From the Australasian Bee Manual:
"RIPENING EXTRACTED HONEY.
"The thorough ripening of honey before placing it on the market is a matter of the greatest importance, both to the owner and to the industry generally. When first gathered as nectar, it may contain an amount of water ranging from 18 per cent., up to 25 per cent., or more. Honey containing an excess of moisture is unripe, and if it remain in that condition it is certain sooner or later to ferment; it is then unfit for table use. But, if such mois-ture be reduced below a certain percentage the honey is said to be ripe, and it will then keep, with ordinary care, for almost any length of time. At what point the excess of moisture commences I have not yet been able to ascertain, nor, so far as I am aware, has it ever been decided by analysts or sugar experts. It is beyond the accomplishment of the average bee-keeper to determine by evaporation the amount of moisture in a given sample of honey; but by close observation of the specific gravity of the class of honey he raises, he will in a short time have a serviceable guide as to its fitness for market at any time. During my term as Government Apiarist I tested over 100 samples of different grades of honey (see Bulletin No. 18 on Bee-Culture), by the hydrometer, in order, if possible, to formulate a standard specific gravity for ripe honey of different varieties. Though I had not completed my investigations, the tests made of clover honey, which constituted more than three-fourths of them, lead me to believe that any of this class showing a density of 1.420 or over is fit for market. Though I cannot speak so positively of other varieties, I have little doubt that a similar density would denote a fair degree of ripeness. It must be understood that in speaking of “clover honey,” I mean that the bulk of a given sample had been gathered from white clover blossoms, of which fortunately we can raise plenty in New Zealand.
"RIPENING HONEY INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE HIVE.
Little need be said with regard to ripening honey inside the hive, as the capping or sealing of the honey cells is generally understood to indicate that the contents are ripe. Some bee-keepers, however, consider it necessary to leave the honey in the hive for some little time after it is capped to be certain of it being thoroughly ripened. I know a few who leave all the surplus honey on the hives till the last of the season, which, in my opinion, is unnecessary and a very wasteful way of working an apiary.
"With regard to extracting honey from combs partly capped and finishing the ripening outside the hive, I maintain in the absence of chemical proof to the contrary, and so far as the palate can detect, that equally as good honey for marketing purposes can be produced in this manner as in the more costly method of ripening within the hive.
"RIPENING HONEY OUTSIDE THE HIVE.
My experience in this matter goes back to the sea-son of 1883-1884, when my first experiment was with ten tons of clover honey, and it was so successful that I have continued the method since, both as a private bee-keeper and as Director of the New Zealand Government Apiaries with equal success.
"As I have already pointed out, during a heavy flow of honey, when it is left in the hive to ripen it is neces-sary to keep adding top boxes to take advantage of the flow, as the honey will be stored faster than it can be ripened. This means the providing of a large quantity of extra material and combs at considerable cost. Each top box would be worth at least 2s. 6d., and the nine frames of comb at 1s. 3d. each, 11s. 3d., making a total of 13s. 9d.; and two of these extra boxes may sometimes be needed for each hive if full advantage is to be taken of the conditions mentioned.
"RIPENING AND MATURING TANKS.
The most effective method of ripening and maturing honey is to expose a large surface of comparatively shallow mass to a warm, dry, atmosphere. Even when the honey is allowed to ripen within the hive it is necessary to have shallow tanks to mature or clarify it, for, no matter how small in the mesh the strainer may be or how carefully the honey is strained, it is impossible to prevent very fine particles of wax and pollen-grains running from the extractor into the tank with the honey. If the body of the honey is deep these particles cannot rise to the surface as they do in a shallow tank, forming a scum, which, when skimmed off, leaves the honey in the very best form for market. Air-bubbles, which in themselves may contain moisture (and it is absolutely certain that honey containing air-bubbles quickly deteriorates), cannot rise or escape through a deep mass of honey.
"The tank shown in Fig. 76 is, as indicated, 6 ft. long, 4 ft. wide in the two compartments, and 20 in. deep, outside measurements; and calculated to hold about 1,250 lbs. of honey in each compartment. It represents those in use at the Government Apiaries, which are made of 1¼ in. timber, and lined with stout tin. Of course, each bee-keeper will decide for himself as to the size of his tanks, but the depth should be limited to from 20 to 24 in. at most.
"For an apiary of, say, two hundred colonies, two such tanks as the double tank illustrated would in most cases answer the purpose. There is a great advantage in dividing the tanks into compartments, so that the honey from each day's extracting may be left undisturbed until it has matured and is ready to run into tins. It is unwise to run two or three days' extracting into the same tank, as the frequent disturbance is against the honey maturing properly. "
Fig. 76: www.bushfarms.com/images/ABMHoneyTank.JPGThe Australasian Bee Manual