February | Beehive Management

This Month in the Geelong Region

Refer back to January notes for appropriate steps to ensure hive health in hot weather.

As the months of February and March can still provide very hot days, we need to remain mindful of matters likely to adversely impact on our hives. These include:

  • Appropriate shade, access to a supply of clean, fresh water, shelter from excessively hot winds, and any micro climate in the vicinity.

In addition, this month: –

When are frames ready for removal and extraction?

So, you have opened up the hive, and several frames appear full of “honey”. Keep in mind however that what the bees bring into the hive is actually nectar which is Honey in its “raw” state. The nectar is composed of up to 80% water. For it to become honey, bees add an enzyme to it, pack it into a cell and then dehydrate it by maintaining hive temperature at approx. 35 degrees. When the water content has reached 20% or less, the nectar has “matured” and the bees then seal the cell with a thin coating of wax. This is the honey we want!

Frame with Capped Honey
Frame with Capped Honey
  • A rule of thumb for deciding whether to remove a frame in order to “extract” the honey is to gauge if 80% or more of the cells on the frame are capped. If so, you can probably safely extract that frame. The 20% or so of uncapped cells with nectar in them should not adversely diminish the quality of your honey.
  • Any more than approx. 20% of uncapped cells provide an excess amount of unripened nectar, which will ferment and destroy the quality of any honey it is mixed in with.
  • Remember, you can take out any number of frames to remove the honey as you want them. You do not have to wait for them all to be ready at the one time. Although doing so makes life much easier, when having to clean up after extracting.

What to do with the “sticky frames”?

Having extracted the honey from the frames, all frames will be left with some residue of honey in them. The simplest way to clean them, and reclaim the residue honey in the frames, is to replace the frames back onto the same hive the frames were removed from.

Sticky Frame
Sticky Frame ready to be placed back into hive

By placing the frames onto the hive they came from, you significantly diminish the risk of spreading any disease that may be present in one hive, to any other hive.

Unless you plan to leave the “sticky frames” on for further honey collection this season, leave the “sticky frames” on the hive for 24 / 48 hours. By the end of this time the bees will have completely removed any traces of honey that remained on those frames and repacked it elsewhere. You can then remove those “clean frames” for storage.

What to do with the “cappings”?

As you “uncap” the sealed cells of honey on the frames, a thin layer of wax and honey is removed. This will provide further valuable honey and wax if treated properly.

A simple method is to “uncap” each frame over a large (plastic) container, gathering the capping material in the container as you proceed.

Uncapping Honey
Uncapping Honey

After completing the uncapping, you will have a mixture of honey and wax which you can separate out by:

  1. Sitting the container in a warm place, slightly raised at one end, to allow the honey to flow to one end of the container. This can then be scooped out and strained as per normal through a sieve.
  2. Allow the container to sit. Wait for the wax to rise to the top. This can then be scooped off, leaving the honey remaining. This can then be strained through a sieve.
  • You can place the cappings / honey straight into a sieve and allow it to drain. This is a rather slow, tedious process, as the sieve becomes clogged with fine wax / honey particles, and requires constant cleaning.
Wax cappings draining into container
Wax cappings draining through seive

NEVER just place the cappings outside in the open, in container for the bees to help themselves to!!  This may lead to the spread of disease which was in a hive as bees from a non-infected hive come to partake of the feast of honey!!

In addition it may encourage bees to develop the habit of robbing from other hives. Once this starts it is difficult to stop, and may result in weak hives being “robbed” out by a more aggressive hive. In the process many bees are killed! You may lose a hive!!!

After you have gathered the honey, place the remaining wax into a large old pot. Add water to cover the wax, and bring it carefully to the boil. Do not allow it to boil over, as a wax driven fire in no fun!!!  Scoop out any debris with and old sieve, pour into a container such as 1 litre tin or similar, allow to cool overnight. Next day you can pour off the water which is underneath the wax. Make sure you pour this away in an area the bees cannot access; it or you will be having them around for a couple of days. -Then cranky when it is all suddenly gone!!

You can sell / exchange your recovered wax for foundation wax, or to a variety of others who have a use for it.

How many supers do we keep on the hive?

In order to judge whether you need to add another “super” to a hive you need to consider a couple of factors.

  1. Is the nectar flow sufficiently strong to require another super of eight frames to be added, or should you just remove three or four frames from the existing super to give the bees more room to work?
  2. Are there enough bees in the hive to warrant adding another super? To answer this question, you need to assess whether the existing bees are covering five or six frames in the top super. If not, they are probably insufficient in number to warrant another super, as their lack of numbers may allow pests to invade the extra space. Also there will be insufficient numbers to maintain the appropriate level of heat in the hive to assist nectar maturation.


Jars of Honey
Jars of Honey

Remember that jar of honey that you mentioned when the neighbours voiced no objections to you having bees in your backyard …. Now is the time to show them your gratitude!

Remember, a vital factor in beekeeping, is maintaining positive neighbourly relations.


Next month – When to reduce the number of supers for winter.

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