Last Updated on July 14, 2021
Often as beekeepers, we ask the question: When to add supers to beehives? Adding supers to beehives is not as straightforward as it may seem. A beehive super is best added when conditions are right. When adding a honey super to a new hive we have to be careful not to do it too soon. In this article, we look at when and how to add a honey super to a beehive.
What Is A Beehive Super?
This is quite simple. You start your hive with the brood box. The thing that fits on top of the brood box structure, is above, or super, hence it is the superstructure box. We shorten this so that it sounds cool and call it a super. Some countries call it a supa.
The super is where the bees store honey. To find out more about how a hive fits together have a look here.
When To Add Supers To Beehives
Why Do We Add Supers To Beehives?
We add a super, or multiple supers, to give the bees space to store honey. The logic is that as the beehive fills up with bees, they will develop a bigger and bigger workforce. This workforce can travel to more flowers and produce more honey.
We add a honey super to a beehive providing more space for bees to live and process honey during a honey flow. As the honey flow comes to an end, we remove the supers and reduce the size of the hive.
In so doing we harvest the crop and reduce the size of the hive for the bees. This reduces their maintenance work and saves them time and energy. Remember, time is honey.
It is important to remember that adding a super to a beehive places a volume of space above the brood nest that must be kept warm by the bees. If there are enough bees, the bees can fill this space and keep it warm. If you add a super too early, the bees will be weakened as they have to keep the space above the brood nest warm, and this takes energy.
If the ambient temperature is high during the day and the night, adding supers can help the bees as it gives them a place to move so as to cool the hive. Read more on how to ventilate a hive here.
Adding a super provides the bees with more space. If they have more space, they have more space to police and look after. When there is no honey flow on, adding a super just adds more trouble to their lives. Only add a super if there is a honey flow on the go and the bees are working hard.
A Night Inspection
My favorite way to see if bees need a super is to visit the beehives four hours after sunset. The weather will normally have cooled a bit by this point, and you will see what happens at night. If there is a big ball of bees the size of half a football on the front of the hive, it is time to add a super.
I have never had a mistake adding supers after night inspections. Just go along the row of hives, inspect and put supers in front of the hives. Fire up your smoker, and return and super up quickly one by one. Bees are touchy at night, so a full bee suit with gloves and boots a good idea.
A Daytime Inspection
Open the hives and have a look at the brood nest. When 8 frames of the brood nest are covered with at least an inch of brood, you can probably safely add a super. If you have already added a super, use the same rule for the previous super – if 8 out of 10 frames are full of nectar and honey, add another super.
When To Add A Honey Super To A New Hive?
When you start a new hive, my general advice is to be a little more gentle with these bees. Super slightly more slowly, and inspect your hives carefully.
If you started a new hive from a package, or a split and the frames in the brood box are not completely drawn, supering a hive may slow the whole process down.
If the brood box has drawn combs that makeup 8 full drawn combs, and the last two har half drawn and the hive covers 8 brood frames with at least an inch of bees, you can add a shallow super.
If you are starting new hives, the chances are that you are also starting with new supers, hence you have to be a little more conservative.
When To Add A Honey Super To A Hive With Foundationless Beekeeping?
For more on foundationless beekeeping read here.
Foundationless beekeeping provides a unique challenge, as you are supering hives when there is less for the bees to climb up in the supers. This applies to new supers.
It is a good idea to super a foundationless hive when a beehive is very strong. Then there are enough bees that some will climb up to the roof of the super.
Some bees will discover a spot with a little wax, get the idea and start drawing combs here.
A Few Notes On Temperature and How Bees Make Wax
Beeswax is a complex miracle. There are few chemical compounds that work better and are more ideally suited to their environment than beeswax.
Beeswax melts at nearly twice the optimal body temperature of a bee. This is possible because the bees take two broad families of compounds that melt at approximately their optimal temperature, and react them together, to make a family of compounds that melt at twice their body temperature.
When bees make wax, they need to be warm – 95° F. If they are cold, they just cannot get the chemicals out of their bodies to make the wax, as the chemicals are too solid. This is why supering at the right time is so important.
If you super too early, you cool the hive down, and the bees cannot make wax.
Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.