Triple deep hives in mid-summer

My experiment into triple deep hives began this spring after I experienced unusually heavy winter losses. I noticed that the hives that survived were the triples, and when I mentioned this in a post, other beekeepers wrote that they too had good results with triples. Keepers of triples reported:

  • Fewer winter losses
  • Less need for spring feeding
  • Earlier build-up of spring populations
  • Fewer swarms
  • More honey
  • Better mite management

So in April I started four new colonies as triples right from the start. Three of the colonies came from packages, and one colony was a tiny nucleus that had managed to overwinter but was not much bigger than a grapefruit.

Here are the steps I took:

  1. I put each colony in the center of a single deep on six frames of drawn comb flanked by two frames of honey on each side. I fed no syrup, but relied on the honey to get them started.
  2. After two weeks I added a second deep. I prepared these deeps by alternating drawn comb with empty frames—five of each. Before I added the second deep to each hive, I removed two frames of brood from the middle of the first deep and put them in the middle of the second deep. This is called pyramiding and it encourages the queen to expand her nest upward.
  3. After three more weeks, I added a third deep using the same method of pyramiding. At the time, it seemed premature because the second deep was nowhere near full. But I had a plan and I stuck with it.
  4. Each hive was outfitted with a screened bottom board, a screened inner cover, and a fully open entrance.
  5. By mid-June there was substantial activity in all boxes. I added a comb honey super to all colonies, just to see what would happen.
  6. After three weeks, I added a second honey super to each colony. One colony got a third honey super.

I hadn’t planned on writing about these colonies until next spring, but I’ve noticed several things about them that I want to mention.

The worst thing about triple deeps is their height. The additional height is hard for me to handle. I needed help to remove full honey supers.
The worst thing about triple deeps is their height. The additional height is hard for me to handle. I needed help to remove full honey supers.

  • Although these are now large colonies, there has been no bearding even on the hottest of days.
  • In spite of filling three deeps, the colonies issued no swarms this year.
  • Oddly, the entrances never seemed crowded. There was a constant stream of bees coming and going, but no entrance congestion.
  • These are the most docile bees I have ever had. They were even calm when I removed the honey supers without smoke.
  • Even though these were first-year colonies, I got harvestable honey off three of the four hives.

So how much of this is due to their being triples and how much is random good luck? It is impossible to say, but I think it is more than coincidence that so many beekeepers have success with triples. Some of the theories can be found in my earlier posts, “Rethinking the triple-deep hive” and “More on triple­-deep hives.”

The real test for me will be the coming winter. What I want to achieve is a total withdrawal from sugar syrup. Three deeps worth of stores provide not only lots of food, but lots of thermal mass to keep the bees warm in winter and to decrease temperature fluctuations within the hive. Large colonies eat more, but large colonies also produce more heat and are better equipped to keep the hive clean and disease free. So far, these colonies have never tasted sugar syrup (except in the shipping crate) and I want to keep it that way.

I have just begun a fall mite treatment of ApiLife Var (thymol) and after that is completed I will check for active queens. If all looks good, each colony will be set up with a fully-open screened bottom board, reduced entrance, moisture quilt, and top ventilation for the winter. The rest is up to them.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Lee Mike
Reply

A colony of 95,000 bees is common in Europe where the old 12 frame Arina Dadant – Blantt hives are still used. Never need to feed them, the bees are always healthy. But information about them is limited to Italian and almost nothing in English. But many of the best hives are large colony hives.

Jim Davis
Reply

Rusty,

I live in Eastern Iowa. Going into our 5th year, we have consistently used 3 mediums for our colonies. I also use mediums for my supers. So far (knock on wood), we’ve had very good overwintering success and both hives have come out of winter quite strong, and usually with a lot of honey left over, so much so that my concern has been the brood boxes becoming honey bound (which happened with one this spring in spite of my attempts to prevent it.) My concern is simply the weight of the boxes. I’m heading into my mid-sixties, and even taking the top brood box down, if it’s full of honey and brood, can be a challenge. I filled two supers so taking down that 5th box on top, full of capped honey, was about all I could handle. How do you deal with the weight problem of 3 deeps?

Rusty
Reply

Jim,

I tip the scales at 115 pounds, so these heavy boxes are always an issue with me. I try to do everything myself because, although my husband is more than willing to help lift, he sometimes has severe allergic reactions to things. I would feel terrible if he had a bee reaction. So, here is what I do. I take an empty deep box and set it on the ground. Then I take out one frame at a time and place it in the box until I can lift the remainder. If I have to move two boxes, I just bring two empties. I do the same thing with honey supers. I just put empty supers in a wagon and move the frames one by one until I can lift the rest. Then I pull the wagon to wherever.

I’ve been doing this for years and years so I hardly even think about it. Last week, though, the triples were so tall I had trouble prying frames from the top box, which were over my head, so my husband graciously helped. The bees were gentle that day and we had no problem.

Sam
Reply

Thanks Rusty for this post! It is an encouragement for a first year beekeeper like me. I currently have 3 deeps full of bees. Do you leave the screened bottom completely open during the winter? What kind of top ventilation do you use for winter? I am in NJ and was wondering how I should prepare my hive for the winter.

I enjoy your posts!! Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Sam,

I leave the screened bottoms open unless it gets into the 20′s F for multiple days. If so I slide them in. I know N.J. and I know it gets cold there. But I also know a beekeeper near Boston that leaves them open totally. Read “How I overwintered ten out of ten” for basically how I do winter prep. Also see “How to prepare hives for winter.”

Pat
Reply

Is there actually brood in all three of the deeps? I’m a first-year beekeeper, and we tried to get ours to gradually move into mediums from the deep frames they came on. We had hoped to get everything the same, less heavy, size to increase our options for frame-shuffling. The bees are not much interested in that plan. ;-) They’ve only expanded the brood nest grudgingly to a half frame or two.

Rusty
Reply

Pat,

Yes, there is brood in all three deeps. Did you try pyramiding? It really works. Remember that the queen can lay up to 2000 eggs/day, but the conditions have to be perfect for her to keep doing it.

Pat
Reply

Because they were in a deep, and we wanted to move them into a medium, I couldn’t figure out a way to pyramid. I’m hoping that they survive the winter and have moved up into the mediums by spring, so we can migrate them that way.

Mary
Reply

Rusty,

Thank you for posting this . . . I’ve been waiting to hear more on this topic. Will be very interested to hear how they winter. I’m small like you, so the height & weight is a concern for me too . . . I’m glad to hear of your method of taking your frames out & placing in an empty super; I’ve been doing the same just because I’m short! Luckily the propolis is still kind of soft so I have not had too much trouble getting out my frames that are at eye level! Right now I have one deep, all the rest mediums . . . liking the idea of the 3 deeps, as the spring swarming is the main concern. (upstate NY)

Also, what is your moisture quilt?

Thank you!

Loved your post about the bull & your cattle dog. My acd does the same thing with the bees! But mostly lays in the shade as soon as I put on my bee jacket!
:)
Mary

Nancy
Reply

Rusty,

Ouch my back hurts just reading “3 deeps”! But thanks for the reminder about using an old deep as a frame rest. It’s also good to hear Jim’s comment about triple mediums. That is the way a lot of my friends around here are going, three mediums. I just hope mine are ready for a second medium soon.

And it’s not too early, everybody, to go back and review http://www.honeybeesuite.com/how-i-overwintered-ten-out-of-ten/
Highly recommended. I can’t do all those things, but moisture quilts and screened bottom boards for sure. And old hay bales for a windbreak.

Nan

Cathy
Reply

I am so thankful for the information you share. My husband & I have several three deep hives & are also very curious as to how it all pans out. We weren’t nearly as methodical as you so our results may be less positive. This is our 1st year of beekeeping that wasn’t just for hobby & one of the things that bothered me most was the constant feeding of sugar water. I really want to move away from that & sustain more holistic hives. Maybe this will help achieve that! :) Thanks again for all the sharing you do!

nick holmes
Reply

I have questions:

1. Does pyramid-ing just help the queen do brood upstairs, or does it give an improvement on comb build in supers above the excluder.

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?

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.

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?

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.

kim
Reply

Just seeing this now…how did they overwinter?? Additional thoughts now, on May 7th 2013?

Rusty
Reply

They did great. I will stick with triples in the future.

Jeff Ross
Reply

Same question another year later. Are you still doing triples?

Rusty
Reply

Jeff,

The short answer is yes and no. Yes I still am, but I will probably stop. They overwinter with no problem, but they are hard for me to handle because of their size—so they are good for the bees but bad for me. I’m planning to do a complete post on it soon.

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