In preparation for winter, beekeepers take off the empty honey supers and store them in a spare room until spring comes.
Why beekeepers take off honey supers before winter:
In fall the colony is treated against varroa mites and when taking off the honey supers, those anti-varroa treatments can't come in contact with the frames and honeycomb which are used for honey extraction.
By sizing down the space of the hive it is easier for the colony to maintain needed temperature. Even though, the bees don’t heat up the whole hive but only the cluster, heat loss is smaller in a smaller space.
Performing winter preparation actions is easier without honey supers on.
When is the right time to take off the honey supers
It is time to take the honey supers off when there is no more honey harvesting - because of this, it is important to know which honey flows can give extra honey for harvesting in your area.
Honey supers needs to be taken off before you start feeding - it is hard for the bees to go through honey supers to get to the feeder and then to carry sugar water through the honey supers all the way back to the brood boxes where they store it (especially when nights get colder).
And before treating bees against varroa mites.
If there is a late honey flow in your area, there is no need to put back the boxes on the hives after harvesting, you can store them right away. Some honey will be left on the harvested frames after the harvest and it will be beneficial for the bees in spring when you put them back on hives.
If there is some honey left in honey supers
If there is small amount of honey left in honey supers and there is no point to harvest it, that honey will come in handy to the bees in spring when you put the honey supers back.
If you have a frame with some honey in honey super and a very dark empty frame in the brood box, you can take out that dark frame and leave it for melting and put the frame with honey in its place.
Taking off the honey supers - steps:
Beekeeping equipment you will need:
- Empty box
- Inner cover
- Hive tool
- Beekeeping suite
- Beekeeping gloves
- Beekeeping brush
Taking off the honey supers - step by step:
1Take off the cover, inner cover and feeder.
2Take off the top honey super out of the hive and put it on the flipped cover.
3Remove the bees from the honey super.
1Take out one frame and while holding it over the hive shake out the bees from it. By using the beekeeping brush remove the rest of the bees.
2Put the frame without bees in the empty box. You may cover that empty box with inner cover so the bees won't get tempted by the wax smell to come in again.
3Repeat steps 1and 2with all of the frames from that box.
4If there are bees on the walls of the taken off honey super, shake them off or remove them with a beekeeping brush. You will use that empty box to move frames (cleared from the bees) from the next honey super.
5If there are still some honey supers on the hive, repeat the steps 2to 4for each of them. Move the frames to the (empty) honey super that you have taken off previously.
6Close the hive – put back top feeder, inner cover and outer cover to their places.
7Repeat the previous steps for all the hives. Use a previously emptied honey super as an empty box in which you will put the frames (step 2).
If you don't have an empty box in your disposal
If you don't have an empty box, you can:
1Take out the frames from the honey super and lean them against the back side of the hive.
2Remove the bees from the emptied honey super.
3Use that same box to put back the cleaned frames (steps 1to 3).
Storing the honey supers
Honey supers are stored until spring in a spare room (for example, attic) that should be:
It would be good if there is some air flow
Protected from pests (like mice)
Honeycomb in the stored boxes needs to be protected from the wax moths. This can be done by burning sulphur strips (sulphur strips are used to disinfect barrows for wine as well).
I don't have a place to store honey supers. What should I do?
If for some reason you can't remove the honey supers from the hive, you will need to rotate the hive boxes.
Honey supers should be put on bottom board and the brood boxes should be put above them.
Also, there should be an entrance on the brood box so the bees can go out for the cleansing flight and not use the long route throgh the cold honey supers to get to the exit.
Why should you put brood boxes above the honey supers?
This will make your job easier when preparing for winter – for example, when feeding.
Hot air lifts up so it is warmer at the top of the hive than in the bottom.
Feeding is easier for the bees. They don’t need to take the long route (through the empty honey supers) from the brood boxes to the feeder and back. This is especially important if the temperature drops.
Keep in mind that varroa mite treatments may leave residues in wax.