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Partially capped frames: what to do with uncapped honey?

Frames of hony may be only partially capped. A frame of bees on honey.

A few uncapped honey cells are normal. But too many uncapped cells can cause your honey to ferment. Here are some things you can do with “wet” honey.

At this time of year, we often look at partially filled, partially capped honey frames and wonder, “Now what?” For example, I received this question last night:

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?

Michigan beekeeper

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 out the wet honey

Because of all the potential problems, “what to do with it?” is a really good question. Luckily, you can mitigate the problem.

Without a doubt, start by turning the frames upside down and giving them a good hard shake. Keep shaking until no more drops fly out. This action will quickly get rid of the wettest honey.

We tend to think of honey as cured or not. But before capping, the nectar in the comb can be anywhere from about 80% water to about 17% water. That is a tremendous difference.

The higher the water content, the harder it is to keep. Shaking out the watery stuff leaves you with uncured honey that is closer to being cured and much easier to handle.

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.

Just remember: 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.

Honey Bee Suite


  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  • 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.


    • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.


  • “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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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,

      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

  • 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!

  • 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”. 🙂

      • 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.

  • 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.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I was told that bees will not cap honey after the flow is over because they won’t be able to make the wax needed for capping. This does not seem correct to me. Is that true? When is the best time to start extracting? Thank you for any information you can offer.

    • Terry,

      Bees will cap honey when it’s ready to be capped. If they are not excreting wax, they will take it from somewhere else. There are not as many bees of wax-secreting age after the flow, but there are certainly some.

      You can extract whenever you have enough frames to make it worthwhile.

  • Rusty,

    I am in Snohomish Wa. My hives are two deeps. I have supers on top, consisting of partial frames of capped/uncapped honey that I did not harvest in July. I’d like to put the supers above the inner cover, understanding that they will move it into the brood boxes, which seems better for winter. However, my last inspection had the bees occupying the top brood box with brood etc, and the bottom deep essentially empty drawn comb. Lots of bees all throughout.

    Someone suggested I reverse the boxes? So they have room to store the honey? Or will they move the honey down to the brood boxes without me messing it up with reversing?

    I’d like to get the supers empty and off hopefully with the stores where the bees can use it, along with any fall flow we may get. Knotweed is close to blooming here. Any suggestions?


    • Carol,

      I guess my answer would depend on how much space they have in the top brood box for storing honey. In any case, I would not put an empty brood box between the bees and the honey. That seems almost cruel…as well as pointless.

      If they really don’t need the space in the lower box, and there is nothing in it, you could remove it. Or if you think they need that space, you could just leave it where it is, place the inner cover under the honey stores and see if they move it.

      I’ve had many discussions with various beekeepers about whether bees actually move honey or if they consume honey from one location and store new honey in a different location (making it appear to be moved). I tend to think the latter, but I’ve never actually dyed honey to see where it goes.

      In any case, you could just try it and see what happens.

  • Hey Rusty,

    I have tried the technique mentioned earlier by Jeff, “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.” On the last occasion the whole hive moved up. Fortunately for me I shook them all down and they survived the winter. I have used the method previously and was thinking I must have had my queen excluder in place. I am stuck with several uncapped honey supers and would prefer the hive take the honey as part of their winter stores. Has anyone had a similar experience and thoughts on a queen excluder?

  • I extract and mix into the sugar patties for winter. I take all my cappings and do the same thing, mix all the cappings with sugar and feed back to the bees. They tend to reuse everything. Cappings usually have a lot of honey left in them and the bees do reuse the wax. Usually the pans are wiped clean.

  • When you speak of putting spun frames above an inner cover, what kind of inner cover do you mean? Here in steamy summer MD I use screened inner covers that the outer cover is raised half an inch or so above. So my bees would have to go outside and up to get to the spun frames. Every other bee in the neighborhood would have the same access, and no guard bees. That seems like asking for trouble.

    With a solid inner cover with a hole in the center, the cleaning up could be done from the inside. I’m assuming this is the desirable format. But why bother with the inner cover? Is there something about the barrier that makes the bees want to move the honey down?

    Thanks and I hope it’s okay to add new posts here.


    • Ann,

      Yes, you are correct. The idea is to use a solid inner cover with a hole in the middle. The bees seem to have a psychological (?) need to move the honey down into the brood chamber. Without the cover, they often don’t bother cleaning up the supers because the supers appear to be an extension of the brood box.

  • Rusty, When having the bees clean the honey super, do you take off the queen excluder before putting on the inner cover and do you close the small opening? Thanks, Len

    • Len,

      Now is a good time to remove the queen excluder since it will only get in your way, but it’s by no means mandatory. You should do what makes you most comfortable and seems logical to you.

  • Must you always scratch or uncap the honey super frames, before putting them above the inner cover?

    I tried that the other year and had a robbing scene because they could smell that uncapped honey.

    I was hoping just putting the honey super above the inner cover they would move it down to the empty drawn deep frames.

    • Rosanne,

      I’ve never scratch open honey frames before moving them above an inner cover. But some people like to do it because the bees are more apt to get it all moved if the cells are open. Still, I would avoid scratching if there is any chance of robbing or if you don’t use robbing screens.

  • Hi Rusty – This 10-yr-old blog post is the closest entry I could find to address my question. I had a great harvest out of my 1 production hive – two honey supers, 55 lbs of honey! After I’d harvested, on a whim I put one of the honey supers back on and went on vacation. When I got back, they’d filled that super again (above two brood boxes). 6 of the 8 frames are chock full, but…. they hadn’t capped it more than 10 or 20%. It’s now been a month and they still haven’t capped. The brood boxes are pretty textbook; the lower is full of brood and the upper is mostly honey and pollen. They don’t need that third box on there full of honey; they’re not moving it, eating it or capping it… can I harvest it, and will it be and stay good (note: I don’t sell) or should I just let it sit? Thanks.

    • Stosh,

      I think you know the answer already. If you harvest it and the water content is too high, it will ferment. If you have a refractometer, you can test it, but if you don’t, you would be guessing. The other thing you can do is harvest it, keep it in the fridge, and use it first. Refrigeration will slow down, but not stop, fermentation. Or you can leave it for the bees, and they might use the uncapped honey first. Or harvest part and leave part. Or make mead since you will need to add water anyway.

      So many choices!

  • Dear Rusty, I liked your suggestion about putting a super with partially capped honey above an inner cover. I have a super with partially capped honey but also with brood. I put the super over an inner cover to get the bees to move the nectar down. However, will the workers tend the brood up there? I did have a queen excluder on but that queen somehow got around it (I have a new one now). Or should I move the frames with brood down below the inner cover?

    Thanks very much

    • Pam, I had to do some research on this question, but I still don’t know the answer. Are the bees bringing the honey down? I would think that, if it’s warm enough above the inner cover (and I suspect it is) then the bees might just treat that area as a regular brood-rearing area and leave the honey in place. However, if it’s cold up there, the bees may sacrifice that brood because it’s not contiguous with the brood nest. If it’s not a lot of brood, I would probably just let things play out (i.e. let the bees handle it). Or, if it’s a lot of brood, moving it down below the inner cover may be the best move.

      Please let me know what you do and what happens. This is a learning moment.

  • Thanks, Rusty

    It is quite warm here (90s) but cooling in a few days. One frame in the super above the inner cover had a fair amount of brood and another frame had less. As an experiment, I moved the frame with more brood down below the inner cover and left the other frame above. I’ll check in a few days. Since there is also brood in the lower super (I use 2 deeps and one super over the winter), perhaps the bees will consider it all the same brood nest. This queen seems to like to lay in the supers above the queen excluder. I’d like to get the colony ready for winter soon and so need to get the queen excluder off. I first saw the capped brood about 9 days ago (did not see uncapped brood) so they should emerge soon. I’ll let you know what happens to that brood above the inner cover. How long does it usually take for the bees to move nectar from a super above an inner cover?

    Thanks Rusty. I appreciate the advice

    • Pam,

      I hesitate to answer your question because the subject of moving honey is fraught with heated emotions. We all know that honey bees will clean up honey from an area in a hive that is not contiguous with the brood nest. Thus, the inner cover. Because the barrier makes the honey seem as if it’s not part of the hive, it encourages the bees to remove it.

      Some people think the bees physically move the honey from place to place. Others think that the bees simply use up those distant supplies first, all the while adding any newly collected nectar to areas closer to the brood nest. To a beekeeper who opens the hive only occasionally, these two alternatives will look pretty much the same: Honey will disappear from one area and materialize somewhere else.

      I have always belonged to the latter group, thinking honey bees are pragmatic about how to get a job done. In addition, I’ve always noticed that bees are more reluctant to “move” honey that is capped. However, I must concede that robbing honey bees are not reluctant to tear open capped cells of honey they find in someone else’s pantry.

      I asked you to let me know what happens because I’m still forming a theory on “moving honey within a hive.” I honestly don’t know how long it will take your bees to move the honey, if they actually do move it, but I know you can speed up the process by opening the cells. If you damage the cappings with a scratcher, the leaky cells will get quick attention.

      This is sooooo interesting.

      • Dear Rusty

        To address the question of whether bees move nectar from above the inner cover to deeper in the hive, I checked the super above the inner cover today. Most frames now have nectar, so the bees have been adding to the nectar stores. There was even more brood than a week ago, including uncapped larvae in various stages, in 3-4 frames. Moreover, I looked in the upper deep (I have 2 deeps and 1+ supers, depending on the season), it was completely full of capped honey. So, this queen probably had to lay in supers. This colony may therefore not be the best test case for determining whether bees move honey or just consume it differentially. Either the queen crawled around the excluder (I had replaced the old excluder after seeing brood in the super) or she had been trapped above the excluder. The person from whom I buy bee equipment (has 250 hives) says he has seen evidence that queens can get around queen excluders to lay in supers. However, this queen had brood in the super in the early spring before I put on the excluder, so she likes to lay in supers. I still want to get down to 1 super for the winter. I removed the excluder and plan to remove several frames of capped honey from the deep and replace with drawn empty frames. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

        Thanks very much for your help.

        • Pam,

          All I can say for sure is “the more I learn, the less I know.” I agree with your equipment supplier that some queens can get through an excluder. If you think about variation between individuals of any species, there are vast differences. For example, I’m sure the distance from the dorsal to ventral surfaces of the thorax varies from queen to queen. Also, the thickness of wire on screens can vary, and they can be bent or deformed in ways we cannot see. Also, I think bee psychology plays a part.

          When I was an undergrad I had a job where I had to slither into people’s crawlspaces and map the cold water piping (for adding water treatment systems). Crawlspaces are supposed to have at least 18 inches clearance, and most do. But 18 inches can look different from day to day, and if I was having a claustrophobic moment, I was terrified of getting stuck. I can see a bee going through those same moments and saying, “Ya know, I’d rather not,” even though on other days she might be okay with it (I know, I’m not supposed to anthropomorphize, but it helps me think.)

          Anyway, your queen seems happy doing what she does, so your plan for manipulating the frames sounds like a good one. This topic (bees moving honey) and a related one (bees moving eggs) are always on my radar because I used to know what bees would do, now I don’t. So even though your present colony isn’t a good test, please let me know if you detect or suspect honey relocation.

          I like your queen: a woman after my own heart.

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