leave. Be prepared to wait for a really long time. Start reading War and Peace. Better yet, write a sequel. Your bees will probably die before they decide to squeeze through that thing.
Some people say that you can take an inner cover and modify it to hold about six Porters. This, I’m told, works much better. But after you buy a cover and six Porters, you have spent more money than the cost of a really nice triangle escape board—which works like a dream.
Although the triangle escape board works under the same principle, it is somehow more comfortable for the bees. I leave it on only one night. By the next day there is never more than five or six bees left in the supers. Sometimes there are none. After years of using this thing, I wouldn’t do it any other way.
Here are some additional considerations for using escape boards of any type:
- Make sure there is space below the escape board for the bees to go. If the hive is really crowded, you may want to add an empty super below the escape board.
- If there is any brood in the supers, the bees will stay with it. To get completely empty supers, make sure they contain no brood.
- If you are in a hurry, you can place a bottom board with a standard opening on a hive stand. On top of the bottom board place your escape board. On top of that stack the supers from multiple hives. As mentioned earlier, make sure the stack contains no cracks, openings, or holes where robbers could enter. The bees will move down through the stack, through the escape board, and will eventually fly back to their respective hives.