In the wild, bees will naturally store the honey they need for winter, but as a beekeeper how much honey should you leave bees for winter?
Of course, you don’t want to leave too much or too little honey, but a good rule of thumb is to leave a honey box the same size as the brood box.
The simplest guideline is to leave a honey box that’s the size of the brood box, as previously mentioned. If you have a 10-frame deep brood box, leave a deep 10 frame box of honey. If you have an 8 frame medium brood box, leave an 8 frame medium honey box.
How much honey your bees will need varies based on the hive and weather conditions. Bees in northern climates will need 80-90 pounds of honey or a deep 10 frame box of honey.
Central climates will require 60-80 pounds of honey or a deep 8 frame box. Southern climate bees can get by with 40-60 pounds of honey. A shallow 10 frame contains about 40 pounds of honey.
Honey Weight by Frame
It’s possible to calculate exactly how many pounds of honey your frames yield. You’ll need to weigh your frames with and without honey. Subtract the difference, and you have an exact weight of honey. However, it’s much easier to follow these general guidelines.
A full deep frame contains about 8 pounds of honey. A medium frame will hold about 6 pounds of honey. You can use these calculations to decide how many frames of honey you should leave for your bees.
You can also use these weight calculations. A 10-frame deep box weighs 70-90 pounds. A medium 10 frame provides about 40-50 pounds, and a shallow 10 frame weighs 40 pounds.
A deep 8 frame box weighs 60 pounds. A medium 8 frame weighs 45-50 pounds, and a shallow 8 frame will provide 40 pounds of honey.
Why Bees Need Honey in Winter
Humans love honey. For us, it is a luxury. For bees, it is a necessity. They spend so much of their life making and storing honey because this is their food supply. Bee larvae are fed royal jelly for a few days, and then they have a diet of honey. So, honey is the bee’s primary way of feeding their young.
It may seem like bees are inactive during the winter, but they are actually hard at work. They huddle together in what’s known as a winter cluster.
Then, they begin to shake their flight muscles. They keep their wings still, but the movement from the muscles helps keep the colony warm. It’s very similar to humans shivering when they are cold.
Bees require food for energy. Without food, they can’t perform their necessary tasks. In warmer months, they need energy for flying and honey production. In the winter, all their energy is devoted to shivering. Honey provides them with the calories and energy they need to keep going during this time.
Factors That Effect Honey Needs
There are many factors that affect how much honey the hive will need. In fact, it’s impossible to determine exactly how much honey a hive will consume during winter.
The temperatures throughout the winter, the size and health of the hive, and how well insulated the hive is will all impact how much honey your hive will require.
It’s actually quite similar to determining your own family’s food needs. If you try to plan how much food your family will consume over the winter, you’ll have a general estimate at best.
Having people over for dinner, eating out, and simply skipping a meal will all impact your food consumption. Over the course of months, this can leave you with a significantly different number than you expected.
Getting it Right
How do you get a better idea of how much honey your bees need? If you are new to beekeeping, it’s a great idea to talk to experienced beekeepers in your area. They can give you a better estimate than general guidelines.
It can also be helpful to keep records of how much honey you leave for each hive. Once winter is over, note any discrepancies. Did the bees need more honey than you provided? Was there a significant amount left over? This can help guide your choices in the next year.
What Happens if You Leave Too Little Honey?
The good news is that your bees will not automatically starve if you don’t leave enough honey. The bad news is that it is more work for you to feed them through the winter, rather than allowing them to live on honey stores.
If they run out of honey, you’ll need to feed your bees until the nectar starts flowing again in spring.
Assuming that you have no more honey to provide your bees, or their honey stores are running low, you can supplement it with table sugar. Do not feed the bees honey from other hives.
This includes honey from the supermarket, and honey from other beekeepers in the area. Feeding honey from other sources can spread diseases like foulbrood.
In some cases, you can feed your bees dry sugar. If there’s plenty of moisture due to condensation, or water nearby, this can work well. Keep in mind that very cold temperatures will prevent your bees from leaving the hive for water, so it’s best to use a sugar syrup during winter.
Sugar syrup should also be used if the colony isn’t strong, or if the honey stores are very low. If the bees are at starvation level, they will be weak. Sugar syrup should be provided until they are strong enough to gather water for dry sugar.
Sugar syrup can be mixed in a one to one ratio of sugar and water. In winter, most beekeepers recommend a stronger syrup of two parts sugar and one part water.
If you are concerned your bees don’t have enough honey stored to get them through winter, provide sugar during the autumn. They will store the extra sugar just as they do honey. This will help them get through the winter months.
This can be a common problem during the first year of a hive. Most colonies don’t make enough honey to harvest in their first year, and they may struggle to make enough to get them through the winter as well.
What If You Leave too Much Honey?
There’s really no issue with leaving an overabundance of honey in the wintertime. However, you shouldn’t leave a surplus during spring. If there’s too much honey when the nectar begins to flow, the bees may begin using the brood box for honey storage.
Without enough room to store honey and raise a brood, they may begin putting honey in any crevice they can find. They may also swarm because there isn’t enough room in the hive.