Some of our members probably remember George Imirie (1933 – 2007), a veteran beekeeper who learned a lot of common sense beekeeping practices during nearly three quarters of a century of beekeeping. He wrote a great deal about the subject in what he called his “pink pages.” Some of them are on the Tennessee Beekeepers Association website: http://tnbeekeeping.org. Here’s an excerpt on “supering” from one of those papers:
For many years, beekeepers added another super when the first super was about half or 2/3 full, maybe due to lack of supers, lack of research to investigate this, or more likely “it was the way that Daddy did it.”
However, since migratory beekeeping has become popular and the US Dept. of Agriculture has researched supering techniques during the past few decades, research has clearly shown that due to the “hoarding” instinct of the honey bee, the placement of several supers of DRAWN COMB (NOT foundation) on a colony all at one time results in more honey production and less swarming during a nectar flow than adding one super to another as they are needed. I put 5 Illinois supers of DRAWN COMB on each colony on or before April 30.
Page 618 of the 1992 Revised Edition of The Hive and Honey Bee agrees and recommends the use of multiple supers of drawn comb rather than single supering.
It is very apparent from questions asked and statements made that many beekeepers just do not understand the bee’s need of STORAGE SPACE. Many are puzzled by knowing that their bees will normally produce about 3 supers of honey during April, May, and early June, why then should a colony have 4 or 5 supers in place during the entire nectar flow? Honey bees do NOT collect thick, viscous honey which is only about 18% water and bring it to the hive and super it. They collect thin, slippery nectar which might be 80% water and bring it to the hive to STORE it until they can ripen (cure) it and reduce its volume from 80% to 18% water, hence making honey. Storing all this thin watery nectar requires a lot of storage space, and if there is none present in the hive, first the bees will build lots of burr comb even partially filling up bee space and then, THEY WILL SWARM!
Swarming during a nectar flow is TOTALLY DIFFERENT than a swarm in that “swarm season” just before the nectar flow which is primarily due to brood chamber congestion. A swarm produced during a nectar flow is caused by a single problem – LACK OF STORAGE ROOM FOR THE NECTAR. Such a swarm is 100% FAULT OF THE BEEKEEPER in failure to provide enough super space, and that space when the bees needed it!