Honey supers are crucial to honey production, but how many honey supers per hive should you have? The answer depends on a lot of factors, such as how large your hive is, the season and availability of pollen and the overall health of your hive all play a role.
Remember, more is not always better when it comes to beekeeping. The bees need the right amount of space, not too much and not too little.
You’ll need at least 2-3 supers per hive, with some beekeepers recommending 4-6 supers. You shouldn’t add them all at once, however. It’s best to add one super at a time and monitor the conditions before you do.
What Are Bee Supers?
The term super is actually short for superstructure. It is added during times of honey production, in addition to the “365” hive. The “365 hive” is the hive that your bees live in. It remains a part of the hive 365 days a year.
The supers, on the other hand, are removed and added as needed. The interior of the hive features brood frames. The supers will be placed on top of the brood frame. The supers are where your bees will store the honey that you harvest.
Most supers contain between 8-10 shallow or medium frames. Most experts recommend 8 or 9 frames per super. A 10 frame super can make the honey thinner. An 8 or 9 frame super might result in more honey.
The First Super
The first step in adding supers is, of course, the first super. It’s important not to add it too early, or too late. How do you know when to add the first super?
The biggest sign is that 8 of the frames in your brood box are in use. They are used for pollen, honey storage, and brood. Other indications that it’s time to add a super are the brood frames being covered with bees, including the top of the frames.
If your bees are creating honeycomb on top of the frames, it’s definitely time to add a super.
What Happens if a Super is Added too Early?
Adding a super too early can have some negative consequences. It can actually result in a smaller colony and decreased honey production.
One of the downsides is that the more space the bees have, the more difficult it is to regulate the temperature of the hive. In the winter, the bees will congregate together for warmth. Adding too much space can prevent the colony from maintaining warmth in the hive.
In the summer, bees can have the opposite problem. More space requires more effort to keep cool. This can prevent them from maintaining the proper brood temperature.
Bees love moving up. This is why supers are typically added on top of the brood box, or on top of another super. However, adding a super too early can lead the bees to move up, rather than outwards. This can prevent them from using their current space efficiently.
Lastly, more space requires more bees and effort to maintain and defend. Adding a super too early increases the chances of pests like wax moths, which can severely hamper your colony and honey production.
What Happens if You Add a Super Too Late?
Adding a super too early is never a good idea, but what about adding a super too late? If your bees don’t have enough room, they will swarm. Half the colony will leave, along with a new queen.
This is not something you want to occur. In addition to losing half your colony, you’ll lose a significant portion of your honey in the hive as well. Swarming usually occurs during spring, so you’ll want to be sure your bees have enough room during this time.
When to Add Additional Supers
Most experts recommend adding a new super when 7 out of 10 of the supers in the hive are full. At this point, the bees should have the numbers and resources to begin filling a new super.
However, there’s no replacement for knowing your bees. If you suspect that they aren’t ready for a super, then wait to add one. If your bees are prolific in the early spring, don’t hesitate to add a super.
If they’ve recently suffered a loss or pest, be cautious about adding a super. Be sure that they have recovered enough to manage the expansion.
Timing of Supers
There are some considerations, in addition to how many frames the bees have filled. Timing is important when adding supers. It’s best to add supers during the spring, or when there’s a strong nectar flow.
Never add a super if the flowers are going out of bloom, or if there’s already been a frost. The bees will not be able to fill the super.
How Long Does it Take Bees to Fill a Super?
The time it takes to fill a super varies based on the conditions and the colony itself. You can expect it to take 1 to 2 weeks to fill a super. However, it is possible for bees to fill a super in a few days.
Once the frames are full, it’s time to extract them. This is the most exciting part of beekeeping. You can finally see and taste the fruits of your labor. You can extract the honey in one of two ways.
If you use a honey extractor, the comb will remain in the super. This provides a foundation for the bees. Instead of using honey and resources to create comb, they can move right to filling up the super.
It’s also ok to remove the comb. If you love honeycomb, you can enjoy the treat guilt-free. The bees will quickly build a new comb, and it’s not harmful to the overall production.
If you find a frame was not ready for extraction, there’s an easy fix. Just place it back into the hive, allowing the bees to complete the frame.
Top or Bottom Supering
There are plenty of advocates for both top and bottom supering. Some believe that bottom supering yields more honey. Others rely on the traditional method of top supering.
When top supering, you’ll add a new super on top of the active super. If you choose to bottom super, you’ll remove the active super and place the new super below it, right on top of the brood box.
Final Thoughts on Adding Supers
Adding supers is an essential part of beekeeping. In addition to providing you with honey, adding supers at the right time helps keep your colony whole and healthy.
Adding supers too early puts unnecessary strain on the colony. Adding one too late can result in overcrowding and swarming. Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to adding supers. Instead, you’ll need to consider the guidelines provided above. Combine them with your own knowledge of your bees and instincts, and you can’t go wrong.