Leaving Enough Honey & How It Helps Your Hive Survive
In this lesson, you’ll learn more about the first principle of hive wintering: Make sure your bees have enough food. You’ll discover how much honey you need to leave for your bees and why you need to leave that amount.
We’re always sad to hear when beekeepers lose their bees because we know how hard that loss is.
One of the pieces of bad advice we constantly see the old-timers giving to new beekeepers is taking too much honey at extraction time. Whether driven by the greed of wanting more honey or disregard for the needs of the bees, this practice is unfortunately far more common than it should be.
Just like humans or any other animal, your bees need to eat. Without enough food, they don’t stand a chance at surviving the winter. In fact, the #1 reason that hives die off during the winter is starvation.
In other words, beekeepers take too much honey when extracting which doesn’t leave enough honey for the bees. Because bees can’t produce honey during the winter, they run out of their food supply which ends up killing them.
If you're worried about how much honey you're leaving, you can always forgo extracting your honey this year. There is nothing wrong with leaving all of the honey for your bees to make sure they get through the winter.
In fact, this is a better practice than taking too much honey. If you have to err on one side or the other, err on the side of caution.
We understand how exciting it is to extract your own honey at the end of the season. However, to give your bees the best chance, you’ve got to extend your view from just extracting at the end of this season.
Fortunately for beekeepers, the fix for this problem is very simple: put aside your greed at extraction and leave enough honey for your bees.
How Much Honey Do I Need To Leave for My Bees?
So how much honey do you really need to leave for your bees? We recommend leaving the following amounts:
Hive Body Frames
Lbs. of Honey
We recommend that you leave at least 2 hive bodies (deeps) full of honey if you live in a climate that gets below freezing during the winter time. Leaving only supers or one hive body full of honey is almost never going to be sufficient.
*Note: If you live in a warmer client (e.g. Florida) that doesn't get below freezing, you may be ok to only leave 1 hive body full of honey. However, if you want to play it safe (a practice we always recommend) leave at least 2 hive bodies on your hive.
If you live in a colder climate that has a longer winter (e.g Wisconsin), you might need to leave more than two full hive bodies
Another way that you can think about the amount of honey you need to leave is in terms of frames. In this context, you should try to leave 20 hive body frames of honey for your bees.
Whether you count by hive bodies or frames, it will come out to about 200 lbs. of honey. As long as you leave that much, your bees should have enough food to last till flowers come out in the spring.
*Note: You often need to feed your bees sugar water to get them through the last days or weeks of the early spring. You will need to feed them as soon as it’s warm enough for them to fly.
Sometimes flowers come out late in the spring so you want to make sure to keep your bees alive until they can sustain themselves. You can end the sugar water feedings once there are enough flowers out to give them a balanced diet.
Can I Extract More Honey From Really Productive Hives?
If you have an unusually productive hive, it may be very tempting to try to bypass the rule we just established. After all, if your bees are really active, they should be able to make a comeback faster than an average hive right?
Not, quite. You should ALWAYS leave the 200 lbs. regardless of how well your hive appears to be doing. Here’s why:
If you take too much honey, that can be the tipping point between life and death for your hive even if they are doing really well initially.
Broaden your perspective to take in a long-term view. It’s always better to extract less honey if it means keeping your bees alive for the next year. If you will always live by this rule no matter what, you’ll be well on your way to giving your bees their best shot at surviving the winter.
In the next lesson, you’ll discover more about how to make your hives strong enough to last through the winter.