Removing honey supers is an essential component of preparing your beehive for winter. Supers that aren’t required by your bees should be removed when temperatures cool in mid to late fall.
Supers should be removed because in winter bees have formed a cluster, grouping together to conserve heat. Honeybees have a high level of temperature tolerance, but it is put to the test in winter. The more empty space inside the hive, the harder it is to keep the internal temperature at a suitable level.
This will cause the bees to eat more honey to maintain warmth, therefore reducing the amount available for duration of winter. Cold air will also kill any brood, which is vital to the survival of the colony.
Remove Honey Supers From Your Beehive In The Fall (Autumn)
Throughout the various regions of Australia seasonal conditions vary, so strict rules can’t be applied when readying hives for winter. However, there are basic requirements that can be followed for wintering to be successful. One of these requirements is the removal of honey supers not needed by the bees in Autumn.
In the U.S., the climate also varies from region to region, with many regions having snow. Part of a successful over-wintering strategy is the removal of honey supers in the Fall, during September, October and November.
Remove Only Honey Supers – Not The Brood Box
It’s important to note that you should only remove honey supers and not any boxes that contain brood.
Brood is the collective name given to the developing bees that are present in comb cells and laid by the queen. Given young bees are essential to the continued health of your colony, you want to leave any boxes containing brood behind and ensure they remain safely inside the hive.
A brood box is so named because it houses wax frames that are used almost exclusively by the queen to lay eggs, or brood. It is usually a box of the maximum depth to allow the queen the necessary room to lay eggs.
In the U.S. a box with the greatest depth is referred to as a ‘deep’ size. The brood box sits on a base with an opening, and above the brood box the super (or supers) are placed.
A super in beekeeping terms, is short for ‘superstructure’, which is an upward extension of an existing structure. In reference to beekeeping, the brood box is the existing structure and all boxes placed on top are supers (the superstructure).
When on the hive they are termed honey supers, so named because the bees will almost exclusively use them to store the nectar they collect as honey.
You can read an in-depth explanation about the difference between a brood box and honey super here.
How Many Supers Should You Leave For Winter?
Precisely how many supers you should leave for winter depends somewhat on your climate, as well as the health and size of your hive. However, I’ll give a few examples to give you an idea.
In the northern areas of the U.S., you should leave one full depth (deep) ten frame super of honey. This honey super has the approximate weight of 80 to 90 pounds (36.3 to 40.8 kilograms).
In the central and southern areas of the U.S. you should still leave one full depth ten frame honey super. Although the climate in these areas indicates honey requirements may be less, it is better to leave more than enough honey to feed your bees through the winter.
In Australia you should leave one full depth eight frame super of honey to sustain your bees during the winter. As a general rule, a colony requires around 18 kilograms (39.6 pounds approximately) of honey for the winter. Each frame of fully capped honey weighs approximately 2.2 to 3 kilograms (4.8 to 6.6 pounds).
Although in some regions of the country the climate may indicate less honey is required, it is better to leave too much honey rather than not enough. The most important thing is to ensure bees have sufficient levels to feed their colony through winter.
How To Store Supers During The Winter
Because I live in a region of Australia that has reasonably mild winters, I use a straightforward method of storage.
The supers themselves are scraped of comb and checked for cracks in the timber, both inside and out. If no repairs are needed they are stored on a shelf in a dry place in the garage.
If necessary, repairs will be made during winter and the supers repainted.
How To Store Frames From The Super
Whether storing frames that once had brood, frames that were or are partially filled with honey, or frames that are full of capped honey, the method I use is the same.
Here’s how I do it:
Each removed frame is individually wrapped in a large plastic garbage bag that I have purchased from the supermarket. I tie up the bag and use strong tape to secure it before I place it in the freezer for two days. Freezing the frames in this way kills any Wax Moth or other larvae.
I don’t have a large freezer so I can only place one frame at a time inside.
After forty eight hours the frame is then placed in an airtight storage bin for the winter. Once full of frames, the storage bin is placed in a cool, dark place.
I stick a note to the lid with a list of what is inside, so when warmer weather arrives I know which bin to use first.
I’ve written a full-length article which outlines the process in more detail here.
Final Thoughts On Removing Honey Supers For Winter
Honeybees will start to form their winter cluster when surrounding temperatures reach 12 to 14 degrees Celsius (54 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature at the center of the cluster is typically maintained between 25 to 35 degrees Celsius (77 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit), with bees keeping warm by vibrating their flight muscles.
Removing excess honey supers means the space inside the hive is reduced and the winter cluster can fill it without leaving too many open areas that can cause loss of heat. Leaving the brood box with one full honey super allows the winter cluster to form in the center of the two hive bodies.
The best time to prepare your hive for overwintering is in the fall (autumn). The removal of honey supers is but one component of getting your hive ready for winter. Excess honey supers are removed in the fall to allow the colony to better manage variations in temperature and help ensure the survival of your bees through winter.