I mentioned in another post that I had tested my honey using a refractometer to determine if my uncapped honey was ready for harvesting.
Why didn’t I just wait until the bees capped it? Impatience my friends, impatience. I have coworkers asking me about honey and neighbors getting excited when they see me in the hives and I needed to start feeding them pronto and I don’t want to mix honey and sugar syrup.
Generally the honey refractometers cost upwards of $200. I didn’t need it to be super exact, just exact enough to let me know if the honey was 18.6% or lower water content as it should be; Grade A and B honey, according to the USDA, contains 18.6% or less water, Grade C has more. I found a refractometer on Amazon for around $30, it comes calibrated but you are supposed to recalibrate it. The problem with the cheap ones is exactly that, they’re cheap so the instructions were poor to say the least but thankfully I had watched some videos and read up on refractometers. The instructions the came with the device stated to use distilled water as a calibration fluid. WHAT??? The water percentage range for the refractometer I have is 12% to 27%, if you use distilled water…it’s 100% water!! Crazy people.
There are calibration oils that you can use but I didn’t have that (I may buy some to have on hand) so we tried to make our own calibration fluid using supersaturated sugar syrup: 80 grams of sugar and 20 grams of water. Do you understand how difficult that is to dissolve??? Oiy. Some heat helped, it had to cool a little, then it was used quickly before it solidified. As a second check, I used an unopened bottle of honey I bought from a beekeeper in PA, they both tested at 20%. I had decided to use the bought honey as my standard, if my honey came out higher I would NOT extract. My refractometer was still not accurate and I needed to compare it against something reliable (as you will see).
Well, the uncapped honey I tested came out at 23%, definitely not something I wanted to extract. The higher the water content, the quicker the honey will ferment. I had heard that if you shake the frame of uncapped honey and it doesn’t shake out then it’s harvestable, however I did the “shake test” and it didn’t shake out even in 95ºF temperatures. So I won’t be using that as my gauge next time.
I checked a week later and it was down to 22%. We had our monthly bee meeting and our club has a good refractometer with many increments between the percentages whereas mine jumped from 16 to 17 to 18%, etc. We used both of our refractometers and I found that mine tested 1.5% higher than the club’s. So I borrowed the club’s refractometer and my honey tested below 18%. Time to extract!!
We borrowed the club’s new 2-frame extractor which proves more than adequate for most of us backyard beekeepers.