Pyramiding: getting bees to move up

I have a few questions about my bee colony. The hive swarmed twice this year and has still grown to a good size colony, which means there was not a lot of space within the hive. We placed a second level on top a month ago but only a handful of bees walk over it. They have not built anything on it so far or moved up at all. I was wondering how to persuade them to move up and why they haven’t yet.

It is a mystery to me why some colonies expand upward easily and some are resistant. Still, I find it easy to cox them up by pyramiding the colony. This year I started three new packages in late April. As of now, mid-June, they are have all expanded into three deeps.

You can pyramid your single brood box into two like this:

  1. Prepare a new brood box in whatever fashion you like, using drawn comb, foundation, or foundationless frames with comb guides.
  2. Open your hive and pull out the middle frames of brood. How many you pull depends on many contain brood. If six or more have brood, take the middle three. If only four or five have brood, take the middle two. The point is you want to leave some brood in the bottom box. For this example, let’s say you take three.
  3. Take three empty frames from the middle of your new box and replace these with the three frames of brood.
  4. Take the three empty frames and put them in the lower box. What you’ve done then is just switch three frames of brood for three empty frames.
  5. Now, in the lower box, alternate a frame of brood with a new frame. For example: honey-honey-brood-new-brood-new-brood-new-honey-honey.
  6. In the new box, put all the brood in the center. For example: new-new-new-new-brood-brood-brood-new-new-new.
  7. Set the new box on top of the original one and you’re done.
  8. In the bottom box the brood now extends across a width of five frames (brood-new-brood-new-brood) and in the top box it extends across a width of three frames (brood-brood-brood). This gives you a pyramid-shaped brood nest.
  9. If you do this early enough you can usually prevent swarming because pyramiding opens the brood nest and breaks honey barriers. But you can also do it after swarming if your colony is rapidly expanding.
  10. If you want to go to a third brood box, just wait until you have sufficient frames of brood in the second box and do the same thing again.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Jane Peters
Reply

Absolutely brilliant information. I have printed this out and will keep it in my bee file. Can you explain what comb guides are and the reason you would use them in place of foundation. Thanks so much. I would be lost without all of your information and guidence Jane

Rusty
Reply

Thank you, Jane. A comb guide is used to help the bees build parallel combs if you are not using foundation. Many people prefer not to use commercial wax foundation because it is known to contain pesticide residues, especially the acaricides used to control varroa mites. Beekeepers using organic, biodynamic, or pesticide-free methods often opt to go foundationless.

For an explanation of comb guides and photos see: “Converting Langstroth frames to foundationless.”

Bruce
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I always thought it wasn’t good to break up the brood. I will give pyramiding a try.
Thank you for clearing up my misconceptions.

Bruce

Rusty
Reply

Bruce,

It’s a seasonal thing. You certainly wouldn’t want to spread the brood nest when evenings are cold or if there are not enough nurse bees to cover. But by late spring and summer there are usually plenty of bees and plenty of warmth so you have more freedom to manipulate the colony without doing damage.

Bruce
Reply

Thanks Rusty,

That makes sense. I was more concerned that it was more of the queen not laying in frames that aren’t adjacent to one another. This will certainly help me in the future.

Bruce

Nancy
Reply

So this is similar to “opening” or “spreading” the brood nest… but you do it late enough in the season that you don’t risk separating the cluster and chilling the brood? Or how is it different?

Rusty
Reply

Nancy,

Right, spreading the brood nest is only done when the temperature is warm enough and there are enough nurse bees to cover the brood. It’s not really different from checkerboarding or similar methods of swarm prevention, including opening the brood nest. What is different is the objective of the beekeeper. If someone wants to know how to get his bees to move up into a second box, he usually doesn’t look under “swarm prevention.” It’s just the way our minds work! So some of these techniques are listed under different subject headings even though they have essentially the same result.

Gus
Reply

Rusty,

In checker boarding the brood nest isn’t touched. So I must disagree with the statement. The only thing in common both techniques can be used for swarm prevention.

Rusty
Reply

Gus,

I’ve re-read everything and I can’t figure out which statement you disagree with. In the checkerboarding post, I clearly state that brood is not touched in checkerboarding and I go on to say the pyramiding is sometimes confused with checkerboarding:

Before I explain how to do it, I want to repeat that checkerboarding is done above the brood nest. You do not disturb the brood nest in the process. Checkerboarding is often confused with opening the brood nest, pyramiding, or unlimited brood nest management—all of which are different, and all of which I will describe later.

Then, in the pyramiding post, I never mention checkerboarding at all.

Nancy’s question was whether pyramiding is similar to opening or spreading the brood nest, and it is. It is even similar to checkerboarding except in checkerboarding you don’t mess with brood. In checkerboarding you open the honey barrier above the brood, in pyramiding you expand or open the brood nest. So, yes, I maintain they are very similar.

Tom
Reply

Does this process work better with beeswax foundation than with wax-coated plastic foundation? I have trouble getting the bees to work that type of foundation.

Rusty
Reply

Tom,

I never noticed any difference. My bees are inclined to work on either, although I stopped using plastic probably ten years ago. I don’t like to have plastic anything in my hives.

Andrea
Reply

Does the thinking behind this technique work with honey supers as well? I put a super each on two colonies on July 5th and neither one has even stepped foot in those supers since. No drawn comb, no nectar, nothing. Not even propolis on the frames.

The super below each one is packed FULL with honey and I’m assuming they need somewhere else to go, but why won’t they move into the new supers? It’s been a really hot, dry July so maybe they haven’t been bringing nectar into the hive? There’s plenty of pollen in the hive bodies…

Andrea

Rusty
Reply

Andrea,

It works sometimes. I call it “baiting.” I take one full honey frame and put it in the center of the new super. This is the bait. Then I put the empty frame into the lower super. They often move up when I do this, but not always. You can also reverse the new empty super and the old full super; just put the empty one under the full one.

Nancy
Reply

Patience, friends! From May to June, the best clover flush in 24 years here (No. KY). Then nectar dearth hit in late June – 3 weeks with no rain and temps in the 90′s to 100′s. The clover burned up and nothing else was blooming. “Hot dry July,” indeed!

I had just added a medium (brood, not super) and they didn’t draw any for a month. Oh, no propolis either, Andrea – sounds familiar. And they had no honey left!! I gave them baggie feeders every couple days, and after 2 weeks they started drawing. We were blessed with 2 or 3 good rains, clover is back, sericea and buckwheat are blooming, and this week 3 frames of the medium were drawn and starting to fill with honey. Two outside frames of their original deep are also full of honey.

My plan now is to spread the honey frames (4, 5 & 6) in the medium so the queen doesn’t get blocked down below. Last week she was laying in the top cells of a deep frame that they were still drawing!! (Got a picture: eggs at the top, bare foundation at the bottom and her in between, patting her foot.)

A rough summer for a first-timer, but we are better off than many places. If they have honey to survive on till the goldenrod, I’ll count them better off too!

Jane Peters
Reply

I have just come inside from inspecting the hives, with the understanding that I would find loads of capped honey . . . wrong!!!! After reading your e-mail, you have just answered a ton of questions that were running through my mind while in the beeyard. We have had 30-degrees-plus for weeks now and the beeyard has been very, very quiet. Can I bombard you (again) with a few questions??

What is bagged food??? What do you mean when you say you don’t want the queen to get blocked below’? If they are not in the ‘mood’ to forage, should I be feeding them? Are they munching on “MY” honey?

Thanks so much, looking forward to hearing from you.

Jane

Nancy
Reply

Jane – gosh, you’re asking me? Do please see Rusty’s posts on baggie feeders. They are very helpful (the bags and the posts both.)

Everyone in our area has less honey than we expected after all that June clover which the heat just burned up. And of course they will consume the stored honey if nothing is coming in. If you are having weather like we did, that’s probably it. I fed mine because they had eaten up all their honey. If yours have honey to eat, you don’t need to feed them. There just won’t be as much for you to pull.

About the queen getting blocked, I have read here and elsewhere that she may not move up past a barrier of honey to find empty cells to lay eggs in. The three center frames of the expansion medium are right above the brood nest. So I will move them apart and put empty foundation in between each two. She seems to be very fertile and active, so I want her to have plenty of space. I was surprised to see her laying eggs in a frame that was only half drawn.

I most certainly defer to Rusty on the accuracy of all this. But it is such fun to share experiences with other beekeepers far away!
Nan

Jane Peters
Reply

Thank you Nancy,

I thought my reply would go to Rusty, however, your answer is greatly appreciated, and enjoy the connection with other beekeepers.

Jane

Robert
Reply

Rusty,
As a new beekeeper all this information is really great. However, recognizing the difference between honey, brood, pollen, and drone brood is something I seem to be able to do yet. Where can I fin some good pictures and explanations of how these are generally laid out in a hive?
Thanks
Robert

Rusty
Reply

Robert,

Here is one photo that may be helpful, at least you can see the difference between drone brood and regular brood.

Robert
Reply

What temp is “warm enough”? 80s/70s? 60s/50s? We have 60s/40s here until July. Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

I manipulate frames once daytime temps reach 60°F. Just work fast and close up as soon as possible.

Roy
Reply

Hi Rusty

I live in Zimbabwe, and have recently caught a swarm that decided to move into a garden pot! I knew a swarm was arriving because (a) it was a home of an old swarm, and (b) the level of new activity around the pot. I placed a catching box on top of the pot in the hopes that they would move straight into the catching box. They didn’t!

So now I have a catching box on top of the pot. The catching box has a hole in it that only allowing the bees in the pot to move through the catching box and out of the opening. They have figured this out just fine, but still refuse to move up onto the frames and foundation wax in the catching box. They simply go back into the pot.

They arrived 4 days ago, and I am wondering how to coax them up from the pot to the catching box.

Your help will be appreciated.

Thank you

Roy

linda
Reply

Thank you so much! This website has been so helpful in explaining the process. I just started a new hive with a small swarm of bees 3 weeks ago. I have read so much, but keep coming back to your site. Today while examining the hive, we got to see new babies coming out of the brood. I never thought I’d be so excited! I still have lots to learn!

Rui
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I have a question on this concept. It basically is: should pyramiding be done upwards or downwards?

The reason for my question comes from the bees natural behavior to build comb downwards. If we look at other beekeeping techniques such as the method used in Warré hives where empty boxes are nadired (added in at the bottom) instead of supered, or even if we look at Tim Rowe’s method for the Rose hive, where he splits the brood nest by adding an empty box in the middle, we see that the effect of both methods is that the older capped brood is always left in the top box. These will hatch earlier and then, either the queen lays in those cells again or, being at the top of the hive they are quickly filled with nectar.

If we keep on pyramiding down by nadiring a box under the brood nest instead of above it, the older hatched brood cells on top immediately become honey supers. Of course, this mean you have to use a one size box (as in the Warré or the Rose). It also takes a heavier toll on the beekeepers back especially when you have to remove several boxes filled with honey to be able to add an empty box under the brood nest, pyramiding a few brood frames down.

At a certain point (around June 21st – Summer solstice), when the brood stops expanding, then you would just super as the colony would no longer have any need for space in the brood nest, only for honey reserves.

I would be extremely interested in your thoughts on this topic.

All the best and thank you for a very informative website.
Rui

Rusty
Reply

Rui,

You could certainly pyramid downward if you wanted to. I agree that bees naturally move down: in most feral hives the combs are attached at the top of whatever it is and then build down throughout the spring and summer. But as you point out, nadiring and similar techniques are more work for the beekeeper, and I think that is the primary reason we do it the other way. Also, since the brood comb gets backfilled with honey, most of your honey production ends up in comb that once held brood. Many beekeepers want to avoid this and so encourage the bees to move up, which more-or-less forces them to store honey above the brood nest.

As an aside, since bees move down naturally, you don’t really need to pyramid into the lower boxes; they will pretty much go there by themselves. It is going up that often requires encouragement.

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