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The secret to brushing bees

Beekeepers who do not use fume boards or bee escapes to remove bees from their honey supers often brush the bees from each frame before extracting. This works if the brush has long, soft bristles and if the bees are flicked off the frames rather than scrubbed. It’s all in the wrist—several quick flicks and you’re done. But here is the secret:

Recall that honeycomb is built so both sides angle up. If you look at a cross-section of honeycomb, you will see that the cells angle upward from the center of the comb by about 9 to 14 degrees on each side of the frame. This shallow V is deep enough to keep the nectar from running out of the cells before the bees cure it.

If you brush bees downward when the frame is upright, you are brushing the bees against the angled up comb. This is fine if the cells are 100% capped. But if some of the cells are uncapped, the bees’ legs get jammed against the angled up comb when you brush down. Their legs and wings can be torn off and their bodies rolled and damaged as they are scraped against the irregular surface. Think of it as sanding a piece of wood against the grain: instead of smooth and silky, it is rough and ragged.

To avoid the problem, simply turn your frames upside down before you brush. The bees will drop off all of a piece and the job is quick and easy with few losses. Alternatively, you can brush up instead of down and get similar results.



  • Ever since I started using a feather (that I’ve attached to a carpenter’s pencil in order to make it more robust and less likely to blow away), I’ve had much better success with brushing. I can also be very accurate in where I brush and it’s easy to get into tight quarters to coax bees to where I want them to be or not be.

  • I just harvested today and thought about how I brush them off after reading this post. Turns out I brush diagonally from bottom left to top right, so I haven’t had much trouble. Either lucky or happy instinct 🙂 I also learned early on that a quick flick got them less upset. Thanks for the tips!

  • This is a great tip. A begining bee keeper like me would never think of this but it only makes sense when you stop to think about it. Phil

  • A great tip, never thought about it but it does make sense. I too do it at an angle but will try upside down next time. I agree with the feather comment too. I got geese so I could have a good flight feather for each hive minimising the cross infection issue 🙂

  • Hi Rusty,

    I’m sitting by my wood stove, soaking in the warmth on this 19-degree Shenandoah Valley VA night, and hoping the girls are staying warm out in the snow!

    I’d like to ask a couple of questions. I debated whether to scrap the snow off the front of my hives this morn, especially after noting it had frozen and was keeping the reduced entrance completely shut. I had to use my hive tool to knock the ice pretty hard. How much does this bother the bees? I assume it is necessary to allow air circulation into the hive, as well as keep the moisture from melting back inside.
    My second question is related to using the bee brush. I added a sugar block to one hive a couple of days ago when it was 65 degrees (yes, quite a quick change!) There were many bees on the top of the frames, and I had trouble getting them to move so I could place the sugar block. I tried using the brush but a bunch of them just clung to the bristles. I ended up using some smoke, which I really didn’t want to do.

    • Sandi,

      If you lower it slowly, the bees will move out of the way. Or you can put one end down and brace the other end on a stick or piece of wood, so the bees can crawl out from under it.

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