Bees build up reserves for the winter season when food is scarce.
But beekeepers also “steal” honey from the hive before the end of each year.
It’s a careful balancing act between how much you should take and how much to leave the bees 🙂
Obviously, you need to ensure colonies have enough food to see them through the cold winter months.
So the obvious question is this… How much honey should you leave in the hive for winter?
How Much Honey Should You Leave Bees For Winter
A strong bee colony will need 80 pounds or 36 kg of honey for a cold winter. However, temperate winter regions require bees to have a minimum of 60 pounds or 27 kg of honey, and mild winter climates only need colonies to have a minimum of 30 pounds or 13 kg of honey to survive.
Knowing how much honey to leave in the hive at this time of year is an essential aspect of beekeeping to get right. You want your bees to overwinter correctly.
If they don’t have enough resources to see them through the cold months when there is little forage or the bees cannot fly due to poor weather, then the colony is in trouble!
Low reserves mean bees will not have enough food to sustain their numbers, and they will begin to die off. This weakens the colony, and their strength and production capacity will be drastically reduced when spring arrives.
In severe cases, especially in regions of extremely cold winters, the entire colony may die, which is why beekeepers need to check the hive’s winter stores.
When you perform pre-winter hive inspections in the fall, how do you know how much honey to leave in the hive and how to check if the bees have sufficient winter stores?
How Much Honey Does A Colony Need To Survive Winter?
There is no hard-and-fast rule regarding how much honey a colony will require to overwinter successfully. Varying factors make each colony’s winter requirements different.
- How big is the colony? The colony’s size is crucial in how much honey it will need for winter. Larger colonies will require more stores than smaller colonies.
- The severity of your winter. The more severe your wintertime, the more resources the bees will require to keep the hive warm.
- Duration of the winter. Longer winters require more honey stores for the colony to survive.
Due to the differing needs of each colony, I can only give guidelines regarding the amount of honey the colony will need for winter. But these should give you a good rule of thumb. For example:
- A strong colony in a single brood box will need about 80 pounds or 36 kg of honey to survive a cold winter where the bees cannot forage during cold months.
This requirement means the bees should have a full-deep box of honey on top of the brood box to see them through the dearth of winter.
Guidelines For Overwintering Bees In Different Climates
The northern, central, and southern states have very different winter conditions in the USA.
Many of the guidelines below are for harsh winter conditions, but you may not need as much honey stores for your bees in regions with mild climates.
The following is a guide for the quantity of honey stores you should provide for your bees in each climate zone.
- Northern states with cold winters. 80 to 100 pounds or 36 to 45 kg of honey.
- Central states with temperate winters. 60 to 75 pounds or 27 to 34 kg of honey.
- Southern states with mild winters. 30 to 50 pounds or 13 to 23 kg of honey.
In warmer climates, some beekeepers even get away with leaving zero stores at the end of the year. This is because bees continue to forage and collect from winter flowering plants. Use your own judgment and knowledge of your local conditions, or ask around at a regional beekeeping association 🙂
How Many Frames Of Honey Do Bees Need For Winter?
The colony needs about 8 or 9 full frames of honey in the brood chamber for winters in the northern regions. If the brood chamber still has 3 or 4 frames full of brood, you must place a super above the brood chamber so the bees can fill additional frames with honey during the fall.
The number of honey frames your bee colony needs for winter depends on several factors, like the ones discussed above. For example, the colony’s size and how much honey they have in the brood chamber.
Most queens will slow their egg laying down during fall and may stop completely in winter. Consequently, the space in the brood box released by the lower brood production can be filled with honey.
This is why early and mid-fall inspections in your hive are essential. For example, your bees might not have enough honey frames in the brood chamber. In that case, additional honey frames must be provided above the brood chamber.
If you keep your bees in regions with temperate or mild winters, you will need fewer honey frames to see your bees through the winter.
Number Of Honey Supers To Leave Over Winter
Typically, not more than 1 honey super is needed to overwinter bees. In some cases, as in my region, you can overwinter your bees without a honey super.
Knowing when to remove supers is another important detail. (Read my guide on this subject)
If the bees have sufficient stores in the brood box and winter forage is available, they may not need a honey super at all!
If There Are Not Enough Stores – Feed Your Bees
So what do you do if you perform your fall inspections and your bees do not have sufficient reserves to see them through the cold months?
The only solution for the beekeeper is to feed the bees to ensure they will survive and come out of winter strong enough to rebuild the colony.
The best way to feed your bees for winter is with a two-stage strategy:
Feed the bees a sugar water solution early in the fall while the bees are still active until the first frost.
The sugar water solution should be a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water so the bees do not have to work too hard to evaporate the mixture.
Once the first frost has occurred, the temperatures are too low for the bees to evaporate the sugar water and convert it to honey. Therefore, after the first frost, you should feed your bees solid food, such as bee candy.
Bee candy is bee food in solid form. It is a mixture of sugar, water, and protein, created as a thick paste and pressed into a mold to form cakes. (sometimes called patties)
In regions with mild winters, a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water can be used to feed the bees throughout the winter season.
So How Much Honey Is In A Super?
Beekeepers use different size supers on their hives; shallow supers, medium deep supers, and deep or full deep supers.
- A shallow super with 10 frames will generally hold 25 to 30 pounds or 11 to 15 kg of honey.
- A medium-deep super can hold roughly 35 to 40 pounds or 15 to 18 kg of honey.
- A full deep is essentially the same size as a brood box and will have 60 to 80 pounds or 28 to 36 kg of honey.
I only use full-deep and shallow supers in my beekeeping and find that this is the most efficient configuration in temperate climates where the winters are not particularly long or harsh.
How Much Honey Does A Frame Contain?
It can be helpful for beekeepers to know how much honey a single frame can hold, as this will help estimate the total amount of honey in the hive.
- Deep frame. 6 to 8 pounds or 2.8 to 3.6kg of honey per frame.
- Medium-deep frame. 3.5 to 4 pounds per frame, or 1.5 to 1.8kg of honey per frame.
- Shallow frame. 2.5 to 3 pounds of honey, or 1.1 to 1.5kg of honey per frame.
Understanding these weights will allow you to estimate the honey in full, ¾, and half-full frames in the honey super.
How Do You Estimate How Much Honey Is In The Hive?
As you gain beekeeping experience, you can estimate the amount of honey in your hives and supers by performing the “heft” test.
The “heft” test is a “very scientific” method of estimating the honey in the hive! You pick up the hive or super and “heft” it a few times, scratch your head, and guess how much honey is inside!
All joking aside, while this method may not sound remarkably accurate. But experienced beekeepers get to know what a full hive or super feels like and can estimate the amount of honey inside based on the weight of the box.
Beekeepers with less experience should open the hive and check each frame to see how much honey is available. Then, count the number of full honey frames in the brood chamber and the super above.
Multiply the number of full frames by the average weight per frame, and you will have an estimate of the amount of honey in the hive.
A bee colony that comes out of winter strong and healthy will have an advantage once spring arrives. The colony will be more productive and give you a honey harvest after the first nectar flow of the season.
That’s why adequate honey reserves or feeding your bees in winter will keep the colony at maximum capacity in preparation for spring!