How to super for section honey

­­­­­­­For many years, Honey in the Comb by Eugene E. Killion was considered the bible of comb honey production. On the flyleaf is a photo of a single brood box topped with eleven section honey supers. The caption states that the hive eventually held fourteen section supers and earned a world record for section honey production in 1951.

But seriously, why would anyone do that? Why would anyone of sound mind stack supers fourteen stories deep? I can’t think of one practical reason for doing so, and I think it borders on insanity. In the book, the protocol for adding section supers to a hive is made as difficult as possible.

Basically, it works like this:

  1. When the first super is half full, you place a second super above the first.
  2. When the first super it almost totally full, you reverse the two supers so the full one is on top.
  3. When the second super is half full, you add a third super above the other two.
  4. When the third super is almost completely drawn out, you move it down to just above the brood box, and put super two above three, and one above two.
  5. When the third super half full, you place super number four on top of super number one.
  6. If you are still conscious, we’ll fix that. When super four is completely drawn, you move four down to just above the brood box, put three on top of four, put two on top of three, remove number one altogether, and add number five above number two.

I don’t think Mr. Killion followed his own advice because, if he did, it would have never gotten more than four stories on his hive because, at that point, you remove one for every one you add. I suspect he couldn’t follow his own directions and gave up.

Furthermore, in his own book (page 105) Killion writes, “As soon as a super is completely capped over or finished, it should be removed. This is to eliminate all unnecessary travel over the cappings and to avoid handling of this super with each colony manipulation.”

In Honey Bee Biology (2013), Caron and Connor write, “Removal of completed sections needs to be prompt as continued bee travel on the cappings will darken them and make them less attractive.” So that is my advice: Don’t try to impress anyone with your towering hive, just remove the sections when they are ready.

From a practical point of view, I put up to three supers on one hive, but I skip many of Killion’s steps. My system works like this:

  1. When the first super is half full, I add a second super under it, directly above the brood box.
  2. When the second super is half full, I add a third super under the second, directly above the brood box.
  3. When the third super is half full, I put an escape board under the first two.
  4. The next day I take off the first two supers, pull out all completed sections and combine the incomplete ones into one super and put that super back on the hive.
  5. When the remaining two supers begin to get full, I again pull out the full sections and combine the remainder into one box and return it to the hive.

Where I live I am unlikely to get more than three supers during the spring nectar flow. So when the flow begins to ebb, I remove the remaining section super and replace it with a second brood box so the bees can build up for the winter.


Note #1: This system will work for all kinds of section honey except glass jar honey. You can’t stack glass jar supers because the bees can’t travel from one box to the next.

Note #2: Most references suggest that you do not use both regular supers and section supers on the same hive. Although I have tried it, I had limited success. Basically, the bees won’t completely fill the sections if they have another storage space to use. I ended up with mediocre comb in both places instead of good comb in one place.

Note #3: If you get a lot of section honey from a hive, be ready to supplement that hive with honey from one of your other hives. Depending on where you live, that good comb honey producer may not be able to overwinter without honey from somewhere else. Keep this in mind when you are managing your other hives.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Aram
Reply

Rusty, What are specific dates for putting on section supers (+/- a week)? Last spring and summer were excellent in Kent, WA, but July and August were basically bare. Usually I find that spring flow basically sustains my hives. You are talking only about spring flow? Do you not keep them on for June blackberries and Lynden?

Aram

Rusty
Reply

Aram,

The best wax is made early in the year, so I make comb honey on the earliest flows. The bees will need whatever they get later in the year for themselves. You can put extracting supers on after section supers come off, but you risk not being ready for winter. This isn’t like the mid west; our nectar season is not long.

I don’t have specific dates. I go outside and look at the trees because there is a huge variation from year to year. And some years there is hardly any break in the rain, which means you get almost nothing early on.

cgrey8
Reply

I don’t get the logic of put a new box on top, then move it to the bottom of the super-stack. Why not just put it on the bottom to start with like your instructions illustrate? Obviously you have never found that useful hence your modification to the rule that makes much more sense…particularly given that you don’t give your hives an entrance/exit at the top of the hive.

I do have one question though. When you pull supers, if you aren’t ready to extract, do you freeze them until you are ready to extract? How long should I give them to thaw before extraction? 24 hrs? Or do they need more time than that if they are going to be kept together in a box?

Rusty
Reply

Chris,

Bear in mind that the subject here is section honey which, by definition, is never extracted. Most beekeepers leave their extracting supers in place until they are ready to extract, and then do them all at once. This avoids the whole freezing step. If you want to pull frames and extract at a later date, then they should be frozen for 24 hours before storage. To go from freezer to extractor, I’d say you need to wait until they are at least room temperature, or put them in a warm room if you want a slightly higher temperature.

Nancy
Reply

Hi, Rusty,

Again, we’re in “happy if any colonies survived” mode, after 3 days of daytime temps between 0 and 10. But it’s nice to dream…

Please comment on a bit of local wisdom. Our older beekeepers say put the empty super ABOVE the partly filled one. Otherwise the bees, who want their food supplies closer to them, may waste time moving stored honey down. They say when the bees run out of space, they’ll move up anyway.
Thanks! Wishing you a great year!
Nan
Shady Grove Farm
Corinth, Kentucky

Rusty
Reply

Nan,

Happy New Year to you, as well. Here is a little-known fact: according to my WordPress stats, you were my most frequent commenter in 2013 with 93 comments. You’re a celebrity!

Now, about those supers. Good question. I think the reason why many beekeepers get disappointed with their section honey hives is that they try to manage them in the same way as extracting hives. If I am managing for extracting, I always put the empty supers on top. I also make an upper entrance so bees can access the supers from either direction.

But with section honey, you don’t want the bees walking all over the capped cells, so you leave out the upper entrance and super from the bottom. This works because section honey is made only during major nectar flows, and during major nectar flows the bees are so busy they don’t have time for rearranging their pantry, so they don’t move the honey down. Then, as soon as the flow starts to abate, you take off the section supers before the bees get bored and begin moving things around. Since sections supers are only on during peak nectar flow, you don’t have the same problems you have with extracting supers . . . you just have different problems.

Nancy
Reply

Okay, thanks! And the Old Boys have this one right!

As for those 93 comments, well… you are part of my support network. I wonder if it showed how many times I shared your posts on our club’s Facebook page? And how you’ve gotten Likes from 4 or 5 continents!

Best always,
Nan

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