Help! My supers are still empty! Many beekeepers are dismayed to find their supers are empty at the end of the season. They want to know what they did wrong and how to encourage the bees to get to work. In the past I’ve shared ideas that I’ve heard about or tried myself. Now I’m going to tell you want I really think.
The bees are not ready
I think your bees haven’t moved into the new super because they are not ready. When they are ready—if ever—then they will work on it. In the meantime, they have their own agenda.
Honey bees are genetically programmed to store more honey than they need. It is one of the characteristics that make them so alluring and so useful to humans. We can harvest their surplus honey and the bees will (usually) still have enough food to get them through the winter.
Storing the food where it’s needed
If your kitchen and dining room are on the first floor, you probably do not store food on the second or third floor. You want it easy to reach and quick to retrieve. Bees are no different. Why would they store food three floors up if they still have room around the brood nest?
This, I believe, is exactly what’s going on. Until all the convenient nooks and crannies are full, they continue to store honey just outside the brood nest. At this time of year the brood nest is shrinking, giving them more and more room all the time.
Forcing the issue can backfire
Although you can sometimes cajole bees into building comb in the supers by baiting them, this really doesn’t help you in the long run. You can end up with a sort of chimney effect where the bees are building up and not out. So, for example, frames 1 and 10—or even 1, 2, 9 and 10—in the brood nest may not be totally filled because the bees were baited into the honey supers.
Later, you harvest your honey—really cool, you think, you got surplus honey. But then, long about January or February, you discover that the bees don’t have enough food to make it till spring. Instead of you tricking them, they tricked you: they stored honey in the supers but didn’t finish the job they should have done first. You end up feeding and feeding and feeding. No fun at all.
So be patient. When the brood boxes are full the bees will start building in the supers. If the whole summer goes by and they never put anything in the supers, it’s because there wasn’t enough surplus nectar. The amount of honey they store has everything to do with how much nectar is available, and very little to do with how you arrange the honey supers.
Honey Bee Suite