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We are entering the time when most strong, established hives should be getting honey supers installed. How do you know if your hive is ready for a honey super? Read the article in the April issue of TBS Monthly titled, “How to Tell if the Nectar Flow Has Begun and When It’s Time to Add Honey Supers.” Once you are comfortable that it is indeed time for your hives to get supers and have decided what size you are going to use (included in the above link), remember that not all hives are ready.

What is a strong hive?

A strong hive is 75–80% full of bees and resources. This can be a hive that is a single or double deep. Don’t discount a hive just because it’s a single box.

For those who want to add a super instead of doubling up the brood box, now’s the time! However, I do suggest you think about these two points:

  1. If it is truly full of bees, hold the queen excluder. They will want this added space to spread their wings, so to speak. You’ll no doubt still get some frames of honey to extract from this hive and very well could have the opportunity to add more than one medium honey super before the flow stops. Plus, the queen will probably lay in the super, but we’ll talk about how to address that next month.
  2. Consider leaving one of the supers on this hive after the flow stops. This will ensure that the hive has enough space to move around to prevent a swarm and give them a pantry of food reserves for the summer dearth ahead.

Managing honey supers

Just like brood boxes, honey supers require adding to when they run out of space. Your indicator to add a box is that your honey super is 75–80% full of wax and nectar and the flow is still going. I’m going to throw the proverbial wrench in it here: Do you add the super on top of or underneath the almost full one already in place?

Opinion alert (because it works for me): A super with new foundation should be added underneath the almost full super to inspire the bees to draw comb quickly. If it’s drawn comb, checkerboard the supers. Here’s what I mean by that. Alternate full and empty between the two boxes. This inspires the bees to complete the task of filling them with nectar. Having said that, checkerboarding isn’t essential. You can certainly just put the drawn comb box on top of the other one and let the bees do their work, with little difference in the end.

Food for thought: For new(er) beekeepers, it takes time to grow a backstock of drawn comb honey supers. It took us three to four years to have enough for all of our hives. This speeds up honey production exponentially! Drawn comb is gold to a beekeeper.

When to stop adding supers

It’s important to point out that there is an end to the means. Most nectar flows are wrapping up by the end of June. Some of the northern states will see flows well into July, but the same applies. When you are within just a couple of weeks of the end of your flow, do not add a honey super. The bees won’t have time to do anything with it, and if there are any blank spaces in the other supers, they’ll likely abandon them to try to work the new one, leaving you with open spaces on your extractable frames and boxes.

Having said that, after honey extraction time, we’ll talk about adding boxes of undrawn foundation and feeding to give the bees busy work and to help grow your drawn comb for next year.

Checkerboarding Diagram

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