Storing Supers for the Season
By Camilla Bee, Editor
If it was a good year, you pulled honey. Perhaps you pulled early summer, and the honey supers went back on the hive for refilling. (Drawn comb makes honey happen so much faster!)
Perhaps it wasn’t until the end of the season that you removed supers, and perhaps they weren’t entirely filled or capped.
Well, if you’ve talked to more than one beekeeper, you know the only absolute in beekeeping is that there are no absolutes. If you ask three beekeepers you’ll get a five or six different answers, because they’ll give you an opinion, and then change their mind when they hear someone else’s opinion or because what they were doing stopped working for them. That’s part of the fun of beekeeping!
I asked dozens of beekeepers what they do, hoping to find some “best practices” for particular geographic areas. Ha. I got dozens of answers, and even the answers from beekeepers who were practically neighbors varied widely.
But, information is power, so here’s some information! Thanks to our contributors ranging from Colorado to Maine to Wisconsin to Florida.
Supers Still Containing Something
We begin with a discussion of filled or partially filled supers.
Why might you have those? Perhaps it wasn’t worth cranking up the extractor for just a few frames that were capped, or you’ve got frames with filled but uncapped cells and you suspect the honey isn’t ripe. Until fully processed by honeybees to the right moisture content, nectar (or unripe honey) contains excess water and natural yeasts which will allow it to ferment.
One beekeeper freezes those; another keeps them in airtight, pest-proof storage bins. They provide them to the bees in the spring. Other beekeepers suggested putting them out on a sunny fall day for open feeding (see last month’s article ‘Super Solution for Cleaning Supers’.) If some of the honey is capped, you may want to scratch open the capping to expedite removal.
Preparing Empty Supers for the Off-Season
The vast majority of our beekeepers prefer to store their empty supers “dry,” meaning the bees had time to lick off any remaining honey.
Many beekeepers clean up their supers by putting them back on the hive, preferably the hive from where they came. The super(s) are placed over the inner cover, under the top cover. This generally keeps bees from refilling them, unless they have no room elsewhere. If that’s the case, you might want to rethink pulling supers! Putting the supers back on the hive also keeps them dry and relatively guarded from marauding animals and other feeding insects.
Remember though, if you’re putting them back on the hive for clean-up, be sure that the bees:
- aren’t yet in their winter cluster formation (cold climates) and
- have a couple of weeks to work them. (You can tell the supers are generally dry when there’s little activity in them (and it is still warm enough for bees to be on them.)
Of course, opinions on this vary widely. Cleo Hogan, a very experienced beekeeper in Kentucky and regular contributor to this newsletter noted that “I have never found it worthwhile to put super above the inner cover for cleaning purposes. Better to sit them out in bright light and let the bees clean them up, then put them away. If you put them on the inner cover the bees will inevitable put some nectar in them.”
Many other beekeepers do as Cleo does and put them out for open feeding, a buffet appreciated by insects from seemingly multiple counties.
Storing Them Wet
Of course, we found a few beekeepers who store their supers wet, by choice. They:
- Enclose them in heavy, black contractor plastic bags or
- Store them in big plastic totes or
- Stack them in an outdoor sheltered area (barn, lean-top, under a porch), sandwiched between two plastic outer covers.
Storing Them At All?
In Southern climes, generally winter is measured in weeks. If a hive is strong, you could place the super(s) back on the hive. However, unless that hive can fend off beetles during these months of a dwindling bee population, you may want to minimize the hive interior and store the supers in a freezer or large plastic bags where beetles can’t get to them.
Kent shared that he stores supers “wet in a shed built just for storing supers and brood boxes.”
I like to keep Para-moth in my storage facility to keep wax moth out as well as mice. I don’t need to use much but by keeping a low concentration year around, I never have problems.
Unfortunately, this made everything in my honey house and workshop smell like moth crystals so about 20 years ago, I built an “airtight” room to contain the smell and segregate the equipment. It helped but everything still had “that” smell. So several years ago, I built a small building away from my honey house for the only purpose of holding supers and brood chambers. I took a lot of care in making sure it was built mouse and moth proof as possible. I added a cocoon of plastic to help contain the vapors and minimize the amount of Para-moth I need to use.
Now the equipment is protected, I minimize the cost and amount of Para-moth used and my workshop and honey house smell delightful.
I am considering putting the supers back on the hives to have the bees dry them out this year. Last year we had a visitation by Small Hive Beetles (SHB). Although their presence was very limited, this made me concerned about storing wet supers. We extract in August and warm weather can extend through early October. Winters kill off SHB in our area but I am concerned that if the right conditions occur, SHBs could do some damage before the cold arrives. Also, storing supers dry makes them easier to handle and do maintenance on. In our area of Wisconsin, putting wet supers on hive doesn’t seem to help get the bees working in supers. They use the supers when they need the room, wet or dry.
Jim, from Georgia:
“After extraction is over, we let the bees clean them up. In several days, after they’re cleaned, to the honey house they go. Any repairs that need to be done, will be fixed at this time. I put one plastic down, with three or four supers on it, then, 12 or 15 moth balls on top of the frames. Then I’ll repeat the process, in that way I can stack them about 12 high. I do hives the same way. Then I put another plastic top on it. In so doing, I have drawn comb ready for the next season.”
Jim added two really good insights:
- He strives to keep the boxes in a good state of repair so they will sit tightly together.
- “About a week before I put them on the hives, I’ll unstack them and air them out, real good.” That’s essential if you’re using Para-Moth.
Illinois, just north of Chicago:
Beekeeper Allen says: “After the supers have been extracted I put them out as far from the hives on my half-acre property as I can where the neighbors still can’t see the feeding frenzy, and let the bees clean.
After a few days, when there is no more activity around the supers, I bring them in the house to spend a day or two in the freezer. My freezer is an upright with food in it, and there is only one shelf available to hold a shallow super, so they have to go in one at a time. Tedious and messy, but I learned the hard way that this is necessary before storing the supers at room temperature in a walk-in closet in the house. They remain in the closet (no wax moths if they have been frozen) until being taken out for next year’s surplus.”
Allen then made a point that all beekeepers need to keep in mind when asking the advice of others. Allen said “It is true that I have been keeping bees for 35 years, but I may not really have 35 years of experience, just one year of experience 35 times.”
Northern New York:
Taylor stores dry supers, starting after Labor Day, in his unheated garage. He admits he’s had wax moth damage over the years, but doesn’t think that the moths have critical numbers before they’re zapped by the cold of November. He noted that the supers are generally dry, so there isn’t much for the moths to live on anyway. (Mice he admits are an entirely different pest, so he surrounds the stacked-on-newspaper supers with traps.)
Beekeeper Sid shared: “Our cleaned supers are stacked inside, with moth crystals placed inside each stack, with a top cover on top of each stack.”