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Honey Stores Part 1: How Much do Bees Need for Winter in Australia?

Today on The Buzz, we take a closer look at the amount of honey stores you should leave in your beehive for the Australian winter.

Not providing enough honey stores for winter is one of the most costly and common mistakes of beekeeping. According to the Australian Beekeeping Guide, there has to be enough honey in the hive to carry the colony through winter and early spring. Bees eat honey as their carbohydrate food. Without enough, they will struggle to stay warm in their winter cluster.

A General Guide to Winter Honey Stores in Australia

  • You should be monitoring and checking your hive frequently until the end of April/early May to makes sure your bees are building up stores. Remember, if your winters are very cold it’s even more important to feed them sugar syrup now.
  • According to the Australian Beekeeping Guide, experienced beekeepers can get a good estimate of honey stores by lifting the back of the hive to check its weight. Or, the entire weight of the hive can be determined using a spring balance.
  • A more accurate method for beginner beekeepers is to briefly open the hive on a still, fine day when the bees are flying well.
  • Just check one or two combs adjacent to the cluster. The combs do not have to be entirely lifted out of the box.
  • Generally, a healthy colony needs at least 18kg of winter honey stores. A Langstroth full-depth frame, full of sealed honey comb contains an average of 2.2 kg of honey. So do the maths – you’ll need at least 8 frames for winter depending on the colony size.
  • Or, to be winter-ready, a single-box hive should weigh between 24 kg to 30 kg in total, according to Amazing Bees
  • A single box 8 frame hive may not hold enough honey to feed a strong colony through the winter, so you may need to leave a double.
  • The Department of Primary Industries NSW advises that strong colonies should be reduced to doubles (two boxes) with one box nearly full of honey.
  • If the colony is on the weaker side, it is best to reduced to a single brood box.
  • Opinions do differ between beekeepers about leaving one or two boxes. What is best may vary due to local conditions. So, again it’s a good idea to seek advice from an experienced local if you are unsure.
  • Check with a local expert if you’re unsure of your hive’s specific honey store needs.

Can you leave frames of unsealed honey?

  • Don’t leave frames of unsealed honey, unless they have very small quantities of unsealed comb that is surrounded by sealed comb. Unsealed honey will take up moisture and ferment.
  • If you are in a very wet or humid climate, seek advice from an experienced local first before leaving any unsealed comb.
  • If you do leave any frames with small amounts of unsealed comb, these should be placed at the centre of the brood box. This is where bees are likely to cluster, so those stores should be used up first.
  • Combs of honey near the outside of the cluster should be completely sealed.

How to store frames as emergency feed:

  • Place the combs in a sealed plastic bag and freeze them for at least 24 hours to kill all-cycle stages of wax moth and small hive beetle.
  • Then, keep these bagged combs in a dry, rodent-proof environment.
  • Note that the honey in these frames may sometimes crystallize. Honey bees will still consume such frames, but you won’t be able to extract honey from these if they don’t get used.

Time is running out in many parts of the country to check and prepare your hives before winter. As it gets cooler, any sunny days within the next couple of weeks may be the last opportunity before spring!

beekeeping Australia how much winter honey stores

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