Winter is the time when a beekeeper needs to make plans for next year’s honey crops.
How you go about “supering” your hives can have a big influence on the size of those crops, so it pays to plan your strategy for this important management tool before the real work of working your bees begins.
Good timing. Just like adding colonies, changing supering techniques is time consuming and should be taken care of before honey production begins in the spring.
A healthy colony of honey bees has the potential to make much more honey than it will require to sustain itself.
Honey is produced in short spurts called “honey flows” and is stored in boxes called “surplus supers,” which hold 35-40 pounds of honey each.
The main honey flow takes place in May and June, with lesser honey flows in midsummer and fall.
You want to be positioned to maximize your honey production.
Avoid swarming. Inadequate supering can cause honey bees to swarm.
When supering for a spring honey flow, no less than three supers should be placed on a vigorous over-wintered hive between the April 1 and 15.
This will curb the swarming instinct of the colony and reinforce their instinct to hoard honey.
If only one surplus super is placed in the hive at a time, the bees will quickly fill this space and swarm, ending any surplus for that particular honey flow.
Ideal situation. Ideally, the bees will be able to move from one super to the next, filling as they go, without hitting a ceiling where there is no place to store surplus honey.
A new super should be added as soon as bees are found working in the top super.
It is not uncommon for a beekeeper to harvest five to six supers of honey from a single hive during a good honey flow on a properly supered colony.
Keep the queen away. While proper surplus supering will curb the swarming instinct, a beekeeper must remember that this alone will not eliminate unwanted swarms.
A queen excluder is a device that has openings large enough to allow worker bees to move through freely, but not the larger queen.
The queen excluder is manufactured in two designs; the metal excluder, often with a wooden frame, and the punched-hole type that is made of either zinc or plastic.
The metal excluder, while more expensive, is far superior to either the zinc or plastic excluders.
If the punched hole types are not aligned precisely with the brood chamber frames below, it will completely block the worker bees from the surplus supers.
The value of this device has been debated since its invention.
Worth it? Some beekeepers would not consider supering their colonies without using a queen excluder, while others refer to this device as a “honey excluder.”
A queen excluder has its place in beekeeping, but it has its pros and cons and is not always necessary.
Honey bee queens are not likely to cross more than four inches of honey to look for empty cells in which to lay eggs.
Once there is a full surplus super of honey below some empty supers and above the brood nest, a queen excluder is not necessary, provided excessive smoke is not used while managing the colony.
If extracted honey is what the beekeeper wishes to produce, it makes little difference if the queen lays eggs in the surplus combs.
Removing supers. The beekeeper can wait until the production of surplus honey pushes the queen down into the brood nest before the surplus supers are removed.
A queen excluder can be placed under surplus supers with brood after all the bees have been removed and placed back on the hive.
Within three weeks, all young bees will hatch leaving only honey to be extracted.
A queen excluder will nearly stop worker bees from passing through when only undrawn foundation is above.
A beekeeper should make sure drawn comb is directly above the queen excluder with any foundation above that.
Better for comb. Use of a queen excluder will almost certainly mean less honey production, but the main benefit of it is that the combs will remain light colored, because no young bees are reared in them.
Since wax moths are only attracted to dark combs containing pollen, the light combs are easier to store while not in use.
A queen excluder should always be used when comb honey is being produced.
Even a few cells where the queen has laid eggs will ruin your product.
(Reprinted with permission from the W.Va. Department of Agriculture’s Market Bulletin. Clutter is the state apiarist and Poling is an apiary specialist with the department of agriculture’s plant industries division.)
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