Deciding when to add a honey super to your hive is a common question among new beekeepers. Like many aspects of beekeeping the best answer is – it depends. Beekeepers invest a lot of time and sometimes worry in managing their honey bee colonies. Whether you are setting up a new beehive or expecting a harvest from existing colonies, there is a lot to do. And, making the wrong move at the wrong time can lead to problems for your bees.
Is it Time to Add Another Honey Super?
Never fear. I will not leave you hanging with that answer but- it does depend. Each colony is different, and each location is different. These issues factor into many beekeeping decisions and adding additional bee boxes is one such decision.
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As we explore the different factors involved, hopefully you will receive enough clarity to make a good decision for your bees.
However, keep in mind that each season is different and each hive is different. What works one year (in regards to actual date) may not be true for next year. That is why no one can really give you a firm calendar date or time frame (say 3 weeks?) for adding more room to the hive.
Types of Honey Supers
This is a terminology issue that we must broach. The standard Langstroth hive has 3 common sizes of boxes. Deeps and shallows are the most common sizes used but some beekeepers use mediums too.
In the real world of beekeeping (in the field not a textbook), each one can be called supers, honey supers, or brood boxes depending on how the beekeeper is using them.
For clarity, most beekeepers have a brood nest and food storage area of the hive. This is where the bees raise brood and store winter honey respectively. This is commonly at least 1 deep box or “hive body”.
But only 1 box is not enough room for honey bees colonies in most regions. The bees need more room that one box for rearing young and storing food.
For your hive, you can use 2 deep boxes, 1 deep and 1 shallow, 1 deep and 1 medium or 3 mediums. This area belongs to the bees and will not be harvested by the beekeeper.
The type of beehive and configuration of boxes you use depends on your personal preference and location too.
Beekeepers in colder regions need more space for food storage. A beekeeper in a northern region may not be able to get back with less than 2 deep supers for the bees. While in Florida, that hive configuration would probably bee overkill.
There is no best way – use what works for you. If deeps are hard for you to lift and handle, plan on using more smaller boxes. Ask what other beekeepers in your region use for their hives.
Shallow Most Common Size Super Harvest
Because honey is heavy, shallow supers are most commonly used for honey production.
- A shallow super is about 5 ¾” in height and weighs about 40-50 pounds when filled.
- Medium supers measure 6 5/8” in height. A 10-frame medium super can weigh over 60 pounds when filled with honey.
- Deep supers are also called brood boxes. Due to their size, they are not commonly used for honey collection. They are 9 5/8” in height and if filled with honey can weigh over 90#.
A bee colony will fill any of the boxes on the hive. For the sake of the beekeeper’s back, consider the weight of the boxes you choose for harvesting.
While you certainly could use deeps for all the parts of your hive – including honey harvest, most people do not choose this path.
When to Add a Second Honey Super
When 8 out of 10 (or 6 out of 8) frames are being used for brood and food storage, it’s time to add another box. If you are in doubt, it is often best to add a bit early rather than too late.
This rule is in reference to beekeepers that are adding additional boxes for honey harvest. Adding honey supers allows room for ample honey collection and eases crowding inside the hive.
It is best to add 1 box at a time. Inspect the hive every 10-14 days during the honey flow to check for space.
If you have a strong hive and you are going on vacation for a couple of weeks during a heavy nectar flow – it’s okay to put on 2 supers.
However, check the bees when you return to ensure they are filling out the outer frames in the bottom box too.
Adding Second Super to a New Hive
A new hive of bees can be started with a captured swarm, a package of bees or even a nuc colony. Start with only 1 deep box. There is no need to give a small population of bees so much space to guard in the beginning.
The same 80% rule applies to this beginner hive. Add the second super box when 80% of the bottom deep is in use.
Now if you get lucky and receive a nuc hive with 5 full frames and overflowing with bees, they may be ready for another box right away. However, this is not the be situation for most new hives.
Feeding the new colony 1:1 sugar water encourages the bees to draw out the comb quickly. They can still work on cool, windy, or rainy days if they have feeders inside the hive.
That second super may be a deep, medium, or shallow depending on the hive configuration you choose. In most regions, the bees need 2 boxes that you will not harvest from.
Don’t expect a harvest for yourself the first year. However, it can and does happen in some regions with a long season of foraging.
Queen Excluders on the Beehive
Queen excluders make life easier for most beekeepers. Their function is to restrict the slightly larger queen bee from entering the honey supers.
Keeping bee brood out of the honey collection supers is good bee management. Queen excluders go between the topmost brood box and the honey supers you hope to harvest.
Some beekeepers feel that excluders reduce the honey crop – perhaps they may. However, brood in the supers reduces the crop too.
My suggestion for most beekeepers is to use one. Put it between the top brood box and your first collection super. Take it off the hive before Winter!
Can You Add Honey Supers Too Soon?
Why not add a super really early before the bees need them? Well, there are a few problems with this technique. Giving the bees all that extra space before they need it can make their lives harder.
In early Spring when some days are still cool, a lot of extra space can make it more difficult for the bees to keep the brood area warm.
And the bees may decide to start placing honey up in the top box, instead of restocking some of the area around the brood nest. They need some food stores down there too for the winter.
When is it Too Late to Add a Honey Super?
Waiting too late, certainly increases the chance that your hive will swarm. While this may be a good thing for bee -kind. Your harvest may be flying off over the top of the trees.
If the colony has started queen cells and making swarm preparations, adding another super will not stop the swarm impulse.
Another time it may not be a good idea to add more boxes is when the collection season is over for your region. Why give the bees more space to patrol if they will not need it for harvest.
This is where connecting with local beekeepers or an agricultural agency can give some important tips.
How Long Does It Take Bees to Fill a Honey Super?
A colony with a good population can fill a shallow super in 1 – 2 weeks. This is assuming that a strong nectar flow is on and the bees do not have to fly very far to collect it.
Of course, it can happen much faster but that is an average. This is why you should always keep an extra super box with foundation ready to go. Supplies can take a long time to arrives during the busy season.
If the super contains foundation only and not drawn-out beeswax comb, it will take a bit longer as the bees have to build wax too. Some beekeepers say 1 week to draw comb and 1 week to fill.
These times are averages that are heavily dependent on the nectar available in your region and how strong your colony is. I usually do a quick spot check weekly when adding boxes.
A Final Word on Adding Honey Supers to Your Hive
Each colony and each situation is different. In my apiary, one colony may have 2 collection supers filled while another is still working on the first. Similar populations living in the same bee yard location.
However, we do know that giving the bees space during the nectar flow can reduce swarming and increase production.
Be sure to have extra honey supers on hand so you are ready to add one to the hive when needed.