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:
- How many fully capped frames he has (if any)
- If he has an extractor
- The ratio of uncapped to capped cells
- 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.