Keeping bees part 7: an extension to the beehive

Alison Benjamin

12 August 2012

You’ll need to add an extension to the beehive where the bees can store the nectar they collect from the flowers and turn it into honey. This extension is called the super.


A super is a shallow box full of frames of foundation which the bees turn into honeycomb (frame from a super pictured).

You place the super on top of the brood box when the colony has expanded and needs more space. Do this when there are eggs and larvae on most of the frames in the brood box.


To prevent the queen bee climbing upstairs and laying her eggs in the super, put a queen excluder – a wire mesh screen – between the brood box and the super. This allows worker bees access to both but stops the fatter queen getting through.


A colony could fill up one super with nectar in a week if the sun’s out every day and the flowers are in bloom.


It could take another couple of weeks before the bees have put a white capping over most of the nectar they’ve stored, telling you they have turned it into honey. Now they’ll need a second store room.


Part of the skill of being a beekeeper is knowing when to add the supers. You can’t place three supers on top of your hive at the start of the summer and come back at the end to collect the honey. You need to add supers when the bees are ready to move to their next store room.


In an average year weather-wise (not one when it rains every day) you might need to add two or three supers from May to July. During a wet summer one may suffice.


People who are thinking of keeping bees often ask if they can take a summer holiday. July or early August are probably the best times, after the normal swarming season and before you need to treat your bees against the varroa mite.


Unless you have a bee buddy who can check on your colony when you’re away, it’s advisable to add one extra super to the hive just before you go away, just in case there’s a strong nectar flow while you’re gone.


Next month: Varroa control

Alison Benjamin is co-founder of Urban Bees with Brian McCallum. Their latest book is 'Bees in the City: The Urban Beekeepers' Handbook' (Guardian Books, £12.99). To buy a copy, visit our Shop




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