Honey Refractometer
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  1. #1
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    Default Honey Refractometer

    What kind of refractometers are best for beekeepers? Are cheap ones adequate, or are the ones that cost over a hundred dollars worthwhile? What sort of oils should be used for calibration?

    Here in my country, it's legal to sell honey if it has no more than 21% moisture. I read though that it can ferment when it's at 19%. At what moisture level is it inclined to ferment? If it is at a higher range, are there actions that I can take to prevent it from fermenting? Should I ever be concerned if the moisture level is particularly low?

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    Quote Originally Posted by omnimirage View Post
    What sort of oils should be used for calibration?
    The calibration stone for honey refractometer is stable. Oils are likely to change.

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    If you are serious about producing honey, don’t bother with a cheap one. Get a good optical or digital unit. Cheap plastic optics degrade over time like all plastics. The temperature correction is particularly bad on the cheap ones.
    Adam - Zone 5A
    www.adamshoney.com

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    IMO cheap ones are just as good, save your money and get one on amazon for around 25 bucks (read the reviews).
    Use extra virgin olive oil to calibrate it.

    The digital ones are no more accurate than the cheap one, check the accuracy it is list on each model.

    I harvested 2400 lbs honey last year and I checked every bucket, kept my thin honey separate use it for mead, tea, cooking... Not one bucket of the for sale honey has fermented.

    Yes anything over 18.5 will ferment. You can dry it a bit to reduce a little moisture; I dry honey the same way I reliquify crystalized honey; 75-100w light bulb in a bottom deep, I place two pieces of wood in the frame rest, a five gallon bucket (without the lid if I want to dry it) on pieces of wood. Place two more deep hive boxes over the bucket and a Plexiglas lid (so you can see the light and know it's still on) . Check the Temp keep it at 105 deg F or below if you want to keep it "Raw Honey". If I am drying I usually do 1/2 bucket or less at a time it goes much quicker.

    Low moisture is fine, much of my honey is around 17%.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    Flowerplanter that sounds like a fantastic method. Can you share a photo of the set up by any chance? I'm a little unsure on the light part in particular.

    I actually have a large chest freezer(that I don't turn on) that I keep an oil heater in there, which I've been using to reliquify crystalized honey. I usually keep the temp just a little lower than 105, would leaving buckets of honey in this environment with the lids off, cause them to dry out?

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    Quote Originally Posted by FlowerPlanter View Post

    The digital ones are no more accurate than the cheap one, check the accuracy it is list on each model.
    Perhaps they are as accurate, but it’s the precision that is the problem.
    Adam - Zone 5A
    www.adamshoney.com

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    Extra virgin olive oil is standardized at 71-72 brix. Calibrate with it at 71.5.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    >Can you share a photo of the set up by any chance? I'm a little unsure on the light part in particular.

    The light I use is something similar to the one below. Make sure whatever you use; it can use a higher watt bulb, is does not touching anything or can't slip or fall.

    https://www.amazon.com/Simple-Deluxe...ht+clamp&psc=1

    Or you could also attach it to a piece of plywood the size of a hive body;
    https://www.amazon.com/Leviton-8829-...s=light+socket

    Set one piece of plywood same size as a bee box, set your light in, then stack your first empty hive body. Put either two top bars from a bee frames or two cut pieces of hardwood, place in the frame rests of the hive box (they must be strong they will support a 60 lbs bucket). Then set your bucket on the wood strips, two more hive bodies and a lid (I like Plexiglas).

    If your drying honey take the bucket lid off and open the Plexiglas lid an inch or two so the humidity can escape. It can take 3-4 days just to dry a half bucket depending on moisture, use a refractometer and check your moisture once a day, you may want 65 watt bulb for slow and steady heat, so your honey does not get too hot. (I may add a thermostat some day but for now I keep an eye on temp).

    >I actually have a large chest freezer(that I don't turn on) that I keep an oil heater in there, which I've been using to reliquify crystalized honey. I usually keep the temp just a little lower than 105, would leaving buckets of honey in this environment with the lids off, cause them to dry out?

    Yes I think it would, the temp sounds perfect, you may have to crack the freezer lid to let moisture. What kind of oil do you burn are there any by products that may reabsorb into the honey?

    >Perhaps they are as accurate, but it’s the precision that is the problem.

    It could be, I may have got lucky and got one with no problems, mine came with a soft case and I take care of it.

    >Extra virgin olive oil is standardized at 71-72 brix. Calibrate with it at 71.5.

    I believe that's exactly the way I calibrated mine several years ago. Have not checked it since, may check it just because of this thread. After using my refractometer for a few years, I can accurately predict how the honey will come out before I even check it, just by the viscosity. So I guess I just use mine to confirm the honey is thick enough to sell or use for mead.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    I'm with FlowerPower on this. An inexpensive model will work just fine for honey work. In any honey extraction there will be a wide range of water content from frame to frame. It doesn't really make an expensive refractometer necessary when the honey being analyzed will yield variable results. As I recall my refractomer from eBay cost under $30 and works very well. If someone steps on it or it falls into the extractor, I won't be loosing sleep over the loss.

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    The honey being measure won’t yield variable results - that would be your refractometer. I have a $30 eBay unit and an Atago digital unit. One gives repeatable results. The other just yields results.
    Adam - Zone 5A
    www.adamshoney.com

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    I only have 3 hives and really didn't want to invest a lot so I bought a $25 refractometer. I haven't tried it yet but would like to hear from people who have the cheap ones if they ever had their honey ferment after relying on it. I am not selling honey, but will give some away as a wedding gift this summer and I really want to make sure it will not go bad on the guests. Thanks, J

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    I probably have the same quality from Mann Lake. Most of the time I have had readings close to 17% water so not working close to the line. I did keep one batch that was slightly over 18% (18.5) I consider the cut off for non pasteurized honey to not ferment. It kept OK. I think 19% is tolerated if pasteurized. I checked calibration with the X virgin olive oil and verified a few years later with 99% glycerine.

    If the frames are also passing the shake test and 75% capped, plus reading ok on the refractometer I think you have belt and braces security.
    Frank

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    Thanks Frank. Being a belt and braces kind of guy, I feel better. I don't have much to do so can dry it lower if it is on the high side. In the process of building a "hot box" so can do soon. J

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    I really found that the refractometer would give peace of mind in conditions where the flow has slacked off and there are a lot of frames with a high percentage of cells not capped; The bees seem to wait rather than capping even though the honey in cells is at plenty low enough moisture level.
    Frank

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    Flowerplanter, I don't believe the oil heater releases anything but I'm honestly not too sure, I did a quick search and find they're fueled by some sort of silicone oil. I just plug it into the power point.

    I bought the refractometer, because I was concerned that my honey was fermenting. I was going to process a bucket, but it suspiciously smelled like wine and also had a subtle tangy flavour to it. Now, I've opened it two weeks later and it barely smells like wine.

    The calibration oil hasn't came in yet with the refractometer, so I haven't verified accuracy, but it's allegedly shipped already calibrated so I figure it should be good. It was difficult to read the results as it was quite small, but the line was inbetween 18 and 19. There's 4 line/mark/notches in there, and the reading was just below the 3rd line/mark. I'm not too sure what percentage that actually is. My unit's supposed to be accurate within 0.2%, so it seems that this honey could possibly be over that 18.5% fermentation mark. I'm not really sure how I'm supposed to tell.

    Seems useful to reduce moisture content in it. It's been suggested to use a dehumidifier (which I don't own) or some sort of aircondition, but these too costly to be practical. A fan has also been suggested, which strikes me as more cheaply and viable. Evaporation through heat is interesting, one could use lightglobes, but I do already have a chest freezer with an oil heater in it to enable an effective crush and strain operation, and to decrystalise honey. I can leave the bucket of suspected honey in there, with the lid off, and the chest freezer slightly open so moisture can escape. I'm just not sure how high I should heat it to and at what range of temperature would the honey start to become damaged and lose it's flavour, but I suppose accepting some damage is better than it fermenting. I'm also not sure about this approach, because I wonder too myself, wouldn't heating it up speed up the fermentation process? Or have I got that all wrong?

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    Quote Originally Posted by omnimirage View Post
    Flowerplanter, I don't believe the oil heater releases anything but I'm honestly not too sure, I did a quick search and find they're fueled by some sort of silicone oil. I just plug it into the power point.
    The oil in this heater is only for heat transfer from the internal electric heated coil to the large surface area to give an even heat tranfer with a safe surface temperature. They pose less potential fire hazard. No magic, no internal combustion etc.

    Whether honey will pick up or dissipate moisture depends on temperature and the relative humidity of the surrounding air. The moisture can go either way. One of those "all depends" situations. Any effect from heat will be far more desirable than fermenting (unless making mede)
    Frank

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    Just gonna ask a stupid question here but, the higher the temperature, moisture will dissipate with greater force, right?

  19. #18
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    Default Re: Honey Refractometer

    Its all about relative humidity. Warmer air holds more water so for the same amount of water in the air the warmer air has more water holding capacity. Also it takes energy to change states (liquid to vapor). More heat, more energy. The air will still only hold so much. Bottom line if you are adding heat, add some fresh, dry air and it will dry faster than just adding heat to a sealed freezer.
    “Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up” Alfred Pennyworth Batman Begins (2005)

  20. #19
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by minz View Post
    Its all about relative humidity. Warmer air holds more water so for the same amount of water in the air the warmer air has more water holding capacity. Also it takes energy to change states (liquid to vapor). More heat, more energy. The air will still only hold so much. Bottom line if you are adding heat, add some fresh, dry air and it will dry faster than just adding heat to a sealed freezer.
    Aww...latent heat!

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