Outside the hive, things get a little more challenging, which is why beekeepers recommend keeping the capped honey two to three days at the most before extraction is necessary. It is essential that they are wrapped securely to keep out bugs and pests during this short-term storage period. Depending on the nectar source, the honey could crystalize in the comb if kept longer, which complicates the extraction process. If you want to keep it so you can feed it back to the bees later, you can freeze honey frames to prevent issues with wax moths and crystallization.
Understanding Capped Honey
Bees collect nectar from flowers and store it in their honey sacs. Upon returning to the hive, they transfer the nectar to other worker bees, who process it through repeated regurgitation and evaporation. Once the honey reaches an ideal moisture content of 15%-18%, bees cover the honey-filled cells with a thin layer of beeswax. This protects it from contamination and moisture loss. As long as honey remains capped, it stays good and maintains its antibacterial properties.
While capped honey can stay good indefinitely, the extraction process becomes difficult if crystallization occurs. Honey generally crystallizes within a few months at room temperature due to its natural sugars. Consequently, keeping honey stored for too long before extraction may require melting the wax and straining the honey.
Factors Affecting Honey Storage
Temperature plays a crucial role in honey storage as it affects the rate of crystallization. Typically, honey kept at lower temperatures tends to crystallize faster, which is why freezing capped honey frames is a practical method of preserving them. Though crystallization does not spoil the honey, it makes extraction more challenging. On the other hand, high temperatures can cause honey to darken or lose its aroma.
High humidity levels can lead to increased moisture content in the honey. This can cause fermentation and spoilage issues. There are often some uncapped frames during harvest time, and exposed honey hungrily absorbs moisture from the air. It’s essential to store honey frames in a dry environment.
Alternatively, honey frames can be stored in airtight containers or tightly wrapped to limit air exposure to preserve the quality and improve the chances of a successful extraction process.
Signs of Honey Deterioration
Changes in Texture
Over time, honey may undergo a process known as crystallization. Though crystallization is a natural process, it can make honey difficult to extract when capped in honey frames. The rate of crystallization depends primarily on the nectar source, though storage conditions also matter. Storing honey frames in a cool environment, such as a refrigerator, can speed up crystallization.
A change in odor might also indicate that the honey has deteriorated. Honey should maintain a pleasant aroma. However, if the honey starts to smell off or unpleasant, it may signify that it has been subjected to poor storage conditions or has fermented. As with most things in the natural world, there are some exceptions. Goldenrod honey is completely natural yet smells like a teenage boy’s unwashed laundry.
Lastly, the taste of honey can signal if it has deteriorated. High-quality honey should have a distinct and delicious flavor that is neither too sweet nor too bland. However, medicinal honey from plants like neem or aloe might be bitter straight from the hive. Unfortunately, you may not tell the taste of the honey until you’ve extracted it, so storing it capped appropriately is important.
Frequently Asked Questions
One common question among beekeepers is how long capped honey can be stored before extraction. As a rule of thumb, capped honey frames can be stored for two to three days at most, provided they’re well-wrapped to keep out pests and insects.
Some wonder if keeping capped honey frames for longer periods is possible. While honey may crystallize within a few months in certain conditions, it may become more difficult to extract due to wax melting. Capped honey can be stored unextracted indefinitely, but the quality can deteriorate depending on how it’s stored.
Lastly, a practical way to store capped honey frames is by freezing them. Honey rarely crystallizes in the freezer, making it one of the best methods to preserve the frames until they’re needed for extraction.