How many frames should you put in a Langstroth box?

Recently, my friend Phillip at Mud Songs.org wrote about the pros and cons of using 9 frames in a 10-frame Langstroth. He began by writing about honey supers and then segued into brood boxes as well. Since I’m sort of a renegade on this subject, I thought I would add my two cents to the discussion.

Many beekeepers use ten frames in the brood boxes and nine frames in the honey supers. As far as I can tell, this is the most common variation from the normal “ten frames in every box” philosophy. The reason for using only nine frames in the honey supers is that, given the extra space, the bees will build the honeycombs slightly wider. These wider combs hold more honey. Whether nine wide combs hold more honey than ten narrower combs, I really don’t know.

However, if you are using an extractor, you first have to open the honey cells with an uncapping knife. This step is definitely easier to accomplish when the combs are wider. If you plan to extract, this might be a good way to go. The one downside is that you have to make sure your nine frames are spaced evenly in the box if you want all your honeycombs to be the same width.

Most beekeepers seem to prefer using ten frames in the brood boxes—and for good reasons. There is really no benefit to having extra wide spaces for raising brood, and ten frames provide more area for the brood nest, so this makes sense.

Personally, I do something totally different—I use nine frames in the brood boxes and ten frames in the honey supers and here’s why:

  • I find that ten frames in the brood box become so jammed I can’t easily do a hive inspection. So I like to put nine frames in the center of the brood box and leave the extra space at the ends. During an inspection, I slide the first frame into the empty space and then lift it out. Then each successive frame can be pulled straight over to the side and lifted. There is very little chance of rolling the queen with this system.
  • If you use nine frames in the brood box you can add follower boards on each end (also known as dummy boards). These can lessen the chances of swarming by providing the bees a place to “hang out” without keeping the brood nest too warm in summer. In the winter, they provide insulation against the outside walls.
  • I like ten frames in the honey supers because I don’t extract. Ten frames give me more square inches of cut-comb honey. In addition, I find that with cut-comb honey, it is easier to make nice clean cuts if the comb is not too thick.

Phillip was able to dig up a lot of opinions from the Internet on the nine-frame vs. ten-frame issue, many of which I cannot verify from my own experience. For example:

  • [regarding nine-frame honey supers] “Nine-frame spacing acts as a natural queen excluder because queens prefer 10-frame spacing.” I wish it were that simple! I’ve even had queens lay in section boxes which in no way resemble 10-frame spacing.
  • [regarding nine-frame brood boxes] “The bees will build drone comb in the extra space on the two outer frames and everything else will become worker-sized cells.” That would be a beekeeper’s dream come true! But sorry, it just doesn’t work that way. Usually drone comb is built at the perimeter of each comb. Remember, the bees are not trying to please you—they’ve got a totally different agenda.

As with many other aspects of beekeeping, I think the decision on how many frames to use in a box should be based on personal preference and what type of honey you will be producing. Experiment until you find a system you like.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Emily Heath
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Was trying to think what you meant by follower boards and after reading the description realised we call them dummy boards in my part of the UK. I use one in my National brood box along with ten frames, agree it’s useful to be able to take it out and then move up the frames into the space when inspecting.

Best wishes

Emily

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Emily, for telling me that. It helps to know what things are called in other parts of the world and I will include that in my description.

Phillip
Reply

I updated my original post to include some info from this post. (We’ve got a good system going here.) I might go with the 9-frame brood box configuration with follower boards once we figure out how to build follower boards. (I do like the name “dummy boards.” Must be the British-Canadian connection.) I’m behind anything that makes inspections easier and less risky.

My carpentry skills are pitiful, but I’ve been tracking down online designs for both slatted racks and follower boards. Swarm prevention is a top priority for us because of our urban setting. Gotta keep the neighbours happy. And I like the idea of providing better ventilation for the bees (and making life easier for them in the winter).

Do follower boards increase the chances of wax moths finding a place to lay their eggs?

And I wonder how well they’d work with an all-medium brood chamber set up (something I’m contemplating).

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

In my opinion the follower boards won’t have an effect on wax moths one way or the other. I don’t think they will go for the follower boards any more than they will go for the insides of the hive body–it’s the comb they are after.

Follower boards should work with any size box or frame. I’ve seen them used in top bars and Langstroths and you saw from her e-mail that Emily in the UK uses them in a National. Shouldn’t be a problem.

Eric
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I’m using slatted racks and a screened bottom board (for mite control) and from what I understand, everything should line up from the slatted racks all the way up through the honey supers. This way,if a mite falls off anywhere in the hive it will fall all the way down through the racks and through the screen at the bottom. If you use 10 frames in the brood box and 9 frames in the honey supers, the frames won’t line up. This means that less mites will fall out of the hive. This would also cut down on overall hive ventilation and make passage throughout the hive more difficult for the bees (the hive will seem more congested).

I don’t know how realistic it is that a mite is likely to fall straight down from an upper honey super all the way out of the hive without being able to catch itself on a frame somewhere but it seems to me that whether you want to use 9 frames or 10 frames, you should be consistent all the way through the hive.

I like the idea of replacing one frame with two follower boards but then you need customized slatted racks. I also understand that if you use follower boards, you should use them in all of the supers in the hive and they must allign all the way up for best ventilation and clear passage for the bees. I’d like to know what you think Rusty.

Thank you Rusty for all the great information,
Eric

Phillip
Reply

I’ve had someone argue that 9 frames in the brood box with 2 follower boards gives the brood nest less room to expand and will only make the bees feel more crowded in the spring, possibly increasing the likelihood of swarming.

What do you think of that?

I can see the logic in the argument. I don’t have enough experience to know what’s best one way or another. I’m not sure what I’m going to do to prevent swarming — which is my main reason for considering follower boards.

I can install follower boards, I can create a split, I can place empty foundationless frames in the brood nest, and the list goes on.

This stuff makes my head hurt sometimes. I’m glad I still have a couple months to think about it.

Rusty
Reply

One issue would certainly be how hot it gets where you are. Another would be whether your bees have room to expand into a second brood box.

All the references to follower boards I have ever seen in print say the purpose of follower boards is to prevent swarming by keeping the brood nest cooler. If the bees have a second box to expand into, expansion shouldn’t be a problem.

Beekeepers have different experiences with these things, and maybe this person had bees swarm in spite of follower boards. No one ever said they will prevent swarming, only lessen the chances. Perhaps his bees had too little room above, or maybe he put his follower boards in too late.

If you haven’t read Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley, you should try. It gives a lot of insight into swarming and makes you realize that plans for swarming occur way before the actual event. There is very little a beekeeper can do once the plan is in motion. If the follower boards go in too late, they won’t make any difference.

It doesn’t get overwhelmingly hot where I live and my bees are in the woods–very shaded–so I never saw the use for follower boards. I made some this year–mostly so I could answer questions–and I will give them a try. But my feeling is that they will be more effective in a very warm environment than here in the woods.

I don’t think your guy is either crazy or wrong, he’s just had a different experience. If follower boards were a sure thing, everyone would use them.

So my feeling is that given your urban situation I would go for it. Give it a try. But try to deal with the other issues as well. In other words, make sure the colony has room to expand, try to keep it from getting too hot in the dead of summer, make sure you have good ventilation, perhaps give them a slatted rack and an upper entrance.

Personally, when I just know a hive is going to swarm, I split the hive and put the old queen in the new location. This pretty much puts a stop to it. Later, after swarm season, you can always recombine if you want. There are many options.

Johnogaunt
Reply

When making follower boards it is both cheaper and more useful to use only 6 or 9mm ply tacked to the inner edge of the top bar instead of the normal 12.5mm throughout. Once the top bar is above the outer super wall the thin frame can be pulled towards the wall to help stop rolling bees. This light follower board can also be laid horizontally over the exposed frames in the manner of a cover cloth to keep light out of the unexamined part of the brood nest but without the risk of spreading disease between hives as follower boards are kept with that particular hive.

Larry S
Reply

Just wondering what you think of Michael Bush’s theory of 10 frames in the brood box
That gives 1 & 1/4 inch spacing and an extra frame for brood rearing.
Of course you have to cut the end bars down to 1 & 1/4 in.

Larry S.

Rusty
Reply

Larry,

If I recall, Michael wrote about putting eleven frames in a ten-frame box. I have trouble enough getting nine frames in a ten-frame box. My preference though is for nine frames and two follower boards in a ten-frame box with a triple deep instead of a double deep for brood rearing.

It’s all a matter of what you like to work with. The bees adapt to most anything.

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