Beekeeping is a fulfilling job that requires a lot of patience and skill. Due to the natural behavior of the bees, it’s a lot different to do the job during summer and during winter days, when the bees are hibernating (or moving). You’ll need far more equipment when the colony is active. The question is, how should you store the equipment you don’t need at that moment?
You should always store your equipment in a cleaned state and be careful to protect it from all outside influences. That includes humidity, rain, and other environmental influences, along with protection from pests such as wax moths, rats, mice, etc.
Depending on the piece of equipment, its condition, and the time of the year, you’ll need to store the equipment differently. Some pieces require a full enclosure. Some need to be hung, while you should even freeze some. Without further ado, here’s a complete guide to storing beekeeping equipment efficiently.
What equipment does a beekeeper need?
If you already started your beekeeping experience, you already know that it will consume a lot more of your space than you originally anticipated. I thought it would be enough to have a large cabinet to store my stuff, apart from the makeshift apiary outside 🙂 I was so wrong.
I kept finding my equipment everywhere in my house, so I had to develop a better solution. Now, I have a beekeeper’s shed made to store all my equipment and protect it properly throughout the year. So, what equipment might you need as a beekeeper that takes up so much space?
Well, first of all, the hives. You need carefully designed areas where the bees can build hives and thrive. That’s where they live, where they store honey, reproduce, etc. It’s the most important part of your equipment, but it needs to be modified depending on the seasons.
During winter, you’ll have to remove some frames from the hive to provide the bees with conditions to survive over winter. Some frames become overkill in these situations, so it’s best to store them away properly and have them wait for another season. If your bees go away for the winter, you can store the entire hive, but it’s unnecessary.
Other than the frames, the hive consists of boards, covers, and feeders.
Next, you’re going to need a hive tool. It kind of looks like a spatula, and you’ll use it all the time – to extract honey, remove caps, clean the frames, and virtually any other thing you ought to do around your hives.
Of course, no beekeeper should be stepping foot near their hives without proper beekeeping clothes. The outfit consists of a suit, a hat with a protective face net, and thick gloves that are comfortable and functional to use but provide great protection from bee stings. Footwear is not that important, although I prefer rubber boots because it gets muddy around my hives when it’s been raining.
I highly recommend having a toolbox at hand to keep your tools inside. It’s just a neat way to stay organized, and you’ll need to be extremely organized to be successful in beekeeping.
Finally, you will need a safe shelter to keep everything inside. Opt for a shed (enclosed or not), a basement, or a room of any kind that isn’t humid and exposed to the mercy of environmental conditions. I’ll talk more about proper storage space a bit later.
There are many other invaluable tools you should consider using, such as a feeder with sugar syrup or a smoker to keep the bees calmer and reduce stinging. Still, I wouldn’t consider it basic equipment. Although, they will surely help you out a lot.
Most common problems with beekeeping storage
When it comes to beekeeping related storage, there are tons of problems that may occur. You need to address these problems if you don’t want your beekeeping equipment to be destroyed in storage. But, you can’t ensure safe storage if you don’t know what you’re dealing with.
For instance, many people think that cold will harm your equipment the most, but that’s not exactly true. You’d be better off freezing some pieces of your equipment to save them from other, more dangerous problems, such as wax moths, rodents, mold, etc.
I found wax moths to be the biggest problem for me when storing my frames, be it capped, non-capped, or empty honeycomb. They come to feed and lay eggs into the comb, rendering it unusable. They love dark, warm, humid places, so your storage should be the opposite if you want to avoid them and prevent them from destroying your stored frames and bee boxes.
The sweetness of honey and beeswax will also attract rodents such as rats and mice, so you should ensure you protect your stored equipment from them, too. They will come regardless of temperature if they can find something to eat, so you have to make sure you have traps set up, your frames hung on a string, frozen, or enclosed to keep the rodents away.
To achieve that, many beekeepers choose to set up their stored equipment the same way they would store it when it’s outside in the hives. You stack your frames in the bee box like you would when the colony is the most active. That might work in an open plan storage area (only a roof to make a shelter from the rain), but I found it problematic in my shed.
The lack of airflow and a relatively high temperature caused the appearance of mold when I set up my stored equipment in such a way. It protected the frames and the rest of the equipment from rodents and moths, but the mold and condensation completely destroyed the comb.
Also, don’t fall for the myth that you should store your equipment in a dark place. There is no real reason why you’d want to store it this way. In fact, darkness is what the rodents, wax moths, and other pests thrive in, but they hate light. So, if your storage has enough light, it will help you keep the pests away, which is already halfway to safe beekeeping equipment storage.
To recap, your biggest enemies against safe beekeeping equipment storage are mold and condensation caused by rain, storage humidity, or lack of airflow. Pests like rodents and wax moths are the biggest problem for your bee box and frames, even if the frames are empty, as they love to nibble on the remaining wax and honeycomb. Noone said being a beekeeper was easy 🙂 Even when it comes to storing your stuff!
How to keep your beekeeping equipment safe while stored?
If you recognize the potential problems you might have when storing your beekeeping equipment, it’s easier to tackle them effectively. I want to help you avoid the same mistakes I did because they cost me valuable time and money. Here’s what my beekeeping experience taught me when it comes to storage.
Keep your equipment stored only when thoroughly cleaned
It might seem obvious, but I have to highlight that you should thoroughly clean your equipment before storing it. If there’s residual honey on your beekeeping clothes, frames, tools, or any other type of equipment, it will attract pests that will come to feed on the honey.
Beekeeper’s suit is usually machine-washable, so you shouldn’t have any problems with keeping it clean. I hand wash my hat and veil (protective net) as they are more sensitive, but if the label says they are good to be machine-washed, you can toss them in with the suit.
If you plan to keep capped honeycomb frames in storage throughout winter, I suggest freezing them to kill wax moth larvae or prevent them from ever reaching your sweet treasure. If the wax comb isn’t filled with honey, you should clean it from any residue that might attract unwanted visitors.
Keep your equipment off the ground
Always try to keep your equipment off the ground because it invites problems all around. First, it will attract insects and rodents unnecessarily. All kinds of bugs will find it a nice shelter to reside in, and you don’t want rodents walking all over it either!
The best option would be to keep the equipment on a high shelf. Even better, if you have the option to hang it on the wall or a rope, if it’s possible. I have a line in my shed where I hang my bee suit, with the pockets stuffed with lavender to repel moths. You can also hang clean frames and tools, making them inaccessible to non-flying pests.
Find shelter with roof coverage
It’s not as important to have an enclosure on all sides of your shelter as much as it’s important to have roof coverage. Wind or cold won’t damage your equipment, but rain and snow might. Humid environments tend to cause condensation and mold, and you want to avoid that however you can.
Not only does it damage the equipment, but it renders it unusable. Keep your shelter dry and aerated to prevent environmental influences from affecting your equipment. Whether it’s a shed, a room, or a basement, just make sure it’s not damp and dark.
Keep the storage bright
Wax moths are the culprit behind most of my equipment damage before upgrading my setup to prevent it. I tried everything to keep them away, but the most efficient way to do it is to keep the storage bright. They hate the light and will tend to stay away from well-lit areas.
Of course, the best protection you can have for your honeycomb frames is freezing them. It kills moth larvae before they hatch and keeps the moths away. However, it’s not as cost-efficient because you need to keep the freezer running constantly.
Why should you remove some frames from the hive over winter?
Most bees don’t leave their hives over winter but rather go into “quiet mode” to survive the cold. They will form a winter cluster, using their bodies to keep the hive’s temperature warm enough to survive the winter. They come close together and move very slowly, so most of the hive is unused.
The cluster will move slightly towards food over the winter months, but they don’t go from frame to frame. Also, they won’t leave the hive the entire winter. They can even stop their bowel movement, so they don’t have to go outside. The unused frames should be removed from the hive, and there are several reasons why.
First, if you have just one frame that the cluster doesn’t use, but it remains inside the hive, you can severely drop the temperature inside. You want to provide the perfect conditions for your bees to survive the winter, and removing excess frames will help out a lot. Think of all those extra rooms in your house over Winter! Hard to heat up, right? It’s the same for beehives!
Second, if the hive’s humidity levels get high in the winter months, it provides the perfect environment for mold to grow on the new frames. This can damage the integrity of the hive, so it’s best to prevent it by simply removing them from the hive completely.
However, don’t go overboard and take too many frames out all at once. Your bees use them to store honey and pollen for the winter. They want to spend as little energy as possible during those cold months, and producing more honey takes a lot of energy.
Therefore, you should leave them enough honey inside the hive so that they don’t have to produce new honey, keeping them from unnecessary energy spending.
How to prevent mold and condensation on your frames?
Mold and condensation happen when your storage has too much humidity and too little aeration. The humidity can arise from rain or snow, or the storage you’re using is too damp. It happens in basements and sheds that aren’t aerated properly. There are many options you can go with to prevent that from happening.
I do my winter preparations in a few steps. Each step allows me to safely store a few frames, avoiding mold and condensation on them along the way. First, I remove the excess frames from the hive, leaving enough honeycomb frames inside for the bees to feed over winter.
I have a lot of hives, so I end up with a lot of frames. I harvest as many of them as I need, removing the honey and leaving behind empty wax comb. The ones that you don’t harvest should be taken care of properly.
The best option is to freeze them if you can. It keeps all the pests and environmental factors at bay. If you don’t have a freezer or can’t run it over winter for some reason, you should know how to stack your frames properly to avoid mildew and mold growth. I’ll get into how to store bee boxes properly a bit later.
As for the empty wax frames, there are two things I do with them. First, I put a few back in the hives for the overwintering colony. It takes a lot of energy for the bees to make honey, but it takes even more to make beeswax. Giving them an empty frame won’t cause mold to grow if the hive’s humidity rises, but it will spare them energy if they end up needing another frame.
Finally, I’m only left with a few empty beeswax frames that I need to store. I freeze them too because I have the space to do it, but let’s say you don’t have that option. You should store them inside an empty bee box on a shelf in a dry, well-lit room.
It’ll keep them safe and prevent mold growth, so you can return them to the hives when the winter ends. If your bees don’t have to make new wax, it’ll speed up your first harvest by weeks. If you take things step-by-step, you’ll see that you can ensure safe and productive storage for every piece of equipment you might have with each step.
How do you store a bee box?
As excess frames are removed from the hives over winter, you need to remove excess bee boxes as well. However, you can’t just stack them anywhere, of course. As we learned already, you need to protect them from various pests, especially wax moths. However, it’s not rare to have much bigger animals doing the damage.
Raccoons, possums, and even bears like to get their paws around some nice honeycomb, so insects and rodents might not be the only pests you need to keep an eye out on. Guard the boxes, frames, and other equipment with a fence, or use a closed shed if possible.
Depending on whether there’s honey or drawn comb (empty wax comb) in them or not, you should stack your boxes properly to ensure enough light and air passes through the stack. One option is to stack them just as you would in the hive.
If the conditions of your storage space are adequate (dry, secured, aerated, etc.), it’s a great way to use up the space you have and keep your bee boxes safe. However, I like to stack them a bit differently. I feel like it’s a better way, but that’s just my experience.
Before getting my freezers, I stacked all my boxes in my enclosed, pest-free shed, so the only thing I needed to worry about is mold growth. Therefore, whether they had drawn comb or not, I always stacked my frames at a 90-degree angle to one another. It keeps the air flowing through the entire stack and keeps enough light coming into it too.
I have two big windows on the south side of the shed, so the shed is super bright for as long as the sun is up. However, I found that mice don’t mind light and air (who would’ve thought, right?), as they did hundreds of bucks worth of damage to my open stacks. If you completely close them, it can cause mold, so you need to find another way to keep mice at bay.
I used traps and keeping the stacks in high positions, but my line certainly helped me too, as I hung the excess empty frames up there to free up space in the shed. No method apart from freezing is perfect, I’d say, but it’s great to know what you should keep in mind.
Can you store non-capped honey frames?
Most honeycomb frames that are filled have wax caps, preventing the honey from going out. However, what if you got some frames filled out with honey but aren’t capped? You can still store them, but you don’t have as many options as you have with capped supers.
If you freeze the non-capped honey frames right after retrieving them from the hive, it will prevent the honey from getting out, and you’ll be able to keep it safely stored over winter. Freezing will also keep the honey fresh and prevent crystalization, ensuring high-quality honey even after months of storage.
If you don’t have a freezer, though, your second (and, in my opinion, best) option is to harvest the honey from non-capped frames right away and leave only drawn comb behind. It will spare you the hassle of having to figure out a way to freeze or keep the honey from getting out of the non-capped combs. You’ll avoid the mess and get fresh, best-quality honey you can harvest.
After the harvest, take the drawn comb supers and stack them up as described earlier. You can use the 90-degree stack technique, freeze them, or store them safely using any methods mentioned in the article.
Finally, you can give the non-capped frame right back to the colony. They’ll eat the honey or cap it for safekeeping and harvesting later on. Just make sure you don’t put too many frames back into the hive to prevent mold or temperature fluctuations inside the hive, as it could put the colony in danger.
How do you store a bee suit?
The bee suit is one of the most valuable must-have assets for beekeepers. Depending on the colony, bees can be very protective of their hive, so you’ll need a protective suit to guard you against stings. It guards you, but it guards the bees too. Every bee dies after it stings, as the hook-shaped stings get stuck and virtually disembowel the bee.
A bee suit consists of a full-body suit, a hat with a protective net veil, and gloves. You should make sure that there are no holes or tears on any part of the suit, so proper storage is necessary.
As I already highlighted once, the entire suit should be clean before storage, especially if you won’t use it for a while. Most suits are machine-washable, as well as gloves, but you should hand wash the hat and the veil. If there’s honey residue on the suit when stored, the smell will attract all kinds of animals you don’t want to touch your bee suit.
On a side note, make sure that the veil doesn’t touch your face while you’re wearing it. It’s rare for the bees to sting through the net, but it is possible.
I like to have my suit ironed and hung up to make sure it doesn’t rip or chafe somewhere. If you are going to fold it up and store it in a closet, it’s great too. Just don’t leave it out in the open where pests can attack it, especially not on the floor. If the room is humid, it might cause mold on the suit, especially if there was honey residue on it.
Also, I like to keep lavender bags in the pockets to keep moths away from nibbling on the suit. As I said, it’s important to prevent rips and holes, and moths will do the exact opposite. Other moth-repellents work, such as cinnamon or store-bought closet fragrances.
Should you choose an enclosed or an open beekeeper’s shed?
The choice between an enclosed and an open shed depends on your location and condition. It’s obvious at first sight that an enclosed shed provides more protection from larger animals. If there are bears, foxes, raccoons, or similar honey-loving animals where you live, an enclosed shed is a superior option.
However, having an enclosed shed creates other problems you have to deal with. First, the humidity levels rise when there’s no aeration, which tends to happen in damp, closed spaces. If the humidity is high, it’s harder to keep your equipment safe from mold and condensation. Also, it’ll probably give you less light, which the moths simply love!
In your enclosed barn, you have to ensure enough light coming in if you want to fight the moths effectively. Sure, you can use pesticides, but I find that it just damages the quality of the honey unnecessarily.
You should weigh your options and possible problems to see if an open or enclosed shed is the better option for you. For instance, people living in humid areas with a lot of wildlife should opt for the enclosed shed, while people who live in a dry climate with warm temperatures might be better off with open sheds.