Compelling honeybees to draw and fill supers

(Using honeybee’s natural instincts)

Okay Mike… Why would you start an article about drawing out and filling honey supers by talking about dead outs?

Because, there is related behavior that can be utilized to help you draw out supers.

So, overwinter dead outs frequently happened more as Starve out‘s.

And these Starve outs frequently happen because of brooding up too early.

At least around here, in the Midwest, more specifically in the Kansas City area, honeybees will experience a week or two of warm temperatures and think that it’s spring! And they’ll lay eggs and have some larva and then sometimes the bees will stay on the brood and starve to death after they’ve consumed whatever honey that’s in reach. Yes, even with 60 or 70 or 100 pounds of honey above them, they will starve to death right there on the frames.

Why? They don’t want to abandon their brood. Sweet and tragic at the same time, right?

But why is this important for drawing comb?

Ok, ok. Be patient. It will all come together!

So, now I’ll tell you a story about how their instinct to care for their brood can be manipulated.

Just as importantly, this is a story about how bad news can be turned into good news…yes yes…and how to compel bees to draw comb. It’s coming up, I promise! :-)

I visited a clients Apiary and we soon discovered that she had a queen trapped above the queen excluder in one of her honey supers. Of course, she was laying like crazy! Great pattern etc.

She was very upset, distraught even, thinking that the super was ruined. Moreover, she had about half a dozen hives, and the hive with the queen laying in the super was the ONLY hive getting any action in the super.

Yes! As you might expect (if you are an experienced Beekeeper) she had queen excluder‘s on all of them. And queen excluders, if used incorrectly, can be honey and comb excluders!

What MIGHT surprise some of you is that she had purchased drawn comb and had drawn comb inall of her supers above the queen excluders.

And yet still, very little honey was being stored in the honey supers.

So what to do?

Well, there’s a number of things that could be done right? Of course! This is Beekeeping! There are MANY different things that COULD have been done.

So here’s what we did to turn bad news into good news AND get those bees to use the supers!

We made sure the queen was out of the super with the brood in it first. Then we distributed one frame of brood (again, only after shaking the queen down) into each of the other hive’s honey supers.

Why? To compel the bees to cross over from the brood nest into the Honey super through the queen excluder…to take care of brood!!!

You see, there are four things that will compel bees to go through a queen excluder and work a honey super. Those four things are:

Space, Comb, Food, and Brood.

Yes, of course, I will elaborate. :-)

The first (and least compelling) reason that the bees will cross the queen excluder is for more space.

They can run out of room in a brood nest and look around for more space. Think of the super kind of like you might think of storage space for us humans in an attic.

However, just like at home for a human, if it’s inconvenient to get to the attic to store things, then it will be less likely to use it.

So the number one of four reasons bees will cross a queen excluder into a honey super is for additional space.

The second reason, is slightly more compelling than simple having extra space. If there is already comb (drawn wax) in the honey super, even empty drawn comb, in a honey super, the bees will be more likely to cross the queen excluder than if it was just for space or un drawn foundations in a super without comb.

Think of it this way: if you wanted to store things in your attic and there were shelves organized trunks and boxes already in the attic in which you could store things more easily than building them, you would be more likely to store things in your attic. Right?

Unless of course, it’s inconvenient for you to do so. Imagine climbing through a hole in the top of a closet to get into the attic versus, having an open stairway into your attic.

Well, that’s the burr comb the bees will use as a ladder or stairs into the attic if they are not impeded by the queen excluder. And it is what makes it easier, for them to get up to and through the queen excluder, kind of like a step ladder in the closet, or a pull down ladder or stairs for your trip to the attic.

OK, let’s continue.

The third reason, which is more compelling than the prior two reasons (space and comb), and probably more compelling than the prior two reasons combined, is for food!

So, the bees will cross the queen excluder into the super MORE readily if there is more space, there is already drawn comb, and if there is already food (meaning syrup, nectar or honey) up there! So to let’s again equate this to us goofy human beings.

Imagine you wanna store things in your attic and even though it’s difficult to get to, you’re more likely go ahead and go up there if it’s already set up. You need the space, it already has shelves and storage areas set up, AND NOW there’s snacks for you! Maybe a mini fridge or a freezer or something where you can go up there and get a treat!

Now doesn’t that sound more inviting? Even if you had to climb through that hole in the closet to get to your attic, you would be more likely to do so if there were snacks right?

Are you ready for number four?

OK, here we go! The fourth, and MOST compelling reason for bees to go through the queen excluder into a super is for…Brood.

That’s right! Babies!

This is the very same inatinct that would keep bees in a certain area on a certain frame away and away from food in the winter time!

The very same instinct that would make them starve, literally motivates them because it is now life or death for them to get across that queen excluder and into the super!

This is the most effective way I’ve found to compel them to go into a super!

In fact, this is more compelling than all three of the prior reasons for the bees to cross the Queen excluder into the super.

And this is why I started with dead outs or more accurately Starveouts at the beginning of this article.

Of course, there are other techniques you can use such as waxing or re waxing foundations and spritzing sugar water etc. to try and get these up there too and they work as well.

However, I don’t think they work as well as what I’ve described already and they are keyed off of many of the same instincts that I’ve described as well. (Space, Comb, Food, and Brood).

So here they are again, restated, for review:

Honeybees will cross a queen excluder sometimes simply for extra space. Honeybees will cross a queen excluder a little bit more often if there is both space and drawn comb for them to patrol/fill etc. Honeybees will cross a queen excluder a little bit more readily if there is additional space as well as drawn comb as well as food! And lastly and most effectively, honeybees will cross a queen excluder most enthusiastically if there’s more space and if there’s drawn comb and if there’s food and if there’s brood!

But Mike (you may be thinking) what about the brood in the super????? Gross!

Don’t worry. It will go through it’s cycle and then hatch, the cells will get cleaned up, and the space in those cells will get filled with nectar too!

Here’s something that I’ve done for other customers in different situations based on these assertions.

You may have one colony that is ahead of the others and is already storing and drawing in a super. You can take drawn even partially drawn and partially filled frames from one super and distribute them amongst other supers that do not have any drawn comb or food storage.

This will stimulate the bees to cross the queen excluder and work in that super.

Granted, it is better if you can get all of your colonies closer to a similar level of development before doing this! But during the nectar flow, you are often in a hurry and need to take action quickly.

Remember also that you can checkerboard vertically as you “under super” (lift a full super up and put another super with lots of un drawn frames UNDER the full super).

Apply a little bit of space management, and checker board, along with these techniques, and watch your supers (and your honey production) explode!

Best of luck to you!

-Mike Immer,

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