Nectar Storage & the Honey Ceiling 

In most places throughout the U.S., by early June the spring nectar flow has begun, and honeybee colonies are out working efficiently to bring nectar back to their hives.

Honeybees use nectar in a variety of ways, but most notably by storing it for future use. They remove excess water by fanning the nectar and then cap the comb to keep the honey safe inside the capped cells.

Nectar and honey are used to provide carbohydrates and energy to honeybees. They can also convert nectar to wax which can help them to build out comb for brood or nectar storage cells.

When Nectar Storage Can Become a Problem

Most beekeepers think of their honeybees bringing in nectar to be converted into honey and think “The more the merrier!” and though this way of thinking does make sense, that’s not always the case.

The nectar flow often coincides with an increase in brood rearing activity. As more pollen and nectar resources become available to support them, honeybee colonies will increase their brood rearing activity.

Though beekeepers also hope that honeybees will store that influx of nectar in the “honey supers” provided, that’s not always the case. Bees will first store nectar at the top of frames inside the brood nest, to keep the resources as close to the brood as possible.

With increased brood rearing comes increased egg-laying for the honeybee queen. If nectar is filling much of the space in the hive, especially in the brood nest boxes, she won’t have ample room to lay her eggs.

This situation is described as “honey bound” and can limit the colony’s growth and lead to an increased risk of swarming.

What is a “Honey Ceiling”?

The term “honey ceiling” refers to a storage predicament inside a honeybee hive. When a thick layer of capped honey is stored in the upper part of the frames in the top box of the brood nest, honeybees often see this layer of capped honey as a barrier to any potential open space above it.

The capped honey provides a “ceiling” that bees feel they cannot cross, even if an empty super box with drawn comb to store honey in is above them.

Prevention & Management of the Honey Ceiling

A beekeeper can help ensure bees can easily access all available storage space within their hive by paying close attention to the frames inside both the brood nest and honey supers. Use these considerations to determine how you may need to approach the honey ceiling within your hive.

  • Managing the brood nest – Help manage the brood nest and remaining hive space by making sure the queen has enough room to lay eggs and for bees to store honey. Keep an eye on the frames in your brood boxes and ensure you have additional supers on hand before the nectar flow is on so that you can provide them with enough storage space before the brood boxes are full.
  • Scrape off some honey cappings – Scrape the “honey ceiling” in a few of the center frames in the top brood box, so bees can move honey away. They will not touch capped honey, but easily will move oozing honey where they need it. By scraping away some of the cappings from stored honey cells, bees become more interested in not only repairing those cells, but potentially examining what’s above it. They see the scraped cells as a “channel” through which to pass through the honey ceiling.
  • Replace full nectar and or honey frames – If you have both a “honey ceiling” and “honey bound” problem, you can replace frames full of nectar/honey with frames that have drawn comb or empty foundation. Then, bees can make more space for the queen to lay eggs. Once removed, you can freeze the honey frames for later use, extract it (assuming that there’s no brood on those frames) and use it to feed the bees, move it to a weaker colony, or if there is no brood, you can even move it above the queen excluder into supers for later extraction.
  • Add a full honey frame to a new, empty super – Just like adding beeswax to a frame can help bees become interested in building comb, adding a frame of honey (with some scraped-off cappings) to an empty honey super can get bees interested in the space. Once they find the “bait” frame of honey, they’ll realize there’s lots of empty space around it to start building comb and storing more nectar.
  • Keep up with regular hive inspections – Completing frequent hive inspections allows you to pay close attention to the space that bees are utilizing for both brood and storage space and to make changes as needed to provide more space or show them that it already exists.

All in all, managing your colony’s nectar storage and any honey ceilings can be easy, just keep a close eye on your colonies’ storage space and what’s happening in and around your hives. If the nectar flow is on but your bees aren’t using all the space they have available, check for a possible honey ceiling and scrape some cappings to give them more storage access!

You should always keep in mind that brood (typically deep) boxes are meant for brood, not honey. At least 70% of brood boxes should be available for brood rearing and use honey supers for bees to store extra honey.

Keep an eye out for a future PerfectBee Snippet where we’ll dive even deeper into further management of your beehive boxes and supers.

Learn More

We’ve put together a list of some free PerfectBee resources on managing space and the nectar flow, brood boxes, and more that relate to this Snippet for your reference:

  • What Bees Need – Knowing what bees need is always important when it comes to managing your bees’ storage space.  
  • Managing Hive Capacity – In addition to keeping an eye out for the honey ceiling, there are other ways to manage your hive’s storage capacity. Learn more in our article.  
  • Why Honeybees Swarm – Though the honey ceiling isn’t always a reason for bees to swarm, it can sometimes contribute to the inclination for a colony to swarm. Learn more about why bees swarm with our Snippet.  
  • Recognizing and Avoiding Swarms – Recognize and avoid swarms with the tips in this lesson combined with your new knowledge about avoiding the honey ceiling.  
  • Hive Inspections and Recordkeeping – Keeping good records can help you to know, from year to year, when you might need to be more active in helping your colonies manage their space and know when the honey ceiling could be a problem. Learn about effective recordkeeping methods with our “A New Beekeeper’s Journal” post. 
  • The Secrets of Honeycomb – Learn more about the fascinating and beautifully complex way that bees build honeycomb.  
  • How Do Bees Make Honey? – The honey ceiling comes from bees making honey out of nectar. Learn more about that process in our lesson.  
  • The PerfectBee Guide to Langstroth Boxes – Learn more in our guide about the Langstroth boxes that are available and choose the right option for you to add more space to your hive.

Having extra hive bodies and supers can help you easily manage storage space and the honey ceiling. Check out these few items from the PerfectBee store that you might want to consider:

  • Boxes – Check out our full lineup of Langstroth wooden and Polystyrene hive bodies and supers to make sure you’ve got extra storage space on hand before your bees need it! Choose from an empty hive body or one of our complete setups that also includes frames.
  • Frames & Foundation – Get your pre-assembled frames to have on hand and ready to quickly insert into your hive so bees have more room to store nectar or brood. Or, save a bit of money and assemble them yourself!
  • Honey Super Kit – The perfect way to get plenty of extra supers and frames all in one kit! Easily add storage to your hive with our super kit, for either 8 or 10-frame wooden Langstroth hives. Also available for Lyson and BeeMax Polystyrene hives.

Colony Member Resources

Member-Only Academy Lessons:  

  • Why and How Bees Forage – This PerfectBee Academy lesson goes into all you need to know about why and how bees forage to find those much-needed resources and store them inside the hive.  
  • Understanding The Honey Flow – Gaining an understanding of the honey flow can make a huge difference in helping you to manage your colonies’ storage space. Colony members can learn more about the honey flow in this lesson from our “The Life of Bees” course.  

Colony Forum Discussion Threads:

Colony members, check out these Colony Forum posts that can help you to learn even more about topics related to nectar storage and the honey ceiling:

  • Adding supers, and a chock full box – Colony member Jocelyn asks about adding and removing honey supers and gets great advice from Ambassador William.  
  • Going into hive after they swarm – Even after a swarm, paying attention to nectar and pollen stores can be important. Jay gets some advice from Ambassador Ron on what to keep an eye on as far as nectar stores go.  
  • All honey——No brood! – Jay asks how to help his bees who are storing lots of honey but don’t have any brood. Could it be a space issue or a queen issue?  
  • What to do in spring? – Ambassador Ron provides some insights for Matthew into managing a hive and the colony’s space, especially during the spring months. 

Not yet a Colony member but have an interest in joining a community of beekeepers working together to learn more about beekeeping? Learn more about joining our Colony beekeeping community and all of the learning resources available with membership here.