Fermenting honey in flow frame after brood was laid there

Hi All,

We are a couple weeks off winter and I live in central west NSW, so it gets pretty cold. A couple months ago my queen got into the flow frame and laid some brood…I received many different opinions on what to do and I took the option of ‘wait and see’. So all the brood are gone and the cells are filled with honey but on my last two inspections the cells that had brood in them are not capped…and I’m wondering if the bees can’t or won’t cap them for some reason?

In any case there is a strong smell of fermenting honey coming from my hive and now I’m not sure of the best action. It is too cold to open up the hive on most days, and my last inspection revealed plenty of honey in the flow and lots of pollen and brood in the brood box. I decided to leave the flow on for winter knowing they had enough stores. There is also still a nectar flow happening but this could change any day.

I’m worried if I take the flow box off there won’t be enough honey for the winter, but not sure if the fermenting honey is a problem for the bees?

Would love some advice on the best action to take. Thanks!

Hi Kath, bees are not happy with fermenting honey. I would remove the flow super if you think the honey in the frames has fermented. Are you seeing anything in the tray or slider? There could be fermented honey in the flow channels, as I found in 3 of the 6 frames in the flow hive I was given.

After removing the flow super, I would check each frame for fermented honey. If it’s fermented honey in the combs, it should easily flick out of the frames with a sudden jolt with the face down. If not, do a sniff test of the channel.

Hive beetle larvae exudes a foul smell that could be mistaken for fermented honey.

If the honey in the flow super has fermented, I would rather feed the bees sugar syrup than leave fermented honey in the hive for them. The bees ripen the honey before capping it, knowing that it wont ferment. I learnt a lesson with fermented honey in stickies that a bee customer wanted me to put with the bees he bought from me. The beautiful colony I provided absconded, they weren’t hanging around in a hive with fermented honey.

Let us know what you find.



Thanks @JeffH … That makes sense. So you think that previous brood in the flow frames is the reason it’s not capped?

There is no evidence of hive beetle or anything out if the ordinary in the tray.

I am regretting not putting an ideal on earlier… It’s my first winter and I thought the season was over weeks ago. If I’d pulled the flow frame off and put the ideal in we would have been right. Looks like I’ll be feeding them.

Thanks for your response!

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Hi Kath, you’re welcome. No I don’t think that previous brood in the flow frames is the reason why the bees haven’t capped the honey, because bees frequently put honey in cells (before capping it) that were previously used for brood. However you do need to track down the source of the fermented honey smell, then remove it, because based on my own experiences, the bees don’t like it.

Even if brood are laid in the flow frames? I had read that it can change the structure of the cell, obviously different to a traditional frame, and some advised me to pull the frame apart after having brood in it to clean out the scale…I decided to leave it and see what happens and I’m thinking I should have perhaps listened to that advice way back when.

Hi Kat, the problem with brood being raised in the Flow frames is that there will be cocoons stuck to the cell walls - which interferes with being able to open the cells properly for future harvesting. The first thing an emerging bee does (after having a bite of honey and bee bread, fed to her by nurses) is turn around and clean her cell so it’s ready for the next use. As Jeff said, this might often be for nectar storage rather than brood, if for example the colony is reducing the brood area and backfilling it with honey for winter. So, cocoons or prior bee occupants won’t cause fermentation, but could pose problems with the Flow mechanism.

I hope it is ok to ask a question on your post? We are new to bee keeping and thought we were to leave the honey from the first season for the bees to survive on during our first winter, but I’ve seen posts advising to take the flow frames out for the winter since it gets very cold where we live, if we take the flow frames out, what are the bees to eat during the winter? and do we replace the flow frames with something else for the winter?

Hi Trish, check the other subheading above called Wintering your Flow Hive, there’s a lot of discussion and info you’ll need as a beekeeper with freezing winters! You’ll need to run a double brood box for your colony to make it with enough stores.

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Thanks Eva – I guess my concern was more that previous brood has somehow affected the ability of the colony to cap the honey in those cells, as it seems the cells that had brood are the same ones that are now open – and therefore fermenting?

Otherwise I am curious as to why the cells aren’t being capped, and why the honey is fermenting, or is that just one of those things we might just not know the reason?

We also now have a week of maximum temps being about 13 degrees, so I’m concerned about removing the flow frames while it is so cold – do I just take the top box off and quickly put the lid back on the brood box or should I wait until we get at least 18 degrees?

Thanks so much for your advice and suggestions!

Hi Trish – it is my first season as well. I did a lot of reading and chatting with my local bee club. I had decided that there is enough honey in the flow frames and I planned to leave it for them. In future I will be putting another half sized super (ideal) onto the brood box so I can remove the flow frames over winter.

Of course now I have this issue of fermenting honey so I will be taking my super off. I don’t believe there is a simple answer about how to winter, as it will depend on honey available, strength of the colony and nectar flow. My bees are still out in huge numbers on days of 11 degrees and we still have heaps of flowering plants. I was happy with my decision to leave the super on.

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Hi Kat, I see what you’re saying. But the bees can reuse brood cells in regular frame for honey and they get capped. Tell me about the lowest temps like at night - I’m thinking that your bees are maybe clustering then and not continuing to work on the honey process as much now.

About taking the box off, you’ll do fine if you get everything ready ahead of time and move purposefully. The bees will cover any open brood while you work, and can begin reheating the inside as soon as you close it up.


That is a non-sequitur. In other words, just because cells are not capped, it doesn’t mean that they will ferment. Towards the end of the season (late autumn), bees often don’t cap, even ripe honey. I think they have many reasons. Here are some that come to mind:

  1. Cooler weather makes it harder to work the wax for cappings
  2. Warmer days may mean that you can forage a bit more and squeeze it in if you leave an open space
  3. Leaving some food open makes easier access for the winter when you need some “tucker” :wink:

Considering likelihoods, I am more inclined to think along @JeffH’s lines of reasoning and look for SHB.

If you really think that your honey is spontaneously fermenting (without SHB), I would invest in a honey refractometer (about $40 on Amazon, but make sure to buy one specifically for honey). If the water content is less than 18.6%, it is highly unlikely that it is “unripe” and fermenting spontaneously. Just my 2 cents’ worth. :blush:

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Hmm this is interesting – thanks for your input!

We generally don’t tend to get much SHB in my area, and there is nothing in the tray to indicate anything different at this time – nor at my last inspection.

My theory on fermenting is the smell – the hive smells like our shed when hubby has a beer brew laid down! It’s a very strong yeasty smell with a slight sweetness.

There has been a fair amount of condensation in the flow frames which could also be the issue but this is hard to manage in our area with frosts and cold temps at night and unseasonably warm days of 20 degrees (until the last two weeks). Some weeks ago when our night frosts started the bees moved all the honey to the inner frames and away from the walls (makes sense to me)

If your third point is the case – it makes me hesitant to remove the super if this is their quick snack shelf!

I guess my thoughts on the brood being the problem is that the uncapped honey has a similar pattern to the brood which was laid there (which was also uncapped – I had full sized white pupae looking out at me when I found that the queen was in the super)….

Sounds like a refractometer might be the answer to your sleepless nights… :blush:

Below 18.6%, most hive organisms cannot ferment honey. SHB carry some pretty nasty beasties which may get around that. But for myself, I “follow the science” and if generally 18.6% water or less lasted 3,000 years from the pyramids without fermenting (it did), that is good enough for me…


Thanks Eva – we have had a few 0 and 1 degree nights, with relatively warm days of upto 20 degrees.

They look as busy as ever collecting nectar and pollen as we have gums in bloom, proteas, callistemons, gardenias and daisies happily still blooming.

Thanks for your advice on taking the top box off – I have a hive mat above the QE so I hope that will keep a bit of warmth in as I make the move!

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Hi Kat11

When you say you will be putting a half-sized super (ideal) onto the brood box, do you put frames in the ideal or leave it empty?

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Always put frames in, otherwise you are inviting chaotic comb building…


ok gotcha, we are brand new to bee keeping. Our first bees arrive this weekend.

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I understand. I read the whole forum. This doesn’t work like Facebook, so I know what you have posted previously without having to work too hard… :wink:

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Hi Trish, as Dawn suggested there will be frames in the ideal box – I plan to use it for honey/brood stores for the bees and then I feel happier taking the super off over winter.