Adding a Second Honey Super

Well, it looks like I’m going to get some honey this year after all, at least from one of my hives. I was led to believe that foundationless hives in the cold wet climate of St. John’s, Newfoundland — with its short, sometimes non-existent summers — wouldn’t produce extra honey for humans during the first year because much of the bees’ resources are funnelled into raising drones and then back-filling the drone comb before they have a chance to make extra honey in a honey super. So far that’s turned out to be true. I migrated all the foundationless frames into a single hive, Hive #2, and that hive hasn’t done much with its honey super. However, Hive #1, the hive that I transferred all the conventional frames in to, has filled its first honey super. Check out the video and I’ll tell you more about it later:

The video isn’t proof that a conventional hive in St. John’s is likely to produce more honey than a foundationless hive. But I don’t think it hurt that the bees in Hive #1 didn’t have to spend more of their resources back-filling drone comb like the bees in Hive #2 are doing right now. They didn’t have to feed honey to thousands of extra drones either. There are so many possibilities, though, I can’t say anything for sure.

The bees in Hive #1 didn’t show much interest in their honey super for most of the summer. I saw some bees on one or two frames in the middle of the honey super, but that was about it. Then exactly a week ago today, I added a screened inner cover to the hive, and within three days, all nine frames were covered with bees working their little butts off to build comb on the alternating foundationless and conventional frames. I didn’t know until today if they were filling the comb with nectar and actually making honey. I’m extremely pleased to discover honey on every single frame in the honey super. Beautiful. That’s a honey super filled one week after adding a screened inner cover.

I think the screened inner cover in combination with the ventilator rim has reduced the humidity inside the hive so much that the honey curing process has been greatly accelerated. The bees don’t have to work nearly as hard to evaporate the nectar into honey now. If I can get a screened bottom board built for Hive #1, and provided the warm sunny days don’t leave us any time soon, I think the bees might be able to fill up the second honey super too.

And that introduces another possibility. We’ve had an usually cold and damp summer. The bees haven’t been able to do much with it. But we’ve had fantastic weather in the past couple weeks, and the bees seem to be making up for lost time. So the conventional frames and the extra ventilation might not have much to do with the bees filling the honey super. It might just be the great weather we’re having. Or maybe it’s all of the above combined. Either way, it looks like I’m getting at least one honey super full of honey this year. YES!

August 26th, 2011: I hope to add a screened bottom board to Hive #1 before the end of the month. Even with the added ventilation from the screened inner cover and the ventilator rim, I can still feel the humidity pumping out the bottom entrance of the hive. Many of the bees still hang out on the bottom board beating their wings to create more air flow inside the hive. A screened bottom board would relieve them of those duties and improve ventilation and thus expedite the honey curing process even more. Hive #2, the foundationless hive, will get the same treatment. Right now it only has a ventilator rim and a screened bottom board, but no screened inner cover, which, if my understanding of physics makes any sense, is essential for letting the humidity rise out of the hive. Even with a ventilator rim, a solid inner cover, which only has a single hole in the middle of it, would still hold in a fair bit of humidity. I think the screened inner cover is gold.

March 2019 Postscript: I don’t use screened inner covers anymore, but I do occasionally remove the solid inner cover during heat spells and replace it with an empty moisture quilt.

14 thoughts on “Adding a Second Honey Super

  1. Stoked that you will be getting some honey! I am harvesting this weekend if all goes well. Perhaps we can trade some western honey for some eastern. Check my blog next week for an update.

    • Sure, I’ll do a trade. I’ve promised honey to just about everyone I know. But if the weather keeps up — and that’s a big if — I should have enough to go around so I can at least trade a few bottles here and there. I’ll be in touch sometime in September or October, whenever I managed to bottle the honey.

      I don’t have any of the necessary gear for harvesting honey yet. I’m getting tired of spending money on this hobby. But I’ll wrangle something together somehow.

  2. I just took a quick peek at the honey super in the foundationless hive, Hive #2. I may have to take back everything I said about foundationless hives not producing honey in the first year — because it looks like they’ve filled their honey super. Holy moly.

  3. Nice work bees! We just harvested over 50lbs yesterday (all day sticky work!) I pulled what i thought was surplus from one hive but will be replacing 6 full frames of honey back as the bees have less than I originally thought and i would rather them have more than needed.

    • That’s excellent. Let’s do a honey exchange sometime in the fall. I don’t want to jinx it, but if the good weather we’re having now keeps up, we’ll get at least 50 pounds from our hives too. I’ll have more to say in a later post.

  4. I was wondering what you have at the top of your foundationless frames? Do you have a starter strip?

    • Yup, I use a starter strip made from corrugated plastic signs for the foundationless frames.

      It’s a bit of work to cut the sign into strips, but the plastic fits in the groove better than anything else I’ve tried. You can put beeswax on the strips too, but I’m not sure if that’s necessary.

      • So the starter strip doesn’t have to have a honeycomb pattern on it? That is something I always assumed. This is going to be my first year beekeeping (ordered 2 nucs for the spring) and I am just trying to learn as much as possible.

        Also, I’m from Nova Scotia (with some family in NFLD), and I’m glad I found some videos from Atlantic Canada. They have been fun to watch!

        • Foundation has the honeycomb pattern on it. See this post for info on that:

          A starter strip is only used in foundationless frames. It’s a different thing altogether, and I wouldn’t worry about it if you’re just starting out. What you want is foundation.

          You might want take a look at the How-To page:

          Especially this post:

          It provides a good review of everything you’ll probably need in your first year. It was written with NL beekeepers in mind, but, except for possibly treating for mites, I doubt NS beekeeping is much different.

          • I’m sorry, I think I was unclear. I am aware that foundation has the honeycomb pattern on it, but I was under the impression that the starter strip for foundationless frames had to as well to get them going.

            I plan on using foundation for the brood chambers, and then both foundation and foundationless for honey supers, as I want to make some comb honey.

            I have done quite a bit of research, but have never been able to find much on actual starter strips for foundationless frames.

            • The starter strip doesn’t need to have the comb patterned on it. All it does it provide a line down the middle of the frame for the bees to hang from and begin building comb. The bees will begin building with or without the starter strip, but they’re less likely to build crooked or cross comb when they begin off a straight starter strip.

  5. Jared,

    If you are looking at some foundationless frames you can purchase some “top wedged” frames. Break out the wooden strip on the “wedged” frames and nail it or staple it on the opposite edge so it hangs a little deeper than the rest of the top of the frame when the frame is in its final position. The bees will festoon off the piece you nailed in and begin to draw foundationless comb. Essentially this acts at the starter strip for the bees and versus gluing in strips. But either way works.

    Best of luck with your bee adventures.

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