Rethinking the triple-deep hive

In spite of the HopGuard fiasco of this past winter, some of my hives pulled through. With one exception, the colonies that survived were either in triple-deep Langstroths or a top-bar hive.

I get a lot of questions about the wisdom of using triples and my usual answer is that the size of the hive should be commensurate with the size of the colony. It seems logical that a colony should not be crowded into a small hive lest food shortages occur, nor should the colony be overwhelmed by a large hive that cannot be patrolled and kept warm.

One of the interesting things about losses is that you get to see what works and what doesn’t under adverse conditions. All my hives were treated the same way last fall, but it is obvious now that the large-volume hives did better. I don’t know the exact volume of the top-bar hive, but my rough calculations show it to be larger than a double-deep Langstroth, but smaller than a triple-deep.

So what is the difference? Of the hives that died, each had ample supplies of pollen and honey, and no obvious signs of disease other than deformed wing virus (which is transmitted by mites). But since all the hives were treated at the same time with the same (inadequate) regimen for mites, why did the larger-volume hives survive? The truth is, I don’t know.

I don’t think that the number of bees was much different in the doubles and the triples in the fall, but the bees were more spread out. The triple-deep nests were more-or-less in a column rather than a sphere. Hive inspections showed the brood nests spanning all three boxes in the very center.

Here are some theories:

  • A larger brood nest encourages the queen to raise more brood. Even though more brood yields more mites, the vast number of clustering bees is able to overwhelm the phoretic mites.
  • Triple deeps allow the bees more room to move straight up, rather than move laterally, for food. This idea, though, does not account for the top-bar bees which have to move laterally in any case.
  • A fall nectar flow, especially one occurring after the honey supers have been removed, encourages bees to backfill the brood nest with honey. Sugar syrup fed in the fall does the same thing. As a result, the queen has little room to lay, so she slows egg production earlier than she should. The lack of brood forces the colony into winter with an older population of bees that are not robust enough to raise spring brood. By using three deeps, you give the bees more room for storage while allowing the queen more space to lay eggs in the fall.
  • A larger brood nest yields more bees to help keep the colony warm and hygienic. Even though a large colony uses more food, it is available in the three boxes.
  • Triple deeps have better ventilation because a taller hive increases the “chimney effect.” Damp air and mold spores go out the top; fresh air comes in the bottom.

Whatever the reasons, advocates of triple-deep hives report fewer winter losses, less need for spring feeding, earlier build-up of spring populations, and fewer swarms. I was never a believer. But based on my own experience this year, I think I will plan for triples in the coming season.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

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Comments

Paul
Reply

Hi Rusty Have you any pictures of the triple beehive or does it consist of three deep brood boxes? I would like to see some pictures if any available.

Rusty
Reply

Paul,

I will have to take some photos but, yeah, it’s just three brood boxes stacked on top of each other. From the ground up I have a hive stand, screened bottom board, slatted rack, brood box #1, brood box #2, brood box #3, feeder rim (eke), moisture quilt, inner cover, outer cover.

Jami
Reply

I wonder if those colonies made it through the winter because they were stronger then the colonies in the double deeps? They must have been to have you leave a third brood box on, right?

Chris
Reply

The Univ of Minnesota (Dr. Spivak) advocates the three deep configuration for “northern” beekeepers. They cite better overwintering success as the primary reason.

New package: Year 1 build to three deep brood boxes with little/no honey harvest. Year 2 do a split, with one deep the start of a new colony (w new queen) and the other two deeps (with the year-old queen) used to produce honey.

Sarah
Reply

Would it be better to add a third brood box under the two existing or on top? Does it matter?

Rusty
Reply

Sarah,

I would add it on top, but that’s just me.

Sarah
Reply

You know,when I was writing that comment asking where the new deep should go I thought, “I’m silly enough for wondering if it should go under the two existing–of course it doesn’t go between.” So I was very surprised when such a thing was suggested! I painted my hives so that the two deeps and two supers make a picture of flowers when on top of each other so I was thinking how I could maintain that, and a third deep and cause minimal disturbance (and hopefully minimal stinging) to my bees. Since they have to build the comb before the queen can lay, I wondered how that would affect the bees since there’d suddenly a big empty space in the middle of their home.

Gus
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Hope you see this comment, despite the article post date. First, I want to say – great site!

My question is this: When you have a triple or higher hive – do you find multiple entrances useful? Some beekeepers like Michael Bush even prefer a top entrance to a bottom one. I am adding my third deeps now (in Greece) and was wondering if I should add a second entrance above, as I am worried that the brood chamber must be getting awfully crowded. Do you have any experience with this? Any opinions?

Rusty
Reply

Gus,

I have always used just one entrance even on my triples. However, that doesn’t mean it’s best. I got out of the habit of using upper entrances when I started making comb honey because I don’t like bees with dirty feet walking all over the nice white comb. If they walk up from the bottom, it seems their feet are cleaner by the time they reach the top.

But if this is not an issue, I think two entrances would be a good thing.

Gus
Reply

Thanks Rusty!

I never would have thought about the dirty feet thing. Good point.

Karl
Reply

I just added a 3rd brood box. I just put it on top. Should I go back in and put brood in it or will she move up any way?

Rusty
Reply

Karl,

They will probably move up on their own. If they don’t, you can pyramid.

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