Malcolm’s Topical Tips – 2018 May 21

Let your bees go outwards before you let them go upwards

Beginners always ask when they should put a super onto a hive. One of the classic mistakes is to put it on too early, before all the frames in the brood box have been drawn out. People do this because they are greedy for honey and in their minds putting on a super means their bees will be making them honey.

Well of course in one way they are quite right because we all use a super placed above the brood box (with a queen excluder between) to get honey. However if you put a super on before all the frames in the brood box have been drawn, then you may find that the bees don’t draw out all the foundation that you have placed in the brood box.

Why is this? Try and look at it from the bees point of view. When building comb they always prefer to build upwards. From their point of view this is quite logical. Ideally what they want is a brood nest that looks like a rugby ball standing on one of its pointy ends. The heat from the brood below will help heat the brood above. However by putting them in a hive we don’t allow them to do this. We, the beekeeper, want them to produce a brood nest that looks like a rugby ball on its side. The bees oblige as long as you don’t give them a choice by putting on a super too early.

So when do I put my supers on? I need the bees to be covering every frame in the brood box bar one. Then I put my super of drawn comb onto the hive. As it is drawn comb I put the queen excluder on, but if the bees show no interest I might consider taking the queen excluder away for a few days. If you are a beginner you don’t have drawn comb so you are going to have to put a super with foundation on instead. We are in the month of May and all those young bees hatching are desperate, and I mean desperate, to make wax. As your super is foundation only, don’t put the queen excluder on. Then go back in three days and if a little of the wax is being drawn out, pop the excluder in at that stage.

So you are now going to ask me how you know when to put the next super on. This time it’s easy. If the bees start to put wax into the hole in the crown board and stick it to the roof, they are asking for more space. In fact you probably should have given them another super a bit earlier if this is happening. Or if you find hundreds of bees milling about on top of the crown board, then give them something to do by giving them another super. Bees that are not kept busy, swarm. You are warned.

Finally look at this video I took. Just doing an inspection and as I had the frames apart for a few minutes the young bees, bless them, decided they should start to make wax in the space between the frames. If you look closely you can see one bee upside down desperately trying to bridge the gap created by me. When you get chains of bees like this, then the bees are making wax. It is a wonder of nature. The video was taken on May 19th. 

Malcolm Wilkie May21st 2018

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