To Swarm Or Not To Swarm
Tim got his package of live honey bees, placed them in the single deep brood box and couldn’t wait to get his hands on that delicious honey he knew would be waiting for him at the end of summer. Little did he know, his bees got so over-crowded that a large group split off from the colony and swarmed after two months. This left behind a now smaller and weaker colony.
Had Tim been practicing proper hive management, he could have added an additional brood box and prevented the swarm’s departure, but he was new to beekeeping and confidently thought the bees would thrive without any attention on his part.
At summer’s end, Tim was a bit disappointed at the amount of honey he got from the ten deep frames, but boy did it taste good. He made sure he got every ounce of honey from his bees, so he didn’t feel like they were a waste of his hard-earned money. He thought he would winter his bees and hopefully they would produce more honey the following summer.
Well, as you probably guessed, Tim’s bees didn’t make it through the winter without their stores of honey to carry them through. Whether you are a first time or experienced beekeeper, you will need to know when to add a honey super in the spring or summer. By adding a honey super, you give the bees the room they need to expand and collect honey without feeling the need to swarm.
Make More Room
Bees need enough honey to make it through the winter, but with adequate flowering plants and proper beekeeping practices, they are able to produce an excess of that amount – and this is the honey that we take to sell or share with our family and friends.
If the bees have enough stores of honey to survive through the winter, you will have achieved success as a beekeeper. In many areas of the country, the amount of honey required to make it through winter is two deep brood boxes for honey and brood. Your bees may require a little more or less, but it is always preferable to have more honey in the brood chamber than less.
When to Add a Honey Super
During the spring build-up you can lift the back of your hive to gauge how full it is. Keep in mind that brood boxes contain brood, which is lighter than honey. When you reach the point of having two brood chambers mostly full of honey and brood, you will want to give the bees more space to add extra stores of honey. You will know it’s time to add a honey super when your bees have filled the brood boxes and are covering the center of six or seven frames of the next box.
No Queens Allowed
After determining that you need to add a honey super, you will need to decide if you want to use a queen excluder. Some beekeepers use a queen excluder between the brood box and the honey super to keep the queen laying down below. Other beekeepers rely on the “honey barrier” which is naturally created in a hive, and usually keeps the queen laying down below in the brood chamber. It will be your decision whether or not to use a queen excluder.
Once the honey flow begins, there can be a rapid buildup of honey, so we suggest monitoring closely and adding more honey supers in advance of when they are actually needed. It is better to give your bees more room than less during the honey flow. How high you go with honey supers depends on how strong your bees are going into the nectar flow and also on the nectar availability of the season. If it is too hot and dry or too wet and damp for the bees to fly, this will affect the amount of nectar coming in.
Some aspects of beekeeping are within your control, like adding honey supers to make more room, or leaving enough honey stores in the hive. Other elements are out of your hands, like the weather during a particular year. With a bumper crop of honey comes many smiles, so keep your bees healthy all year long, and if the weather cooperates you will have extra honey supers to harvest in late summer.