comb honey production how to

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, 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,

      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.

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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!
    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, Kentucky

    • 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.

  • 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,

  • Dear Rusty,

    I am the son of Eugene Killion and I just came across your website yesterday and found your comments about my father. First of all, the American Bee Journal published the article on my grandfather and father in 1951 and the photos do indeed show 11 supers on one hive. However, everyone in the beekeeping industry knew that the photos were only meant to represent the average number of supers per hive for 100 colonies. Not one person contacted my grandfather or father and asked them how in the world could they have worked a hive with 11 supers on it. Any veteran beekeeper would know that would be absurd.

    Anyway, after those photos were taken, the average went up to 14 supers per hive for 100 colonies. That is indeed a world record that will probably never be broken.

    My father is not an arrogant man nor is he insane as you implied in your blog. He is revered in the beekeeping industry. He has helped thousands of beekeepers and also professors of entomology with his knowledge and experience throughout his career. His book was written in an attempt to help other beekeepers produce quality comb honey. Many years ago my grandfather and father would enter the National Honey Shows and would win first prize on their comb honey. Several beekeepers would ask them to share their secrets. Finally, they collaborated on a book to help other beekeepers produce the type of comb honey that they did. So, it was not out of arrogance that this book was published but rather to answer the requests of so many other beekeepers. A video was later made and is also available. I will say that if my father was truly an arrogant person, he would have never shared his secrets.

    This past January, my father gave a talk regarding comb honey production at the American Beekeeping Federation’s convention in Ponte Vedra, FL. It was well received. I am happy to say that at 92 years old he won first prize on his section comb honey in the 2016 Honey Show. That makes 39 first place wins out of the 39 times he has entered the show. And, fyi, he did that with only two hives of bees from which to choose his sections from and so his methods do produce results. I’m very proud of him so your comments in your blog are very hurtful. Not only are they inaccurate but they are absurd and convey a basic lack of knowledge of the art of comb honey production.


    Mark Killion

  • Hi Rusty, I am trying to produce section honey for the second year and the bees do not like to go into the boxes. Do you leave the queen excluder on, or what advice can you give? The bees have this years queen, 2017 and are building up well.

    • Corinne,

      To get section honey you have to play mind games with bees, and if you lose, it’s bad for your self esteem. That much I know for sure.

      I’m in the process of a good comb honey year, but I’ve taken extreme measures. First, I have section comb hives and regular hives. I reduce the section hives to singles. Add an excluder, and add section supers with upper entrances. The bees will fill them because they have limited choices.

      You have to watch for swarming, but swarms make good comb honey. So if you can catch or split, put them in a shallow brood box with excluder and section super.

      After harvest, you will have to help out the section-producers because they will be behind on stores. You will probably need to take some stores from your regular hives to boost your section honey hives.

      There are other ways to do it as well, but this system works if you have the patience for it. I’m working on a section honey how-to document, but it’s not ready yet. But there I will detail other methods.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Thanks for such a prompt reply. I have the single brood in place but will add an entrance above the queen excluder, I had not thought of that. I run a Langstroth deep, but could you please clarify, when you say hive on shallow do you mean the smallest Langstroth frames available? Here in the U.K. we classify them as shallow and medium which I use for supers with deep and jumbo for the brood. Usually I have no more than three supers on as the weight in moving them all is too great as they would be above my head as I am not very tall. Also your info regarding the cloak board has bee terrific, it has worked very well as I started queen rearing this year. Best wishes, Corinne

    • Corinne,

      You can often get comb honey from a swarm if you put the swarm into a shallow super instead of a brood box. The shallow will fill much faster and allow them to move into the section super more quickly. But as I said, you will have to help them later on by providing stores from other colonies. It is a give-and-take method requiring extra management.

      • Amazing I would never have thought of that! Thanks so much for your help and comments, I will look out for the article on comb production, and we still have swarms about so will try it this year. Best wishes Corinne

  • Hi, Rusty!
    I’m a brand-new beekeeper in CT. I just received my nuc last week. The apiary suggested I keep feeding the nuc, and the keeper there provided me with a two-gallon in-hive feeder. Right now, the bees have five frames filled out in a super, which is the only box in the hive. There are three other frames, plus the feeder (which takes up the space of two frames).

    My questions:
    1. I’ve fed them since I picked them up, but I’m not inclined to keep feeding them as it is late June. When should I stop feeding them?
    2. When should I add another super on top of the current one they’re in?
    3. Should I expect to add a medium super to the two large supers?
    4. At what point should I begin checking for mites?

    I appreciate your help!

    • Moira,

      It sounds (I think) like you currently have one brood box and no supers. Since it’s a nuc, I would stop feeding. When the first brood box has about 8 frames drawn, you probably want to add another brood box since you’re in Connecticut. You probably won’t add any supers until next year. See:

      How long should I feed a new package of bees (Read even though you have a nuc.)
      English for beekeepers (Read even though confusing terminology is not your fault).

      Begin checking for mites immediately.

  • Thank you! You are correct; I meant deeps, not supers. 🙂 Still learning the lingo.

    I appreciate your quick response and insight. Thank you again!

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