HomeBeekeepingIs the honey prepared? - The Apiarist

Is the honey prepared? – The Apiarist

Synopsis : How and when do you take away the supers to maximise the honey prepared for extraction (and minimise the drudgery of extracting 😉 ). What’s the ‘shake check’, and what do you do with frames that fail?


Until your bees are actually up on the heather moors, or one or two different particular instances (e.g.ivy), the productive a part of the beekeeping season is now roughly over.

Productive by way of honey, queen and nuc manufacturing (or propolis, Royal Jelly and so forth.).

The times are shortening, it’s cooler within the mornings and – no less than right here in north-west Scotland – there’s the primary trace of leaves altering color on the bushes.

Your hives needs to be filled with bees. The drones – as mentioned final week – are counting the times or maybe hoping for one final probability at mating with a late virgin queen.

It’s not utterly completed – and it relies upon upon the place you reside – however ’the top is nigh’. In fact, not an precise apocalyptical and eschatological occasion … simply that many of the enjoyable is over till subsequent Could 🙁 .

It didn’t final lengthy did it?

Hopefully the hives are closely laden with bulging supers 🙂 .

Colonies could begin to get defensive in the event that they’re being pestered by wasps or subjected to robbing by different colonies.

It’s about now that the beekeeper robs the hives of some or the entire summer time honey and begins to make the all-important preparations for winter.

Summertime, and the livin’ is straightforward

About six weeks in the past I wrote a put up concerning the change in depth of beekeeping as soon as the swarm season is over. From then (late June or early July) till now I’ve just about stopped routine colony inspections. Visits to the apiaries are a lot extra relaxed.

A lot of the colonies have new queens (or I’m fairly sure that the 2020 or 2021 queens – all of that are clipped anyway – received’t swarm ) and there may be little to be gained from rummaging by way of the brood containers.

What’s extra, these supers are heavy 🙂 .

I’ve no real interest in lifting off this lot …

For Scotland that’s a variety of supers (and see textual content)

… solely to (disruptively) verify what I’m 98% sure of already i.e. that the queen is laying and has house to put, that – nonetheless – the brood nest is contracting they usually’re beginning to backfill cells with nectar, that there’s sufficient pollen for the brood they’re rearing and that there’s growing (however nonetheless nicely inside secure limits.) numbers of mites within the colony.

Admittedly, I do know a few of these issues as a result of I’m accustomed to the ’rhythm of the seasons’ right here, having stored bees in jap Scotland for a number of years.

That doesn’t imply I’ve deserted beekeeping. Removed from it.

Any containers I’m uncertain about have been recurrently inspected. These embody some with new queens and my hives on the west coast .

Simply this afternoon I discovered my final new laying queen of the season . It’s been a surprising summer time within the north-west, however she obtained out to mate in two days of half-decent climate final week.

The honey harvest

Most of my beekeeping has been within the Midlands and lowland Scotland. Neither space has heather and the one dependable late nectar sources are ivy and Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera).

I reckon that balsam is nearly in vary

Dependable in that there needs to be nectar out there, not that the bees would reliably accumulate it.

In my expertise ivy is normally too late for my bees in Scotland. Balsam is earlier, however is localised round rivers or damp floor.

In each instances, if the bees can get it, I allow them to preserve any nectar they accumulate.

I subsequently normally take away the honey supers quickly after the principle summer time circulate has completed. Final 12 months that was the primary week of August. All of the supers had been eliminated by concerning the 12th. This 12 months – with fewer hives however much more supers 🙂 – I began eradicating full supers on the 1st of August and count on to have all of them off by early subsequent week .

I do know some beekeepers take away supers separately or as they’re stuffed and capped. With enough time and quick access to your hives that may work nicely.

Nevertheless, most of mine are 140 miles away, I’m fairly time-poor and – importantly – I think about extracting the third worst job in beekeeping .

I subsequently choose to gather as many supers as potential in as quick a interval as sensible. I stack them someplace heat after which spend a day or two (or in a foul, so subsequently antithetically, good 12 months, three days) hunched over the extractor.

The sniff check

The water content material of nectar can vary between about 50 and 90%. Totally different nectars have totally different water content material. A lot of this water must be evaporated off by the bees or the ensuing saved honey will ferment.

When you go to the apiary late on a peaceful summer time night you’ll be able to hear your complete hive ‘buzzing’ because the bees fan their wings to create an airflow to evaporate the surplus water off.

Late evening in the apiary

Sniff testing hives late within the night

It usually smells improbable 🙂 .

As soon as the water content material is low sufficient (lower than 20%) the honey won’t ferment and the bees normally seal the total cells with a wax cap.

Properly capped and able to extract

Nevertheless, it’s uncommon that each body in each tremendous is capped. Many or most might be, however there are sometimes frames – notably the skin frames of an excellent – that are partially (and even utterly) stuffed and never capped.

(Very) partially capped honey super frame ...

(Very) partially capped honey tremendous body …

The tremendous above is nearly utterly full, however the overwhelming majority of the cells haven’t been capped.

Can or not it’s extracted?

Will the honey ferment?

How will you keep away from this example within the first place?

So many questions … let’s return to the apiary.

Checking the supers

Though I don’t carry off all these supers to examine the brood containers, I do periodically take a look at what’s occurring in the supers.

With one or two supers and a transparent crownboard you’ll be able to normally see how the bees are getting on filling the frames with out lifting something however the roof.

When you add new supers to the highest of the stack you might be fairly certain that the decrease supers might be extra utterly stuffed and higher capped than the highest one.

And, in case you’re questioning, it apparently doesn’t make any distinction whether or not you add supers to the highest or backside of the stack.

So, in case you top-super – and are over eight ft tall – you’ll be able to test the stack because it grows with out any lifting 😉 .

If the central frames are capped and the outer ones solely part-filled/uncapped I swap them round (as proven in panel A and B, beneath, the place black bars point out capped frames and mid-grey bars point out part-filled or uncapped frames).

Rearranging tremendous frames and checking cleared supers – see textual content for particulars

Equally, if the skin of the outer supers is being ignored I flip them spherical.

Evenly stuffed frames are simpler to extract as a result of all of them weigh about the identical so the extractor stays balanced.

My extractor takes 9 frames … and so do my supers 🙂 .

At the very least, they do as soon as the comb is totally drawn.

I begin the supers with 11 frames and basis, however take away two as soon as they’re drawn. The broader spacing encourages the bees to construct deeper cells – extra honey, much less wax and (extra importantly) much less frames to extract.

Nevertheless, don’t simply begin with 9 undrawn frames or the bees will in all probability construct numerous brace comb within the large gaps between them.

Clearing supers

I’ve mentioned clearing supers a number of occasions beforehand . For my part the three vital factors are:

  • use a clearer board with no shifting elements (and keep away from these abominable Porter escapes)
  • be sure that there’s a hole beneath the clearer and above the field beneath the tremendous being cleared
  • that the supers of a queenright colony needs to be virtually utterly cleared inside 12-16 hours

My clearer boards have a deep decrease rim and two wide-spaced escapes. They work very nicely.

Clearer boards

Clearer boards – observe two well-spaced exits and a deep decrease rim

Within the cartoon diagram above, panel C reveals a hive with supers prepared for clearing and removing.

The day after including the clearer I take away the supers, leaving the clearer in place and undisturbed for the second.

The supers are quickly stacked in an upturned hive roof and coated with one other roof – to maintain them wasp and bee free.

If, as I take away the supers, I see bees that haven’t been cleared I drop your complete tremendous on an unoccupied hive stand to shake the stragglers off.

I then test particular person supers. These which are utterly capped might be stacked – once more with safety from robbing wasps and bees – prepared for transport.

Half capped tremendous frames are subjected to …

The shake check

Honey with a water content material decrease than about 20% can’t be simply i.e. manually, shaken out of the cells. That is handy as a result of 20% is the higher restrict allowed for the sale of ‘honey’. Any greater than that and it’s seemingly that the honey will ferment (and subsequently spoil).

Or it’s not ‘honey’ .

Subsequently, after eradicating the cleared supers you must check any frames which are partially or utterly uncapped to verify that the honey is ‘ripe’ and prepared for extraction.

The ‘shake check’ takes simply seconds to carry out.

Maintain the tremendous body horizontally by the aspect bars and provides it a single sharp shake. If nectar flies out of the cells the water content material of no less than some of the uncapped cells on the body is over 20%.

If, while you maintain the body horizontal – earlier than shaking the body – nectar drips or pours out of the cells then don’t even hassle doing the shake check … the body isn’t prepared. Any frames like these, or any that fail the shake check, needs to be transferred into an empty tremendous which might return on the hive.

Within the cartoon diagram above, the supers faraway from the hive (C) included uncapped frames that handed the shake check (mid-grey and stacked with capped frames in D) and those who had been insufficiently ripened which ended up in stack E.

Since there are virtually no bees on these frames, you’ll be able to combine’n’match the frames containing unripe honey from a number of hives.

Tidying up

I normally do the shake check over an inverted Correx roof. The darkish color makes it simple to see the drops of nectar which are shaken out. Doing it this manner additionally means I don’t depart spilt nectar across the apiary which may induce robbing .

Unripe nectar is straightforward to shake out of tremendous frames.

Alternatively, you’ll be able to shake the frames excessive of an opened hive. Since I attempt to clear all of the supers in an apiary directly I choose not have a hive open for the time it would take to test all of the uncapped frames.

As soon as the supers are off, sorted, graded and stacked away prepared for transport I shake the bees from the underside of the clearer and shut the hives up, having positioned the tremendous(s) containing the frames of unripe honey on high of the strongest colony . That is the most certainly to ripen and cap the honey, or to make use of it for winter shops.

Preparation for winter

On the identical day I take away the supers I usually begin the preparations for winter. I don’t wish to write about this right here (I’ve written about is beforehand and I don’t have the house) however it primarily entails:

  • conducting a closing inspection of the brood field
  • including Apivar, the miticide I normally use in late summer time
  • including a 12.5 kg block of fondant

If the colony is wholesome however weaker than I’d like, or not queenright, I’d unite it with a powerful colony. Much better to take your ‘losses’ within the autumn than within the winter.

However, again to these supers …

Having consolidated the entire extractable frames into the smallest potential variety of containers I then attempt to squeeze all 48 supers into the again of my little automobile and – but once more – want I may promote sufficient honey to buy a truck and trailer.

Room for an additional up high … the passenger seat is already full

I have to strive more durable 😉 .

Again on the ranch

Severe beekeepers have ‘heat rooms’ by which they stack the supers previous to extraction. This retains the honey properly warmed. It’s subsequently a lot simpler to spin the honey out of the frames and it retards crystallisation.

I’m not a severe beekeeper 😉 .

However I do have a honey warming cupboard that I can stack a variety of supers on 😉 .

Supers being warmed prepared for extraction

When you construct your personal honey warming cupboard it’s price making it sturdy – joints glued and screwed and so forth.. There’s no less than 200 kg of honey within the supers pictured above . I’d not do that with any of the business honey warming cupboards I’ve seen (all of that are too small anyway).

The honey warming cupboard is about to 40°C and the supers are rotated, high to backside and vice versa each day or two till I’m able to extract.

It’s a variety of lifting, however the ease with which the honey is spun out makes it worthwhile .

Spring honey from oil seed rape

The excessive glucose content material of nectar from oil seed rape (OSR) implies that the honey crystallises quick. Retaining it heat helps, however you continue to have to extract inside a number of days of getting the supers off the hive. In distinction, summer time blossom honey usually takes ages to crystallise, so you’ll be able to take care of issues in a extra leisurely style.

Yikes! … moist frames at residence

Typically a body or two – or an excellent or two – of incompletely ripened honey sneaks by way of all these cautious checks you carried out within the apiary.

You discover nectar dripping from a body while you carry it out of the tremendous … you give it a fast ‘shake check’ and much more nectar is shaken out.

What are you able to do with these frames or supers?

It slightly relies upon what number of of them there are and the way a lot you need the honey.

However first … what you must not do is extract them and blend them with the prime quality, low water content material honey that kinds the majority of the stuff you might be extracting. Doing this dangers ruining a whole bucket .

I feel the selection might be certainly one of:

  • returning the frames/supers to the apiary for the bees
  • stacking the supers in a small heat room with a dehumidifier. When you do that, place spacers between the supers to encourage good airflow
  • spinning out the ‘moist’ honey at low velocity earlier than uncapping the frames and extracting as regular. When you do that, be sure to empty the extractor and use the ‘moist’ honey as winter feed for the bees (or for mead)

I’ve solely ever actually achieved the primary two of those. A dehumidifier works, however that was way back when vitality was low-cost.

Lately I’m way more rigorous in screening frames/supers within the apiary and any that slip by way of are returned to the bees .

Factors I failed to say earlier

Inevitably I missed a number of issues I meant to cowl, or remembered them too late to weave into the principle a part of the put up … .


Keep in mind … the ‘Can’t shake honey with lower than 20% water out of a body’ rule considerably dependent upon how sturdy you might be.

The correct approach to check the water content material of honey

You must nonetheless check your extracted honey with a refractometer.

Brace comb

When you discover the bees are constructing brace comb beneath the clearer you might be sure that the nectar circulate isn’t completed but (or one other has began).

Brace comb in clearer

Brace comb in clearer

The clearer above was inadvertently left on for a number of days, however they’ll construct a stunning quantity of recent comb inside 24 hours in a powerful nectar circulate. If that is so you must count on many of the frames won’t be prepared for extraction.

Failed clearers

In case your clearer doesn’t virtually utterly clear the supers in a single day, both:

  • it’s a awful design and/or blocked with useless drones, or
  • the colony isn’t queenright (it could be price checking 😉 )

Returning supers for capping and/or shops

When returning supers with unripe shops for the bees I place them over the brood field (and queen excluder) if I need the bees to ripen and cap the honey. Clearly – no less than it needs to be to anybody who reads the directions – on this occasion I don’t add Apivar, or begin feeding for winter.

Nevertheless, if I’m returning the tremendous for the bees to retailer the nectar I nadir the tremendous i.e. place it beneath the brood field. Any capped shops within the tremendous are bruised by gently pushing down on the cappings. The broken cells consequently weep small quantities of honey. Because the colony shops honey above and to the perimeters of the brood nest they normally empty the nadired tremendous and transfer the honey up.

If the laying charge of the queen has slowed sufficiently she is unlikely to fill the nadired tremendous with brood. Relying upon the time of the season you must choose when to take away this nadired ‘tremendous’ , or whether or not to depart it on overwinter.

By the point you get to it within the spring it’s prone to have brood in 🙂 .




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