As the honey harvesting season draws to a close, beekeepers face the issue of how to store honey supers over winter. Drawn comb, spare boxes and other pieces associated with honey production need a place to stay when not on the hive. These are valuable pieces of beekeeping equipment. Taking good care of them will help the colonies get off to a better start next Spring.
A successful beekeeper learns how to manage their beehives-eventually. But, he/she must also manage the beekeeping equipment and supplies needed throughout the year. For each colony you will need several super boxes for honey. Not every box will be in use throughout the year.
Store Drawn Comb Frames Safely
In most regions, bees only make honey during the warm months. This is the time when the boxes called “honey supers” will be on the hive to collect honey for the beekeeper.
We are not talking about boxes that are left on the hive year round for the bees to use. This is one of those situations where “beekeeping terminology” can get you in trouble. Not everyone of us use the same words for the same thing!
After harvesting your honey, those “honey super boxes” are no longer needed on the hive because the production season is over.
Now, the beekeeper is faced with needing a safe place to store honey supers with drawn comb over the cold months of the year.
When to Remove Honey Supers for Winter
Knowing when to remove honey supers for Winter can be a bit tricky. No exact calendar date can be given – it depends greatly on your location.
Some regions experience cold temps much sooner than others. And, in addition to cold weather, it also depends on your local nectar sources.
In upstate South Carolina, I know that my bees will not make any excess honey for me after the Sourwood Bloom in June-July. There is no need to put honey supers back on the hive after that time.
However, if you live in a region with a long, mild Fall and plenty of nectar rich Fall bee flowers – your boxes can stay on longer.
Before true cold weather arrives, get extra boxes and queen excluders off the hive. Complete any needed varroa mite treatments and get those hives ready for the cold months ahead.
Frames With Honeycomb at Risk
The most difficult task facing a beekeeper is storing empty wax frames. This refers to any frames with wax comb but no honey – after the honey extraction process.
These frames are called “drawn comb” and are very valuable. A colony must invest a lot of time and bee energy into building wax comb.
Because empty frames of honeycomb can be reused next season, finding a proper storage place for your wax comb is a priority.
However, you can not store honey supers with drawn comb just anywhere. Many beekeepers are dismayed each Spring to find their beautiful frames of wax comb destroyed.
Wax Moth Infestations
It is usually the pesky wax moth larvae that are responsible for the damage. They consume the wax and leave behind a mess.
Even the beekeeper using plastic foundation should practice care with comb storage. Pests are not able to completely destroy plastic. But, they can still make a mess of it and leave the bees with a lot of extra work to do.
But I didn’t see any moth eggs !! No, normally you won’t but that doesn’t mean they were not there. Any frames of comb that have been removed from the hive (not protected by bees)- may have wax moth eggs.
Once in a dark warm place, these eggs hatch into moth larvae. Moth larva hatch and tunnel through the comb in search of pollen, bee bread and bee pupal cocoons.
Leaving behind a mess of webbing and feces, the beekeeper must spend time and money installing new beeswax foundation. And besides is it a nasty mess to clean up!
The warmer your climate, the more issues you are likely to face with these honey bee pests. But even areas with cold months when temperatures are low are not completely safe from moth damage.
Comb that has only held honey (not been used for brood rearing) is not as desirable to the moth. However, even honey frames will have some pollen from time to time so it is best to provide protection.
You may also find earwigs (a lesser pest) setting up house keeping in your drawn comb. They are a pest but for the most part only a minor problem for bees. They do no real damage to your comb.
Protecting Stored Honey Supers
There are several strategies used by beekeeper to protect drawn comb frames in supers.
- freeze prior to storage (or keep frozen)
- outside storage in light airy location
- chemical protection
Freezing Frames for Storage
Once the honey supers are removed from the hive, the bees are not around to police the comb and remove moth eggs or larva. That job falls to you – the beekeeper.
You can not rely on “seeing” moth eggs. It is best to assume there are some in there and take action.
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. (Tip: freezing honey is a great way to store it in the comb for the bees or you next year.)
Remove the frames of comb from the freezer (let thaw & dry in a secure place (where moths can’t get) and then seal in plastic bags or bins.
Prevent re-infestation by securing the bags tightly. Otherwise, you may be in for a big, nasty surprise when you open that bag in several months.
Admittedly, this method takes some time and space. 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.
Freezing also works as a good storage method for raw honeycomb intended for human consumption. Just be sure to wrap it up tight first.
Open Shed with Light and Air
Another option for those without freezer space for all those supers and frames. Storing your beekeeping supers in an open shed.
Wax Moths do not like light. They desire the dark inside of a bee hive (or a garbage bag – or tightly stacked supers..)
Beekeepers use this moth behavior to our advantage by storing bee boxes in a special stack method. If you have the space, it can work for you too.
Stacking honey supers (with comb inside) in a criss-cross fashion inside an open air shed is a favorite method. More light and air will circulate through the boxes – deterring moth activity. That does not mean you will have zero damage but it does help.
A roof over the top protects the stored honey supers from rain. Adding wire sides lets light inside and prevents raccoons from eating your comb! (Trust me – I know.)
Cold weather is good for super storage. Once the temps turn cold – wax moth damage is not a threat.
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Using BT for Moth Control
The form of BT known as bacillus thuringiensis is used by some beekeepers to protect comb frames.
In previous years, it was sold under the product label Certan and is back on the market as B402 Certan. It is labeled for use in bees and helps control wax moths in stored comb.
It 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 has been brought back to the US and is available in some bee supplies. Xentari (the same form of BT) is also sold in the US but availability is limited and it may not be labeled for use around bees.
Protecting Supers with Paradicholorbenzene
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 and has a very pungent odor. I have never used it.
Do not use regular moth balls – the chemical is often not the same and can dangerous to you and the hive.
How to Protect Stored Honeycomb from Mice
In some regions of the country, mice can be a major pest during the cold months. They even sneak into live hives while the bees are clustered in the top keeping warm.
Consider placing a mouse guard over the entrance to your hive if you live in a region where they are prevalent. This is a larger issues in areas with long cold Winters.
Don’t delay, have your mouse guards on before cold arrives. Or, your mice tenants may already be in there!
Even in mild regions, stored honey supers can attract mice. A lot of comb is destroyed as a result of the chewing and body wastes. Both wax and frames may be ruined.
Traps can be utilized if needed to large populations of mice. When stacking supers, using a queen excluder on the bottom and top of the stack can help too!
Can You Leave a Honey Super on Over Winter?
Yes, you can leave a honey super or several on the hive. In fact, most beekeepers do have a super or two designated for use by the bees.
The size of the box (boxes) designated as the “food super” for the bees varies from one beekeeper to another and from one region to another.
Preparing beehives for the cold months or winterizing hives involves several checks – including evaluation of their food reserves. Honey bees survive the cold by consuming stored honey.
In any region with cold weather, the amount of honey stored in just a single brood box (usually one deep) would not be enough. In some areas of the country – two deeps boxes are used for Winter.
In addition to having healthy colonies, overwintering bees involves learning how many boxes of food to leave on the hives.
Consult with local experienced beekeepers or beekeeping associations about how much honey your colonies need.
While an average of 60# or stored honey is often used as a measurement – each location is different. Local groups can help you ensure that your bees have enough honey to avoid starvation.
Bees Can Have Too Much Space to Guard
However, leaving too much space on the hive has risks as well. During late Fall and early Spring, when colony populations are low – the bees may not be able to protect all that comb.
Therefore, it is best to remove any boxes beyond what the bees need for Winter survival. This should leave the colony with ample space but not too much territory to defend.
When cold temperatures arrives, the bees will cluster in the brood chamber of the hive. Even strong colonies will not need as much space to spread out.
The safest ways to protect valuable empty honeycomb is to freeze it, then store in an air-tight container, or store frames of comb exposed to light and air or use a chemical treatment to deter wax moths.
Yes, the seals of the unit will keep out all insects but you need to freeze or treat the comb first to kill or remove any eggs.
Yes. While wax moths do not destroy plastic foundation to the extent of wax – they will ruin the honeycomb cells. Freeze them before storage in an air-tight container.
Finding a safe place to keep unused equipment or frames with only foundation is not too hard. However, anything involving comb requires a bit more thought.
This is a great time to inspect frames and comb, replace any dark black honeycomb and you will have healthier bees.
Protect your investment in effort and money, develop a plan, learn how to store all beekeeping supplies until needed again next year. But, storing valuable honey supers with drawn comb should be a top priority.