When To Add Another Super

The population of a honey bee colony can explode in no time once the weather warms up and everything comes into bloom. (That’s right about now, by the way, at least in my little corner of the Isle of Newfoundland.) All that nectar, all the pollen, all the warm air, all that sunshine — the next thing you know, the bees are getting ready to swarm, or they’ve already swarmed. It seems to take only a few days for the bees to get that message when the conditions are right. As a general rule, when I open a hive and see bees over the top bars of every frame, I add another super, another hive box — I give the colony room to grow. They may not need the extra space today or tomorrow, but when they do need it and it’s not there, boom, off they go in a giant cloud of bees that will fill the sky, also known as a swarm. This video shows what it looks like when it’s time to add another super to the hive (at least for me it does):

00:00 — A deep super (and frames) cut down to a medium.
00:40 — Bees covering the top bars (time to add a super).
01:10 — Dispersing the bees with mist instead of smoke.
01:27 — Adding the super.
01:48 — Adding a foundationless frame (for comb honey).
02:38 — Putting the hive back together.
03:10 — Confused bees looking for the new entrance.
04:52 — The bees already reoriented to the new entrance.
05:10 — A problem with a 9-frame brood chamber.

And some bonus material for those who can hold out long enough.

P.S. #1: I mention in the video that’s it’s June 21st when it obviously isn’t. That’s my pandemic brain jumping up and saying hello. Everybody and their cousin Bob is losing track of the days.

P.S. #2: Some would look at this video and think I put another box on too early, that every frame in the hive should absolutely packed with bees for adding another box. Maybe. But when a nectar flow is about the kick into high gear, I prefer to play safe than sorry. There are advantages and disadvantages to everything. Putting a box on too early, like I may have done in this video, can result in the bees not really filling up any frames. They spread everything out and none of the honey frames get filled to capacity. However, it reduces the likelihood of swarming. Waiting until more bees to cover the frames can have the opposite effect, more honey packed into the frames but greater risk of swarming.

5 thoughts on “When To Add Another Super

  1. I heard you mention that you no longer use a queen excluder–and I’m wondering why that is. Thanks!

  2. I’m doing everything I can to simplify my beekeeping. I’m switching to mediums. I’m doing less invasive hive inspections, and I’m not using any gear that I absolutely don’t need to use. I know several beekeepers who don’t use queen excluders and they’re doing fine. The queen lays where she likes and they just pull honey frames from the sides of the supers, which usually don’t have brood anyway. That’s probably not a convenient way to harvest honey for commercial-minded beekeepers, but I’m pretty small scale, a casual one-man operation in every way. I think it’ll work for me.

    Not using a queen excluder is sometimes referred to as an “open brood nest.” It’s not entirely uncommon. Many people use an open brood nest to prevent swarming. That’s another reason I’m trying it.

    • Thanks so much for your quick response–I’m a third-year beekeeper with three hives in my yard, and have so much to learn!

      • We’re all in the same boat. It took me 3 years to begin to feel like I kind of, maybe, sort of knew what I was doing.

        3 hives is the perfect number for a backyard. For me, once I got over 4 hives, it began to feel like, oh man, this is kinda getting out of control. Where I keep my bees now isn’t exactly my backyard. It’s more like a clearing in the woods next to my house, so I’ve got little more wiggle room, but, yeah, 3 is a good number for learning, for figuring things out.

  3. I’m Not like the commercial Beekeepers where each apiary is at the same stage/level. With 7 hives each with their own “ personality “ Even with making notes about each ,it is hard to keep in touch with their needs and wants…kinda like some teenagers, ….giggles.
    Thanks for sharing your methods , nice to know sometimes , anything goes. I like that ! No exact right or wrong ….the bees will let me know yet sometimes it can be stressful, again like some teenagers, more giggles.

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