Being able to collect honey is one of the more pleasant aspects of beekeeping. It is probably not a stretch to say that more than one amateur beekeeper got into the hobby specifically out of a desire to have access to free honey. The fascinating thing is understanding how important honey is to the bees themselves. That importance underscores the equally important task of figuring out how much honey to leave in your hives at the end of the summer.
If you are a first-year beekeeper, you are probably wondering how much honey is enough to get your hives through the winter. Don’t stress. It is a pretty common question among those new to the hobby. And if you don’t get the right answer, it’s not the end of the world. You can still feed your bees manually if you discover you have not left enough honey.
As a general guide, in warmer climates you should probably leave behind about 40 pounds of honey for a hive of average size (let’s call ‘average’ a full hive occupying a 10-frame deep box). In moderate climates that experience some colder temperatures, 60 pounds of honey is the general rule. In extreme environments where harsh winters are possible, 90 pounds or more is the recommended amount.
The Purpose of Honey
Before I get to a discussion of how much honey to leave for winter, let’s first talk about the purpose of honey. Suffice it to say that nature did not begin producing honey solely for the benefit of human beings. In its natural state, honey is food for the bees that produce it.
The beauty of honey is that it is calorie rich. Just one tablespoon of honey contains 46 calories along with additional nutrients that are healthy to both bees and human beings. Bees produce honey throughout the spring and summer. What they do not consume gets stored in honeycombs for future use. That much you know because you have observed your bees stocking up.
The challenge for honeybees is the fact that they have very little means of producing honey come winter. Without access to flowers and nectar, they lack the raw materials for honey production. This is why they store so much for the winter. They make excess during the summer so that they have plenty of food during the winter.
Every Hive is Different
Moving on to the question of how much honey to leave behind, there are some generally accepted rules that will be discussed later on. Those rules are just guidelines, though. What must be understood is that every hive is different. You can follow the general rules for all of your hives only to discover that you left too much honey in one and too little in another.
Trying to pinpoint how much honey a hive will need to get through the winter is no different than trying to pinpoint how much food your family will consume during that same period. There are a ton of variables you just cannot account for.
Your total winter food consumption is going to depend on a lot of things. For instance, how often will you skip dinner at home in favor of eating out or going to a family member’s house to eat? How often will you have guests over to your house during the 12 weeks of winter? Will you be cooking less this year because your family got smaller over the summer?
Bee hives are subject to different variables, but the point is still the same. The amount of honey any one hive will need can be influenced by everything from the number of bees in the colony to how well a hive is insulated and the temperature fluctuations your local area will experience throughout the winter. In short, there is no way to know for sure. You just have to estimate based on the generally accepted rules and the size of your hives as compared to what is considered average.”
The Generally Accepted Rules
A quick search of the internet reveals some numbers that act as a good starting point. As I mentioned right at the beginning of this article “in warmer climates you should probably leave behind about 40 pounds of honey for a hive of average size (let’s call ‘average’ a full hive occupying a 10-frame deep box). In moderate climates that experience some colder temperatures, 60 pounds of honey is the general rule. In extreme environments where harsh winters are possible, 90 pounds or more is the recommended amount.”
If you are not sure of where your climate falls on this 3-step scale, you’re better off erring on the side of caution. It is better to leave too much honey than not enough. As for weighing the honey, you can pull out your frames and weigh them individually or just work on general estimates.
How Can You Know the Weight of the Honey?
A typical deep frame can hold about 8 pounds of honey when full. A medium frame holds about 6 pounds. That means you are looking at leaving behind about 10 frames of a typical deep box if you live in an extreme environments with harsh winters.
If you are still unsure, take an empty frame and put it on a scale. Then weigh a full frame and do the math. Subtracting the weight of the empty frame from the weight of the full frame will tell you exactly how much the honey comb and honey weigh together.
As a general rule, honey weighs about seven times as much as honeycomb. For every 8 pounds of total weight, you have 1 pound of honeycomb and 7 pounds of honey. Just take your total weight and divide it by eight and you’ll know roughly how much the honeycomb weighs.
Check Your Brood Boxes
One last thing to note: do not make the mistake a lot of first-year beekeeper’s make by not checking their brood boxes. It’s not wise to assume brood boxes are full just because supers are. It doesn’t work that way. More often than not, bees do not begin moving honey to the brood box until late fall. You have to check brood boxes to see how much honey is there before you decide what to do with your supers.
Taking too much honey when brood boxes are not full could put your bees in a precarious position. Not only will adult bees struggle for lack of food, but eggs and larvae down in the brood box will also have a much tougher time as well. Enough said on that.
If all else fails and you absolutely don’t know what to do, look around your local area and see if there are more experienced beekeepers willing to help you. If they won’t come and give you a hand collecting honey, they might at least be willing to advise you on how much to leave.
Lastly, do not discount the internet. This article is just one among hundreds of articles discussing how much money to leave for the winter. A little time spent researching the subject should yield at least some of the answers you’re looking for.