The “unlimited brood nest” is one of those beekeeping concepts that sounds way more complicated than it is. I don’t know if willful obfuscation results from beekeepers trying to confuse each otheror just the rest of the worldbut it seems to be a favorite pastime.
So what is it? An unlimited brood nest is one where the queen’s movement is not restricted. Basically, if you use a queen excluder, the queen is confined to an area on one side of it. Since the queen can’t lay where she can’t go, you end up with a limited brood nest. It’s that simple. Conversely, if you lose the excluder, the queen can go anywhere she wantsshe has an unlimited brood nest. Elementary, eh?
Some people call a triple deep brood box topped with an excluder “unlimited” but I beg to differ. Either the queen’s movements are restricted or they’re not. In fact, queens rarely extend their nests over more than three deepsbut that’s beside the point. If you’re using an excluder you are not allowing for an unlimited brood nest.
The purpose of an excluder (or a limited nest) is to keep the queen from laying eggs in the extracting supers. But an unlimited nest has many benefits for the bees, including more winter stores and better insulation (see “More on triple deep hives“). So many beekeepers entice the queen to stretch her nest ever higher.
One of the ways to cajole the queen higher is called “pyramiding”another big word for a small concept. Pyramiding is simply taking a few frames of brood from one box (usually from the outer edges of the nest) and centering them in a box above the main nest. This encourages the queen to lay further up. Since she already has brood there anyway, why not? It changes the nest shape from a wide sphere to a pyramid (more or less).
Pyramiding is similar to checkerboarding except that with pyramiding you are rearranging the brood nestwith checkerboarding you are not. Pyramiding is almost indistinguishable from opening the brood nest except that the purpose of pyramiding is to make the nest taller, whereas the purpose of opening the brood nest is to prevent swarming. Opening the brood nest makes the nest wider and it may make it taller, depending on how many frames of brood you have and where you put them.
All these concepts are closely related and overlapping, so confusion is inevitable. For optimum swarm and brood nest management, it helps to understand the basics of backfilling, checkerboarding, opening the brood nest, unlimited brood nesting, and pyramiding. Trust me, the concepts are easy. It’s just the terminology that’s difficult.