Honey supers are the part of a beehive in which honey is collected. A super is a box that is placed on top of the hive, and inside of every super, there are 8-10 hanging frames. These frames hold honey and honeycomb. Honey supers usually contain shallow or medium-sized frames. These smaller frames are easier to remove and easier to extract honey from. On the other hand, the heart of a beehive (the “brood box”) is usually made of deep frames. This way, the beehive has plenty of space to operate and grow.
The number of honey supers you need depends on the size of your hive and the amount of honey your bees produce. When major nectar sources like clover, apples, blackberries, and other flowers and fruits are in bloom, you are in a “nectar flow.” A nectar flow usually leads to a “honey flow.” A honey flow is when bees can produce a large amount of honey. During a honey flow, you will need more honey supers than you would need during a quieter time of year.
A single hive can have at least 2-3 supers. When your first honey super is about ⅔ full of honey, add another super on top of it. Repeat this process until you’re ready to remove a super. You can take a honey super out when all its frames are fully “capped.” This means that all the honey in the honeycomb has been capped off by wax, which indicates that it is ready to be extracted. Your bees should never fill out an entire honey super and have no new super to move on to!
When considering the number of honey supers you want to add to your hive, also think about how many frames you will put in each super. One super holds 9 to 10 frames. If you use ten frames, your honeycomb will be thinner. If you use nine frames, your honeycomb will have more room to grow inside the honey super. It will be thicker and may yield more honey.
When to Add Supers to Beehives
Adding supers to a beehive helps you maximize honey production, and also keeps your hive healthy. With too few supers your hive may become congested. This could cause your bees to swarm, which means that your one bee colony will split into two or more separate colonies. You don’t want that!
Before adding your first honey super, your hive should be very full of bees. At least eight of the ten frames in your brood box should be in use (for nectar, honey, and pollen storage, and the brood). When adding subsequent honey supers, follow the guidelines laid out in the preceding paragraph. Wait until one super is about ⅔ full, and then add the next super on top of it.
Several indicators will help you decide when it’s time to add honey supers to your hive.
- Check your hive and see if there are bees covering all of their frames. Are there bees on top of the frames when you remove the lid?
- Are your bees starting to build comb on top of the frames and on the lid? If so, it’s definitely time to add a super!
- Your bees have filled up the brood box and are ready for more space.
Do not add a super prematurely. If your hive is not strong enough, it won’t be able to handle the addition of all that extra space.
When Is It Too Late To Add A Honey Super?
What is in bloom right now? This is one of the most important questions to consider when deciding when to add honey supers to your hive. Try to time the addition of supers so that it lines up with the time of the season when lots of different flowers are in bloom. When your bees have many sources of nectar, they produce lots of honey, and they need many honey supers!
If you are at the tail end of a nectar flow, it might be too late to add another super. If many flowering plants will soon be done blooming, or if there has already been a frost in your area, you should not add a super. Your bees will not have much nectar to produce honey with, and they will not be able to fill up another honey super.
Bees generally like dense “housing” – their hives are very compact and giving them too much space is detrimental. If your hive is too spacious for your colony, you could experience pest infestations. Wax moths, for example, will invade beehives when there aren’t enough bees to defend against them. On the other hand, waiting too long to add a super can cause overcrowding and drive your bees to swarm. It’s important to find the right balance to keep your hive healthy!
How Fast Can Bees Fill A Super?
As is the case with all things bee-related, environmental factors greatly influence how much honey your bees can make and how quickly they can do it. Especially when there is a nectar flow, bees will work hard to fill whatever space they have available to them. As long as they have abundant sources of nectar and enough supers available to fill, they can be extremely quick.
During a nectar flow, when bees are at their most productive, they can fill a honey super in one week. A honey super can be filled in a few days at the fastest. One to two weeks is a more typical pace.
To encourage your bees to produce honey more quickly, you can experiment with top supering and bottom supering. Top supering is when you add new honey supers on top of active honey supers. Bottom supering is when you lift the active honey super and insert the new one below it, right on top of the brood box. Some studies suggest that bottom supering is more effective, but there are plenty of advocates for both methods.
What To Do With Honey Supers After Extraction?
When your honey supers are full, it’s time for the exciting part: extracting honey! Once you’ve reaped the sweet rewards of your dedicated beekeeping, you’ll be left with just the super frames. Depending on how you extracted the honey, these frames might have empty honeycomb in them, or they might be completely emptied.
After extraction, you can return your super and its frames to your hive. It’s okay if there is residual honey on the frames. Your bees will take care of this!
If you used a honey extractor, you will be returning frames with the honeycomb still intact. The bees will continue to use this honeycomb and will fill the existing cells with honey. If you cut the honeycomb out of the frame during the honey extraction process, your frame will be empty. This is also fine. Your bees will create new honeycomb. While extracting, you may have found that some of your frames were not ready for extraction, or that not enough of the cells were capped. If this is the case, you can put the frame back how you found it.
Honey supers are not just a great way to produce delicious honey. They’re also an important part of maintaining your beehive’s health. By managing your supers correctly, you can ensure that your bees are healthy, happy, and as productive as possible. Follow the guidelines set out in this article to keep your hive supplied with the appropriate number of supers. Your bees will thank you for it!