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Under supering and over supering

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:-

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.

Roger Patterson.

Page created 06/11/2020