Beekeepers have their own special word for “too much of a good thing.” That word is honey-bound, and it's what happens when the worker bees are producing so much honey they're forced to store it in the brood box.
There are five standard pantry items you'll always find stored in your hive's cells.
If your hive is thriving, you'll find brood of all stages — eggs, larvae, capped brood and emerging bees — as well as all of the above pantry items in the brood box, but only enough of each to support the brood itself. These items need to be close by so the workers can care for the brood properly, but they should never take up the vital space required by the queen to lay eggs. You don't want honey and pollen crowding out the next generation of bees.
When stores of honey and pollen take up excessive space, the colony feels the need to divide itself in two. Half of the bees stay in the hive; the other half take to the air in search of a new home. By preventing your hive from becoming honey- or pollen-bound, you prevent your bees from swarming. Routine hive inspections in spring, summer and early fall allow you to monitor how much honey and pollen is stored inside the brood box and take action when the cells are filling up.
When doing hive inspections, you also need to look for queen cells. Known as queen cups, these elongated, peanut-shaped cells hang from the comb and are created by worker bees for the express purpose of developing future queens. These special cells are the smoking gun that lets you know your hive is getting ready to swarm, and you'll often find more than one queen cup hanging from the side of the comb.
If you find queen cups or an excessive amount of honey and pollen in the brood box, your first order of business is to secure more space for your bees. You can do this by putting a new honey super on top of your crowded brood box. It's easier to do than you might think, primarily because you don't have to move the honey into the new penthouse. The bees do it themselves.
Giving your bees more space via a honey super can help head off swarming, but if fully-formed queen cups are already hanging off the honey comb, a Tapcomb® honey super might not help. Your bees are gearing up for a big move and you might be too late to stop it. If you plan early, however, being aware of the amount of honey and pollen in your brood box and ordering a super when you see the signs that your bees are on their way toward outgrowing their home is a great way to stop a swarm before it starts.