How Much Honey Is Enough?

  • 4 min read

Honey stores and winter success

How much honey do you need to leave in the hive?

Winter is the quiet season for bees and beekeepers. Instead of weekly hive checks, disease treatments and honey harvesting, you can leave your bees alone for most of the season. The colony reduces in size, stops collecting nectar and goes into a sort of hibernation, huddling together to keep warm. Without new
blooms or nectar supplies, they rely on the honey they’ve stored over summer to survive.

That’s where you come in. To set up your bees for winter success, it’s crucial to leave enough honey in the hive when you do your end-of-summer harvest. Take too much honey, and they could struggle to survive
the winter.

But how much honey do they need? There’s no single guideline that works for every hive – it depends on the climate in your area, the average temperature over winter, the timing of spring blooms and even the ventilation in your hive.

Key considerations:

General honey guidelines

Bees in colder climates need more honey to get them through the winter, because they need more energy to keep themselves warm – and because winter tends to drag on for longer. In warmer climates, where spring blooms come earlier and temperatures are less harsh, it’s different. If you’re in the upper North Island of New Zealand or the northern half of Australia, for example, your bees won’t need quite as much honey to get through.

Warm to moderate climate: 18-27 kgs, or 6-8 full frames

Cool to cold climate: 36-40 kg, or 8-12 full frames

Whatever the climate, it’s a good idea to leave more than you think your bees need, rather than the bare minimum. In other words, round up to the next frame. While you can supplement with sugar syrup or cakes later in winter, it’s easier – and better for your bees – to rely on natural honey stores.

Honey calculations

Leaving 40 kgs of honey sounds straightforward – but how do you measure honey without removing it from the hive? The key is to carefully count full frames and calculate for different depths and sizes. Generally, a deep frame holds about 4 kgs of honey when it’s full, while a medium frame holds around 3 kg. As a rough guide, a full super with 10 deep frames will contain around 40 kgs of honey – enough for colonies in most climates. Make sure you lift every frame out to check that it’s full before adding it to your tally. Your brood and pollen frames may also contain some stored honey – treat these as a bonus, rather than trying to calculate the weight of every small section.

Set up for success

The layout of your hive can also be a factor for winter success. In most cases, you’ll naturally reduce the size of the hive by removing one or two full supers during the harvest, leaving two boxes. This smaller size is easier for bees to heat and defend during winter. Then, ideally, you’ll have a lower box with brood on the centre frames, with pollen and honey frames at either side. The top box should be full of honey frames. In warmer climates, you can get away with using a medium, rather than a deep, top box. Setting up your hive this way helps ensure the health of your brood – bees will often stick to the brood box for much of winter, only moving up to the second box later in the season. If you leave them with no honey or pollen in the lower box, they could struggle to survive.

When to supplement

Supplemental feeding isn’t always needed, but it’s a good backup option for a lean or chilly year. Some beekeepers are against using artificial sources of feed – but if the alternative is a lost hive, they’re worth considering.

Supplementing in Autumn

If summer has been particularly wet or cold, your bees may not have had the chance to store enough honey. Check the guidelines above, and consider feeding sugar syrup if a hive doesn’t have enough stored honey to get them through. You can also choose to move full frames between hives, or feed with honey
from previous years.

Supplementing in spring

Supplemental feeding is more common in spring. Check hives towards the end of winter, looking closely at stored honey and brood. If honey supplies are slim and there’s little to no capped brood visible, you might need to feed with sugar syrup.

You’ll need 1-2 litres to have an effect – smaller amounts probably won’t make much difference. Feeding with sugar syrup can help your bees increase brood and set themselves up for a busy spring the following year.

Put honey on your winter prep list

Leaving ample honey in the hive is just one part of your winter prep checklist. Reducing hive size, reducing entrances, weatherproofing, disease treatments – the list goes on. It’s about making it as easy as possible for your bees to survive the colder months – so they’re ready to thrive next spring.

Want to know more about setting your hives up for winter? Take a look at our Winter Prep blogs here.