When to Add a Honey Super to Your Beehive

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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. 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.

Row of hives on stand some with added honey supers image.

Each colony of honey bees is different, and each hive location is different. This is why beehive management timelines can not always have hard and fast rules. When to add additional super boxes to the hive must be decided on a case by case basis.

Is it Time to Add Another Honey Super?

As we explore the different factors involved in honey production and colony growth, hopefully you will receive enough clarity to make a good decision for your bees in your climate.

Keep in mind that each season is different. What works one year (in regards to actual month and day) may not be true for next year.

That is why no one can really give you a firm calendar date for adding more room to the hive. Knowledge about the local nectar flow and knowing what is happening inside the hive. Do you know how to inspect a beehive properly? The status of your bees must be considered.

Multiple honey supers added to the stack on a Langstroth hive.

Supering a Beehive

Knowing when to add boxes to a hive or remove them is an important skill in beekeeping. If the bees have too much room in the hive, they are unable to protect it from pests such as wax moths.

However, crowding is a problem too. Any colony with too little space is at greater risk of producing bee swarms. Something the beekeeper may not want to happen.

Also, the hive may produce less honey due to a lack of room to store it. In supering a beehive, we need to know when to add a honey super and when to take boxes off. Both aspects are important and play a role in colony success.

Supering a beehive diagram top or bottom supering placement image.

Top or Bottom Supering

In most cases, top supering is used in apiaries. An empty box (with frames and foundation) is place on top of the highest box of the hive – directly under the inner cover and top (a queen excluder may or may not be used).

However, some beekeepers prefer bottom supering. In this case, the new super is placed between the upper bottom box (brood nest area) and the first honey super intended for harvest.

In bottom supering, the idea is that adding a empty honey supper in the middle allows – foraging bees to not have to go as far to unload. This should help the harvest.

However, it does involve sitting those heavy top honey boxes off each time you add a super. Most beekeepers feel this is not worth the effort.

Also, some studies show that the increase in honey production is minor. But, you can choose to try what you feel works best in your apiary.

When to Add a Second Honey Super

Let’s imagine – the main hive (boxes intended for bee use only – not our harvest) are all being used. You have a good population of bees inside. Is it time to add another box?

This is the general 80% rule – When 8 out of 10 frames (or 6 out of 8 in 8-frame equipment) are being used for brood and food storage, it’s likely time to add another box to the hive.

Adding honey supers allows room for ample honey collection and eases crowding inside the hive. This may help prevent unwanted swarms as it gives the bees room to spread out. 

It is best to add 1 box at a time – in most situations (and certainly for beginner beekeepers). 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. Sometimes bees with a lot of space like to “chimney up” and only use the inner frames.

If this happens, you can move the completed frames to the outside positions and rotate empty ones to the middle. Since they only contain honey and no bee brood – this should not cause any problems for the colony.

Beehives with brood box and honey super in a field image.

Adding Second B Box to a New Colony

A new hive of bees can be started with a captured swarm, an installed bee package or even a nuc colony. Start with only 1 deep box (or a medium if you prefer).

There is no need to give a small population of bees too much space to guard in the beginning. The same 80% rule applies to this new hive. Add the second box when 80% of the bottom deep is in use.

Now, if you get really lucky and buy a nuc hive with 5 full frames and overflowing with bees, they may be ready for another box right away.

Or at least in a few weeks. As you install a nuc, be sure to gauge the bee density as you check for brood.

However, this is not the situation for most new hives. Feeding sugar water to the new colony helps encourage 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.

The second box 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 honey for yourself the first year. However, it can and does happen in some regions with a long season of foraging.

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.

 Also, they have much more space to patrol. If the bee population is marginal for the space, hive pests such as wax moths or Small Hive Beetles may move in and lay eggs.

Also, 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.

Full frame of honey from a super box on hive image.

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 travel far to collect it. 

Of course, it can happen much faster. This is why you should always keep an extra super box with foundation ready to go. Supplies can take a long time to arrive during the busy season.

If you give the hive a box with new foundation, it will take a bit longer for the bees to fill as they have to build wax honeycomb too.

Some beekeepers say 1 week to draw comb and 1 week to fill. These times are averages and may not apply to your situation.

When is it Too Late to Add Another Super?

Waiting too late to add another box to your hive can present problems too. The term “too late” can refer to the colony responding to a lack of needed space – or the time of year.

Effect of Lack of Space

Waiting too long to give the bees more space certainly increases the chance that your hive will swarm due to over-crowding.

While swarming 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 is making swarm preparations, adding another super will not stop the swarm impulse.

Sometimes it is almost impossible to correctly judge the proper action – you have to go with your gut impulse.

Too Late in Season

Another time it may not be a good idea to add more boxes to your hive 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?

In most areas, bees are not making honey during the cold days of Fall and Winter. Connect with your local beekeeping association to learn more about conditions in your region.

Double deep honey supers for a new hive of bees image.

Does Box Size Matter?

What is a beekeeping super box? In truth, there is a bit of variation in the beekeeping community. Depending on the group you are with-some words in beekeeping terminology vary a bit.

Deeps and shallows are the most common sizes used for the Langstroth hive-but some beekeepers use all mediums for their hive.

The good news is that bees don’t seem to care and will thrive in any combination of boxes. However, common sense tells you that it will take the colony longer to make full use of a bigger box!

Shallow-Most Common Size for 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#.
Beekeeper checking frames of honey to see if super is full image.

Adjust Number of Boxes for Each Hive

In total honesty, some years you may find yourself putting boxes on the hive and taking them off partially filled or empty.

In my apiary, one colony may have 2 collection supers filled while another is still working on the first. This occurs even when the apiary is set up in the same location.

Final Thoughts

As beekeepers, we will never make the right decision in every case. But, we do know that giving the bees adequate space promotes production and often reduces swarming. While providing too much space inside the hive with too few bees results in problems with pests. Through trial and error you will learn (in general) the best time to add another box to the hive or take one off.