Storing Honey Supers Over Winter -Done Right
Sometimes, it seems that a beekeeper’s work is just never done. As the honey harvesting season draws to a close, beekeepers face the issue of storing honey supers over winter. Boxes of drawn comb are the most valuable types of beekeeping supplies & equipment. It is worth the effort to take special care with them.
Equipment that is not needed will be put away. But what condition will those boxes be in when they are retrieved in Spring?
The major worry is storing honeycomb frames. They are valuable because the bees have to work very hard to draw out comb.
You can’t store honey supers with drawn comb just anywhere. Unless they are properly prepared ahead of time, frames of comb should be exposed to light and air during storage.
My Woes of Storing Honey Supers
Finding a good place for storing honey supers was a challenge for me in those early years of beekeeping. I experienced my fair share of failures and losses.
Empty boxes are easy, they can go anywhere. But the frames of comb were at risk unless in a protected place.
Don’t even get me started talking about the year that a raccoon and I battled all Winter. I kept thinking I had him locked out of my honey super storage area and he kept finding a way in.
My husband laughed at me until I explained that I had lost hundreds of dollars worth of drawn comb.
But I finally was able to keep the predators out. I have an open shed that I use currently but I did lose some valuable resources before my system was in place.
Storage of Beekeeping Supers Begins In Fall
Fall is a busy time for the beekeeper. Cold is on the way. Honey bee colonies are being prepped for winter. Pest control methods for varroa mites have been implemented.
Colonies that are low on stored honey are often fed in the Fall for Winter survival purposes.
We want to do everything possible to ensure healthy colonies going into winter. Why? One reason is because we love our bees and have a lot of money invested in them.
A second reason is our desire to have healthy colonies. Healthy fall colonies develop into productive honey producing colonies next Spring.
We also want our bees to have every advantage possible for the next season’s work.
Fall and Winter offer the perfect opportunity to plan for next Spring. Its a great time to order beekeeping equipment and avoid the Spring rush.
Many bee equipment suppliers sell out for weeks at a time in the busy season. Do you need to replace a hive body or maybe have an extra on hand in case of a swarm?
Make use of the “down-time” of our beekeeping year to prepare for the frenzy of Spring.
Protecting HoneyComb Over Winter
When we examine the challenges of storing honey supers during the off season, our concern is not the wooden components. Any dry location will preserve empty boxes and frames.
The honeycomb is the valuable resource. Some beekeepers choose to use plastic beeswax foundation instead of wax.
With plastic foundation pests are not able to completely destroy the comb structure. However, they can still make a mess of it and leave the bees with a lot of extra work to do.
Those of us who prefer to use pure beeswax foundation have an even bigger worry. Pest such as wax moths can destroy the whole frame of comb. This mean we may need to install new beeswax foundation.
Also, mice love to over-winter in honey boxes – on or off the hive. Even active hives need a “mouse guard” over the front before cold weather arrives.
Mice inside hives are a bigger problem in some regions of the country than others.
Why is Storing Drawn Comb Important?
Preservation of drawn comb is the beekeeper’s main goal. Drawn comb is the term used to describe the actual honeycomb wax structure.
When you look at a frame of honeycomb complete with cells for honey storage that is “drawn comb”.
Beekeepers understand the time and energy requirements of honeycomb construction will lessen the honey harvest. We don’t want to lose comb.
Using an Extractor =Less Work for the Bees
Many beekeepers harvest honey using an extractor. The honeycomb cells are opened by removing the wax cappings.
Open frames are placed into an extractor. The extractor slings out the honey preserving the intact honeycomb inside the wooden frame.
Honey bees can refill this drawn honeycomb without having to rebuild from scratch. This results in a larger honey harvest for the colony and beekeeper.
Seasoned beekeepers refer to drawn comb as being “worth its weight in gold.” They are referring to the increased harvest they can expect.
Winter storage of good drawn comb is a big boost to new colonies in the Spring. This save the bees a lot of work and they will have more energy to make honey.
The method you choose will depend on the amount of supers you have and the space available.
Protecting Your Beehive Frames During Storage
Stored honey supers may attract mice even if the comb is empty. In colder regions, they will tunnel inside the boxes and create wonderful nests for themselves.
A lot of comb is destroyed as a result of the chewing and body wastes. Both wax and frames may be chewed and destroyed.
Traps can be utilized if needed to control mice. For storage in mice prone areas, the placement of screens on the top of the stack of supers may help.
A good cat may help too.
Wax Moths Destroy Stored Comb
The major problem most beekeepers face in storing honey supers is Wax Moth damage.
They both cause the same destruction. And the warmer your climate, the more issues you are likely to face. But even areas with cold Winters are not safe from moth damage.
Wax moths lay eggs on the comb surface. Larva hatch and tunnel through the comb in search of pollen, bee bread and bee pupal cocoons.
They are in search of protein. Wax moth larva do not eat pure beeswax.
Comb that has only held honey is not as desirable. However, even honey frames will have some pollen from time to time so it is best to provide protection.
I have had a few combs that held only honey be damaged. Any supers containing honeycomb that has held brood at any time is a greatest risk.
Wax moths can completely destroy comb in a few weeks. Beekeepers want to keep moths OUT.
And also, to destroy any moth eggs that might already be on the comb. No, you can not rely on seeing them.
Because beeswax is fragile, it is easiest to store honey frames in the wooden super to avoid breaking comb.
So you will probably be storing the whole box – gotta think about the space needed.
The Freezer Method to Store Comb
If you are storing honey supers of a small number, the freezer method can work well. Freeze your frames of comb for 2 or 3 days to kill any wax moth eggs.
Remove from the frames of comb freezer (let thaw & dry in a secure place) and then seal in plastic bags.
Prevent re-infestation by securing the bags tightly. But,it is important that you do not skip the freezer step.
Otherwise, you may be in for a big, nasty surprise when you open that bag in several months.
Store Comb & Frames in an Area With Light
Wax Moths do not like light. They desire the dark inside of a bee hive (or a garbage bag – or tightly stacked supers..)
A beekeeper can use this tendency for to advantage. A special stack method is beneficial.
More air and light circulates through Supers stacked in a criss-cross fashion. (turned at 90 degree angles).
No one can guarantee 0% moth damage. The beekeepers goal is to reduce damage. An open air shed is a great choice.
A roof protects stored honey supers from rain. The addition of wire sides lets light inside and prevent raccoons from eating your comb ! (Trust me – I know).
Cold is good. Once freezing weather arrives, Wax Moth damage will become a non-issue.
Using BT for Wax Moth Control
The form of BT known as bacillus thuringiensis is used by some beekeepers to protect comb frames – though it is not labeled for such use in the US at this time.
It was previously sold under the product label – Certan or Xentari. It was labeled for use in bees and helped control wax moths in beehives and stored comb.
This dry product is mixed with water and sprayed on new foundation or honeycomb. This would be done before placing boxes on the hive or after removing them. BT kills wax moth larvae.
Certan is still available for use by Canadian Beekeepers. Xentari (the same form of BT) is sold in the US but availability is limited.
PDB-Wax Moth Treatment
PDB (Para Dicholorobenzene) is a chemical compound in a crystal form labeled for bees and approved by the FDA.
The pack of crystals is placed near stored honey supers to control wax moths. This chemical is also a known carcinogen. I have never used it.
Storing Honey Supers – Wooden Ware- That’s Easier
Your honeycomb is protected, that’s great. Now, it is time to find a place for everything else. Those of you who live in an area with cold winters will find it easier.
Stack wooden ware (empty supers and frames) anywhere out of the rain.
The freezing temp should kill any wax moth eggs. It is easiest to leave the frames inside the super boxes.
If you have the space to put all the frames inside a freezer, that’s great. I don’t.
In warmer areas, an outside shed or chain link kennel with cover, is a good place to stack supers.
The cover protects them from rain and the screen walls will keep predators away.
On warm winter days, bees will fly around the stored equipment. (This is the reason I would not want them in my garage without being sealed.)
My supers have been stored for years under a simple shed with a roof and wire walls to keep the raccoons out.
I stack the super criss-cross and 90 degree angles to allow light and air to reach the frames.
Be Ready For Spring
No matter what challenges Winter may bring for us and our bees. Spring will come and beekeepers will dream of large honey crops.
By storing honey supers properly and protecting drawn comb, you will be giving your colonies a head start.
Protect this valuable resource whenever possible and honor the hard work of the honey bee.