Honey Supers: What's Right For Your Hive?
Why Honey Supers Matter
Bees make honey as a way to preserve their food through the winter. They often make excess, which becomes a sweet perk for the beekeeper.
Bees store excess honey in the wooden boxes in upper stories of the hive called honey supers. Add supers to your hive to allow your bees to more room to store honey as they need it. Maintaining a proper balance of harvesting is vital for the health of your colony.
Know Your Region
The right amount of honey storage for winter can vary by region. Learn consistent beekeeping practices for your area to ensure your beekeeping success.
For our region in the Pacific Northwest, blackberries go into bloom in early June each year. This major nectar flow is just around the corner for us, and we are stocking our honey supers in anticipation. In the Willamette Valley, two brood chambers that are at least 70% full of honey and brood is typically considered the standard for overwintering.
In regions with harsher winters or for weaker hives, it is always better to be safe rather than sorry. Protect the bees’ resources before harvesting any honey.
How to Check Supers
A great way to check the fullness of your hive is to lift the back of the box to gauge the weight. Seasoned beekeepers refer to this as hefting. It gives you a good idea of how much honey stores your bees have built up.
Find the Right Size
Boxes can get heavy, and brood is lighter than honey. We recommend using “Western” or “Honey” Supers as you set up for the honey flow because they are easier to lift when full.
A honey-filled 6 5/8" western super can weigh up to 60 lbs. Whereas a honey-filled 9 5/8" deep super can weigh up to 80 lbs. Another great way to keep the weight of your hive down is to build your hive with Eight Frame boxes.
When to Add More
There are two main signs when it is time to put a honey super on your hive.
One sign is that the two brood boxes are about 70% full. Honey stores can build up very quickly. Add a honey super at this time to give brood room to build up their honey stores. The extra room will keep them content in their space and help prevent swarming.
Another sign is that a significant nectar flow is coming. When a major nectar flow hits, even if their brood boxes are not quite full, your bees will start building their honey stores like wild and will need room to expand.
Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated
We recommend differentiating your supers to separate honey boxes from brood boxes. This is especially helpful if you are using western supers for both.
One way to do this is with a queen excluder. This is a screen with mesh holes big enough for worker bees to get through, but too small for the queen It prevents her from laying eggs in boxes from which you intend to harvest honey.
However, not all beekeepers use queen excluders. A natural “honey barrier” is typically created which keeps the queen laying in the lower boxes.
Another great way to differentiate your supers is to use different color of frames. Use Black Frames to see the brood eggs more easily and White Frames for honey. This will help you keep track of which frames were treated for mites, and which are exclusively for honey.
Happy, Healthy Bees
Once the honey flow begins, there can be a rapid buildup of honey. We suggest monitoring your hive closely, and adding more honey supers before the bees need them.
It is better to give your bees more room than less during the honey flow, but you don’t want to overwhelm them with space either. If you maintain the right amount of space, the bees will do the rest of the work!