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. Or maybe it wasn’t until the end of the season that you removed supers, and they weren’t entirely filled or capped.
I asked dozens of beekeepers what they do, hoping to find some “best practices” for particular geographic areas. I got dozens of answers, and even the answers from beekeepers who were practically neighbors varied widely.
Supers Still Containing Something
We begin looking at filled or partially filled supers.
Why might you have those? Maybe you figured 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 honey bees to the right moisture content, nectar (or unripe honey) contains excess water and natural yeasts which will allow it to ferment.
One beekeeper might freeze those; while another keeps them in airtight, pest-proof storage bins. Some might provide them to the bees in the spring, while others suggested putting them out on a sunny fall day for open feeding. 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 clean 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, an experienced beekeeper in Kentucky and regular contributor to our newsletter noted that “I have never found it worthwhile to put a 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 inevitably put some nectar in them.”
Storing Them Wet
Of course, we found a few beekeepers who choose to store their supers wet. They recommend
- Enclosing them in heavy, black contractor plastic bags or
- Storing them in big plastic totes or
- Stacking them in an outdoor sheltered area (barn, lean-to, under a porch), sandwiched between two plastic outer covers
Storing Them At All?
In Southern climes, winter is generally 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 from Wisconsin
Kent stores supers wet, in a shed built just for this purpose. “I like to keep Para-Moth in my storage facility to keep wax moths 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 I built a small building away from my honey house for the sole purpose of holding supers and brood chambers.
I took a lot of care in making sure it was built as mouse and moth proof as possible, then added a cocoon of plastic to help contain the vapors and minimize the amount of Para-Moth I need to use.”
“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), which made me concerned about storing supers wet. 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 maintain. In our area of Wisconsin, putting wet supers on hive doesn’t seem to help get the bees working. 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 necessary repairs will be done at this time. I put one piece of 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 piece of plastic top on it. In doing so, 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
- He unstacks his supers to air out about a week before he puts them on the hives
Taylor from 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.)
Sid from Michigan:
Beekeeper Sid shared: “Our cleaned supers are stacked inside, with moth crystals placed inside each stack, and with a top cover on top of each stack.”
Allen from Illinois, just north of Chicago:
Beekeeper Allen says: “After extracting, I put the supers 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. The supers 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 great point about asking for advice. He 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.”