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.
How to Store Drawn Comb Frames Over Winter
In a successful apiary, each hive will need several bee boxes for honey production. And, not all of them will be in use throughout the year.
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In most regions, bees produce excess 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.
After harvest time, those boxes are removed from the hives. Now, the beekeeper is faced with needing a safe place to store honey supers with draw comb over the cold months of the year.
Can You Leave a Honey Super on Over Winter?
Yes, you can leave a honey super or several on the hive over Winter. In fact, most beekeepers do have a super or two designated for use by the bees.
The size of the box designated as the “food super” for the bees varies from one beekeeper to another and from one region to another.
Preparing beehives for Winter or winterizing hives involves checking their food reserves. Honey bees survive Winter by consuming stored honey.
In any region with cold weather, the amount of honey stored in just a single brood box would not be enough.
Bees Can Have Too Much Space to Guard
However, leaving too much space on the hive during the long Winter months has risks as well. Especially 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 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 flows.
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 flowers – your boxes can stay on longer.
Before true cold weather arrives, it is time to remove those honey supers. Complete any needed varroa mite treatments and get those hives ready for Winter.
Storing Empty Comb Frames Over Winter
The most difficult task facing a beekeeper is storing empty wax frames over Winter. This refers to any frames that are filled with honeycomb but no longer have honey inside.
Frames filled with “drawn comb” are very valuable. The honey bee colony must invest a lot of time and energy into building comb.
Because empty frames of honey comb 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.
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.
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.
Any frames that have been on the hive-or in an area not protected by bees- may have wax moth eggs – even if you don’t see them.
Leaving behind a mess of webbing and feces, the beekeeper must spend time and money installing new beeswax foundation in each destroyed frame.
Protecting Stored Honey Supers From Wax Moths
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.
Adult moths fly into the box and lay eggs on the comb surface. Moth larva hatch and tunnel through the comb in search of pollen, bee bread and bee pupal cocoons.
Comb that has only held honey 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.
Wax moths can completely destroy comb in a few weeks. Beekeepers want to keep moths out and destroy any moth eggs that might already be on the comb.
There are several strategies used by beekeepers for moth protection:
- 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.
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.
Honey Super Storage In 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 bee boxes – deterring moth activity. No one can guarantee 0% moth damage but this method of storage works for many.
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.
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 Certain and is back on the market in some places. It is 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 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 Stored Honey 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 Winter pest. 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!
Every beekeeper wants to honor the hard work that the bees have invested in building comb. And, buying beekeeping equipment is not cheap either.
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.
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.