Lesson 18 – When Do I Begin Adding Supers?
Just when is the right time to add the next hive body or super? This is very important in order to control swarming and to hold down the spread of pests. New beekeepers as well as experienced beekeepers can make big mistakes when it comes time to add another box. So let me walk you through some sensible advice.
Bees love to be crowded, but not congested. Heavily populated colonies are always healthier colonies. Honey bees function more efficiently when the colony is well populated. Small colonies have an increased likelihood of struggling with pests and diseases.
For example, if you have a typical hive that consist of two deep hive bodies and a medium super, and you shook your package into those three boxes with 10 frames each, the bees would have too large of an area to protect. Wax moth and small hive beetle could gain access to the hive and lay eggs in unprotected corners.
I have have a master beekeeper friend who has found that it works best for to make my splits in small 3 frame nuc boxes, and then when those frames are full, move them to a 5 frame nuc, then finally to a 10 frame nuc. But He does not add his 2nd deep box on until at least all 10 frames have some wax being drawn out. This allows the bees to work in a heavily populated environment but still have plenty of open cells in frames so as not to become congested and swarm.
In this picture, a second hive body could have been added weeks earlier. Although I will push my bees harder and wait till all 10 frames are started, I tell new beekeepers to add their second hive body on when 6-7 frames in the first deep are drawn out and full of bees. By “drawn out” I mean the bees have added their comb to the foundation and have extended out their comb on both sides of the frames.
Let’s talk about adding the third box, the honey super. Lots of mistakes are made here. First, add your super when 6 or 7 frames have been drawn out in the 2nd deep box. DO NOT use a queen excluder just yet (if at all). Place your super on, but without the excluder. This allows ease of access for bees to find and move up into the super to begin drawing out the comb. Once you see a minimum of 2 frames that are being worked by the bees you may add your queen excluder, but do so carefully.
Using a queen excluder is a personal choice. Based on beekeepers I have spoken to and my own experience, I have chosen not to use them. Why? It cuts down on honey production and also puts additional wear and tear on the worker bees as they work to slip through the excluder. I may try them with a couple of hives this year….still have not decided. I will research and add more information about this soon.
When adding the queen excluder below a super after the bees have started drawing out the comb, make sure to inspect each frame of the super to ensure the queen is not in that super. This is very important or else you will trap your queen in your honey super and you will have a super of brood not honey. If you find that she is in your super, simply pick her up by her wings or thorax and place her in one of the deep hive bodies below.
Now place your queen excluder below your honey super (usually the third box from the bottom). When placing on your queen excluder, be sure to place the excluder with the cross wires facing down. Otherwise, queens might try to slide along the metal and slip in. Plastic excluders do not have this problem and can be place on either way.
One final tip: When placing on your second deep hive body, remove one frame from the bottom deep, preferably a frame of nectar with bees on it and place it in the new deep hive box on the top and place the undrawn frame from the top into the box below where you removed the frame of nectar. With this frame of bees and nectar now above the lower deep, the bees will more quickly get the idea to move up.
There you go, now you know when and how to add your other boxes to your hive. Remember, we are ahead of the game this year. I have already added supers to two hives.
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