View Full Version : Overwintering with honey super on top - Good, Bad or Ugly?

09-01-2009, 06:17 PM
I was planning to leave a honey super filled, on top of 2 deeps to overwinter the bees - but we bought yet another bee book by the university folks and they say leaving a box with honey is dangerous because the bees might start up there in all that honey and then die from starvation as they won't go down, they only go up. Now I'm wondering if it would be ok if it were a 3rd deep, or is just the idea of having all that honey up there? I thought at first adding a 3rd box, whether a deep or super would create too much space to be heated, but I've read that honey is an insulator and that bees really only heat their immediate space around the cluster...


09-01-2009, 08:18 PM
another bee book by the university folks and they say leaving a box with honey is dangerous because the bees might start up there in all that honey

Please ask the university folks if the bees abandon the brood in the lower boxes when they 'might start up there'.

A 3rd box has been called a food chamber, and is not as uncommon as the university folks might have you believe.

And if the bees somehow end up in the top box in late fall, simply place the top box below the other boxes.

09-01-2009, 09:47 PM
It would be ok to leave a full honey super on the hive over winter. This would give the bees extra insurance for wintering over. But if you use a queen excluder make sure you remove it so the cluster of bee and the queen can move up into the super if they need food. good luck

09-01-2009, 11:21 PM

I gotta ask....sorry for the bluntness of this question

Why would you want to leave honey on when the price of honey is well....good...?

Even if one did not want to use HFCS, there is sugar one can mix up. I can see using honey, if it is not canola honey, to bees if the price was in the toliet, but it is not.
Price out the cost of extracting the honey...
How many # you would get, how much you sell it a pound...
Price out the cost of sugar and mixing sugar syrup...
Price out the cost of feeding honey....How many #'s of honey on the hive and the cost per #

just a thought

Money in the bank by feeding rather than giving them honey to eat.

09-02-2009, 07:02 AM
I'm with honeyshack. I don't leave a honey super on top with honey in it, but I guess if that's what you wanted to do, you could.

But it also depends on your purpose for keeping bees. I keep bees to make honey, and I sell honey to make money (as cold and capitalistic as they may sound). Honey is selling for around $3 a pound (retail, farmer's markets) and I can replace it with 40 cent sugar. To me, the economics outweigh all other considerations. But it depends on why you keep bees.

And don't bother to start down the "honey is more natural than sugar" path. It's already been discussed and dismissed. Search the archives.

I teach a beginning bee class and most of my first-year students have elected not to harvest their honey, but rather leave it for the bees. I suggest they might harvest some, and feed syrup to compensate the need for winter stores. But most of my students are still learning, a little tentative, and somewhat reluctant to push their luck by doing too much the first year.

I can respect that attitude. With more experience, they'll become more confident.

I also have some good old boys in our area that won't harvest their honey. In most of these cases, these guys just keep the bees around as pets. They don't really care about honey production. They don't want to bother feeding. Most times they don't bother the bees at all.

And that's fine. I can respect that attitude as well. But I think they're missing out on one of the best things in life.

Jackson, MO

09-02-2009, 08:15 AM
hello, with that in mind.lets say your favorite food/and only food is?lets replace that with nutritional food "sugar" such as "fries" yes you can live on it but how long?what condition will you be in?you can argue till your face turns blue but your letting others tell you there opinion.On how it effects the bees its the same eventually they become sick and die?If it doesn't matter than remove all your honey and replace with 40 cent sugar!To see if that theory is true.$.bees are "friends /pets/live stock" they help me and i help them.I supply protection,not robbing them to death,bears, etc.They supply me with honey and some money.Also they feed there selves don't get me wrong
if there struggling i will help with feed "sugar" "fries" not all the time and only for short periods of time up to 3 days no longer..Also i make them find/fly to it there selves..I would keep the extra supper on I'm going to do the same..
next year charge more from all the ever increasing valuable honey.no surplus, increase in price leave more honey in the hive.charge more help the bee help your self.:gh:

09-02-2009, 09:23 AM
alright Frank, let me give you my experience
Year 1(2005): 2 hives...100% live winter survival, however 1 hive weak...did not know about pollen sub That year started from packages and averaged 130#per hive
Year 2 (2006): 16 hives...100% live winter survival. Some were nucs purchased in the spring, some from my own hives and survived winter...average 230# per hive
Year 3 (2007): 32 hives all from splits 100% live winter survival average 200# per hive
Year 4 (2008): 147 hives bought a pile of hives. 60% live winter survival...strong hives...75% includes weak hives. Average that year 190# per hive. The reason alot of dead or weak in the spring of 2009 was, the spring (2008) was colder and wetter than normal, followed by severe flooding in the summer and fall. Considerable less flight days than normal, holed up in the hive. Followed by one of the coldest winters on record...-40C for more than 6 weeks. Followed by a cold wet delayed spring this year. That saw colder spring than normal not allowing for bee flights and no early spring flowers and me doing a stupid thing with the bees early inthe spring. That stupid thing was to put pollen patties on, and cause the patties were thicker than the lid allowed, i thought with them being wrapped they would be ok with a wee bit of space. However, temps dipped to -30C for over a week and then -10 to -20C when it should have been above 0. At the time however, when i placed the patties on, there was 100% live rate and good strong bees. I froze them while they were trying to save the brood.

Year 1-4 all got sugar syrup. 5-7 gallons of 2:1 in the fall and about 2 of 1:1 in the spring. Pulled all honey from the top brood box
Year 5: HFCS and all live early April. In the fall 5-7 gallons and in the spring about 6 gallons due to the delayed cold spring and 3-4 ppounds of pollen patties and about 2-3 ice cream pails per yard on the bee pro powder.
My bees survived real fine on the syrup and would have done better on the HFCS had the weather not played a role and had the beekeeper..me..not pulled a boner!

Neighbor down the road uses sugar syrup and has a maxium of 5% losses per year
The guy who supplies us with the HFCS and uses the same thing for years had about 5% loss rate on his hives last year.

Michael Bush
09-02-2009, 06:01 PM
As long as the super is full of honey and there is no excluder it should work fine.

09-02-2009, 07:40 PM
I often have a super on top. Sometimes I think they just need it. Other times, it's got brood in it so I don't pull it. I don't have any more problems than I do with hives that winter over without a super. I've had starvation deadouts in each instance so it's less to do with the super as it is with the overall strength and condition of the colony.

09-02-2009, 09:31 PM
Honeyshack and Grant, I understand the financial incentive to harvest the honey and feed them sugar.

The question that I have not yet heard answered is that 1 pound of sugar is converted to 1 pound of honey. So far, I have fed my bees 2,600 pounds of sugar to 42 hives and I think that I got monstrous hives out of it. I know that they converted some of the sugar into honey, but I don't believe that I got 1 pound of honey for each pound of sugar that I gave.

I did feed them in a nectar dearth though so some of the sugar syrup was converted to food. Also, I was having them build from foundation instead of using existing comb as I didn't have any.

So in your experience, once the wax has been made that they convert equal pounds of sugar into equal pounds of honey. Thanks.:)

09-02-2009, 10:09 PM
Why would you want to leave honey on when the price of honey is well....good...?

Around here, you don't make hay after September 15th, even if the price of hay is well..good. If you cut hay after September 15th, the stand doesn't have enough time to recover before winter hits. Next year, your stand will be very poor. The extra money you made from the post Sept 15 hay won't be sufficient to offset the losses in hay crop the following year.

Bees build up the following spring faster if they still have that extra food chamber of honey. The question is if leaving a super of honey will result in more than an additional super of honey the following year. (I know - a super of honey this year may have a different $ value than a super next year. You'll have to take that into account also.)

My recommendation would be to leave some hives an extra super of honey/capped sugar syrup, and have those hives right beside some hives you overwinter normally. Compare overwintering success and compare yields the following year and see if the yield justifies leaving the additional honey.

On the other hand, if what you are doing works for you, and you are happy with the success, keep doing what you are doing. You don't have to fix (or try to improve) something that isn't broken. You never go broke taking a profit, and if you can make a profit the way you are doing things, you are on the right track.

07-21-2016, 09:04 AM
So, if you don't have a super FULL then you should take super off & use sugar board if necessary? What happens if the super ain't full? Just curious. Thanks!

Hogback Honey
07-21-2016, 09:19 AM
I'm sure my winters are not as cold or as long as yours, but I run double deeps and a med super all year round. They do end up laying in that super, but it gives them more food in the spring. I hardly had to feed at all this last spring, the two hives I had this spring were just fine coming out of winter.

07-21-2016, 09:47 AM
I'm not open to debate on this one - bees do better with/on honey than anything else. PERIOD. and I have seen it both ways. Will they survive on HFCS or sugar yes. But thrive ? Also I overwinter with my honey supers on every year

07-21-2016, 11:38 AM
I was told that in colder climates the problem with leaving a super on is that in the coldest part of winter the bees may not be able to move up to take the honey in the top because they need to keep enough bees in the brood chamber to keep it warm. It's not a honey vs. syrup issue, just one of distance and temperature. It also depends on the population, not right now, but in the coldest part of winter. Sugar boards right over the brood chambers supposedly make it easier to conserve heat and avoid starvation. I know a couple of local beekeepers who have said that sugar boards saved their hives during the unusually prolonged cold snap we had this winter.

07-21-2016, 11:47 AM
what brood nest in the winter? End of Nov. my queens turn off totally until around first of Jan. No brood at all

07-21-2016, 12:03 PM
If your queen started laying again in PA in January, that would be in the coldest part of winter. I've got nothin' but book learnin' on winter brood production, but here are a few reputable sources:

"The bee colony appears to be dormant all winter. They don't fly unless the temperatures get up around 50 F. But actually the bees maintain heat in the cluster all winter and all winter the colony will rear little batches of brood to replenish the supply of young bees. These batches take a lot of energy and the cluster has to stay much warmer during them. The colony takes breaks between batches." (http://www.bushfarms.com/beesbasics.htm)

The queen stays within the cluster and moves with it as it shifts position. Colonies that are well supplied with honey and pollen in the fall will begin to stimulatively feed the queen, and she begins egg laying during late December or early January-even in northern areas of the United States. This new brood aids in replacing the bees that have died during the winter. The extent of early brood rearing is determined by pollen stores gathered during the previous fall. In colonies with a lack of pollen, brood rearing is delayed until fresh pollen is collected from spring flowers, and these colonies usually emerge from winter with reduced populations. The colony population during the winter usually decreases because old bees continue to die; however, colonies with plenty of young bees produced during the fall and an ample supply of pollen and honey for winter usually have a strong population in the spring. https://agdev.anr.udel.edu/maarec/honey-bee-biology/seasonal-cycles-of-activities-in-colonies/