Before they extract honey from the hive, beekeepers have to be certain that the honey has the proper moisture content. It’s important to consider the moisture level before harvesting honey. The water content of honey will determine honey’s ability to remain fresh and avoid spoiling caused by fermentation.
It is internationally recognized that high-quality honey should be have a moisture content under 20%. Beekeepers must be able to control the moisture level with a good degree of accuracy. As the extraction period draws closer, beekeepers will use a honey refractometer to measure the concentration of water in honey. Once the moisture content reaches a desirable level, it can be removed from the comb for processing.
Why Is There Water In Honey To Begin With?
Nectar is 80 to 95% water and 5 to 15% sucrose (or sugar). The sucrose is broken down into two simple sugars as the bees transport the nectar from the flower to the hive. Once the nectar is in the open cells, worker bees fan their wings to create heat that will evaporate the water that is mixed with nectar. When enough water is evaporated, the result is sticky, pure honey. The worker bees then cap the honey with beeswax to preserve the low moisture level. Honey has a moisture content of about 18%.
Check out our article on how bees make honey for more information.
Why Do Beekeepers Need To Check The Moisture Content Of Honey?
Sometimes beekeepers are a little too eager to extract honey, so they may take off the honey supers before the cells have completely sealed off. That means that the stored honey will be exposed to higher moisture levels.
If honey is over 18% in moisture content, the honey will ferment over time. Keep in mind that if you eat a lot of honey, you can potentially eat all of it before the fermentation process begins. However, if you plan to store your honey for a long period, the honey will ferment and be unusable.
If you extract honey that has already been capped, you can be confident that it has the proper moisture content. However, if you attempt to work with a partially capped frame, then the uncapped cells will absorb any moisture in the air.
It’s important to monitor the humidity in the room where you’ll be extracting the honey. If it’s too humid, you may need to use a dehumidifier to keep the room dry.
How Can I Measure The Moisture Content In Honey?
Many beekeepers use a refractometer to check the moisture content in honey. Using a honey refractometer is the easiest way to ensure your honey is at the optimal moisture level.
What Is A Honey Refractometer?
A honey refractometer is a tool that measures the water content and nutrient grade of honey. Beekeepers use this device to determine the quality and grade of honey. Many beekeepers like to use a refractometer because of its accuracy and it allows them to confidently bottle honey that will remain fresh for a long time.
When light passes through a liquid, it changes direction. This is known as refraction. A refractometer measures the degree at which the light changes when it passes through honey.
Consider using a honey refractometer if you plan to sell your honey. If you harvest honey too soon, the excess moisture content will cause the honey to go bad by the time it is in your customers’ hands. And that’s not good for business!
How Does A Honey Refractometer Increase Honey Production?
Using a refractometer can increase your honey harvest. Usually, beekeepers don’t consider extracting honey from the frames until all of the cells have been capped. However, bees do not cap all of the honey cells at once, leaving portions of the frame uncapped. Bees cannot store any additional nectar because all of the cells are filled (with both capped and uncapped honey). At this point, beekeepers provide their hive with additional empty frames to be filled.
If you have a refractometer, you can remove the frames with capped and uncapped cells and replace it with an empty frame. Then, you can put the unsealed frame in a room with a dehumidifier and fan to dry out the remaining moisture. You can measure the honey with your refractometer until the tool reads about 18%. You can harvest the honey sooner and allow the bees to harvest even more now that there is an additional frame to use.
How Do You Use A Honey Refractometer?
A honey refractometer is easy to use. There are many different models, but the basic steps to use the tool are usually the same.
- Calibrate the device. First, you’ll want to calibrate the tool before you use it. Each refractometer comes with specific instructions for calibration as well as a reference solution. You will need to calibrate the tool if ever there is a significant temperature change. For the best results, you should test your honey at room temperature.
- Put honey on the prism. Open up the light plate and put a couple of drops of honey on the prism (typically this is a blue area). Apply the honey smoothly so there are no air bubbles that may interfere with the readings. If you store your honey in a container, be sure to mix it well before testing it.
- Close the light plate. Don’t use too much honey or you’ll make a mess.
- Look into the eyepiece. If you are using a manual refractometer, you will need to aim it at a light source. Look through the eyepiece and adjust it, if necessary. You should be able to see the scale and the reading.
- Read the measurement. Read the measurement to determine the quality of your honey. Honey is considered good quality if the water content reading is below 20%, ideally closer to 18%.To get accurate results, take multiple readings and then use the average to determine the moisture content.
What is Brix?
The nutrient grade of honey is measured in Brix. The higher the Brix measurement, the higher the quality of honey. In order to have a high Brix measurement, honey’s water content needs to be lower.
There are many honey refractometers on the market today which some great features that will help beekeepers determine when to extract honey. It will take time and research to determine which model will work best for your needs. To save time, check out our list of the best honey refractometers out there.