Officially, honey has a moisture content that's below the 18.5-18.3% range. Anything above that range is nectar. Usually if we're extracting stuff that's in that 18.5-18.3% range, we treat it as nectar just to be safe. It's better to expect that borderline honey to ferment in the bottles after six months rather than treat it as honey and be taken by surprise.
What the honeyometer does is pretty useful. It gives us the percentage moisture content in whatever we're extracting, which let's us know for certain whether we're bottling jars of honey or nectar. This is really useful, because we know what bottles need to be used first, which we should use for baking bread (since it doesn't matter if we use fermented nectar there) and which we should save to give away as gifts. Sometimes when we come to honey spin we bring frames that hold uncapped cells of nectar mixed in with the capped honey. In these cases, the nectar can dilute the honey enough to make it borderline, and we like to know which jars are like that so we can prioritize using them up. Also, bees sometimes cap stuff with the moisture content of nectar. I mentioned this in my last post: Bee Spit. As a rule of thumb, it's fine to assume that everything that's capped is honey, but that's not always the case, and the honeyometer is a more accurate guide.
I can't explain to you exactly how a refractometer works, because I'm about as clueless to it's fine workings as you are. What I do know about the honeyometer is fairly simple, and that is: how to make it tell you whether you've got nectar or honey in your frames.
It's not a really complicated process, either. Dad gets a bit of the honey that's pouring out the opening at the bottom of the extractor. This gives us an example of the honey being extracted from the current set of frames.
He puts this honey sample on the lens of the honeyometer, and sets the glass down over the top, compressing our honey sample to make it easier for the honeyometer to read.
Then he takes it outside, points it toward the light, and squints through the eyepiece. There's a knob there so you can adjust the focus - I have never been able to make this work for me. Probably because I would have to twiddle the knob quite a lot to adjust it for my eyes when I'm not wearing my glasses, and I don't ever spin it far enough. Who knows.
|That's a professional beekeeper squint right there.|
And that's basically it. It's pretty simple stuff, but the honeyometer is a really useful tool for these hick beekeepers.
Plus, honeyometer is fun to say.