Bees need space to store honey. In the wild, they would build more comb as they need it. However, when you have bees in a hive on your property, you are the one who decides when to give them the extra space they require.
The addition of another box or super usually takes place in the warmer months as flowers bloom and nectar and pollen becomes bountiful and when the colony increases in size and activity.
In this post, I will give you a few guidelines to help you determine when to add an extra box.
Brood Box Or Honey Super?
In structure, there is no difference between a brood box or honey super. They are both specifically designed to hold frames without a lid or a base, which means you can mix-and-match with other boxes or supers.
The boxes look the same. Only their purpose is different, which depends on the needs of the hive during the seasons.
A brood box is used to give the queen space to lay eggs. The term brood refers to the eggs, larvae, and pupae of the honeybee.
The box frames are called brood frames because the majority of the cells have brood in various stages of development. The drawn cells on the frame are made from wax, which the worker bees secrete from special glands on their bodies.
A honey super is used by the worker bees to store honey. It could be called ‘honey box’, but the word ‘super’ is used, meaning ‘to be placed above or over’ as in ‘supersede’ (technically not a noun, but has been used as one).
Therefore, the honey super is the box placed above the brood chamber to store the honey collected by the worker bees. Between the brood box and honey super is often placed a queen excluder which, as the name suggests, prevents the queen from entering and laying eggs.
The queen excluder is a grid with spaces large enough for the worker bees to pass but not for the queen
When To Add A Brood Box
When you receive your first hive, it will most likely have one box containing the queen, bees, brood and honey. Once you have positioned the hive in your yard, allow the colony to orientate themselves for at least a week before you inspect the hive.
For more details on how to conduct your first inspection, see my post What To Do During Your First Beehive Inspection(s).
If you have acquired your hive from another beekeeper or from a beekeeping supply store you should receive some information about the hive from them. Ask if you can inspect the hive before you receive it as this will give you a lot of information about the health of the colony.
When you open your hive, what you see will determine whether you need to add another box. In the warmer months it’s wise to conduct inspections every two to three weeks, as the situation inside the hive can change rapidly.
When I recently opened my single box hive in early Spring (September in southern Australia), I discovered the worker bees had built burr comb in the lid and had begun to store honey in it. As I inspected each frame, I found the central six frames, out of eight, were full of brood and honey.
The outer two frames next to the walls of the box were empty, but the wax had been drawn in readiness.
In addition, there was a healthy population of bees spilling out of the box and on the lid also, so I decided to add a second brood box to accommodate them. As this was a new hive, my goal was to make it a strong hive before taking any honey. I’m happy to wait for another season.Â
If you would like to know more about why growing a strong colony is important, see my post How Long Does It Take To Get Honey.
So, in summary, add a second brood box when you notice the following:
- The brood box is full (or nearly full) of brood and honey. As a rule of thumb, at least six out of the eight frames in the hive have bees and brood on them, and there is evidence of nectar being stored.
- The bee population is healthy. You will see this when bees spill out of the brood box every time you take off the lid.
- There is burr comb inside the lid and top of the frames, indicating they need more space.
How To Add A Brood Box
Adding a second brood box is quite straightforward but note in the beginning, the bees are generally reluctant to move up into a new empty box. To encourage them to do so I suggest you follow the steps below.
- Use frames that have drawn out comb in the new box if possible, so the bees don’t have to do this from scratch and the queen can begin laying eggs immediately. Nevertheless, it is normal to not always have for drawn-out frames available because, as a new beekeeper, you most likely only have new waxed frames to use.
- From the new box, remove two frames and put them to one side. Push the remaining frames against the hive walls.
- From the original hive, remove two frames that have brood on them and place them into the centre of the new box.
- Carefully, push the other frames from the original hive together and add the two new frames, one against one wall and the other against the other wall.
- Place the new box on top of the original brood box and replace the hive mat (if using one) and the lid.
It’s not necessary to have the queen on one of the brood frames going into the new box. It’s probably better if she remains in the existing brood box to avoid any possibility of her getting injured or lost.
Placing frames with brood into the new box will ensure the worker bees will move up to attend to the existing brood.
When To Add A Honey Super
Generally, a honey super is added when the brood box has approximately six out of the eight frames with bees and brood, as well as stored nectar.
If you have a ten-frame hive, then approximately eight out of the ten frames should have bees and brood on them. As a rule of thumb, 80% of the brood box should be full.
A honey super is usually a shallower sized box and is meant for honey collection only. It is smaller in size because it doesn’t take the bees too long to fill. A shallower honey super is also less heavy to manage.
I use full-depth, otherwise known as Langstroth, brood boxes so the queen has maximum space in which to lay eggs.
How To Add A Honey Super
After determining your colony needs a honey super, place the shallower new box, complete with waxed frames, above the brood box and replace the hive mat (if using) and lid.
If you have frames with drawn comb that is clean and in good condition, use those in the honey super to speed up honey storage.
This time, there is no need to interchange frames from one box to the other.
I place a queen excluder between the brood box, or boxes and the honey super to prevent the queen from entering the honey super and laying eggs.
One Brood Box Or Two?
Many beekeepers like to add a second brood box before the honey super to ensure their colony is strong and the queen has plenty of room to lay eggs. Adding a second brood box may help deter the hive from swarming, but this is not guaranteed.
Depending on where you live, the weather and the availability of suitable flora can help determine if two brood boxes are necessary.
Using two brood boxes gives the queen plenty of room to lay eggs, but it may be difficult to locate her, particularly if she is unmarked.
It’s a good idea to consult other beekeepers in your local area to find out whether they use one or two brood boxes and why. This can help you decide if one brood box or two is best for your colony.
There are no hard or fast rules as to when to add a brood box or honey super once the warmer weather begins.
Each hive is unique and therefore must be monitored and inspected to find the right time to add a brood box or honey super.
My suggestions are intended as a general guide only. Take into account the weather patterns in your area and find out what other beekeepers in your local area do to determine what will best work for you.