Navigate / search

Avoid a honey drip free-for-all

One of the worst parts of honey extraction is the accumulation of sticky, gooey frames that remains after the process. These frames of uncapped comb, known as “wet” frames, are a storage nightmare until they are cleaned of all traces of honey.

Fortunately, honey bees are more than happy to do the job. They lick and clean every nook and cranny and put the remaining honey back in storage. This is a great system that conserves honey and makes the beekeeper’s life easier. But how you deliver wet frames to the bees is important.

It is popular to pile the frames into a great heap on the edge of the bee yard and let the bees do their thing. I have seen frames piled in wheel barrows or stacked like wood in a bonfire. This will get your frames clean in no time, but it is not good practice. In my opinion it is just plain irresponsible.

This system, very similar to open feeding of sugar syrup, has several negative consequences:

  • Open feeding draws bees from all over. Conflicts over the food source may develop into a robbing frenzy, replete with fighting and dying.
  • Shared food sources are perfect for the transmission of parasites such as mites. Even if you have worked hard to keep your mites under control, you may unwittingly bring new mite stock in from somewhere else. During a nectar dearth (a popular time for extracting) bees will travel long distances to get to your honey drips—perhaps five miles or more.
  • Honey bee pathogens, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses, can also be transmitted during open feeding. It’s sort of like eating your dinner from a community trough. You could easily bring a new disease into your apiary.
  • Open feeding also draws other insects, including wild bees, hover flies, wasps, and hornets. Some of these insects, such as wasps and hornets, may go for your bees as well as the honey.
  • Open feeding may draw other animals as well, including raccoons, opossums, and dogs into your neighborhood. If rewarded with a sweet treat, these animals may add your apiary to their regular rounds.
  • There is a real possibility that wild bees may pick up diseases or parasites from honey bees at an open feeding station. Wild bumble bees have already contracted diseases from greenhouse bumble bees, and it appears that some wild bees may have already picked up honey bee diseases such as chalkbrood. Cross-species disease transmission may be the single biggest risk to open feeding . . . and it’s just not worth it.
So what do you do with all those sticky frames? When they come out of the extractor, put them back in a super and put the supers back on the hive. Sure, there is still some risk of transferring disease, but it is much smaller than at an open feeder. And all the other problems of open feeding are basically solved.

If you are concerned about starting a robbing frenzy at your hives, there are several things you can do to reduce the chances:

  • Clean any honey drips from the outside of the supers.
  • Reduce the hive entrances to a size commensurate with the colony size.
  • Select only strong hives for cleaning supers as they are more able to defend against robbers.
  • Add the supers in the evening, near nightfall, when bees are not flying. By morning, a strong hive will have the situation pretty much under control.
With a little care, you can get your frames cleaned and still have healthy, happy bees when you are done.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Jason
Reply

What should you do about the cappings? I would like the bees to clean those.

Rusty
Reply

Jason,

Same thing, basically. Put the cappings in a container and put the container in an empty super on top of a hive. The bees will cement the container down with propolis, but they will also clean the cappings. Just pry the container loose after a couple of days.

Jason
Reply

I will do that next year because I already let them clean it out yesterday outside of the hive. It never occurred to me about the disease spreading. I had tons of wasps, hornets and bumble bees going after the honey. I lost about 30 bees in that. This is never mentioned in books that I’ve read. It’s also very clear I need to think more like a bee. No human would go into a place full of disease. We need to minimize the bees’ exposure because we are altering how they behave to some degree. I hope that makes sense?

Rusty
Reply

Jason,

It does make sense. In beekeeping, as in lots of other endeavors, it is hard to analyze all the consequences of our actions. In nature, honey bees don’t have folks emptying out their frames, so we don’t have a precedent to look at. Many ideas, like open feeding, seem really good at first, but only after we try them do we realize the full extent of the consequences. Good observations, Jason.

Gretchen
Reply

I was just thinking about this, as I am getting ready for my first honey harvest next week. Do you put the super with the wet frames directly on top, or do you put the inner cover in between the deeps and the super? (I saw a photo yesterday, in which they put the inner cover in between the boxes.)

Also, I recently took off 3 fully capped frames from each hive (I have 2), and put in 3 empty frames with foundation. I did this because everything in the hive was capped and I did not have the time or equipment yet to harvest. And meanwhile, my blackberries and fireweed still had some blooming to do. I put these empty frames in the center of the supers. When I extract next week (weather permitting), I expect they will have drawn out the foundation and started putting nectar in, but doubt it will be capped. So my question is…. can I feed this to the bees this fall instead of 2:1 syrup? How would I do that?

Thanks so much. I have been enjoying your blog. I am also in Western WA, in the foothills.

Rusty
Reply

You can put the inner cover in between or not. I do not use a standard inner cover in the summer (I use screened inner covers), so I just put the super with wet frames directly on top. But using the inner cover between them is just fine too.

Your bees will be a lot slower to draw out foundation at this time of year. But if they do, you can feed the uncapped honey to the bees the same way as the wet combs. Just put the frames in a super above the inner cover (I assume you are doing it that way) and the bees will move it down as the brood nest shrinks. As the brood nest gets smaller the bees backfill the empty cells with nectar and honey. They try to have all their stores close to the brood nest, which is why the move it down from above. Once cold weather sets in, though, they stop moving it around.

Cole Koeppen
Reply

I’m a little confused. In my situation with little nectar yet to come in and a hive that appears full at it’s present condition, I took off one western of honey about a week ago. The hive structure is now from the bottom up- 1 deep brood/honey/pollen, 1 western with mixed brood and honey, then 1 western full honey (my winter feed). I’m considering taking full frames one at a time and replacing them with foundation but it seems so disruptive and damaging/messy.

So, with a week or three remaining of decent weather in the NW when do they consume rather then store? And if you put on a wet super and there is no room to store honey, will they re-fill it rather than clean it? Or just eat it? Or is there always room for something.

I have to borrow extraction equipment so I probably won’t have a wet super to offer back until the last week of Sept.

Rusty
Reply

Cole,

First of all, it sounds like your colony is in good shape for winter–lots of stores and a good colony arrangement.

In my opinion there is little reason to give the bees foundation at this late date; the bees will most likely not draw it out. As the days are getting shorter, less and less brood is reared in the colony and the empty, unused brood cells will be back-filled with any nectar the bees manage to find, including any honey from wet frames. They will continue to store nectar and pollen until it is too cold to fly, or until they find nothing to collect.

When do they start eating their stores? At the time they are unable to collect anymore. So I would say around October they will gradually transition from collecting to eating what they have. They may have already started to cluster at night, and break cluster during the day. Soon they will be in a cluster most of the time.

Robert
Reply

If you put wet frames straight back into a super and back onto the existing hive, wouldn’t the bees be tempted to fill the frames with honey again?

What do you do when your trying to reduce the colony size for winter at the end of summer?

Ive been collecting the wet frames and freezing them giving the hive 1 frame a time under the telescoping cover for them to clean off but its a slow process in compared to using an entire box for the job 🙂

Rusty
Reply

Robert,

If you put a box of wet frames above an inner cover with a hole in the center, the bees will clean up the frames and store the honey below the inner cover. It really works.

Vince
Reply

One other book you will enjoy to read is: Confessions of a bad beekeeper. I checked it out of my local library.
Vince

Scott Sailors
Reply

Everything you say here makes sense. However, my situation is a little different. I have gone through a process of getting my bees onto medium frames so that, in the future, all my hives can be made up of 8-frame, medium-depth boxes (I have a back injury). The only honey I am harvesting this year is about three frames’ worth of honey on the deep box I just removed from the hive. Obviously, after re-configuring the hive to be all 8-frame, medium-depth boxes, I cannot put the extracted, deep, wet frames back in the hive for the bees to clean up.

Any thoughts about how I can make those frames available to the bees?

Rusty
Reply

Scott,

If you have extra medium boxes, you can put two empties on a hive and put the wet deeps in them. Just leave them long enough to get clean, then remove. Or without extra boxes, take three frames from each box (frames without brood), line them up one side, and put the deeps in the empty space for a few days till clean, and then put it back together.

Scott Sailors
Reply

Yes! I have two more medium-depth boxes, so I’ll do exactly that with the extracted, wet frames.

There was also some nectar left on some of the deep frames, and I want the bees to be able to get that back into the hive as well. But, what will keep them from just trying to dehydrate it down to honey and cap it on the deep frames? If the frames are inside the hive, what will motivate the bees to move the nectar off of the deep frames and onto the medium frames? (I’m just talking about the deep frames with nectar here, not the extracted wet frames.)

Thank you so much for your help. This is my first year to keep bees, and, like so many others, I’m smitten. I have just one hive but hope to split it this coming spring. (I have a very prolific queen.)

Rusty
Reply

Scott,

As the brood nest shrinks in the autumn, the bees backfill cells close to the brood nest with honey. The inner cover adds even more motivation.

Scott Sailors
Reply

I just read what you wrote to Robert about putting the box of wet frames above an inner cover with a hole in it. I guess I could do that with the frames of nectar as well. Am I understanding this correctly?

Rusty
Reply

Scott,

Yes, I should have mentioned that. The inner cover separates the hive and makes the bees eager to bring the honey down closer to the brood nest.

Scott Sailors

Got it. Thanks again! Just to be sure the queen doesn’t go up onto those deep frames, I’ll also put an excluder just below the inner cover.

Rusty

Scott,

She won’t go up there. Fall is coming and laying is decreasing.

Leave a comment

name*

email* (not published)

website