honey bee management how to

How to avoid squishing bees

If you don’t use smoke, how do you avoid squishing bees when replacing supers?

I learned this technique from another beekeeper. We worked together teaching beekeeping at a state prison where things like matches and lighters were hard to come by. Rather than going through the hassle of getting permission to light a fire, we used this method. I have used it ever since and it works really well for me. Basically, it has two parts:

  • If the super is really heavy, I put the front edge of the super on top of the back edge of the brood box and slowly slide it forward. The bees will scatter—or dip under the super—as you move forward. When you get to the point when the last few bees could be squished between the front edges, just take a quick swipe with a bee brush and then slide the super the rest of the way. (If the hive is really populous, you may have to swipe the back end as well. If so, do the back end first and then the front, because there will always be more bees at the front.)
  • If the super is light enough for me to handle easily, I lower the super over the brood box until it is about a half-inch above it. Then I make a circular movement with the super—sort of like scrubbing a spot on the counter—as I lower the super into place. The circular motion seems to push the bees out of the way as the box comes down. This works surprisingly well and I usually don’t kill more than a bee or two, even in a very populous hive.


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  • I follow the first method most of the time. Someone introduced me to the second method last week, or a variation of it. I put the box down diagonally, and then slowly rotated it until it was in place. There were still some fatalities, but not too many. It didn’t seem any better or worse than the first method. I brushed the bees away but they kept pouring out, so I could only do so much.

    • Phillip,

      I haven’t tried the diagonal method, but it sounds like it would work as well as the push from the rear method. It would also be less heavy, I would think, because you wouldn’t have to hold up the back end.

      Weight is an issue for me. I can lift 50 pounds, but not above my waist–and not for very long.

  • I sprained my shoulder a few weeks ago lifting a deep box close to the ground. That’s another reason I’d like to switch to all mediums.

    Beekeeping is hard.

  • When I did my Basic Assessment (part of the BBKA exams here in the UK http://www.bbka.org.uk) my examiner recommended a small wedge of wood.

    Place the wedge on the top edge of the hive, lower the super down onto the wedge, and then slowly on to the opposite side of the hive. Then waggle the wedge until it comes free.

    This provided a way to lower the hive without having to hold the weight of the next super all the time.

    • Derek,

      This is the best idea yet. When you wiggle out the wedge, the space will slowly get smaller in a controlled way. I’m going to make wedges tonight!

    • I made a quickie wedge out of several strips of cardboard, which I folded into a wedge and wrapped in duct tape. Using a wedge is pure genius! I was putting a half-full shallow super on – not too heavy, but heavy enough – and I don’t think I squished a single bee. Thanks for sharing this marvelous idea.

  • I really thought that I would love the smoker part of beekeeping because I’m a big fan of building fires (my Girl Scout is showing), but I have found that it takes so much time and attention away from what I really care about in a hive inspection – bees. I rarely use a smoker at all. This is turning into my own blog entry, egads. Anyway, I am going to raid the wood scrap heap for some wedge shapes. That is an excellent idea.

    Also, Rusty, I didn’t know you were involved in that prisoner beekeeper program. I love that program.

  • Regarding smoking the bees. My opinion is that it actually makes them harder to handle. They are just minding there own business and suddenly “their house” is on fire! I’d be upset too. So I normally just work without the smoker. Regarding bee smashing. I just try and brush and move slowly, brush and move slowly. Love my bees. I don’t like to smash Harriet 34 or Emma 12 or Geraldine 444.

    Also hive color – I think it might make a difference. My bees in the pink hive seem more “nervous” than the white hives and the blue hives. My friends just think they are mad at me for painting their house pink – could be.

    • It’s interesting. In the past, when I told people I never use smoke, they said I was crazy. But lately, I hear from more and more people who don’t use it. I’m with you–I think it just aggravates and annoys the bees. I also agree with Jess, that it is too distracting for the beekeeper, too much to think about.

      As far as pink houses, I’m clueless. Sounds cute to me.

  • We’re new at this. We have the smoker and unless something really crazy happens I imagine we will always use it. The guy I have taking care of all for me is so afraid of the bees suddenly going nuts and attacking him he is completely suited up like an astronaut and would not dream of opening the box without using the smoker.

  • I’m afraid I used altogether too much smoke. Any time a bee singled me out for destruction, I “blanketed the area” spinning around in place as I puffed away at the smoker. Those bees were not going to know which way the hive was, let alone where the alarm pheromone was coming from. That was before I had a full bee suit, just a white long sleeved T-shirt, jeans and latex dish-washing gloves. Then I discovered the Full Bee Suit. Wow. Who needs smoke?

  • So far no smoke, but this is my first hive . . . no honey storage for the keeper yet. I enjoy not having to keep track of another tool as my husband and I work from the sides of the hive.

  • I tried using Derek’s wedge-of-wood method. It worked like a charm. So easy, no squishing, no straining my back. Why are we not taught this on day one?

  • I was taught the less smoke the better. Just two small puffs at the entrance and one under the inner cover. You must wait 30 seconds. The smoke dissapates the fear phermone bees send out when we mess with their hive and makes them eat up honey so they are less likely to defend, they just want to get out with the goods. If you are not fully suited up, a gentle smoker is a safety measure, don’t you think?

    • Ann,

      It definitely calms the bees, but you are right: the less the better. Too much smoke gets them riled up again.

  • I just got my first nucs about a month ago, and have had a smoker before getting them, but I’ve opened the hives without smoke and had mixed results.

    I’ve used Honey-b-Healthy in a 1:1 syrup and they are cool as a cucumber, but they have been cool without anything also, think that was when they were bringing in pollen, which they aren’t right now.

    I’ve cracked the top to check my division feeders and no smoke with no reaction from the bees, but then I’ve cracked it to check the feeder and had one make a direct beeline to my hand and sting me, I was in just my shirt shoes and flip flops, no veil or gloves or anything.

    I veil and glove up now, but I use either HBH or smoke. They both seem good to me. I think the aroma of HBH may mask also, as well as the sugar occupying them.

    • I have kind of gone full circle. When I first started to keep bees I always used smoke. Then I went for years and years without lighting my smoker even once. This year I started using it again, but only occasionally. I had a few really rambunctious hives this year and the smoker was useful. From now on, I think I will just call it as I see it, which probably means smoke on occasion but not often.

  • I am a smoker (of bee ilk). I don’t know if I smoke too much or not but I try to keep it to a minimum. And I try to wait a couple of minutes before going in. I waited that long yesterday and it seemed to me the bees were way calmer and for a much longer duration – this during a full pull-apart inspection.

    The thing I like best about having a smoker handy is for smoking ME if I get stung! Love masking that pheromone!

  • I use a squirt bottle with water. As you are ready to close up, give the bees a good squirt from your water bottle, a must carry in your tool bucket!! When the bees get a little misting, they retreat into the hive, just like smoke only no interruptions inside the hive!!! Smoking more than once before opening may lead to an uncomfortable situation for the colony and aggravate stress, which they really don’t need.

  • I doubt there are any absolutes. I agree about using a squirt bottle. I mist my bees with sugar water and it’s great. But don’t throw away your smoker. I’m still relatively new to this game, but there are times when a smoker is more appropriate than a little squirt from a water bottle. A smoker may be one of those things that’s better to have and not need than need and not have. Sometimes a squirt from a water bottle is just as good as smoke, but other times it’s not even close.

    • Phillip,

      I agree. I very seldom use smoke–only two or three times a year. But when I need it, I really need it.

  • I use a squirt bottle with water and 3-4 drops of peppermint oil in it. It doesn’t seem to bother the bees enough to make them grumpy but they prefer to get out of the wet spray. What I especially like about this mixture is I can spray it on my hands, arms, legs, whatever and the peppermint oil disguises any other scents coming from me … I can put my hand right in the hive and do stuff without the bees reacting to me.

  • Hello all!

    I’d like to weigh in on the smoke-talk. I usually have my smoker going, gentle wisps coming from the spout, but not aggressively puffing away. I’ve tried the water bottle with fair success, especially on hot days. I usually handle my bees in a light-coloured T-shirt and shorts – no gloves, no bonnet, no other protection. I move slow, blowing offenders away or off me with a breath. Sure, I’ve been stung a few times, but that’s all part of the game, right? This is the end of my second year, my first producing year, with my mighty winged crew. I love my bees, and my 8yr old son Graeme, is learning it right along with me (though he prefers to suit up fully!) Thank you all for all the great tips and useful advice!!


  • Do you have plans for a hive stand you like? I’m new to beekeeping I have my two hives ready for my bees And I have all the tools and equipment I need. I just want to make a hive stand

    • I don’t have plans. My stands are all different, depending on where they are. Some of mine have roofs and are sunk in the ground with concrete, and some are just small and easy to move around. It all depends on what you want. Go to Reader Hives and you will see photos of all kinds of hive stands.

  • Just found your blog and am enjoying it!

    Regarding not squishing bees — I love drapes. I place a towel (cheap drape) over the box for a minute and the bees vacate the edges for long enough to give you the chance to place the next box on top once the towel is removed. If they are really boiling over, however, you may need to use the slide method as well. Alternatively, if there are two beekeepers, one can lower the box while the other pulls the towel/drape out slowly. I call it the magician’s tablecloth removal technique.

  • I set mine down diagonally with the bottom hive and then slowly rotate the upper box. Works like a charm.

  • The wedge sounds like a neat trick, but I’m having trouble visualizing this. How big is it and how do you balance it on the edge of the box? I’m imagining maybe a slice of 2 X 4 or is it smaller. Thank you.

    • Stephanie,

      The one I use is about two inches long and 3/4-inch high. When I pick up a box, instead of using the hand holds I lift the box from the bottom, holding the wedge in place with my hand. Then I just set the box down on the wedge and wiggle it out.