I received this list of questions from a beekeeper in the UK. Since others might have similar questions, I’m posting the answers here.
1. Does pyramiding just help the queen put brood upstairs, or does it give an improvement in comb building in supers above the excluder?
Pyramiding encourages the queen to expand her nest into the upper box. By moving part of the brood into the upper box, you prevent the bees from building a honey barrier above the main nest. Because there is now brood in that upper box, the workers treat it like part of the nest and so does the queen. Once the bees are tending brood in that box, they will also build comb in it. Pyramiding will not necessarily encourage the bees to build comb in honey supers.
From my experience it appears that the winter cluster in a triple brood chamber is substantially larger than in a double. But I believe the main advantage comes from the orientation of the cluster within the boxes. Since the cluster has more room to expand in the vertical direction, it doesn’t have to expand sideways, which keeps the nest centered and surrounded by lots of honey. This provides plenty of food, yes, but the main advantage of all that honey is thermal mass. The heat-holding capacity of the honey prevents the hive temperature from fluctuating wildly up and down.
And by providing top ventilation, you can keep the moisture down even though you have lots of bees. A tall stack of boxes provides better draft than a short stack, but all the honey, brood, bees, and comb—together with your moisture quilt—prevent the air from moving too fast through the hive. A dirty chimney draws poorly because the rough interior surface impedes the air flow. That is bad. But a rough interior in your beehive is good because it prevents the air flow from being so great that it chills the bees. Airflow requires a delicate balance—you want as much as necessary but as little as possible.
I see no reason for using an excluder in a triple deep hive. It’s hard enough to get the queen to lay in the third deep—you don’t need to worry about her going above that.
2. What is so wrong with sugar? Expense? The “junk food” concern of feeding them “unnatural” products? You would just like them to be self-sustaining? Or something else?
I could write a book about what’s wrong with sugar, and my reasons are not nearly as idealistic as you might think. It begins in the store. Since it’s expensive, I buy large quantities to save money. A 50-pound bag is nearly 45 percent of my weight so I hate putting it in the cart, moving it from cart to truck, moving it from truck to shed, moving it from shed to house, etc. I don’t like making syrup, getting stickies all over the counter, the stove, the cabinets, and myself. I hate it when my socks adhere to the floor, or worse, my husband’s socks. I hate filling plastic bags, or feeders, or jars, or anything else. I hate spilling it in the hives or cleaning it up if the bees don’t finish it. In fact, I hate every single thing about sugar. Hands down, sugar is my most unfavorite part of beekeeping.
3. I live in the UK, I’m not sure I have the climate to support a full 3 brood chambers being filled. What size brood chambers are you using?
Basically, we have a nine-month rainy season (October through June) and the other three months are bone dry. Average temperatures in the winter range from the high 30s to mid 40s °F (about 3 to 7 °C). Some years we have snow, some not. A few days every year the temperatures drops into the 20s (about -7 to -1.7 °C).
Where I live, the average annual first freeze of the year is September 30 and the average annual last freeze is May 17, which means we have a fairly short growing season. When I install packages, I do it mid-April.
Here are some climate statistics for Olympia, Washington. I live about 15 miles (24 km) away, but this is the best data I could find:
Average temperature: 49.7 F (9.8 C)
Average maximum temperature: 60.2 F (15.7 C)
Average minimum temperature 32.9 F (4 C)
Yearly days with maximum temperature of 90 F (32 C) or higher: 6
Yearly days with minimum temperatures below freezing: 84
Yearly precipitation in inches: 50.6 (129 cm)
Days with precipitation of 0.01 inch (0.25 mm) or more: 163
Average yearly snowfall in inches: 16.7 (42.4 cm)
Other Olympia Weather Conditions:
Average wind speed: 6.7 mph (10.8 km/h)
Clear days: 52
Partly cloudy days: 84
Cloudy days: 228
Average relative humidity: 88.5
My brood boxes are what we call standard deeps. They measure about 41 x 50 x 23 cm. But no matter what size box you have, a thin pine box does not provide insulation like a tree trunk. Beekeepers must assure that the bees have plenty of insulating material surrounding the cluster.
4. With a stack that high I’m guessing you need to tie them down all the time or support them in the wind in some way?
The kind of wind we have here would not knock them down. Not only are they impossibly heavy but they are all stuck together. I tie down all my hives, one deep or three, to discourage animals that may want to eat brood: raccoons, possums, foxes, wolves, coyotes, cougars, and bears (small bears, anyway) and, as it turns out, bulls. I live adjacent to a large state forest (91,650 acres or 370.9 km2) so these critters are common and curious.
5. Does the weight of that huge stack not cause any issues? This year I had a hive stand collapse on me, hence the question.
Nothing short of a sizeable earthquake or Mt. Rainier erupting will dislodge my hive stands. You could use them for a house foundation. They are two-by-six treated construction with cross-bracing and sunk in 18 inches of concrete at all four corners. They have roofs, too. Each one will hold three hives. Someday, far in the future, archeologists will discover them and puzzle over what the ancients used them for.