Should a new super go on the top or the bottom?

Putting a new super on top of existing supers is called “top supering.” Adding it above the brood box but below the other honey supers is called “bottom supering.” Which is best?

While honey bees remain indifferent to the entire subject, beekeepers get atwist over the mere thought of doing it wrong. In truth, there is no wrong. Do what makes you happy.

Arguments for top supering go like this:

  • It’s faster. You just drop the new one on top.
  • It’s less work. You don’t have to lift the other supers off and put them back on.
  • It’s easier to see when you need to add yet another super. You just take off the lid and look.
  • A filled super left just above the brood nest acts like a queen excluder. Because the queen wants to keep the brood nest together in one place, she will not cross a barrier of honey to lay eggs in  a new location.

And arguments for bottom supering go like this:

  • Bees begin working in the new super sooner if it is close to the brood nest.
  • It reduces travel stain because the bees don’t have to walk over capped honey to get to the new storage area. (Clean cappings are important for comb honey producers.)
  • Bees expend less energy because they don’t have to walk so far.

A paper published in the American Bee Journal by Jennifer Berry and Keith Delaplane (2000) found no statistically significant differences in honey yield between the two methods of supering. But still, the battle rages on.

My own preference is for top supering–and weight is the reason. I don’t move honey-filled supers anymore than I have to. I usually put section honey supers directly above the brood nest. These act like queen excluders because queens don’t seem to like those little boxes. Once that super starts to fill I add either another section super or a shallow super, but I never need a queen excluder.

I’ve reduced travel stain over my section honey by giving the bees an upper entrance–one that opens directly above the highest super. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s pretty good.

For those of you who still can’t decide whether to super above or below, I strongly recommend doing both. Just trade some of the frames in the old super for frames in the new one. If you put capped honey in the middle of the bottom box you will still get the “queen excluder effect” most of the time and the presence of honey in the upper box will attract workers to it. The bees can fill the remaining frames in any order they like.

Rusty

Comments

Paul Guernsey Player
Reply

I love the “laid-back” attitude, Rusty. Just let the bees be bees.

But it has always been about “doing what makes us happy,” hasn’t it? Who are we to believe we can outthink a hundred million years of genetic engineering? So, we have discovered bee space, have we? How long did that take us? We put bees in cute little segmented boxes and call ourselves Beekeepers. We didn’t even get the shape right. Who would give a rectangular box to a creature that lives, thinks and breathes in hexagons? Rectangles work for human abodes, so they must be good for Purple Martins, and bees, too? Honestly.

These beings trace their lineage back to the Cretaceous age. We would do well to pick up some pointers that might carry over into our own human “colonies”. Try this one: produce like mad every waking minute of every stage of life, waste nothing, and set aside more than you could imagine ever needing.

Phillip
Reply

I thought honey supers on the bottom on my Langstroth hives made more sense from what I read about honey bees in nature building downwards. But what beekeepers do and what honey bees naturally do isn’t always a match.

My hives have bottom and top entrances, but the bees completely ignore the top entrances, I suppose because the brood nest is in the bottom box and the honey is mostly at the top.

The bees have also completely ignored the honey supers I put on top a few weeks ago. I considered placing honey supers on the bottom, but another beekeeper told me they would just drop the brood nest into the honey super if I did that.

So to get them building in the honey supers (the honey supers have waxed foundation but no drawn out comb), I put a few of the honey super frames into the top deeps between frames of honey last weekend. This weekend I plan to put them back into the honey supers and hope that gets them started.

My thinking was to put them on the bottom all along, which I may still do if my current methods don’t work out. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to think.

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

It’s interesting that your top entrances are ignored. My bees love their top entrances and sometimes the bottom and tops are equally busy. I have no idea why there is so much difference between hives.

Chelsea
Reply

Hey Rusty!

At work, we often put two supers on the hives once we get them into pollination (because we may or may not be back before they need more space). When we un-super, interestingly, there is often more going on in the top super.

Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether to add a second brood box under or over the first one, when moving to a double brood box set up.

Rusty
Reply

Chelsea,

Are you using an upper entrance? That could entice them to use the top box.

I have never added brood boxes on the bottom (nadiring) but I intend to try it in the future. The Warre keepers say it works well, and in nature bees build downward. If you try it, please let me know how it works out. I’m interested.

Jeff
Reply

Hey folks,

I have one colony from last year. I have the bottom entrance fully open. I have two standard brood boxes, installed queen excluder along with one medium super partially full with honey and a second medium super with one frame moved up to give the bees something to work for. The inner cover with the 3″ x 3/8″ slot to allow bees to enter from the top and an ventilation eke with 4 x 1-1/2″ diameter holes for improved ventilation. In light of this the colony still swarmed. I managed to collect the swarm out of a maple tree, put it in a new box with empty foundation and move it away.

I guess my questions are. What could I have done differently to prevent the swarming? How long before I can move the box back to my property (swarmed colony)? How quickly will the colony draw out comb, should I feed the swarmed colony, should I be ready to add another brood box within a week? When can I go back into my original colony to verify it is queen right (virgin queen/mated queen present)? Being in the second year of bee keeping this is all new to me.

Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Jeff,

What could I have done differently to prevent the swarming? There is very little you can do to prevent a reproductive swarm other than to split the colony before it swarms. You could have added a third brood box, but they probably would have swarmed anyway.

How long before I can move the box back to my property (swarmed colony)? You didn’t need to move it away in the first place. You can put a new swarm right next to the original hive if you want.

How quickly will the colony draw out comb, should I feed the swarmed colony, should I be ready to add another brood box within a week? A new swarm will draw out comb very quickly since the queen needs a place to lay. You should feed a new swarm if you want it to build up fast. If a heavy nectar flow is in progress, you don’t really need to feed. I think it will be several weeks before you add another brood box. Remember, the colony will decrease in size until new eggs start to hatch, which will be at least three weeks.

When can I go back into my original colony to verify it is queen right (virgin queen/mated queen present)? Assuming a queen cell was nearly ready to hatch and you’ve had good weather for mating, you should see eggs 10 to 14 days later (2-3 days to hatch, 2 days maturing, 2-3 days for mating, 2-3 days preparing to lay). If there was no mature queen cell or the weather was bad for mating, it will take longer.

Jeff
Reply

Thanks Rusty. Great info

Carol
Reply

I installed a package on 3.13.13…in a Langs with foundationless frames, and one full frame of honey. On the 18th I gave them 2 frames from a TBH that had swarmed, and 2 small combs they made before they left. I havn’t been in the hive since but they are bringing in a lot of pollen. I will check them tomorrow and want to add a medium super for more brood chamber…any thoughts on that. I’m in FL and thought there would be less chance of comb failure with the medium box. It would give them 1 1/2 + brood chamber.

Rusty
Reply

Hi Carol,

I think adding the medium for more brood chamber sounds like a good idea. If you haven’t been inside you probably don’t know how they are doing with the foundationless, so it’s a good time to check and make sure they are building parallel combs. Otherwise, all that pollen coming in sounds like they are fairly well established. And yes, mediums are a lot less heavy and hold together better in hot weather.

Rusty

Carol
Reply

Thanks for your help. They’ve been in the hive for 24 days. When I installed them I had one almost full frame of honey. Would the queen have started laying in any empty cell she could find? I assume they ate some of the honey even though I was feeding them honey.

Rusty
Reply

Carol,

The workers will prepare some cells for the queen to lay in by cleaning and polishing them. They may even move some of the honey to other parts of the hive in order to establish a brood nest.

Carol

I do appreciate the help and the knowledge. I am flying blind here. I wasn’t able to check them today, out of town. Will try tomorrow if weather is nice. I am not worried about cross comb. They had the original full comb of honey, 2 full combs from the TBH and 2 small started, plus one that I saw in the hive that they had started. So 6 of them should be straight. If that is the case and they’ve only been in 25 or 26 days . . . should I wait another week to check them? Will they have enough bees to keep a brood nest warm if I add the medium now?

Rusty

Carol,

I always check a new package after a few days to make sure the queen is actually laying. If she’s not laying, or not laying in a decent pattern, you want to replace her as soon as possible. So I wouldn’t put off a quick check too much longer.

Putting a super on top will not affect the warmth of the brood nest. The bees won’t try to keep that area warm unless there is brood in it, and brood won’t be put in it instantly. Not to worry.

Carol

I checked them today. I posted pictures on the blog. One frame had what looked to me like nectar and some pollen…One frame looked to be full of capped brood. So I didn’t go any farther. Take a look and see if I am right. I think all frames had comb of one size or another so I put the medium on. Thanks again for your time and expertise.

Carol
Reply

Also…would one deep and one medium be enough brood nest, or should I give them another medium later?

Rusty
Reply

Carol,

One deep and one medium is probably enough because you have shorter winters in Florida and the growing season is long. But it never hurts to have extra, so two mediums certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Gona Kikbuty
Reply

I love this site and your sharing of knowledge!

I just added a medium as an extra brood box to the bottom of my deep. I plan to take the deep out as soon as possible so I can use all mediums. I was unaware that the Warre beeks added boxes to the bottom of their hives (my year of research didn’t teach me that). I’ll let you know as soon as I can about the colony’s progress in that lower box (foundationless with Walter Kelly frames).

Jerry Flummer
Reply

Hey Rusty, I’m new to bee keeping and have a question. I’m currently inspecting my hives once a week. When I inspect do I inspect all three supers or just the top one?

Rusty
Reply

Jerry,

That would depend on what you’re looking for. Before you do an inspection you should have a crystal clear idea of what you are trying to learn, and that will tell you where you need to go. If you are looking at brood pattern, you need to look in all the brood boxes. If you want to know if your queen is laying, you can stop once you find eggs. If you are looking for honey, perhaps you can stop after the honey supers. Looking for swarm cells? Try the space between two boxes.

A once-a-week inspection is very disruptive to a colony. On the other hand, frequent inspections are almost a necessity for new beekeepers to learn what they are seeing. As soon as you are comfortable with telling things apart and identifying normal vs abnormal, I would cut that back to once every two weeks. As you become even more skilled, I recommend as few inspections as possible. Sometimes they are necessary, but oftentimes not.

Tom
Reply

Rusty,

Just came across this site. It answered the question of which position for adding supers very well. Thank you, regards Tom

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