WHY AREN’T MY BEES USING THEIR SUPER?

Posted September 6, 2016
by Hilary

why aren't my bees filling their super?

The reasons for why your bees are not filling out their super are numerous and nuanced. Sometimes the answer lies in the timing and sometimes you just have picky bees. Read on to find out all the possibilities as well as some practical tips for how to deal with it.

Nectar Flow 

Bees will only draw out new comb when there is a strong nectar flow. If there’s no nectar to make honey with in the super, there’s no point in wasting energy on building comb that will then sit empty, right? So, if you place a super on your hive during a time of dearth, don’t expect your bees to fill it. Unfortunately, the months on the calendar do not always guarantee that there will be a nectar flow. Sometimes flowers will get started blooming late because of a long winter or sometimes things can dry up early in summer if there wasn’t much rain throughout the year. The best way to determine if there is a flow is to watch your bees. If they are building, bringing pollen and making honey then there’s a flow on! It’s also worth saying that some new or weakened colonies will need to be fed sugar water to get established. This essentially creates an artificial nectar flow which should motivate them to build new comb and increase their population. If you are thinking of feeding, makes sure you read my post: Should I Feed My Bees? before you start.

Placement

If you are pretty sure there is a nectar flow happening, but your super is still sitting empty, your problem might lie in how you’ve placed the super. Some beekeepers like to place their suppers at the top where they are more easily accessed and some like to place them at the bottom which plays off the bees’ natural tendency to build downward. Regardless of where I place mine, I almost always move a frame or two of drawn comb with it. This will draw bees to the new box and encourage them to build. I find this especially helpful with foundationless beekeeping. Sometimes, the bees just don’t seem to know what to do with all that new empty space. I have even seen them start to build comb from the bottom of the frame up, like a little pyramid! The added bonus to moving frames up (or down) is that you can place an empty frame in the brood nest, which can keep them from getting honey bound and will keep the bees busy building instead of swarming. Don’t go overboard using this technique to force your bees into the super. If after a few weeks they still aren’t building new comb, you may have been mistaken about that nectar flow. It might be best to move the combs back to where you got them so the colony can cluster properly. This is especially true in late summer.

Honey Comb

Foundation vs. Foundationless

On many occasions I have encountered bees that were reluctant to build out comb on foundation. Especially plastic foundation. Instead of trying to convince them to use it, I simply removed the foundation and let them build natural comb. With this obstacle removed, the bees began to draw out comb almost immediately! If you decide to give it a try, make sure you read about comb guides first!

Health 

The final thing to consider is the size and strength of your hive. If you have a colony that’s filled all their space, but the population isn’t what it should be, they probably won’t have the resources to fill a super. Before adding a super make sure you have healthy bees! You can gauge their strength by pulling a frame of brood. Your brood frames should be covered in adult bees caring for the larvae, if it isn’t this can be the first sign of a crashing population. You should also check for a healthy brood pattern. A healthy pattern will have a solid swath of capped brood versus the buck shot pattern commonly associated with a number hive maladies. Adding additional space to a weak colony can weaken them further because they will have to defend whatever space you give them and also it can make temperature control more challenging.

20 Comments

  1. julianne

    I don’t understand when it mentions to move a frame into the super, the frames are different size between deeps and supers. I have a big hive that survived from last year, they have two deeps fairly full, super has bees on the frames but no honey. Not sure how to know when the nectar is available, I have tons flowering plants, lots more to come.
    This hive gets so boisterous when I try to do an inspection, that I usually quit early…it obvious they don’t want me poking around.
    thanks
    Julie

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I use all medium boxes so that I do not have that issues.

      Reply
    • Pamela

      I have the same issue Julianne!

      Reply
  2. Elina Darling

    Thank you ever so much for writing this!
    Until finding this blog entry we were having so much difficulty with our bees refusing to even look at our super. We opted to put the super below the brood boxes and within a week they had built on all of the frames and are now continuing to use them even though we put the super back at the top!
    We would have had no idea what to do without your help and I fear our queen may have drowned given how much honey the hive is producing, leaving her nowhere to lay lol!
    Thank you from us, and from our bees!

    Reply
  3. Jane Blonien

    I have 2 brood boxes: one 10 frame and one smaller that are now full if brood and capped honey. This is a new beehive for new beekeeper. I put a queen saver on and added a super. After 3 weeks. Only one side if one frame has honey. I live in SF. Sunset district where it was foggy and cold all summer. Am I doing anything wrong? Should I be feeding them during cold summer?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      The speed at which bees make comb and honey depends on their health and the weather and availability of nectar. If they are healthy then I would guess the nectar flow is not strong. August is late in the season and they slow down around this time.

      Reply
  4. Robert Shambrook

    Hi
    I’m new to beekeeping. Started in beginning of April 2021.

    We have a Flow Hive setup
    8 frames in the brood box and 6 frames in the super box.
    we are experiencing honey disappearing from the super. Some frames were almost 1/3ds full but are now almost empty. The hive itself is extremely heavy. Our location is Oviedo FL 32766.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Your bees are using that honey. They may be using it to swarm. Are you familiar with how to spot the signs that your colony is going to swarm?

      Reply
  5. Julie

    Hi Hilary! We are having this trouble now! Would you move it from the center or one of the outer frames of the brood box? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hilary

      There is an argument to be made for either option so I would encourage you to trust your gut and experiment.

      Reply
    • Andy Smeaton

      Also when you fit new foundation make sure you use the proper size you get drone honey and brood size foundation

      Reply
  6. Sonya

    Hi Hilary. Over the weekend I collected a swarm from my neighbour’s on Friday and another neighbour’s on Saturday! The second one swarmed in our yard, but we are not sure if it was my bees, as the brood box is still super strong; however I haven’t spotted my queen for a couple of weeks – she is marked, and wasn’t in either swarm. Currently I have a brood box and (flow) super. The nectar flow is great; however, I think the queen wants more space for brood, and there are a few queen cups, so I am going to put another brood box on. The super isn’t very populated, there is some drawn comb, but not much really, only a few bees and a tiny bit of honey. Should I take the super off when I put the second brood box on, and wait til that one’s nearly full to put the super back? I am in Canberra, Australia where it’s spring, but cool at night. Any advice is appreciated. Thank you. Kind regards, Sonya

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi Sonya, if you want the bees to use the flow super, I find it’s better to only have one brood box. I would transfer 1 frame of brood to your new swarm and put an empty in the flow brood box to give your queen room. If your Flowhive was the one swarming you would see mature queen cells in the hive. If it’s only cups, the swarms came from another colony.

      Reply
    • Jimy

      Hi Hilary, I’ve just checked my one hive and came to know that they have not collected much.. hony and my bees are not active they are just eating hony. They are bringing very small amount of pollen. My queen is laying eggs. Don’t know what is the problem plz help me what to do

      Reply
      • Hilary

        Are you feeding them sugar water?

        Reply
    • Andy Smeaton

      I forgot to mention try and use the foundation as quick as possible if you store it for any length of time it looses its aroma so not attractive to bees so before you use it run a little heat from say a hairdryer this will bring back the aroma to the foundation

      Reply
  7. Patrick

    I checked my bees today the hive is overflowing with bees I added a super two weeks ago and they haven’t even moved up into it what should I do any suggestions.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Move some drawn frames into the new super.

      Reply
      • Randy

        This is not an option for anyone using different sizes of supers (ie. medium super on deep brood). Previous comments seem to suggest adding super on the bottom as a possibility. Do you agree?

        Reply
  8. Joanne

    Many of my bees are gathering all around the seems between the supers. Is it bearding? I thought bearding, as it’s been very hot, was in the front entrance.
    Ty Joanne

    Reply

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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