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 wheelbarrows 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.
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.