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When to Add Supers to a Standard Hive

Excerpted from: When to HoneyAdd Supers to a Standard Hive

Honebess returning to the hive If you haven’t done so already, it may be time to think about adding honey supers to your hives. Honey supers are essential for honey collection, but perhaps just as important for relieving overcrowding inside the hive.

During the spring build-up you can lift the back of your hive to gauge how full it is. Keep in mind that brood boxes contain brood, which is lighter than honey. When you reach the point of having two brood chambers mostly full of honey and brood, you will want to give the bees more space to add extra stores of honey. You will know it’s time to add a honey super when your bees have filled the brood boxes and are covering the center of six or seven frames of the next box.

Pay Attention

Beekeeper inspecting honeybee super In terms of the best timing for when to add honey supers, a good rule of thumb is to super your hive when eight of the ten frames in the top brood chamber box are being used for brood and for nectar/honey/pollen storage.

Once the honey flow begins, there can be a rapid buildup of honey, so we suggest monitoring closely and adding more honey supers in advance of when they are actually needed. It is better to give your bees more room than less during the honey flow. How high you go with honey supers depends on how strong your bees are going into the nectar flow and also on the nectar availability of the season. If it is too hot and dry or too wet and damp for the bees to fly, this will affect the amount of nectar coming in.

What Happens If You Add Supers Too Late?

All of this spring activity can lead to overcrowding and confusion in the hive. When colonies are jammed up in this way, it increases the likelihood that the colony will swarm – meaning that the old queen will fly off with a large portion of the workers, plus whatever stored nectar they can stuff into their honey stomachs, to look for new housing.

What Happens If You Add Supers Too Early?

Beekeeper inspecting hive using a smoker An early-supered colony will have a larger nest volume needing climate control, and they will have a lot of empty real estate to protect from nest invaders like wax moths. Also, the workers may rush up to the super and start filling it with honey before they have finished putting much away down below, on the periphery of the combs in the brood chamber – honey they will need when winter comes.

First-year Hives

Even newly-established hives must be watched carefully to be sure there is enough room for honey storage. You can’t always expect to get surplus honey from a new colony, because they typically must devote their resources to building up their numbers, to making wax for the combs, and to storing enough honey for their own use during the winter. But if conditions are good, you can sometimes add one or two supers and get a small honey harvest in the first year.

Queen Excluders

Honeybee Hive Queen Excluder Most beekeepers like to use a queen excluder between the brood chamber and the honey supers, to keep the queen from laying eggs in the frames that are to be harvested for honey. A queen excluder is a sheet made of thin metal bars or of perforated plastic that fits over the brood chamber. The workers can come and go but the queen, with her wider body, can’t squeeze her way through them to get into the supers.

Types Of Supers

Honey supers are shorter and thus lighter than brood boxes but are otherwise identical, and they use the same types of frames and foundation sheets. The size of super that you use is a matter of personal preference. A shallow super (5 ¾ inches high) weighs about 40 lbs when full; a medium super (6 5/8 inches high) weighs about 60 lbs. If you decide to use a standard deep box (9 5/8 inches high) as a honey super, it could end up weighing 90 lbs when full of honey, something most beekeepers would rather avoid.

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