The truth about uncapped cells of honey & what to do

Sometimes your bees don't cap all the cells with beeswax. Can you still extract those frames?

No matter what you do or how long you wait, some of your honey cells remain uncapped. Can you harvest these or not?

Uncapped honey may contain too much water

Sometimes you get a frame of honey with many open cells. The bees left these cells uncapped because the nectar still contains too much water for long-term storage. For whatever reason, the bees did not finish drying those cells and now you are perplexed, wondering what to do with them.

If you extract the honey from a partially uncapped frame, remember that too many uncapped cells (more than about 10%) may make the moisture content of the honey excessively high. However, if you simply store the frame, the uncapped cells may ferment or grow a coating of mold. So what do you do?

Shake watery honey out of the cells

One of the easiest ways to get rid of most of the uncapped honey is to give the frames a good hard shake. Hold the frames upside down and flick them with your wrists. The nectar will fly out like rain. Alternatively, you can gently knock the frames against a tree or a post. Since the cells of a honeycomb are angled upward, turning the frames upside down aids in getting rid of the wet nectar.

Once you shake out the watery nectar, you can extract the honey or store the frame as is. However, if the honey was very close to being capped, it will probably resist your efforts to shake it free. This is perfect for extracting because it is nearly the right moisture content: adding it to the fully ripened honey is usually no problem.

Uncapped honey in the frame may ferment

However, uncapped honey readily takes on water from the atmosphere. Once it absorbs water, it can ferment. Keeping it frozen will prevent fermentation, but unless you live in the frozen north or have a very large freezer, this isn’t very practical.

That said, uncapped honey that is nearly ready to be capped may not ferment at all. I’ve seen it go either way. A lot depends on difficult-to-assess environmental factors, like how much humidity it will face during storage.

Your bees know what to do with uncapped honey

If you are not planning on either extracting the honey or storing the uncapped frames, you can just give them back to the bees. You don’t even need to shake them because the bees know what to do with uncapped honey.

But give it to them before it ferments—a fermenting honeycomb smells like a brewery out of place and the alcohol is not good for your bees. Give them a chance to deal with the uncapped honey while it is still fresh and attractive.

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  • Michelle,

    It depends. The rule of thumb is that the total number of uncapped cells should not be more than 10 percent of the total cells you will be extracting. So if most of your frames are capped but one isn’t totally capped, just estimate what percentage of the total amount is uncapped. If it is less than 10 percent, go ahead and mix them.

    The actual number of uncapped cells you can use will vary according to how wet the uncapped honey is. If it flies out when you shake the comb is is very wet. If it stays in when you shake it, it is pretty dry. If it is on the dry side, you can probably exceed 10 percent and still be okay. But be careful–you don’t want to ruin your whole batch.

    You can buy a piece of equipment called a honey refractometer which will tell you exactly what your moisture content is. Most commercial honey packers use a refractometer so they can be sure their honey won’t ferment after they sell it. These range in price and accuracy but they are readily available.

  • Thank you for this information, it has been very helpful! I wasn’t able to extract any honey this year but hopefully next year 🙂 You always have such great info on your blog for us newbies!

  • Hi Rusty,

    I just discovered I have a shallow from last year of capped honey. Is it safe to extract, since it has been sitting in a plastic storage bin for a year?

    I know, there have been reports of honey being found in 100-year old vessels, I just don’t want to make anyone sick!


    • Bruce,

      Go ahead and extract–it will be absolutely fine. That’s the thing about honey, it’s got all kinds of antibacterial properties that prevent it from spoiling. As long as it’s capped, it will stay good. Enjoy.

  • I lost one of my hives this summer, so have quite a bit of uncapped honey. What about using it to make mead? Mead combines honey and water (with other ingredients), then allows it to ferment….seems like a potential use for all this stuff.

    Also, regarding feeding it back to the other bees, can I lay frames of it on top of the inner cover inside an eke instead of doing a fall feeding of syrup? My concern about that is if there is still too much moisture in it. However, they may appreciate it now that the nectar flow is slowing down. Thoughts?

    • Gretchen,

      About the mead. I think it would work. You may have to adjust your recipe a bit to account for extra water.

      If you put a super of uncapped honey above an inner cover, there is a good chance the bees will move it down. I can’t imagine that uncapped honey has any more water it in than sugar syrup. Should work. I would take it off when (if) they stop taking it, just as you would with sugar syrup.

  • Hi, I have a beehive and we recently harvested the honey. We found several frames with a cardboard-like dark brown wax on it. In some of them, it appears that there is nectar or honey in it but others just look empty. It is obviously uncapped, except several cells that are capped that look identical to cardboard. We also found several larvae in them. I would appreciate it if you could tell me what this is, and how do we prevent it in the future? Thank you! I can e-mail you pictures of the frames if necessary.

    • Olivia,

      You know, I can’t picture it, so go ahead and send some photos, if you can. My address altered to prevent spam is: rusty at honeybeesuite dot com. I will be looking for them. Sounds interesting.

  • I took off a shallow super for the winter that was empty (I thought) and it had three frames that had some uncapped honey in them. Should I put it back in the hive or shake it out like the article said? This is my first year with bees, help!

    • Since it is so late in the year (and I don’t know where you are) I would just shake them out. If you think it is warm enough that the bees are moving around inside the hive (not clustered) you can put the super over top of an inner cover and the bees may move the honey down into the main nest. It depends on how cold it is where you are.

  • Hi I’m in NZ, it’s currently about 30 degrees C, height of our summer. I have gone to extract honey only to find a large % is full but uncapped. I see that you suggest 10% per frame but wondered if there is anything I can do to induce the bees to cap the frames off? Thanks in anticipation.

  • Hi Rusty!

    After two and a half months of stressing over one of my two packages (which turned out to have a laying worker) I decided to combine my hives. Long story short, I had three deeps stacked up. I waited ten days to do my check and consolidate my frames to get back to 2 deeps. I now have 4 deep frames with a good amount of uncapped and capped honey. I left the frames out to be cleaned and they aren’t touching them. I would really like to keep the drawn comb for next years package. How long should I leave them out before I start worrying about attracting unwanted visitors?

    • Chrissy,

      Put the frames in a box above an inner cover. They bees will bring the honey down to the hive (they don’t like it above the inner cover) and it will be protected from other wildlife.

      Just curious, are you sure you had laying workers? They can be hard to combine. They don’t develop one at a time, but by the dozens or hundreds.

      • I either had laying workers or a poor queen. The original queen started laying workers but she was also peppering drones frequently throughout the frames. Eventually, only drones were hatching with no workers to speak of.
        Prior to drones only, I started to check every week and with each check I found a queen cell each time. So every week I would find one that was empty and one that was capped. This proceeded for three to four weeks. With the hope to soon have a good queen laying I waited, and waited with no sign of fresh worker brood. When the queen cups stopped showing, I started to transfer one frame of new eggs every week from my good hive into the struggling one.
        After about 3 weeks with no queen cells, I threw my hands in the air and decided to combine. I didn’t think I had a whole lot to loose because those drones were taking over the joint.

        When I combined my hives I basically just shook and brushed out all of the bees from the bad hive about three feet in front of the good hive and placed the deep box with the drawn comb I had just brushed off right on top of the two deep boxes of my good hive. The remaining workers walked right in to the hive entrance and I saw surprisingly no fighting. There were very few dead bees close to the hive after all was said and done, not counting the worthless drones who didn’t have the sense to follow the workers; there were a lot of those. Good riddance I say.

        I’m sure this is way more than you are asking for but there was so much leading up to my decision to combine I didn’t know how to explain it with a shorter version.


  • Hi Rusty… First year beek and just recently found this site. Great balance of science and green approach (not that they are mutually exclusive). So thank you.

    I have 2 first-year double-deep hives in Michigan Zone 5B. I put a medium super on each in August hoping they would work the goldenrod flow well enough to fill them. They did not, so I have several partially capped frames. None more than 90% capped, and lots of uncapped dark nectar.

    Few days now get above 50F and most nights are close to freezing. I don’t think I should leave the supers on for the winter. Agree?

    I’d like to shake out the nectar and extract what little honey I can. Would it be of value to shake out the nectar right onto the top bars of the open hive? Will they collect it use it? Or better into a container to freeze and feed back in the spring? Or just onto the ground?

    Thanks for any assistance.

    • Frank,

      If your double brood boxes are heavy with honey, I would take off the supers. I think shaking out the nectar and extracting is an excellent idea, but I don’t think that shaking the frames over the top bars would be good because it will add a significant moisture load to the hive. And if it gets much colder, they will not break cluster to collect it and it may just soak into the frames and grow mold. Your idea of shaking, collecting, and freezing is an excellent solution. That way, it won’t mold or give off moisture, and it will make excellent feed to build up your spring bees.

  • We just harvested combs from an oak tree today, 1/11/14, here in WV. Some are capped, some are not. They have the smell of whiskey to them & when draining, some of them the honey seems to be runny like water. Is this normal? Also is the honey still good to process & safe to eat?

    We are not beekeepers, we just love honey, and are excited about our findings, want to make sure no one gets sick from this honey we have harvested. Also, some of the combs have worms in them. We set those aside till we find out more about what the pros & cons are of our findings. Would appreciate any pointers you can give us as to what is best for us to do, either disgard it or go for it & strain & boil to eat.

    • Patty,

      Since some of the cells are not capped, the honey has started to ferment which gives it the whiskey smell and makes it runny. Some people like fermented honey and some don’t; it’s a matter of personal taste.

      The “worms” you see are probably the larvae of wax moths. They won’t hurt you, but they look kind of gross. I would cut away and discard the parts with wax moth larvae.

      For the best honey from this find, just use the combs that are capped and free of larvae. You can crush and strain them, but there is no need to boil it. Boiling honey just ruins the flavor and the nutrition.

  • Hi, last season was my first season as a new beek. I built my own top-bar hive, a little late, and converted a nuc to fit since it was too late to order any packages. The bees did remarkably fine most of the season, but unfortunately they failed to make it through our cold winter I recently discovered. A problem I think I can resolve next year with a terrarium heater and maybe some foam or a blanket.

    I live in central MN north of the twin cities. I removed my bars of comb, some of which had no honey and others that had some capped and some uncapped cells. Would the uncapped cells be from my ladies attempting to eat winter stores this time of year? And would it be safe to eat this honey. Most of the cells appear uncapped, 75/25 I’d say. I brought them in the house yesterday and this time of year it is very dry indoors here.

    I had planned on melting the wax down until I saw all the uncapped honey still in them. If I melt my wax in a pot of water and freeze the water/honey mixture can I feed it to my new package in the spring? Or is it best to freeze the whole comb for the same purpose? I know this got to be a lot and I appreciate any help u might be able to give.

    • Little Bear,

      I think the uncapped honey is not from bees opening it, but rather that it was never capped. Most likely, the bees didn’t think it was ready to cap, so they didn’t.

      If it doesn’t smell moldy, you can eat it as comb honey. The mold won’t hurt you in any case, but it smells unpleasant. You could crush and strain the honey and use it that way. If is not quite cured (a little watery) you can keep it in the refrigerator and use it for cooking.

      You could freeze the whole comb and keep it to feed back to the bees. The best way to handle it will depend on how close it is to being cured. If you turn the combs upside down and shake hard and nothing comes out, you can probably treat it like cured honey. If it flies out, you should treat it like uncured honey and keep it refrigerated or frozen.

      If it were mine, and it didn’t fly out when I shook hard, I would wrap it in plastic, freeze it overnight, leave the plastic in place, and save it for the bees in spring. (However, there is a definite possibility of mold with this method.) If it flies out, you could melt the wax and freeze the honey water, but it would be more helpful for a new colony to have that comb.

  • Found your site by googling, thanks so much for all your info!

    This is my first year keeping a hive, and I’m afraid I’ve failed at it. I opened my hive up today to “put it away” for winter, and found only a few bees emerging from cells and zero larva, and only a handful of cells of capped brood, so I’m assuming my queen is dead. There is zero signs of any disease, and I’m very saddened by this loss.

    I have lots of frames of honey, but they are all uncapped. It didn’t ‘fly out’ when I shook the frames. I scraped a few frames into a sieve today, and the honey seems very watery and tastes more like syrup than honey. But, I’ve never tasted honey straight from a hive before so not sure if this is normal.

    Few questions- should I pull the remaining frames and harvest the honey, or leave them in the box incase the few capped brood make it, or try and save for next years attempt?

    If the water content in the honey is still high, what would be the best way to store it? I don’t have any interest in heating, as part of the reason I’m using honey is for the benefits. Would storing in the fridge or freezer keep it from fermenting?

    I really appreciate your advice!

    • Melissa,

      You say there is little brood, but how about workers? Are there many or few? It is not unusual for the brood nest to be small this time of year, but you should have plenty of adult bees.

      If the honey didn’t fly out when you shook the frames, it is probably nearly cured. If it is nearly cured, though, it should taste like honey, not syrup. Did your bees have the opportunity to store syrup from a feeder? Could it be you have sugar syrup mixed in with the honey?

      Don’t harvest until you are sure the colony won’t make it. If you decide to harvest unripe honey, you can keep it in the fridge or freezer. It works well for cooking. If you leave it in the frames for next year’s bees, you need to protect the frames from robbers and other insects.

    • This happened to my hive last year. The hive is lost. The remaining bees aren’t enough to bring the hive back. The honey has a high water content and will ferment if left. You can freeze and use on demand. Or warm slightly, around body temp, and have a fan on it to dehydrate. Takes a while. Not a perfect process and unless you have a way to measure sugar content, unreliable. I would just freeze and use when you need it.

  • Hi Mike,

    My husband and I have 2 hives and our 1st hive made it through this winter. We live on Cape Cod. We extracted 17 pounds of honey and bottled it.

    Our new hive this year was loaded with honey and not capped. We also bottled it and my husband said we couldn’t give that away because people might get sick. I was shocked because I didn’t know it had to be capped. Now I have 12 eight-ounce bottles of uncapped honey in my basement. What do I do with it now? Should I throw it away? Or can I use it for recipes that call for honey? How long will it last in the bottles? We won’t be extracting any more uncapped honey!!!!

    Thanks for your help,

    • Edie,

      First off, I agree you shouldn’t give it away, but it probably won’t make people sick. In any case, if it was close to being capped it may be fine. But if it was still really watery it will ferment. So instead of making people sick, it’s more like it might make them drunk.

      I would keep it in the fridge to use in cooking or use it to feed your bees instead of sugar syrup. If you feed it to them now, they will store it for winter and it’s better for them than syrup.

  • Hi Rusty

    Thank you for the information. We feed our bees with a paint can with holes in the lid. Do we place the honey in the cans like we do with the sugar water or do we dilute it first?


    • Edie,

      That depends on how thick it is. Thicker honey won’t take as long for the bees to dry for storage, but if it won’t come out of the holes, it needs to be thinner. Just try a test batch. If they can’t take it, then water it down.

  • Hi! First timer here! This is my first year of beekeeping and honey extracting. I have 2 hives with 2 brood chambers and 2 medium supers on each. I’m extracting the honey the sllloooowww way using gravity! In a 24 hour period I’ve extracted almost 3 gallons from 15 frames. I went to rearrange the frames to encourage more honey to flow and found 2 larvae in uncapped cells (I had less than 10% uncapped on a few frames) and I panicked a little bit! Am I removing too soon and is it safe to eat?? I have a strainer in place with a very tight weave to filter unwanted parts but the larva really caught me off guard and concerned me over safety of consumption. Also, I have all my frames in a food grade plastic tube draining into another food grade plastic tub on my sun porch with A/C-how long can these uncapped frames sit and drain safely before honey goes bad?
    Thanks you!

  • Hi,

    I am trying to find out how to get honey caps. After uncapping what happens with all that mix of wax, propolis and honey? Does anyone know if it is sold somewhere?

    • Catalin,

      Some beekeepers sell their cappings wax to commercial places that use it for various purposes. Depending on how much you want, some beekeepers may be willing to sell it directly to you. Contact one of the beekeeping clubs in your area.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I have this situation right now … frames that are partly capped. What are your thoughts on extracting the uncapped nectar/honey and adding it to the syrup I’ll need to start feeding them due to a dearth? I hate to just shake it out after my gals worked so hard to collect it.

    Thanks for any advice!!

    • Cherie,

      That would be an excellent use for the uncapped honey, and so much more nutritious for the bees than plain sugar syrup.

  • Rusty,

    Thank you for all your info and advice.

    About to do my 2nd exctraction for the year in hoping to get an extra weight before season is out, live upstate New York, (got about half as much this year as last). In doing so, much of the honey is not capped.

    Don’t have much time left and need to extract within next week to prep for winter. Any suggestions on what to do with majority of nectar? Id say about 60% is still uncapped and I have about 10 supers.

    If I combine capped and uncapped, it will most likely ferment. I did read that you can put nectar on parchment paper into a dehydrator that will dry, but this seems like an awful amount of work.

    Any other suggestions?

    Thank you

    • Kyle,

      If you are asking me how to dry ten supers worth of wet honey, I have absolutely no idea. I would keep it in the fridge and use it for bee feed until it’s gone. Maybe someone else has a better idea?

  • I took 6 frames from my hive a couple of months ago. I am just getting to processing the honey. Since I have such few frames I am doing it by hand. I discovered on some of the frames there are pockets of no honey and worms. What are these worms ( they are white, about and inch long and very much alive) where did they come from and did they ruin the rest of my honey???

    • Nancy,
      Those are wax moths. The moths lay eggs on the frames and moth larvae eat brood cocoons. They are the reason you need to always freeze your frames before storing them. They are not dangerous. Cut out the larvae and use the rest.

  • Hi Rusty:

    This is my first year also, harvested about 200 LBS of honey from three hives. My question to you is I’m ready to take the honey supers off the hive, found about two full medium honey supers capped but no honey inside, did a search but was not able to find any answers, you have any ideas what’s going on?

    Thanks in advance.
    John W.

    • John,

      Are you saying the cells were capped but there was no honey inside? I’ve never heard of such a thing.

  • If you return partially capped or uncapped nectar to the hive, will the bees simply pick back up where they or their hivemates left off, or will they move that nectar to frames they are currently working to cap?

    • Neil,

      It kind of depends how far from the brood nest it is. If you put it above an inner cover, they nearly always bring it down. But it you put it directly above the brood nest, sometimes they move it and sometimes not.

  • Yes, frames were returned after harvesting the honey about three weeks time went by and the bees decided to cap them without filling?????
    I’ve never seen any comments about that…

      • I’ve seen that. It only happens when I put sticky frames back into the hive for them to clean. I think they see the sticky honey remnants, think “oh, this is ripe for capping”, and then they cap it.

        I have stopped doing this, and instead I leave the frames out for the bees to clean (in boxes, a distance from the hives), and once the comb is clean and dry, then I put the frames back into the hives if I still need to. But never just after extracting. This might work if there’s a really good nectar flow on but in that case I would rather give them new frames with bare foundation, so they can draw out more comb. You can never have too many frames of drawn comb.

  • Hi Rusty,

    About a month ago I inspected my hives and found both colonies had filled all frames in a super with nectar. This was about the middle of our fall honey flow here in South Florida. I keep checking and a month later they still have capped only about 1/4 of each frame. Considering that we still have warm temps do I give them more time? Should it take them this long to cap it and is there a way to encourage them to do so?

    Thanks much,

    • Bianca,

      This is from another post, but it explains it pretty well:

      “Before the bees cap their honey, they dry it to roughly 17-18% water. Using round numbers, let’s call that 20%. Most of the rest is sugar.

      Now a solution of 80% sugar to 20% water is in the ratio of 4 to 1. So if you were making syrup this thick, you would have to put twice as much sugar into the water as you do for 2 to 1 syrup. That is really hard to do.

      And remember we rounded up to 20%. If we wanted 18% moisture we would need 4.56 parts sugar to 1 part water, or 4.56 pounds of sugar to 1 pound of water. The 17% number requires 4.88 pounds of sugar to 1 pound of water—dangerously close to 5:1. As you can see, capped honey (or syrup) has very little water in it.

      So the bees take their nectar, store it in cells, and fan like crazy to drive off the extra water, of which there is a lot. Trouble is, as the ambient temperature gets colder in the fall, it becomes harder and harder to drive the water from the nectar. Not only is the liquid colder, but the cold air surrounding it can’t hold as much moisture as the warm air of summer. Add to that there are fewer bees doing the work. Everything slows down and capping takes forever if it happens at all.”

      Basically, there is nothing you can do to speed it up. Once fall comes, you are just left with uncapped nectar. If if it is close to being capped, it keeps pretty well and the bees will use it for winter feed. If you want to harvest it and use it yourself, you will have to keep it refrigerated to prevent fermentation.

  • Hi Rusty

    Following the previous explanation, once you’ve left your hive to overwinter with all that uncapped nectar (or in many cases uncapped sugar syrup) what should be done when you find one of your hives has died, and is still loaded with uncapped syrup, and some capped honey? I’ve been told the uncapped could be a bit fermented, and that fermented honey is bad for bees. I’m hoping to keep the drawn comb to give back to the bees (not destroy it). Would it be sufficient to just shake as much of the uncapped sugar out as possible, and let them clean it out? Or will the leftover sugar syrup in the cells cause them problems? I can definitely smell a subtle fermentiness on some of them. I’m not interested in using it myself because it’s mostly sugar syrup from fall feeding. I’d like to use the comb, but don’t want to risk hurting my bees.


    • Christina,

      Honey bees have been used for research on how alcohol affects humans because honey bees and humans react very similarly. So it follows that a little alcohol here and there won’t hurt a colony. In fact, it occurs in feral hives as well as managed ones. What you don’t want to do is feed your bees nothing but fermenting honey. That would be bad. A little is okay.

      What I would do is shake out the loose stuff and save the rest for a new colony. Mold is okay and the bees will clean it up quickly. If it’s really fermenting, like bubbling over, you may want to get rid of those frames. See a photo of fermenting honey.

  • Really not sure what to do. I have one hundred or more frames of capped honey that I don”t know what to do with. I have no idea the history of treatments used while these were on hives, if any. After scratching some open, I see stuff like sugar in them. Maybe this is just crystallized honey. Either way, I have no idea what to do with all this. There are no drones flying yet (hope soon) but my hives are all being fed fondant with HBH added. I have a 20 frame extractor but wasn’t really wanting to use it on the honey in these frames. No interest in eating it as I have plenty from my own hives from last year. Nothing looks wrong with them, I just don’t know the history. Any ideas would help me tremendously. Thanks.

    • Laura,

      Wow, what an awesome resource! I would take those frames in a heartbeat. Nothing will get bees off to a better start than honey, the food bees are supposed to eat. The crystallization you are seeing is a non-issue. Crystallization is dependent on the ratio of sugar types in the honey, and that is related to the species of plant the nectar came from.

      As far as their history is concerned, honey does not harbor pesticides well at all. Pesticides are formulated to dissolve in oils and waxes, which is why they are found in beeswax, pollen, and propolis, but honey doesn’t have any of those compounds in it. It is very unlikely the honey is contaminated with anything. If it were me, I’d get the fondant and essential oils out of the hives and put the bees on honey.

      • I misspoke. I have around 100 medium ten-frame boxes with mostly capped honey…so more like 750 or 1000 frames. I only have 13 hives. I plan on doing some splits this year but I still don’t think I can use all this for feeding. Would you put 2 boxes on each hive then extract the rest and save to feed back (I’d try to store 5-gallon buckets in the freezer)? Should I stack them all? That seems a bit much, that’d mean adding 4-ish boxes to my already 2-deep and 2 mediums. I don’t think I can reach that high! Of course I’ve tasted it, its delicious. I think I just prefer my own honey to consume because I feel like I created it. I’m quirky, I guess.

        • Laura,

          If you have adequate space where the frames can be stored safely away from moths and mice, I would save them for future use. I would leave the honey in the frames because it is much easier and much more natural for the bees to eat honey from a comb than from a feeder. With all that honey available for them, you can harvest absolutely every drop of honey they make over the next few years. Since their needs are met, that should mean a lot of honey for you.

  • Ok, that sounds like a lot less work for me, too! I have a heated barn with concrete. Maybe i can put some plywood down on a pallet to close off the bottoms and a piece to fit on the tops then shrink wrap them? No problems with mice in the barn but moths might be an issue. The only other area I have is outside and not really liking that idea with the wildlife around. Also, in the summer months we open the barn doors for “air conditioning”. We’re living here until our house is built. I don’t want tons of bees in our “house”. I suppose I could build boxes around the pallets so it’s more enclosed. I truly value your opinion….tell me what to do! 🙂 thx.

    • Laura,

      I worry that shrink wrapping them may cause mold to grow because of no ventilation. If there is lots of light in the barn you can stack the boxes in a criss-cross pattern so that light gets in every box. Wax moths don’t like light, and I’ve used the criss-cross method to store frames of honey in my garden shed under the skylights. So far, I’ve never gotten wax moths in there. But I have to put mouse traps at the base of all the stacks. If you don’t have mice, that’s even better. It’s a good problem you have, but it’s hard to know what to do.

  • Here’s my plan, from the ground up.
    A heavy duty pallet
    Window screen on top of pallet to let air in
    1/8″ hardware cloth on top of that to keep mice out
    6 boxes per layer
    1″ x 1″ spacers between the layers of boxes to get light in
    I’ll make a top for the pallet that’s like a window frame with screen and 1/8″ hardware cloth that I can remove and replace.
    Then to top it off, I’ll put 1″ spacers again and plywood on top for rain.
    I’ll shrink wrap the four sides, not top or bottom
    Then I’ll take cardboard corner guards and put on each corner so I can use two ratchet straps around the pallet horizontally and then another two straps vertically. We have few bears in the area.
    Then I’ll store the finished pallets ouside in an electric fence.
    It’s a lot of work but I think worth it.
    Wish me luck!

  • Rusty,

    Have a new hive. 2 deeps, 1 Supra [super?]. I still have feeder in place with entrance reducer. The bees often congregate on front of hive. Is there any advantage to removing the entrance reducer?

    • Ernie,

      If you are still feeding, and if you’re using an entrance feeder, I would leave the reducer in place. When they are strong enough not to need feed, you can remove the reducer. Otherwise, you risk robbing.

    • Jo Anne,

      I think the best thing you can do is keep the size of the hive commensurate with the size of the colony. If you don’t allow the bees any extra space, they will be forced to patrol the whole interior. Also, do not use pollen supplements. Also, be sure to control varroa mites. Anything the weakens the colony makes it more susceptible to beetles. And finally, use beetle traps inside the hives and empty them regularly.

  • Rusty,

    I live in Western PA and obtained my first hive this April. It is a Langstroth / 10 frame.

    The [colony] has been slow to build up but was getting stronger up until about 3 weeks ago when I lost my queen.
    I replaced her two weeks ago with 3 frames of brood from a friend’s healthy colony and confirmed 3 days ago that she is alive and well with eggs, larvae, and capped brood on the first deep. I was also able to get a visual on her.

    I put a medium super on top of this deep (they were not doing much of anything with a second deep) and they have been drawing comb there without issue. I put them on sugar syrup to help with this.

    My question is about the comb they are building on the outside frames of the first deep. (Let’s call them frames #1 and #10.)

    These frames have a comb that looks much like what I’ve seen on hive that are frameless. They are building small oval sections that seem lifted away from the frame but still connected at the top! There are tunnels also! From what I can see, the cells are empty.

    These two frames also each have a supercedure cell — not capped. And it doesn’t look like a new queen just hatched.

    Do you think I should scrape this comb off? Move them more to the center?

    • Kathy,

      First, the cells. If the cells you see are queen cups, just the beginnings of queen cells with nothing in them, just ignore them. Some colonies build these frequently just because they can. Later, they often tear them down.

      As for odd-shaped combs, I leave them unless they interfere with removing frames and inspecting. If they prevent proper management, they’ve got to go. Otherwise, no harm done. It’s a judgement call.

  • Rusty

    Thanks so much!

    The “wild comb” is now being filled with honey and being capped on both sides of the comb on both sides of the frames!

    Thank you!

  • Hello Rusty,

    This is my first year of beekeeping. I have a Kenyan Top Bar Hive and installed a 3lb. package of bees with a mated queen 4 weeks ago. The bees have done a pretty good job of drawing out comb, filling with nectar, pollen and brood. I am concerned about how much honey and pollen they will need for the winter here in Northern California. The S.F. Bay Area. The winters here are not very severe, but is there a general rule of thumb as to how much a hive should have for resources for winter? Thank you.

  • Hi Rusty!

    I’m a fourth year beekeeper and have a few questions about harvesting. I live in Louisville, KY and believe there is still a fall flow going but wanted the bees to have more to add to the deeps for winter so I removed the supers over the weekend. Got quite a bit of capped honey (150 lbs) but I also have about 10 frames worth of comb that wasn’t capped all the way, some capped, some partially capped and some full of nectar being dehydrated. Here are my questions:

    1) If I combine all the unfinished frames into one super and add it back onto a strong hive below the inner cover but above the queen excluder (how I usually have them set up), will the bees continue adding nectar and finish capping everything or will they eat all the capped honey and move the uncapped down into the deeps?

    2) Some of my capped supers were more runny compared to others. Why would the bees cap them with more moisture in the honey than others?

    3) What do you do with your frames after extracting? In the past I’ve sat them out and let the bees clean them but that causes major robbing to ensue. I was thinking about putting them back onto the hives but am worried that would cause an even greater robbing frenzy that is localized at each hive.

    Really appreciate you and your informative website. I’ve learned a lot over the past few years directly from here that’s made me a better beekeeper!


    • Caden,

      1. Whether they finish the job depends mostly on the nectar flow and the temperature. They won’t cap if the honey isn’t cured, so it’s possible they won’t cap it. Remember as the temperature drops it becomes harder to remove the moisture. But as for the rest of your question, I don’t know. I think bees moving honey around to be stored somewhere else is largely a myth. As the weather becomes cold, the bees will cluster and use the honey closest to them. As that is depleted, retriever bees will go above the cluster (the warmest place in the hive) and bring honey down to the rest. I think they will use the uncapped and then the capped.

      2. They have to get down to a certain moisture content, but going lower than that doesn’t seem to be a problem.

      3. First, I don’t extract. But if I did, I would put the empty frames back on the hive above an inner cover to encourage clean-up. If you have robbers, wait until the temperature drops too low for flying bees.

  • Hi Rusty

    I have a beekeeper who keeps hives in my garden. He tells me he has watery honey left over. Is this what is called uncapped honey.

    Would this be suitable to put into face creams and face masks, if so I would think they would have to be used within a certain time frame or they would ferment. It would be good for you if it were possible.

    • Irene,

      The bees won’t cap honey if it contains too much water, so that is probably what he meant. I have no experience with making cosmetics from honey, so I can’t answer.

  • What if you just put the frames in the extractor without uncapping, run it, then clean the extractor and do whatever you want with that fluid, then uncap and do a regular extraction?

    • Stevve,

      Others have suggested that idea, too. I’d like to know if it works because it would be an easy solution.

      • Works just fine. But before assuming that uncapped honey is still too high in moisture, check it with a refractometer. I’ve found that toward the end of the summer, my bees will often leave some uncapped honey above them that tests out at 18% water on my refractometer and is just fine to combine with the capped honey. Maybe they are just planning to eat that stuff first, so they don’t bother with capping it.

  • Thanks, Rusty for this valuable information. My question is so why does honey absorb humidity from the air as you mentioned if it is cells not capped? And why not the same things happening for honey extracted from capped cells? I mean supposed that the honey extracted from fully capped frames and keep it in an open jar is it possible to absorb moisture from the air?

    • Hisham,

      Honey is a supersaturated sugar solution, so it is hygroscopic, meaning it readily absorbs atmospheric moisture. The wax capping prevents exposure to the air and thus limits the absorption of moisture. The reason your extracted honey doesn’t absorb moisture is because of the lid. If you don’t use a lid, the extracted honey will absorb moisture, albeit slowly because the surface area is small.

  • After removing the supers I have run the frames with uncapped cells through the extractor, collecting whatever is there, and using this, along with however much honey is needed, to make mead. Using a hydrometer or refractometer, mix the fermentables with water to achieve the specific gravity needed to start the mead. Then I uncap the cells in the frame, and extract the finished honey. No waste of the bees’ hard work.

  • Hi Rusty,

    If you freeze frames of uncapped nectar or sugar syrup that still has a relatively high moisture content, will it expand and crack the cells of the comb? If so, is there a moisture level above which you would not freeze uncapped nectar/sugar syrup?


    • Kevin,

      No, the honey will not expand. Almost all substances, except pure water, shrink when they freeze. Pure water is the exception. As for the cutoff point, I have no idea because I’ve never seen it happen.

  • My husband found that one of our hives of bees has left. There were only a couple of handfuls of bees left, but they were all dead. They had a full super of capped honey. He found that the frames were being uncapped by robber bees. Is it safe to go ahead and harvest that honey? Our other hive still has plenty for the coming winter.

    Thanks for your help.

  • Just commenting to subscribe to comments. I did get a small jar of uncapped, thin honey this year, and basically I’m just keeping it in the pantry and using it myself. So far, so good.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Feb.27, 2023

    Just about to harvest some honey (second reap) and checked your article which opened my mind to the importance of not reaping uncapped nectar, and if I do, it must be about ready. This will prevent me doing the mistake of my first harvesting. Thanks.

  • Adding my opinion here… many will disagree.

    Where I live, yields are high. If we leave frames on until they are 90% capped the colony will become so honey bound the queen will never lay another egg. It doesn’t matter how many supers are on top.

    So the rule of thumb is, if my frames are 25% capped, I pull them. (Note that this is only of you have high yields and a number of your frames are like this).

    I take my 25% capped frame and shake off the bees, then, holding the frame horizontally over the open super, I give it 2 or 3 sharp shakes. Watery honey will fly out onto the bees, and they will clean it up. That frame is not ready. But if nothing flies out, I know the honey is ripe and can be extracted.

    I learned this from a master beekeeper/researcher and have done this for 15 years, and I can more or less tell by looking that frame how far along it is. I have never once had runny or watery honey, never once had fermentation.

    The key is checking that the honey is ripe in the comb, which is easy to do, even without a refractometer.

    • Yes, shaking out unripened nectar is a reliable method of separating wet honey from the rest. Have you tried undersupering? That is, putting the new super closest to the brood nest instead of on top? I find that keeps the queen laying yet gives the bees more time to cap.

      Because I produce comb honey, I need it to be capped.

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