Not so super after all

Yesterday my hive partner, Emma, had put a super on our hive as we thought it wouldn’t do any harm to have one on there ready for all the loads of honey we’re going to get this year.

Today I told Alan, the beekeeper who kindly helped me shook-swarm, that we had put the super box on, but he advised us to take it off. So the super has been moved away for now! Alan told us we should wait till our colony has really built out all the frames and the box is heaving with bees before putting another brood box on, and then wait till that is also spilling over with bees before putting a super on. He keeps all his colonies on a double brood box and believes it really helps a colony survive the winter if it is bigger and has more stores for food and insulation. The bees are less likely to swarm on a double brood box system, and the queen will lay more eggs in the extra space, so you get more bees. There are a few disadvantages – some beekeepers at the apiary are against it as inspections are made more difficult and you may be more likely to miss queen cells with twice the number of brood frames. You get a bit less honey too, although Alan still gets loads in his locations.

This makes sense to me as I overwintered mine in a double brood box and they did better than most of the hives in the apiary. Most of the other hives have been quite slow to build up so far this year and only have bees on four-five frames compared to the nine frames our bees have now drawn out. Alan told us he thinks our bees will never really do well in the shady location they’re in down at the apiary! Emma’s been trying to hunt down alternative locations, perhaps in a kind person’s garden in exchange for some honey, but it’s hard to find places. Having a garden is a bit of a luxury in London. I have one but it’s tiny and shared with my sunbathing neighbour and her dog, so that’s not going to work.

We had a look through and they all look fine, the queen was spotted plus more capped brood and even a bit of drone brood now, for the first time since shook-swarming. In the photo above you can see a bit of the many colours of pollen they’re storing. I like observing the colour variations in the bees too. Some of them have lighter caramel brown abdomens, others are quite black.

Above is what happens when you give naughty bees a bit of extra space to build in – beautiful natural comb, but not where the beekeeper wants it. This was in someone else’s hive.

Hopefully you can see here the structure of the comb. A bit of pollen has been stored inside but otherwise they haven’t done much with it yet, so you can see through to the cell walls on the other side. Each cell is a precise hexagon, offset from the cell on the reverse side. First thick layers of wax are placed at the base of what will become each comb, these are drawn out into cells by elongating and thinning the wax out to form the cell walls. Worker cells are about 5.2-5.4 mm in diameter, drone cells are wider at 6.2-6.4 mm.

Time for a bit of wine and relaxing now I think 🙂

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
This entry was posted in Colony management and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Not so super after all

  1. auntmarty says:

    Hi Emily,

    Another terrific post. Do you all use 10-frame hives? Does anyone go with an 8-frame, and does your bee guru think that could make a difference with overwintering?


    • Emily Heath says:

      Hi Marty, everyone in the apiary uses Nationals, which hold ten frames plus a dummy board. So I don’t know what Alan would make of a eight frame hive…do you guys use them?



  2. Emma Tennant says:

    Mmm, couldn’t you tell your neighbour that eating honey is healthier than sunbathing?… No, I can see that might not work! ;o)

    That wild comb was amazing, I love your close up of the hexagon structure!


    • Emily Heath says:

      I could try to persuade her to swap the cigarettes for honey, she has a bit of a smokers cough which could do with some honey to soothe it!

      It is amazing how the bees build the comb so perfectly and without any sign of miniature rulers or tape measures.


  3. Simon says:

    Hi Emily,
    My hives are in a shady location and I got 200lb+ of them last year. They are on brood and a half and I think that’s helped them. The brood box has eleven frames and a dummy, with the supers on ten frames. A super goes on whenever the uppermost box is three quarters full, definitely not when it’s full to overflowing, that’s just asking for a swarm! Unfortunately, whoever you ask will give you a different answer so my advice would be to ask lots of people and then make your own mind up 🙂 Good luck for the season, Simon


    • Emily Heath says:

      Hi Simon,

      Thanks for your advice. Glad you did so well last year – what location are you in? There are a fair number of hives in our apiary so I wonder if there may be too much competition for the local flowers. I notice you say super(s) – from what I’ve seen in the couple of years I’ve had my hive down there often the hives in the apiary get only one super’s worth and two is considered good going!

      As you say it’s hard to know what advice to take as everyone has very different opinions! I think for now we will go on trying to build up their numbers and keep a close eye out each week for queen cells.


  4. Simon says:

    I’m up in north Manchester, on an allotment site. I had six supers on one hive last year and five on the other. I ran out of supers so had to replace individual frames as they were capped until the colony slowed a little and I could start to clear boxes the ‘normal’ way. I think if I were you I would concentrate less on what everyone is telling you and just enjoy the bees, you seem to be doing fine so far 🙂


  5. willowbatel says:

    Do your frames have plastic foundations? Mine do, but the guy I bought my bees from said that bees prefer making the frames completely from scratch and will drawn out the combs faster when there’s no foundation. He gave me a frame with wires in the middle instead of a plastic foundation and it was completely drawn out. None of the plastic foundation frames I have are completely drawn out, including the ones he gave me.


  6. willowbatel says:

    I thought I was getting wax foundation too, but it’s actually just plastic coated in wax. The size of your boxes look a little different too. Are they mediums? I have two deeps right now, and then one small box just for the extra honey. I’ve heard switch to all medium sizes is better because they weigh less but you can collect relatively the same amount of honey. And the bees prefer them because it’s not such a major decision to move from box to box in the winter because the brood nest can transition a little easier into each of the boxes as they move upward through the hive.


    • Emily Heath says:

      Nearly everyone in the apiary is using National hives, which is the most common type in the UK. Not sure how big your mediums are, but the Nationals fit ten frames plus a dummy board (think you guys call dummy boards follower boards maybe?) I’m only 5″2 so they feel pretty heavy to me!


      • Gary Rondeau says:

        Hi Emily,
        I noticed you subscribed to my blog. Thanks for reading! I think London and Oregon have have a pretty similar climate so relevant beekeeping comparisons.

        Long ago, I considered REALLY keeping bees, and was up to about ten hives. But I noticed that honey is HEAVY and that beekeeping on a big scale is backbreaking work. Ever since I’ve just had two or three hives. Big debate I’m having is whether to switch over to deeps for the honey so I have a constant supply of frames to cycle into the brood nest to them fresh. But those deeps get SO heavy when full of honey!

        Have Fun!


        • Emily Heath says:

          Thanks Gary,

          I enjoy reading people’s blogs in other countries. Being new to beekeeping I have learnt the ways taught to me locally, and at first assumed that everyone did the same types of treatments etc around the world. But of course that’s not the case! The weather and local forage present such different challenges. In one of the Canadian beekeeping blogs I follow they were contending with
          snow last week.

          By the way I don’t have much of an idea what a large pulsed ion beam generator is, but it certainly sounds very impressive!


  7. willowbatel says:

    We’ve got hives that fit either 8 frames or 10 frames per box. The hive I have is a 10 frame standard. I’ve heard of a dummy board I just don’t remember what it is. It’s not the board at the bottom of the hive is it? The entrance?


    • Emily Heath says:

      It goes at the end of the brood box to replace one of the frames, so that when you’re inspecting you can take it out to create space to move the frames up and lift them out without having to put a frame of bees on the ground.


      • willowbatel says:

        hmm, interesting. I put my hive up on a concrete base. My neighbors got a new air conditioner and the base the old one sat on was styrofoam coated in concrete. I put that up on bricks and then the hive on top of that. I figured it would help with insulation and such because of the styrofoam.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.