comb honey production honey bee management

Should I add a new super on top or underneath?

You bees don't care if you put additional supers on top of or beneath the other honey supers.

Your honey bees are very adaptable and easily accept change. That means the location of their new honey supers doesn’t matter much to them.

Inside: You can add a new honey super above the stack or beneath it. The bees will use it regardless of where you place it.

Putting a new super on top of the existing stack is called “top supering.” Adding it above the brood box but below the other honey boxes 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 boxes 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 box 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. But still, the battle rages on.

For me, top supering is quicker and easier

My own preference is for top supering—and weight is the reason. I don’t move honey-filled boxes any more than I need 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, 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 honey 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. Try it!

Honey Bee Suite


  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.


    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.


      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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?

            • 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.

              • 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,

      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.

  • 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).

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • Rusty,

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

  • When rotating a hive should the bottom hive have open frames? I was going to do this but my top box was 3/4 full and the bottom empty, what do you think should I do?

  • My queen laid eggs in the honey super they’d overwintered with. I was told by one beekeeper to now leave the super as part of the brood chamber (I reversed, so now the super is between the 2 deeps) and by another beekeeper to put it back on top, that the bees will clean it out after the new bees emerge and they’ll fill it with honey again. I need a third opinion haha really. I am a first year beekeeper whose 2 hives made it through winter. I live in VT. thanks in advance…..

    • Pam,

      I would put it back on top or else it will soon be crammed with eggs. Also, I would use a queen excluder if you don’t want them to do it again.

  • Hive inspections and the new beekeeper’s insatiable curiosity, gotta love it. If you have more than one hive, alternate weeks so you only do 1/2 or 1/3 the inspections on any given hive. (Week 1, inspect hive #1 and on week 2 inspect hive #2 …)

    Take photos and rough notes while you are in the hive, fill in the details on the notes once you’ve closed the hive back up. Compare notes to your inspection plan. (see Rusty’s note above) Focusing on the one hive will help your recall as well disturb hives half as often. 🙂

    You can also spend some study time observing the hive activity. A lot can be understood of the inside of the hive by that observation. It also makes a good excuse to sit in the sun and decompress watching bees do the inspiring ‘industrious thing’. Take your note book along to make it look official. 🙂


  • I’m new to beekeeping and would like to know how many brood boxes I need and when do I add a queen excluder and a honey super

    • Ed,

      None of these questions can be answered directly. The number of brood boxes depends on the size of the colony. After they nearly fill one, you can add another. If they fill that one, you can add another, but most beekeepers stop at two. Normally you add a honey super just before (or at the beginning) of a nectar flow. The nectar flows depend on where you live and what grows there. Often bees will start to deposit snow-white wax on the top bars at the beginning of a flow, so you can use that as a clue. You can add a queen excluder at the same time you add the honey supers.

  • I have just one hive and is doing well, but about 5 pm I see many bees around the hive box for few minutes and than they go back to the hive. Could anybody tell me what it mean?

    • It sounds like orientation flights. Often in the late afternoon many bees will fly around in the vicinity of the hive and many will hover right near the front. It is believed that they are young bees that are learning where their hive is in relationship to the surroundings. A bee cannot fly off on a foraging trip until it learns where home is, so this is a way they learn. Often you will see many bees doing this for 20 to 40 minutes, and then the will all go back inside for the day.

  • I prefer adding a super underneath the first one because I want the one that is capped on top so I can extract it. Usually, the next day

  • Cut wild comb in sections from a swarm last year and put the comb into a super of open frames and held the comb in with rubber bands. The bees repaired the wild comb in the super box and I noticed they were starting to draw out a bit in the lower brood box. Will the queen go down to the lower deep box to lay? Should I put the full repaired super under the deep box and move the deep box on top? I was thinking of doing this then adding a queen excluder, then an empty super on top of that. It’s early April 2015 and everything’s blooming, bringing in pollen. New beekeeper….unsure. Thanks!

    • Elaine,

      Honey bees have a tendency to move down in summer, up in winter, but there is a lot of variation from colony to colony. The queen will lay where the cells are prepared for her regardless of the depth of the box. If you want to control things more, you can make sure she is in the lowest box and then let her work up. Or just put an excluder below your honey supers and don’t worry too much about where she starts.

  • I’m putting a starter pack of bees in a brood box that has all the frames drawn out in comb. Since all the frames are drawn out should I put a second brood box on top of the first right off the bat, or should I wait a little bit? I know when I started my first hive last year I read that when about 7 frames get drawn you add the next box, thus the question with having all the frames already drawn out.

  • Hi Rusty,
    I enjoy reading your advice. I live in Maine and have placed my second brood box below my first. The bees moved nicely down to the second box. My question is where do I place my first honey super? On top or below?

  • We only add the 2n brood box under the 1st…replicating natural processes. we’ll also place 1/2 brood above1/2 below.

    If hive is strong enough for honey making, add honey supers above that, once the 20 frames are 90% built out.

    Only 1.5″dia 3″long pvc or bamboo tubes as embraces …one above and one below.

    As 10 beeks…get 11 opinions…??

  • Rusty, I am putting two supers with drawn foundation on my hives. I will be only using nine frames in these supers. My question is would it be ok to add a third super of new foundation on top at the same time. Also, what is your opinion of using a queen excluder with this setup?

    Thanks, Mike

    • Mike,

      You can add as many supers as you want. The problem is the bees will often fill the middle two or three frames in each one.

      Unless you want brood in your honey, I would definitely use an excluder.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Really enjoy your blog and your wealth of knowledge about bees. My question comes after I read one of your blog notes yesterday about top supering and bottom supering. I have 2 deeps, and then 2 supers. My bottom super is now full of honey and just about all capped. The top super has bees in it but not drawing out comb yet, but the bottom super is overflowing with bees, etc. Yesterday, I took the bottom honey super and swapped it with the top. Now the full super is on top and the empty is on bottom. Does this make sense and did I do the right thing? BTW, This is my 3rd year in beekeeping, and I live in Alabama.

    Thanks so much!

  • Hi Rusty,

    I just dropped 4 packages into hives with pulled combs. Checked 24hrs later and 1 hive is now double the bees. I assume from drifting? There aren’t many dead bees from fighting. But now one of the hives is very low on numbers only a handful of bees left to care for that queen. Is there anyway to get the bees back to their original hive? I even tried moving a frame covered with bees to the weak hive. By evening they all went back to the over full hive. My other question is: now that full hive is really full of bees, since comb is already there should I drop another brood box for room? Even tho they haven’t started filling comb? I am just worried about room for the bees to keep them from leaving. Or take my chances and transfer brood from strong hive to weak in a few weeks?


    • Pamela,

      Once your package bees decide where they’re going to live, you won’t be able to change their little minds. The best way is to wait for some brood frames that you can move over to the small hive. Your problem in the meantime is making sure the little hive has enough resources to take care of the queen and keep her warm and fed.

      I would not add boxes until the first one is mostly filled with brood, pollen, and honey. Otherwise you are likely to get a chimney of bees up through the center. Also remember that your population in each box will drop dramatically over the next three weeks until brood begins to emerge.

  • Hi Pamela,

    Something you could “try” is the following, I do this often with hatched and laying new queens.

    Verify you have a queen in the hive with the “small” amount of bees, need to inspect. May or may not have a queen.
    If yes, then double queen excluder the “strong house, i.e. place 2 queen excluders on top of the strong hive, this will not work with the plastic excluders one needs to be the wooden framed type to create a “space” between screens. If you have 2 hives I am hoping you may also have 2 excluders.

    Then place the week hive on top of the strong hive, the heat from below will help the weak hive stay warm and some of the bees will move up and the balance will slowly be restored, in a month or so split them.

    I.E. combine now, split later keeping the queens separate, and not able to fight on the screen itself.

    If the queen is good in the small hive this should work. Sometimes however if the pheromones are weak the bees drift to a “better” queen. The week queen may eventually fail.

    I “incubate” queens on 1 or 2 frames of bees often on top of stronger hives, This is somewhat how you start a 2 queen setup, but you will split when there is 5 or so frames of bees in the top box and laying queens in both. If the bottom is stronger, later you can move the bottom queen away and let the weaker one stay in the original spot equalizing them even more.

    Good luck,


  • Hi Rusty,

    I live in Victoria, Australia where the weather is warm and there is currently plenty of fodder for our bees. I inspected my 2 hives yesterday and could not find the queen in one of my hives. This is not unusual for this hive as they are small dark bees and she is most elusive. However, I found that most of the frames in the upper box and many of the frames in the lower box had capped worker and drone brood. I had an empty box filled with drawn comb close by and placed it on top of the bottom box with a QX underneath (QX on top of bottom box) then put the second box, containing brood and bees on top of that with a QX under that. There are now three boxes with an entrance in the bottom box and also in the newly placed middle box. My reasoning for this was to reduce the possibility of swarming. However, I have been worried ever since that this may have been one stupid idea! Can you please advise me of your thoughts.

    Thank you for all your wonderful information. Yours is my go-to sight for information but I couldn’t find any posts on this spur of the moment idea.


    • Julia,

      Not sure I got this straight, but it sounds like you have (from the bottom up) a brood box-qx-brood box-qx-brood box, with openings in the first and second brood box, but you don’t know where the queen is.

      Since you have two excluders, you should know where the queen is within three days. The box with eggs will be the box with the queen.

      I don’t think the extra excluders will hurt, but I don’t think they would stop a swarm either. If the bees want to swarm but the queen can’t leave, they will most likely swarm anyway, taking a virgin queen with them.

      Also, if you have drone brood in the top box with an excluder underneath and no entrance, the drones will be stuck in there and die in there and the workers won’t be able to remove the bodies. Drones in the other boxes can come and go, but so can everyone else, so that won’t stop a swarm.

      I think I would put the two boxes with brood together and then put the empty on top of that without any excluders. Then, if you want honey supers, you can add an excluder above the brood boxes. But three brood boxes is a lot. It seems you would be better off with just two brood boxes, an excluder, and then a honey super.

  • Rusty, Thank you. I’ll follow through on your advice. I really appreciate your support, sound experience and advice.
    Greetings from Aus. ?

  • I apologize if this is off-topic. I know that I have seen a post about this before, but could not find it. Feel free to move this to the appropriate topic if you want. I have a hive that has 3 medium brood boxes, a queen excluder, and a honey super. I opened the lid to take a peek at the honey super and noticed a patch of brood and a queen! My honey super has a top entrance. My first thought was that the hive had swarmed and the new queen mistakenly returned to the top entrance (above the queen excluder) rather than the bottom entrance. I caught the queen in the honey super and set her to the side. I thought that I would look through the brood boxes to make sure they were queenless before I moved this queen down. I was quite excited to find another laying queen in the top brood box, below the excluder! She was a big queen and there were solid frames of capped brood. There were no signs of chewed out queen cells in the boxes (that I saw). The queen in the honey super had been there long enough to have about 1/2 frame of capped brood, some larva, and lots of eggs. The worker bees had access to each other through the queen excluder, but no fighting was observed. Do you think the hive could have produced several swarm cells and more than one queen came back, one above and one below the excluder? Maybe a small swarm from another hive came in through the upper entrance of the honey super, but wouldn’t they fight with the bees in the hive below? I took the queen from the honey super, her brood, and a couple of frames of brood/bees/honey from the brood box below the excluder and moved them into a nuc. So far all is well with both hives! However it happened, I thought it was really cool, and I gained a hive!

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