How Do I Encourage My Bees to Cap the Frames in the Super?
Ask the Expert
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Mary Wilson asks —
The frames in my super aren’t getting capped. I know it’s a moisture problem but I don’t know how to help them. I have screened bottom boards and several entrances open.
The bloom is over in Texas. Should I keep the supers on until they are capped? Should I go ahead and feed too (if I don’t plan to sell the honey). I don’t want them to swarm as Russians are good at swarming. I can’t do splits as I can’t get more queens at this time, and I don’t want my hives to become hot which it will do if they make their own queen.
They do have a lot of brood and eventually, this summer, I will put out protein powder for them. I also read that if you make the syrup 2:1 instead of the normal 1:1, it will cut down on the moisture. True?
Rusty Burlew replies:
You’re right, uncapped honey is due to a moisture problem. If the bees can’t get the excess water out of the honey, there is no point in capping it because it will ferment inside the cells until the pressure builds up and tears the caps off. The foam, then, runs down the combs and drips out of the hive.
What to do about it is one of those management problems with no easy answer. If you remove the uncapped honey, it will probably mold or ferment in storage because it’s not protected from airborne yeast and mold. If you extract it before it’s ripe, it may ferment in your jars. The rule of thumb is that honey for extraction should never contain more than about 10% uncapped cells.
Sometimes, however, people extract uncapped honey and keep it refrigerated or frozen. For personal use, that works pretty well. Or you can extract it and put it in a feeder for the bees to use. Or, if it looks like a hot and dry summer, you can just leave it on the hive for the bees to eat during your summer nectar dearth.
Swarming shouldn’t be an issue because swarm season is long past. In any case, bees seldom swarm due to a lack of feed, but because of the desire to reproduce. At this time of the year, as you mentioned, queens are scarce and any remaining drones will soon be removed from the hives, so reproduction is not on their minds.
Whether you need to feed your bees depends on how much honey they have stored right now and how likely you are to get a fall nectar flow. If you don’t know about fall nectar flows in your area, ask a local beekeeper what to expect. As for syrup ratios, 2:1 contains less water, but it is usually reserved for winter feed. The water in summer syrup (1:1) helps the bees, especially in areas where water is hard to find, so which is best in any particular situation is a complex question.
If you want to help the bees with drying and capping, make sure you have both a lower hive opening and an upper one. This allows a circular airflow where drier, cooler air comes in the bottom, and warmer, wetter air leaves through the top. Once it gets going, the airflow is like a circulation fan, and it expels the warmer, wetter air and enhances honey curing. Your screened bottom and normal entrances work for the intake, so just add an upper entrance if you don’t already have one.