Aug. 26, 2021

Dealing With 'Wet Combs' After Extracting (036)

Dealing With 'Wet Combs' After Extracting  (036)

When you finish extracting your honey crop, you have frames that have sticky, gooey honey in the cells, and on the frame surfaces. There may be some crystalized honey in some of the cells, too. Maybe even some pollen stored there. So how do you clean...

When you finish extracting your honey crop, you have frames that have sticky, gooey honey in the cells, and on the frame surfaces. There may be some crystalized honey in some of the cells, too. Maybe even some pollen stored there.

So how do you clean up this mess so when you go to store the supers with these frames in them for the winter, they will be safe? Kim and Jim take a look at dealing with these wet combs so they get clean and are easy to store for the winter, no matter where you winter.

The most common way is to put the frames back in the supers just harvested and put the supers back on your hives. Then in a few days, the bees will have cleaned up the mess and you’re left with a super full of clean, dry, not sticky frames. Usually.

Some beekeepers just set the just-extracted supers outside and let the bees clean them up. But there are a lot of problems with this you may want to avoid. Robbing, sharing diseases and more can happen.

Once the frames have been cleaned by the bees, they are dry, not sticky and have no more honey in them. But what about that crystalized honey that was there, and how do they clean them, really? And what about wax moth, and small hive beetles?

Storing these now clean supers can be a problem needing solved before you decide where to store them. Unheated storage in the north works because these pests don’t do well in the cold, but what about storage in heated buildings or in the south, where it’s warm all year?

Some beekeepers just store this equipment on the bees overwinter. Will the bees keep these pests at bay?

Extracting is a messy business and with it comes the afterlife of those wet, sticky frames that need a good cleaning, and then safe winter storage. Check out some of the ways Kim and Jim make sure this happens to your frames.


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Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 36 – Dealing With 'Wet Combs' After Extracting


Kim Flottum: Jim. Hey, how are you doing?

Jim Tew: I actually pretty good, Kim. Thanks for asking.

Kim: I just finished extracting and I got a boatload of wet combs. What's next?

Jim: Kim, you got a messy job coming up, but it's a good messy job. Why don't you make some suggestions for both of us on what we could do with these things, because I've got some wet combs myself?

Kim: I've got a lot of wet combs and I just went and took a look at them, and they're all sizes and some of them are good frames in some of them aren't, and I'm just not sure what I should be doing here.

Jim: We'll come up with something. Hi, I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: I'm Kim Flottum and welcome to Honey Bee Obscura with Jim Too and Kim Flottum. Today we're going to talk about, what do you do with wet combs?

Presenter: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind beekeeping today podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, both Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world aging and informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things, honeybees.

Jim: Kim, every year, when you extract honey like this, to be sure before we start that people know what wet combs are. When you run that extractor, you spin, spin, spin especially if you're hand cranking, there are still wet, sticky frames that you take out. What do you do with those things, Kim? That's the question that lingers, right?

Kim: It's always, what do I--? Yes, exactly. What do I do with these things? They're sticky, they're messy, they're dripping, honey, and I got a mess out there.

Jim: That just sounds like extracting, Kim. That doesn't sound unusual. That just sounds like all in a day's work when you're processing honey. You can take a tablespoon of honey to completely cover up kitchen floor, and I'm off the subject, Kim, but don't you just love that little sound that makes when they walk across the floor? [squeaking/cracking sound] with every step you take your feet stick to the floor.

That's what we're talking about, listeners, is what do you do with the inherent stickiness of honey on these frames that are left? Now, the bees know what to do. What are you doing, Kim? You're going to do something. You've got a plan. Go ahead.

Kim: Basically, it used to-- I want to extract every year, let me take that back. I don't extract at my house every year. I got a friend with a big extractor, and I take my supers over there and we just use his big extractor, and what I do when I come home with a boatload of wet frames, wet supers, is that I will take those wet supers in and I'm pretty careful. I know what hive each one of those supers came off him.

I'm going to put that super back on the hive that it came off from, that wet super, and that way - I don't think it's probably fixing anything but that way - I know that the bees that are in there were not super before and if there's anything in that super, I'm not sharing it with the rest of my bees.

Jim: I wondered why you were doing that. So, it’s was a disease issue.

Kim: Yes, kind of.

Jim: Not so much equipment management issue.

Kim: Yes. Then I'll just put them on and then I get out of the way, they'll clean them up and I make sure that there's some room below that super, that they can take that honey, that they get out of that sticky super and put it down below, and sure as heck, I'll come back in three or four days and that super will be dry. It won't be sticky.

Jim: You say that the bees cleaned it up, and I would say if I were talking to people, that the bees cleaned it up, I wonder what they're really doing. Are they using saliva, their own bee saliva to lick that up? I don't really know how they actually  - when all is said and done - how they really cleaned it up.

They have to just be regurgitating, probably water, and then dampening it and making a thin solution of it like mopping a floor, I guess, where you've spilled a pitcher of tea or something and you're mopping it up. There's probably still some tea on the floor when you're finished but you dispersed it enough that …. -- So I'm just off the subject now. How do they really clean that up without a mop and bucket, and it has to be just diluting the residual nectar, honey film, and then turning it into this thin honey solution and reaccumulating it again? There's not that much there.

Kim: You bring up two questions. The first one is, it's sticky for you and me, why isn't it sticky for them? A, and B, what about that half a frame that was crystallized, and it didn't get it?

Jim: Yes. Sometimes you see that where they drop it on the bottom board, but I've often wondered, did they save any of that? Now, we're not talking about sticky frames at all, because now I'm wondering, bees can only eat a liquid diet, so if they've got that granulated honey and that comb, that doesn't extract, are they able to liquefy any of that or do they just gouge it out, drop it to the floor because they don't have an easy way of converting it, and call it done - call it garbage?

Kim: A friend of mine one time, I was asking him what he did, and he told me what he always did is he took those frames out to the driveway on a warm-ish day and he hoses them down, he just put water on them and let them sit there for a little bit, so that some of the water got in all those cells, flipped them over, hosed down the other side, and then put them back on the box and put the box on top of the hive, and he said, "That always solved that problem".

Jim: Why was that better, do you think, than just putting the box back on the colony? I don't know the answer to that.

Kim: Yes. I don't want to do all that work [laughs]. I don't know why it would be better, and you're right. A lot of times what you'll do is find that crystallized stuff on the floor when you go back the next time, the bees are even hauling it out the front door, I've seen that.

Jim: Are you saying that all this washing helps prevent future crystallization?

Kim: No, I think it just helps the bees dissolve it. It puts… - it moistens it.

Jim: Okay. I will go with that.

Kim: It gives them a little bit of… -- You were talking about how do they dissolve that crystallized honey, they got to have water? Well, I'm just making it easy for them to get some water, by that driveway thing.

Jim: That's true. The main thing that I do, and I am no authority account, It's just the simplest thing. I put the equipment back on the bees, and  leave it for a few days, and it is remarkable how that equipment is dry. You think, "Well, here's a frame that I tore up in the extract and I'll never forget this frame", but after it comes out from the bees’ refurbishment, if that should be a word, sometimes I can't recognize that comb anymore. They really do a good job. The bees are true professionals at handling and processing this honey, restoring that comb, and basically emptying it out.

Kim: That's lucky for us because it makes the work a lot simpler.

Jim: It is. Because I don't know how I've been cleaning those frames otherwise.

Kim: No.


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Jim: Oftentimes a procedure that beekeepers use, is they just put the equipment out. The chaos reigns because all of a sudden, every bee in the surrounding county is around those open honey supers in the backyard and they accomplished the same thing and clean it up but-- that's a B-U-T, uppercase, underlined, and bolded. But you just encouraged every bee in the county to come in. You've just encouraged probably some disease homogenizing from every bee and for that moment, you are not in control of your bees.

Kim: Do you know what? For a couple of days, they'll keep coming back looking for more.

Jim: Yes. They will keep coming back looking for more.

Kim: That's why I put them on the hive, and I'm going to go a step further, I'll reduce the entrance to make sure that the bees that are cleaning up those supers in that hive have a small…. -- an entrance as possible to defend in case bees from my bee yard or someplace else, can smell - I bet you they can - those wet supers are sitting out there just emanating honey smell. I try to keep it as easy for them as possible.

Jim: I really like that recommendation. If we think about it. If we've just finished extracting - unless we're doing something really weird - the honey flow is over. The nectar flow is over. That means that it's going to be robbing time. Bees are going to forage somewhere. If they can't forage on flowers, they'll forage on their neighbor's resources. You're suggesting that closing down those entrances because you've been out there, you've disturbed the colonies, you've got the odor of honey in the yard. There's not a nectar flow going on. We're just asking for trouble aren't we with 10 beehives side by side and all those bees with nothing to do, all unemployed, they'll go crazy.

Kim: Yes, well….

Jim: Good time to reduce the entrance.

Kim: I'm not there. I put them on and I come back two days and life is good. Often, I don't know what happens in between, but it seems to be okay and not a lot of dead bodies on the floor. Let me ask you, you get that super and it's clean, and it's dry, and it's ready to go where?

Jim: That's a loaded question. In a perfect world, perfect bee operation that goes into a nice clean storage facility. That's mouse-proofed; wax moth-proofed. There won't be a huge wax moth problem. But, I don't live in a perfect world, Kim. Do you live in one? What do you do yours?

Kim: Pray, usually.

Jim: Okay.

Kim: Yes, I'm big on the garage and the garage is nothing-proof. Everything can get into my garage, let me put it that way. I have to make my stack of supers everything-proof rather than the building that they're in everything-proof. What I do, or what I've usually do, is I put a cover down and then I'll put my stack of supers on that cover.

Jim: That upturn the cover, right?

Kim: Yes, bottom side up and I'll put my stack of supers on that cover. Then I will put another cover on the top of this. I'll put an inner cover and then another cover on the top stack and I seal the hole in the inner cover. I just cover that with a piece of duct tape so it's as sealed as I can get it depending on the condition of the equipment that I have that has -- I'm sorry, my equipment -- I got corners that leak because of the hive tool work, and I've got some that are creaky. I don't have perfect equipment, so I don't have a perfect seal but it's as good as I can get. What I can't get, the beekeepers other hive tool - duct tape – can get.

Jim: Yes, beekeepers other hive tool - duct tape. Good.  All right. You're a funny boy but that's true. While you were talking, Kim, I got to say this. I live in Ohio, as you know. It's not that far from you but if we're not careful with what we're seeing here some people will do exactly what we say do and then they'll find out they've got a small hive beetle operation going on. One of the reasons for cleaning those frames, letting the bees do that work is to keep the small hive beetle population suppressed.

I don't have a good recommendation for what to do with small hive beetles moving into stored equipment. It has limited resources, so I don't think their populations are going to explode. But keep in mind, folks, if you live where there's small hive beetles and you didn't clean those frames up nicely or you wait too long before you extract it, those pests can be an issue. They're always lurking out there, waiting for an opportunity. Knock on wood, knock on wood, knock on wood. I don't have any problem with them, Kim, so I have to always remind myself that other people do have to deal with them.

The other thing too I want to mention before we get totally away from it and I completely forget it is that yes, I liked your idea of closing it up because of robbing, but if we're talking to people in the southwestern US, the southern US. Be careful on closing those colonies down tightly and then leaving them close because you'll overheat them. There is some issue there, but for those of us in cool temperate climates, a good thing to do to stop that robbing and to help that is to keep them closed down.

Kim: No, you just said something I have never heard before. Believe it or not, you said they'll overheat if you close them up in the desert southwest.

Jim: By overheating they'll come outside. If I close the entrance down and they can't readily get in and they can't distribute, they will all cluster on the outside of the colony. Which is a way as overheating so they're not staying inside. At that moment, I have unintentionally forced all the bees out of the colony or forced out those big clusters. That's my concept of overheating. Not killing them, but I’m just not being a good bee manager at the time.

Kim: I haven't had a problem with small hive beetle in stored equipment and those stored honey supers because there's not much reason for them to want to be there while the supers are still on the hive, so I'll take them off the hive to store them after the bees have cleaned them. The beetle population is approaching zero, if not zero. It's when I bring them in and before I extract and stack them where I extract them in the garage that I bring this small hive beetles in. Then, you know what? I have been lucky I haven't had this problem, but if there's small hive beetles in there before I extract, I'm going to bet that when I'm done some of them are still there.

Jim: I know they're still there. I'm confident saying that. I have extracted here in my shop, and you see the beetles but then they're gone. I don't know where they go, and then one day you'll see them up against the window and they're banging into the window here. They're flying around the shop, and I think over time they must find that super again. That stack of equipment. There's always cracks and crevices.  I can keep out mice, but I can't keep out something as small as wax mouth first instar larvae wax moth or a small hive beetle larvae. They get back in.

Kim: You ever have one of those?

Jim: Go ahead. What do you say again?

Kim: I said, do you ever have one of those beetles drop in your coffee?

Jim: No, is that something I should be looking forward to? I hadn't thought about that. I need to be crystal clear before we get away from this. The small hive beetles have not been a problem in stored equipment for me other than the fact that they have no place else to go. They either winter there or they stay in there and if the frames weren't cleaned up nicely, I guess they can hang on till winter or to a spring there, at least.

Kim: Yes, the bees clean them up after you've extracted. Small hive beetle population is, like I said, approaching zero and it hasn't caused me any problem, but I'm in Ohio, I'm not in Georgia or Texas.

Jim: One of the things we haven't said, one of the things that others do is-- I know beekeepers who leave their equipment all year around. After they extract and put that equipment back on, they just leave it there. If it's a super, or two, or three supers. I don't think I'd do that here in Ohio, which we have meaningful winters, but beekeepers in a warm climate just put those supers back on and leave them there and let the bees keep the mice and the small hive beetle under control.

The beekeepers I knew who did that put those supers on top of the inner cover. They wintered in probably two deeps, so…. - whatever you're wintering in, and then the inner cover and then the three empty supers and then the outer cover because there's no packing. There's none of that going on, so you just instead of storing this stuff in a building, you let the bees store it.

Kim: The way I packed that wouldn't work. I am packing three mediums. Eight-frame equipment and if I had three more supers on there, I'd run out of packing. Would you run into problems with that with other things? Where you said the people hive supers on over winter? Would you have wax moth or beetle problems in those supers above the inner cover?

Jim: Well, I'd like to think the bees have to deal with that because that inner cover handhold is open.

Kim: Okay.

Jim: Is that a recommendation coming from me? No, Kim, I'm just passing along because I know people, I got names. I got prominent names, but I'm not going to give it out right here. People who routinely put empty equipment back on and left it there instead of building storage buildings. Now, first thing what happened to me, Kim, is a strong wind that come roaring through, and I'd have equipment scattered all over with the wind blowing it off or whatever, but that's just beekeeping. That's just life.

Well, here's the bottom line from me, Kim. I just put the boxes back on and I let the bees clean it up and then I do take it off and I do exactly what you said. Two bottoms, two outer covers, one upturned on the floor, stack up six feet deeper so put a top on it. Let it survive the winter there. Gets cold enough that everything is killed off and then next spring drag it all out, do it all over again.

Kim: Yes, the one advantage we have storing in an unheated building is that unheated building is going to control a lot of the pests that get in there. Beetles and mites.

Jim: Exactly right.

Kim: Well, it's been working for 30 years, I guess I'll stick to it.

Jim: Do something different. Try something wild and crazy. Lay it in your driveway and hose it down and then leave it there and drive over it or something, I don't know. All right, when all is said and done, make those sticky combs not sticky and put them away.

Kim: All right.

Jim: All right. Let's do it again sometime.

Kim: Alright.

Jim: Bye, bye.

Kim: See you later.