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Arc in super frames - is the honey ripe?


Hi all,

This may be a tricky question but I’ll ask it anyhow.

That arc that is sometimes left or created by the bees in the super above the brood (presumably for the queen to lay in), seems to me to have honey in it that is not capped. Sometimes I understand the cells may be completely empty, but I have from memory, only seen honey in the cells - say half filled and uncapped.

Is that honey -

a. honey that was previously capped and had the capping removed (so the honey is actually dried)?


b. honey that was recently added to a previously empty arc of cells, with ripened honey all around it?


c. none of the above, but another possibility?

It seems to me that if it were scenario b. , the bees would have to have left a patch of empty cells from the start of filling the super, which seems less likely to me.



Hi Dan, the uncapped honey could be honey they are using day by day. They use it one day. Then replace it the next. They use a lot of honey in their daily routine.

I picked up this tip on the forum. If while inspecting frames of honey, you find an area uncapped, you can check the uncapped honey for ripeness by giving the frame a firm shake from the face of the frame down. If honey shakes out, leave it. If it doesn’t, assume the honey is ripe enough to take. That’s what I do now. This is only for frames that are around 2/3 or more capped.


Sometimes a frame can remain uncapped with half filled cells for an eternity. Many times that honey is completely ripe. I had a flow super with the uncapped arcs in it that I removed and harvested. The honey tested out at 16% moisture- well and truly ripe.


I choose b.


I don’t understand this comment. Bees are programmed to build spherical to elliptical brood nests. If their current nest needs expanding, and the only space is upwards, they will leave space at the bottom of the super frames. Bees do move honey around to make space for brood, if that is what you mean, but they don’t plan further ahead if they already have enough brood space.

Sorry if it isn’t clear, but I wasn’t quite sure what you were asking. :blush:


Hi Dawn and others. Thanks for the comments and help.

@Dawn_SD … I can’t recall having seen scenario b., my experience being too limited, but believe I have recently seen scenario a.

I have a hive comprising 3 ideal supers. My set up generally is for the two lower boxes to house the brood, and the uppermost box to be full of honey - the brood comfortably fitting in the lower two boxes with a small honey buffer between it and the top box. I inspected a month ago and recall (I think) full frames of honey in the top box. When I looked last week, there was an arc of half empty cells in the middle frame of the top box, extending to one face of the adjacent frames. Some cells hosted eggs, and some young larvae. I assumed the bees had uncapped those cells and removed some ripe honey in preparation for and to deal with the brood expanding upwards. If that was the case, that would be scenario a. I think.

I agree, this is probably common enough too when I think about it and I am probably wrong. I can well imagine scenario b. if the brood was right to the top of the lower two ideal boxes and the next box added when there was a pressing need for it to house brood.

I wonder if the answer might be d. “all of the above”?


What season is it where you are? If it’s mid-late summer or early autumn the bees could be backfilling what they had hoped was going to be a brood nest (although it never was going to be above the excluder), in preparation for winter.


Hi Ed, yes correct, late summer going into Autumn next month. There are no excluders on any of my hives at the moment, and that particular hive has had no excluder on it all year. I suspect perhaps the whole brood is moving up a little for whatever reason.

What I am attempting to understand is if it would perhaps be folly for me to assume an uncapped arc of honey in a super is unripe? Perhaps sometimes it is the oldest honey in the super, put down many months ago when the brood was further away, and then much later, uncapped and partially removed ready or eggs to be laid in? @Semaphore describes his scenario where in a Flow super, the uncapped arc frame was 16% water and perfectly fine. Perhaps in his case, with the excluder in place, the bees partially filled the cells in the arc from day one, and then it remained like that for months, the queen never able to lay in them and the honey uncapped but quite dry?

I like @JeffH 's suggestion of shaking the frame face down to see if the “honey” comes out. I suppose that would cover scenario a. or b., or any other possibility too.


There was fellow on the forum who’s Flow Frames were always uncapped. He decided to harvest and tested the honey, and it was ripe.
Some say you can harvest and eat it quick, or make it into mead if it’s not totally ripe. I think someone mentioned freezing it too.


Thanks Dan, I always use & encourage others to use a QX. As long as the queen hasn’t found a gap, you know that while your inspecting honey frames, there’s no risk of killing or misplacing the queen or finding brood in any of the frames.

The moment you remove the QX to inspect the brood, then you have to be fully queen conscious, even to the point of checking under the QX as you remove it. I found a queen there once.

I’m never phased by those arcs. Sometimes they are completely dry. Other times they contain honey. The simple shake test determines whether the frame comes with me (to be extracted) or stays behind. The completely dry ones mostly come with me.


It just occurred to me how impressive it is that bees manage to fill horizontal vessels with liquid without it pouring out. It must be a combination of the slight tilt on the cells and surface tension that keeps it in there? Can you imagine having a wall of open barrels piled on their sides and trying to fill them with liquid? I guess it’s all a matter of scale and fluid dynamics…

apparently bees move honey from cell to cell as part of the ripening process- depositing nectar thinly over a large number of cells and then relocating it when it is thicker to more clustered groups of cells of with a higher sugar concentration:

I kept reading and found an interesting article about comb dynamics and the bees use of vibrations- it suggests that bees make those holes in the edges of wooden frames to ‘allow the dispersion of vibratory signals’ and it says bees only do this on combs which they dance on:



I use the “shake” method as @JeffH describes. It works just fine as my honey has lasted for years in jars.


Hi Ed, I think it was my old mate @DextersShed that first mentioned that method. I have to also give him credit for the wood shavings in my smoker technique. It’s much better than anything else.