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Partially capped frames: what to do?

It’s that time of year when we look at partially filled, partially capped honey frames and say, “Now what?” Here is a question I received last night:

I have a problem that I hope you can help me with. I have a honey super that has partially filled and capped frames and the honey flow has nearly stopped here in Michigan. If these frames are not filled and capped, what should I do with them?

Before I could give this person a competent answer, it would be helpful to know four more things:

  1. How many fully capped frames he has (if any)
  2. If he has an extractor
  3. The ratio of uncapped to capped cells
  4. How wet the uncapped honey is

But since I don’t know any of these things, I will give some general guidelines.

Uncapped honey can cause several problems:

  • It can grow a lush crop of furry mold
  • Uncapped honey can ferment (cool photos) and bubble out of the comb
  • The leaky nectar can attract other insects, such as ants
  • It can attract wax moths, especially if the comb ever contained brood
  • The uncured nectar may can cause a moisture problem in the hive

Shake it out

Because of all the potential problems, “what to do with it?” is a really good question. Without a doubt, the first thing I would do is turn the frames upside down and give them a good hard shake and keep shaking until no more drops fly out. We tend to think of nectar as being cured or not, but in reality the nectar can be anywhere from about 80% water to about 17% water. The higher the water content, the harder it is to keep. So, get rid of the watery stuff and see what you have left.

Other things you can do

It may be that shaking fixed the problem. But if there are still uncapped cells remaining, here are some alternatives.

  • If you have other honey to extract, and the total number of uncapped cells is small, just go ahead and extract it along with the rest. Some people say you can use up to 10% uncapped cells in your honey, but it really depends on how wet the uncapped cells are. If they are almost dry (about 19-20% moisture) you can use a lot. If they are very wet, you can use only a few. Just remember that each time you use an uncapped cell, you are adding water to your honey.
  • If a large portion of your honey is uncapped, you can extract the uncapped frames separately from the rest, store it in the refrigerator, and use it for cooking.
  • You can also extract it separately, store it in the freezer, and use it for spring feed.
  • Of course, if you have a big freezer, you can store the whole super in the freezer and save it for next year.
  • If you live in a really cold climate, you can store the frames outside in a plastic crate. However, if they constantly freeze and thaw you run the chance of mold and/or fermentation.
  • If the nectar is nearly dry enough to be considered honey, you can put the partially capped frames in a dry room with a dehumidifier for a few days and it will continue to dry. When it’s dry enough, extract it.
  • You can put all the partially capped frames in a super above an inner cover. As long as the days remain warm enough for the bees to move around, they will move the honey from the super down close to the brood nest. If you want them to remove all of it, scratch open the capped cells.
  • You can swap any empty frames in your brood box with frames containing the uncapped honey, but you should shake them first. Too much wet nectar in winter can cause a moisture overload in the hive.
  • You can leave the frames outside at least 50 or 60 feet from the nearest hive and the bees will clean out the frames and store the nectar in the brood box. This requires caution as you don’t want to start a robbing frenzy.

The most important thing to remember is that if you mix too much wet honey with your crop of cured honey you could ruin the whole thing. So err on the side of caution.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Aram
Reply

Rusty,

How about just turning the super upside down and let the bees take it off since the cells are now pointing 15 degrees down instead of up. I am sure they can all do that in a hurry together. Lots of area to attack at once. Of course I assume that honey is cured enough where it won’t just start pouring out.

andy brown
Reply

I have the same problem. A motley collection of half-filled frames in the honey supers. I don’t have a freezer big enough for frames and if this past (Rhode Island) winter was any indication, it won’t be cold enough to store them outside. I’m inclined to wait and see whether the bees clean things up themselves. I don’t mind them eating it if it will help them get through the winter better. But If I end up with ten or so tidily capped frames, could I just put them in a super in a plastic bag and store them in the basement, or is that inviting trouble (from mice, wax moths, etc?) That way I can bring them out in February if needed.

Rusty
Reply

Andy,

If they are capped you can wrap them in plastic and freeze them one at a time. Do you have room to do that? I freeze a frame at a time over night and then store the full thawed frames in a mouse-proof place for the winter. A quick freeze kills moths and beetles so you don’t have to worry about them if they don’t become re-infested. I just leave the plastic on when they come out of the freezer which keeps off condensation while they thaw and prevents contact with insects. If you are sure you have neither moths nor beetles you can skip the freezing step.

andy brown
Reply

Thanks, that actually sounds like a good solution. As a second year beekeeper, my priority is trying to manage bees through a winter and spring – rather than extracting every last drop right now. On the other hand, I know I need to get those supers off before winter.

Jeff
Reply

Hey Rusty,

Typically I take the honey super off, place the inner cover over the brood box(s) and put the honey super back on top of the colony and outer cover over all of it. Over a few days the bees will move that honey/nectar down into the brood area. You have clean comb for next year and well fed bees to get through the winter. I also do this for boxes of extracted honey frames to clean them up in the fall. Both work well if day time temperatures are still up there.

Cheers
Jeff

Tyson
Reply

Elegant method, I’ll try that out. In S. California we have plenty of warm days that bees can clean up extracted frames for winter.

Larry
Reply

Rusty,

Thank you for the help. The frames are probably 70-90% full and capped, some are completely capped on one side but running 50-60% capped on the other. I have two well stocked brood boxes on the hives, so the supers are not needed by the bees. I think I will turn the frames upside down and give them a good shaking over the hive, since when I tip them over the “honey” tends to run out, so there is quite a high water content. I will then extract the remainder of the frames and I plan on putting the extracted honey frames back on the hives for a “dessert” for the hard working bees.

Thank you again for the quick reply and help.

Larry

Nancy
Reply

Rusty –

>> if you have a big freezer, you can store the whole super in the freezer and save it for next year.

What about wrapping and storing just the frames? Wrap how? Couple layers of plastic wrap, or more?

And also – you said “Spring feeding.” Not Winter?

And also
>> put the partially capped frames in a dry room with a humidifier

Did you mean a de-humidifier, or am I missing some <<really obvious point?

Thanks, this is timely and helpful.

Nan

Mark Luterra
Reply

“You can put all the partially capped frames in a super above an inner cover. As long as the days remain warm enough for the bees to move around, they will move the honey from the super down close to the brood nest. If you want them to remove all of it, scratch open the capped cells.”

+1 on this. I am amazed how well this works – in four days my extracted and uncured frames were cleaned out and wax damage fixed. Next year I might even consider saving back some honey frames for fall feeding this way instead of sugar syrup.

Bee123
Reply

Can you let a fan blow on the honey to dry out some of the water?

Rusty
Reply

Bee,

You can certainly try.

Maria
Reply

We have a shallow of extracted frames that has been sitting on the dining room table for a month or so and I’m wondering if we should freeze them before putting them back on top of the inner cover for the bees to clean them up. I’m worried about the amount of time they gave been sitting and wonder if it is ok to give them back to the bees. Thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Maria,

If you don’t have an infestation of wax moths in your dining room by now, there won’t be any. The frames are fine to give to the bees as is.

Neil Glotfelty
Reply

Rusty,

Thank you for the great writting and super helpful instruction and insights! Concerning capped and uncapped honey frames, should you ever pull full frames of capped honey in the brood chamber. What is the best configuration for frames in a brood chamber?

Rusty
Reply

Neil,

I like to put capped frames on the two ends, followed by a frame of mixed honey and pollen on each side, and leave brood frames in the center.

Linda Beehler
Reply

Can you please give a verbal picture of your winter hive stack?

Rusty
Reply

Linda,

From the top down:

telescoping cover
moisture quilt
no-cook candy board with a queen excluder bottom
imirie shim with small entrance
brood box 2
brood box 1
slatted rack
screened bottom board
hive stand

Alun Thomas
Reply

Hi Rusty, you Americans have some quaint expressions! Just what do you mean by an “inner cover”? Is it a crown board or a queen-excluder-or something else altogether? I can’t even guess what a “slatted rack” might be; sounds like something in the gym!

Radu
Reply

Rusty,

I was thinking to use the extractor on low-speed to extract the uncapped honey while keeping the capped honey capped.

Then I can remove the frames from the extractor, clean the extractor, uncap the honey from the frames and use the extractor again to extract the honey that was capped.

Will this work? Did anybody tried this before?

I have deep plastic frames in the honey super and I have a radial extractor.

I have only three months experience as a beekeeper but I watched several YouTube videos. 🙂
That is like saying “I have never been to Europe but I read the map several times”. 🙂

Rusty
Reply

Radu,

I don’t know if this would work or not. Maybe someone else here has some experience.

Radu
Reply

It worked. The comb and the capped honey was intact after spinning in the extractor to get the uncapped honey. I was able to tell that the honey was different, the uncapped honey went through the filter much faster. I only had two gallons of capped honey and for now none fermented and two months passed since I extracted it.

I don’t have a refractometer so I cannot tell the water content.

Rusty
Reply

Radu,

Excellent. I’m glad it worked; it’s a good technique to remember.

Frank
Reply

Radu. I did exactly that today. Got a load of uncapped honey in buckets which i will feed to them in the spring. Freeze till then.

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