When to Add Supers
by Margaret Smith
I am a new bee keeper who has a hive with a newly caught swarm and a hive with newly installed packaged bees. Both hives are active and the bees are working hard.
I was told not to put on a super right away because I started with foundation, not drawn comb.
When do I put the supers on? The swarm hive has been in place a week and has some brood. The package was installed 3 days ago.
Thanks for your help.
When to add supers is one of those things that beekeepers sometimes disagree upon. But in my opinion, it's better to err on the side of giving the bees more room than they need rather than too little.
When I'm adding supers of foundation, I like to add the next super when the bees have begun to build comb on all but the outside frames.
So if, for example, you have your bees in a single brood chamber, you'd wait until the bees had started to draw comb on 8 of the 10 frames. They don't need to have completed comb on those 8 frames. They just need to have started.
When I'm adding drawn comb, I add the next super when the top super (or brood chamber, if that's all the hive currently consists of) is about 1/2 full.
What are the risks of adding supers too early? Nothing terribly serious.
You could end up with honey scattered through several supers, instead of being consolidated and capped in fewer supers. Not really a big deal, just a bit of a headache for the beekeeper.
And if you're adding foundation before the bees really need it, you could end up with warped and chewed foundation which you'll have to replace. This really isn't as much of an issue if you're using plastic-based foundation.
The risks of not adding supers soon enough? Swarming and lost honey crops! (Improbable, though, with a newly installed package.)
Certainly it's ideal to add the supers just as the bees need them, but it takes a bit of experience to know exactly when to add them. And truth be told, it sometimes also takes a bit of luck to get the timing perfect!
But while you're gaining that experience, my advice would be to add supers earlier rather than later, using the criteria above as a rough guideline. No great harm will come from adding a super a bit early.
Hope this helps, and best of luck with your bees!