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:
- When the first super is half full, you place a second super above the first.
- When the first super it almost totally full, you reverse the two supers so the full one is on top.
- When the second super is half full, you add a third super above the other two.
- 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.
- When the third super half full, you place super number four on top of super number one.
- 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:
- When the first super is half full, I add a second super under it, directly above the brood box.
- When the second super is half full, I add a third super under the second, directly above the brood box.
- When the third super is half full, I put an escape board under the first two.
- 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.
- 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.