beekeeping equipment how to

How and where should I store empty supers?

Over the years I have developed a specific way to store empties, but a lot will depend on how many supers and how much storage space you have. Another issue is pests. Mice and wax moths can be especially hard on stored equipment.

I keep empty bee boxes—with or without drawn comb–in stacks in an enclosed shed. I crisscross the boxes so that each box is at a 90-degree angle to the one below it. This allows the free flow of light and air throughout the stack. I have been told that wax moths do not like light, so a stack with lots of light inside is a good thing. I should mention that my shed (which is really my garden shed) has both windows and skylights. I know this seems like prime real estate for bee boxes, but I don’t use the space much in the winter anyway.

However, it is not a perfect system. Mice don’t seem to mind the light and one year I had mice make nests right in the drawn combs. They made creative use of chicken feathers, wood chips, peat moss, and straw they found in the area, and they munched on the combs that contained honey and pollen. So now I stack the boxes and place mouse traps on all four sides of each column and a few inside the stack on the floor. It’s worked so far.

Beekeepers who must treat their empties for wax moths often stack the supers in line with each other so no light and air can enter. Inside these closed off stacks they place insecticide to kill the wax moths. So again, it depends on your situation. I don’t use pesticides and I’ve managed to keep wax moths at bay by always freezing my honey combs after harvest and by stacking the empties as I’ve described.

The “open stacking” method also inhibits mold growth. One year I stored a few supers that had honey and pollen in them and, in order to keep mice away, I closed up the stack. By spring, the combs smelled moldy and disgusting. Since that time, whenever I have frames with honey or pollen, I give them to an overwintering colony. The bees manage to discourage mice, moths, and mold better than I can, so I let them.

I’ve seen people just stack their supers outside, but around here rain is a problem as well as lots of wildlife—including mammals, birds, and all types of invertebrates (bugs and slugs)—so I keep them inside.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

33 Comments

  • Hi, I have been keeping bees for only two years and I lost my bees this winter. I also was unable to replace them as of yet and decided to just wait until next year. I was able to harvest honey out of a hive body (deep) which I did only two weeks ago. I want to know how to safely store them avoiding wax moths and hive beetle infestations. I do not have an enclosed shed with light. Right now they are sitting , stacked openly, in my garage where currently it is pretty cool. We live in Pennsylvania. There are no pests in there and would like to keep it that way until next April when new bees arrive. I thought about open stacking, bagging and keeping off the ground and deep in my garage. What would you recommend ?

    • Keri,

      If they’ve been empty of bees for more than a few weeks, they probably have no eggs or larvae right now. The trick is to keep them away from adult moths and beetles. Moths are trickier because they can fly into your garage, but you also don’t want to wrap them too tightly or they may mold. If your garage is pretty tight, you are probably fine to just openly stack. Do check on them occasionally. If you develop a problem, you want to catch it early.

      • Thank you for your reply. I have a roll of nylon door screening. Would screening the top and bottom be helpful do you think? Or would it encourage mold?

        • Keri,

          I think screening would work, but still check on them after a couple weeks to be sure they’re dry.

  • Hi there. I need to save and keep my empty combs and I don’t know how to do it. They need a special treatment? Thanks for your help! 🙂

    Best Regards
    Joaquin

    • Joaquin,

      If the combs had brood in them, they may attract wax moths in storage. As I said in the post, I use this storage method for boxes either with or without comb. You can put something like Paramoth in the stack if wax moths are a problem, but they will have to be completely aired out before you use them again. If they don’t have wax moths so far, just keeping them away from moths should be enough.

  • Sept. 14, 2015

    I removed three frames with drawn comb no eggs, no larvae, but a bit of nectar in some combs. I want to store these for use in the spring. Since there are few to store should I put them in the freezer? (Mice are a bit of a problem.) thanks

    • Chritine,

      You can store them in your freezer if you have room. I would just wrap them in plastic, freeze them overnight, and then store the plastic-wrapped frames somewhere the mice couldn’t get them.

  • So is it safe to say – that if you live in a northern climate, that if you leave your supers in the shed and it gets down to -25 or so that it would be a good treatment for Wax Moth?

    • Richard,

      That depends. If the supers already have eggs, you need to freeze them immediately, otherwise the eggs will hatch and the moths do their damage. But certainly as long as it is freezing in your shed, wax moths will not be a problem.

  • Hello Rusty,

    I was thinking since I live in Southern California. After extracting the honey, I will just put them back on the colony. I use a queen excluder, so I won’t have any brood in that super when it is filled again with honey. Is this a good way to keep my supers free of moths and mice? I have no storage, and looking for a good practical solution.
    Thanks,
    Karine

    • Karine,

      It depends. If your colonies are large and strong and policing the supers in winter, you might be okay. If the bees are clustering down in the brood boxes, moths and beetles could move in. Too much space in a winter hive can often be a problem.

  • Thank you all for your suggestions. Could I freeze my empty supers to prevent moths and various disease from affecting the empty combs over the winter? And possibly thaw them out in the spring by placing them in the sun, criss-cross of course?

    I too do not like to use pesticides.

    Thank you.

    • Valeria,

      Freezing will kill wax moths and small hive beetles, but it won’t kill diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. Supers by themselves are not attractive to most parasites unless they contain some kind of food source. Most boxes stacked up away from insects are just fine for the winter without ever being frozen.

  • Rusty,

    I have some frames from my supers that have some brood on them. I’ve heard that I have to get rid of the foundation. Is that necessary?

    Thank you!

    Dawn

    • Dawn,

      I’m not sure I understand your question. Do you mean dead brood? And is the brood in your honey supers or in your brood boxes? If the brood is in your brood boxes, it doesn’t matter. The bees will get rid of it and clean up the frames.

      If the brood is in your supers where you want honey stored, the bees will still clean it up. But if you want clean comb, as for comb honey, you might want to replace the foundation.

  • Rusty,

    The dead brood is in my supers. I went to a beekeeping meeting yesterday and there was a brief discussion on leftover brood (I lost my entire hive to mites) and they seemed to think that American or European foulbrood could occur if I put those frames with brood back in the hive. Color me confused, this is my second year and the education keeps coming!

    Dawn

    • Dawn,

      If you lost your hive to mites and not to foulbrood, you have no reason to worry. I would certainly not remove the foundation because of some dead brood. I would just let the bees clean it up. To prevent buildup of disease spores, it is a good idea to remove used brood combs after about four or five years of use.

  • Rusty,
    I am holding back a couple of frames containing capped ( and uncapped but finished ) honey in order to drop in a hive next spring should stores become severely depleted. Reading your entry and responses to your questions helps, but I am hoping you can weigh in about the choice I have. It’s either storage downstairs in my wood heated basement ( 70+ degrees & low low humidity) or in the unheated attic stacked in front of the window with mice traps set up a small you described. Oh, only a couple of supers are involved.

  • I have 10 hives and after extracting honey I place the supers out for the bees to clean them up. I then had plans to stack them with Para-Moth on top of the supers then wrap the stack with stretch wrap. I’m concerned with mold. Should I treat with Para-Moth for a few days / weeks, air them out then screen the top and bottom of the stack so air can circulate for the rest of the winter. I’m in central Texas. I understand that Moth Crystals wont kill the moths that may get in the supers wile the bees are cleaning them up. Is that a worry?

    • Gene,

      I suspect it’s dry enough in most parts of Texas that mold isn’t much of an issue, but any dampness in an enclosed space could cause a problem. Moths are not usually attracted to supers that never had brood in them, so if your honey supers only ever had honey in them, I don’t think moths are much of a worry. Wax moths are poorly named: what they are really after is bee cocoons.

      I think your best alternative would be to ask local beekeepers who are familiar with both moth and mold problems in your area.

  • Hi! Do you have a picture of how you stack your boxes in the shed? I also have a shed, however, I have not stacked them in a way that allows light in and I am starting to see larvae in the little bits of wax left on the frames.

  • We are thinking about getting a couple of 20-foot shipping containers for storage for our hives and empty frames. Has anyone used these and have any advice? We live in Florida where it is pretty hot. We also have trouble with wax moths.

    • I have no real-world advice on the shipping containers since I’m in the Pacific NW, but you’d want to be sure they wouldn’t get so hot inside that the wax combs distort or melt.

      As far as wax moths go; try spraying the frames you’re going to store with Certan or XenTari. They contain Bacillus thurengiensis ssp. aizawai spores and proteins that will kill wax moth larvae that hatch out on your frames in storage, and it won’t hurt your bees that use the frames later. Just mist them lightly on both sides. Other types of B.t. products sold for use in gardens won’t work because they don’t have the right strain of B.t. to kill wax moth larvae. Stack your boxes of frames on a ventilation screen and put one on top also. This will allow airflow through the stack. Stacking with the boxes aligned normally has kept the mice out of them for me.

    • Dee,

      What I would do is brush the droppings away and then spray each side of the foundation with a solution of bleach and water. Put them in a protected area away from the sun where they can dry completely. Afterward, they will be fine to reuse.

  • Last fall, one of my two hives was attacked by a bear. The colony didn’t survive over the winter, and now I have many frames of capped honey and 2:1 sugar water (a small amount of which contains Honey-B-Healthy). I can’t extract them for human consumption because of the 2:1 and HBH.

    Because of this, I don’t have many empty, built-out deep frames for the package I’m going to receive in two weeks. I intend on giving some of the frames to the existing hive to clean out, but I don’t think they’ll have the time to clean out all the frames. What can I do with the full frames?

    • David,

      Just put them in the new hives in the outermost frame slots. They will give your new packages a great start.

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