@BBH was invited to speak at the ACTBKA tonight and provided answers during the Beginner’s Corner segment. A question was asked regarding a hive that had bees that were not capping off honey in in the supers. The Beekeeper also made the comment that the were multiple supers on the hive, and they were all uncapped.
This isn’t an uncommon issue that beekeepers raise and it generally comes down to additional space being added to the supers slightly too early.
Honey in the super that can be seen in uncapped cells needs to be ripened by the bees, which is a process that reduces the moisture/water content of the nectar/honey to around 18%. This process ensures that when the honey is capped it doesn’t ferment in the cell, spoiling the honey. This is also the reason that extracting and distributing/selling uncapped honey isn’t advised as the moisture content is too high and it will ferment in the bottle, if not consumed quickly.
When inspecting supers a frame ‘full of honey’ can definitely look like a situation that requires urgent expansion, or at the very least the introduction of new foundation frames into the super.
The following frame is an example of a frame that I would say is ‘full of honey’.
Although this frame is full of honey with cells filled, the honey hasn’t yet been ripened, which is a process that takes varying lengths of time depending on the nectar source, honey flow and many other variables. The fact this frame isn’t currently ripe can be determined by looking at the frame and seeing that the bees haven’t started to cap or ‘close out’ the tops of the cells. Adding a super at this time can be problematic for extraction as the bees shift some of their attention to drawing new foundation frames (or stickies) in the new super and filling them with honey/nectar as well, leaving the honey in the existing super uncapped.
The above photo is of an Ideal frame, but it must be considered that a full depth frame at the same point of stored, uncapped honey will take longer to ripen/cap as there is more honey in the frame.
The following is a frame that is partially capped and displays the cells being ‘closed out’ or ‘capped off’.
Looking to the left edge of capped honey in the frame, the cells that are being closed/capped are visible. These are the cells with the reduced diameter exposing honey. This type of capping is the indicator I use to determine that this super contains largely ripe honey and that it will be soon completely capped. Checking across all frames in the super to confirm all frames are at this capping stage (or fully capped) is an excellent indicator that it is time to add an additional super.
For reference, a fully capped frame will look like the following. There will be some (very limited) unused cells around the edges, but a uniform capping on both sides tells you that the honey is ripe and ready to harvest/extract.
So how long does this process take? In this example using Ideal frames, in a strong honey flow this season, 10 Ideal sized frames were placed in as foundation and around 14-21 days later the entire super was fully capped. This number will be variable especially if using full depth Langstroth frames, so it’s best to check regularly during a honey flow and determine how fast your supers are filling.