This spring with the high bee survival rate and the warm weather we are likely to see many swarms. There was a time when I would split my hives to reduce the likelihood of this happening. This technique often would weaken my hives and diminish my chances of making honey in the spring. Since going to summer splits and re-queening I have found supering early and providing plenty of room for incoming nectar has helped me to reduce swarming, and has maximized honey production in my hives. In my area there is generally a strong spring flow which tails off in late May producing some of the best honey of the year. Then a moderate flow runs through the summer until mid August. Sometimes we get a decent flow in the fall during Goldenrod bloom in Michigan.
It has been proven giving the bees extra room will stimulate bees to store more honey. Research shows if you provide the super space the bees would work in earnest to try to fill these supers when there is a good honey flow, they will not slow down until they are over 90% full. Having this extra room will also significantly reduce the impulse to swarm if the room is given before the swarming process starts.
It is important to place the first super on a strong hive during the spring build up, sometime during fruit bloom and the dandelions have started to bloom. It may take a couple of weeks before this first super is filled, but when it is about half full add a second super on top of the first super. When the bees begin to add honey to the second super, add a third and so on. Continue this until late in the honey flow; in my area this is late July. This is called top supering, it is the technique most beekeepers use and what I use when time is short. Conceivably you could put on all the supers at one time and not check them again, but there are a few problems you could encounter if you did this. One problem would be if you were in a hive beetle area the extra room would give the beetles a place to reproduce which the bees could not defend. Secondly, if not checked the bees could fill up the supers and swarm.
Don’t wait until the bees have started to utilize all the frames for honey storage before adding another super, this will create swarming conditions. During a strong nectar flow the ‘house’ bees store nectar in any available cells; often starting in the brood nest and then moving it up into the honey supers in the evening. Moving the nectar relieves congestion in the brood nest. Then the bees dry the nectar and turn it into honey in the upper supers.
When the frames are capped you can start to remove them when convenient, either as individual frames or in full supers. I often exchange full frames from several of the supers to make sure I have a completely filled super to take off.
My favorite supering method is called bottom supering which works just the way it is sounds. I add supers directly above the brood nest, which provides an easily accessible place for the bees to put nectar. They may skip putting it in the brood nest all together as these supers are close – it gives them an easy place to store it. This technique is a lot more work for the beekeeper and not all that commonly practiced, but if used provides a great opportunity for checking for mites while adding new supers. This is how I keep track of the Varroa mites in the hive during the summer months. This procedure also stimulates the bees hording response, and I feel I make more honey with this method.
This describes the bottom supering technique during the first four visits. Start with one super and move it up as you place empty supers above the brood nest to relieve congestion. On the forth visit example shown, to place a new super on the hive you would take the top super #5 which should be nearly empty and place it above the brood nest replacing #4 moving that one up one and then placing another empty on the very top.
After the bees have started to work filling the first super with honey add a second super just above the brood nest and place the partially filled first super above it. After which I place a third empty super on top. This third one I use as a safety valve so to speak, just in case I can’t get back when I should. It provides additional room for honey storage. When I do return in a week to ten days I can quickly check the top super by lifting the lid and checking the progress. If there has been no work done on this super I move to the next hive. If the bees have started to work on this third super I will start the process all over removing all the honey supers down to the brood nest. Often, the bees will have just started working this top super. I will place it just above the brood nest at the bottom, replace the second super above that and place a forth new super at the top. I then let the bees work on these for another week to ten days when I return, I repeat the process. I usually continue this until I get about seven supers on the hive. At that point I will place the full supers on the top with the empty below it and use a bee escape to remove the bees. It also works to remove the honey supers sooner to keep the stack shorter. The bees will fill the middle frames quicker so you may also want to combine full frames from the middle with emptier frames from the outsides of several supers to make up a full super to remove. You also could remove any individually filled frames by just shaking and brushing off the bees and replace the frames with empty comb any time during the process. Place new combs in the emptier supers.
I don’t like to use queen excluders initially and will often go the whole season not using them on a hive. Honey bees will sometimes refuse to cross through the excluder and store the honey below it in the brood nest causing congestion. It has been my experience that using excluders during swarming season frequently stimulates the hive to swarm.
As the honey flow progresses, the bees will normally create a ceiling of honey above their brood nest which the queen will not normally cross. It acts like a natural Queen excluder. Sometimes a good laying queen will still expand her brood nest so later on during the summer flow, after swarming season has passed I check and see if the queen is laying in the honey supers. If I see she is, I place a queen excluder above the hive bodies. If I did not find her, I make another inspection in four days to check for eggs and if found retrieve the queen and place her back in the brood boxes. I wait until the brood hatches before removing the honey supers. This step may be needed when using the bottom supering method.
It is amazing how much honey a strong hive with a good queen can produce. There are many management practices, don’t be afraid to experiment. Remembering these basic swarm principals will help you decide on a process. Don’t crowd the queen and give the bees enough room to store their honey. In Michigan if you wish to do splits or re-queen try it in the summer with locally produced queens. I hope the methods I use can help you too.