Where supers are placed for honey storage
Terms often misused
"Under supering" and "over supering" are old terms that have become misinterpreted and misused, probably as a result of inexperienced beekeepers writing online, who assume the wrong meaning. The terms refer to where fresh supers are placed to provide space for honey and/or bees in the spring or summer. As the terms suggest, under supering is the placing of fresh supers under the existing ones, over supering is when they are placed above existing supers.
Beekeepers have their own preferences, but quite frankly I don't believe it makes any difference. I once heard a lecturer insist that fresh supers should be placed under existing ones, because it is less distance for the bees to go to deposit the nectar! If they have flown a mile to collect it, what difference does a few inches make? That is false logic in the extreme.
In general, I prefer to under super, for the simple reason it makes it easier for me. I can take the existing supers off without removing the crown board. The weight gives me an idea if the colony needs another super or not. If I'm in any doubt, I tip the supers up and look underneath. When closing the hive up, I put the fresh super(s) on the queen excluder, then replace the existing supers on top. If I over super, I have to remove the crown board, which gives the bees more work to reseal it with propolis. There may be times when I place a super on top, or between other supers, but this is likely to be for a specific colony management reason.
"Undersupering" has unfortunately come to mean other things, that surely confuse beginners. On several occasions, I have been asked about undersupering after a presentation. If it is a long term beekeeper, they mean what I have described above, if it is a beginner, they probably mean one of the "modern" meanings. In recent years I have variously seen "undersupering" mean placing a super, either with or without honey in, under the brood box for wintering and "undersupering" as not giving enough super space, with "oversupering" meaning too much space. All these aren't correct terminology.
The modern practice of placing supers underneath the brood box for winter doesn't make sense to me and isn't what bees expect. I have seen several dead colonies as a result, mainly belonging to beginners, who have simply done as they were told, rather than listen to more experienced beekeepers, or understood what bees are trying to achieve. I always have an open mind to something new or different, as we won't progress if we just do what we have always done, but experience often tells you if something is viable or not.
I list below the "benefits" that have been given to me, both with full and empty supers, together with my responses:-
They may if the operation is done early enough, but if too late, the bees will go into semi-cluster and abandon it. This could leave the stores undefended by bees, so available for wasps to rob. If unsealed, then it is likely to ferment. Bees usually place stores above the brood, not underneath. If they are expected to move it up, then why not put the super above, where it should be? I have seen colonies starve with food underneath, because that's not where they expect it to be. There are better ways of clearing stores out of supers
As most beekeepers have 3-4 supers per colony, this only makes sense if all the supers are placed under the brood box! I disagree with it anyway. If care is taken, combs will store much better in a shed. It also gives the beekeeper time to clean them ready for the coming season.
Not if you leave the queen excluder in.
Irrelevant if you place it above in the first place.
I run about 50/50 OMF and solid floors. I have never experienced any difficulty with the brood boxes directly on the floors. This is probably human thinking, more than what bees need. If there is an issue, then use an empty box or eke.
Don't get to the bees late! If you place the super above, the space will be used for storing food. If you leave a super below, the queen will probably lay in it, so you have brood in super combs, that will attract greater wax moth.
The above are my thoughts and reasons for not placing supers under the brood box for wintering. If I could see a benefit, then I would do it. As ever, it is up to the individual beekeeper to decide. If you are thinking of doing it, then try it on half your colonies to see if it works for you, similarly, if you have always done it because you were taught to, then try half your colonies without and see how you get on. You will definitely learn something and that's what makes beekeeping so interesting.
Page created 06/11/2020