Although follower boards (also known as dummy boards) are often used in top-bar hives, they are less often seen in Langstroth-style equipment. But many who use them are firm believers in their ability to lessen swarming in the summer and insulate the hive in winter.
Follower boards in a Langstroth hive have the same shape as a regular frame except the top part of the frame is only about ¾” wide. Instead of filling them with foundation you fill them with masonite or some other thin, solid material like plastic or ¼” plywood.
You simply take one regular frame from the brood box and replace it with two follower boards, one on each side of the brood, in positions 1 and 10. That is why the top part has to be narrow—because you replace one frame with two followers.
The theory here is that the bees can collect on the follower boards without sitting on the brood. In hot weather, the bees have a hard time keeping the brood cool enough, and sitting on it makes it worse. So both follower boards and slatted racks give the bees a place to “hang out.” This also reduces the feeling of congestion in the hive and congestion is a major factor in swarming.
There should be “bee space” on both sides of the follower boards in order to provide lots of room for the bees to go. In winter the bees will not use the boards for clustering, but the dead air space between the boards and the outside wall provides some insulation against the cold.
Some beekeepers like them because a hive with nine frames and two followers is lighter than one with ten frames full of brood, honey, and pollen. Of course that depends on what you use to build them. Other people think it makes no difference in the total weight.
Beekeepers who are not fond of the geometry of the Langstroth hive say the use of follower boards creates a more optimum space for the brood nest. I have no clue about that myself, but I plan to try some experiments in the near future.
My Top Bar Hive is full and there are several queen cups and cells. My bees are so broody that there isn’t any honey to harvest. I was unable to split the hive and, being desperate to keep our bees a secret from the neighbors, I supered the hive to relieve the congestion. Yesterday, I believed the colony was in full swarming mode as one queen cell looked ready to be capped. This morning, 4 days after supering, I saw that it had been torn down. Not sure what to think. By giving the bees a new place to hang out, I may have delayed swarming, but it’s probably going to happen anyway, isn’t it?
That’s hard to answer. Sometimes the bees will tear down a queen cell but it’s hard to know why. But it sounds like they’re getting ready to swarm, especially since the top-bar is full and you are seeing several queen cups and cells. If they don’t have any room to store honey they will almost surely swarm.
Try to figure out what they’re doing in the super. If they’re storing honey, that’s a good sign. If they’re just raising more brood they’ll have to swarm or they won’t have any stores come fall.
Your situation sounds familiar. I once had a top-bar hive that was bursting with brood all summer long, but they starved over winter because there was no room to store honey. They didn’t swarm and they didn’t store honey, so they didn’t make it.
If you can’t split the hive, which would probably be the best thing, maybe you should just let them swarm so you don’t lose the whole thing later. On the other hand, if they start to store honey in the super, they might be okay.
And I don’t know about the neighbor. They’re even harder to predict than bees.
I have a question. If the honey is crystallized when the capping is less than 50%, what is the likely reason?
We’re in Belize with Africanized bees.
I would say the problem comes from the nectar the bees are collecting. Some honey crystallizes almost immediately, and some honey goes for years without crystallizing. It has to do with how much glucose and fructose are in the nectar. Nectar with lots glucose crystallizes quite quickly, whereas nectar with large amounts of fructose resists crystallization.
I don’t know what your bees are collecting. But as an example, in the northern U.S. and southern Canada, bees that forage on oilseed rape produce honey that crystallizes almost immediately.
If your honey is crystallizing before it is even capped, it is almost for certain a characteristic of the nectar they are collecting. When something else comes into bloom, you will probably notice a difference.
I’ve been using follower boards for 5 or so years now and I strongly recommend them for several reasons:
1) As I make them out of super light material (political signs), they indeed make a lighter hive body to lift.
2) Like in 8 frame equipment, having follower boards and 9 frames does insulate the sides better and the bees rear brood on all 9 frames, not 8 or 7ish as is common with 10 frames in a box. Eighteen frames of brood in production during the spring build-up and through the blackberry flow is hard to beat.
3) As I run all my colonies foundationless, the follower boards are very useful and actually live up to their name by placing the boards not on the sides, but between frames and use them just like (well, sort of like) a TBH. With this slightly constricted space I find that even the most screwy bees with the least attention to straight comb drawing get it right most of the time (nothing is foolproof).
4) And my favorite, by removing a follower board from one side (which can easily be done without rolling bees even on the stongest colony), you can completely avoid pulling a frame and setting it on the ground or carrying around a silly frame holder all then time. My 8-frame comrades keep trying to get me to switch, but I don’t think I’d be able to give up my follower boards and then I’d end up with only 7 frames per box and supered colonies pushing 7 ft tall! Scary stuff.
Yes, they are just one more thing to make, as no company sells them, but I find they are worth the effort.
You make some really good points here. Thanks!
2) Like in 8 frame equipment, having follower boards and 9 frames does insulate the sides better
How do you get 9 frames and 2 follower boards in an 8 frame equipment?
3) As I run all my colonies foundationless, the follower boards are very useful and actually live up to their name by placing the boards not on the sides, but between frames and use them just like (well, sort of like) a TBH
Can you please elaborate on how you do this?
Reid or Rusty,
I think I can visualize what a follower/dummy board looks like from your description. Are there any pictures you can post so I can be sure? If not, I will start the creative process and possibly post what I’ve created.
Pictures and instructions are here: https://www.honeybeesuite.com/how-to-make-follower-boards-for-a-langstroth-hive/.
I installed my first two follower boards in the bottom box of a nuc a few weeks ago. Then I added a second box to the nuc but didn’t add any follower boards, which means the frames in the top box did not line up with the frames in the bottom box (because the bottom box frames were shifted half a frame width by the follower boards) and the result was a 4-inch-high burr comb on a couple of top bars in the bottom box. If that makes sense. It was easy to clean up the burr comb, but the lesson learned is: If you’re going to use follower boards, use them in both boxes, not just one.
So Phillip, maybe that’s why they’re called dummy boards.
Being totally new to beekeeping (since my friends have now parked 6 hives on my farm, it seems fairer to call myself a “bee host” than a beekeeper) almost everything I read here sounds like a good idea. Checkerboarding makes sense and so do follower boards. My question: in my own hives that I’m getting ready in case my “guest bees” swarm, I have put 9-frame spacers, to make them easier to lift and easier to look at frames. Will that make it impossible to use follower boards?
Most spacers make it difficult to use follower boards because the space allotted to each frame is fixed. Generally I split a frame in (roughly) half, so I end up with nine whole frames and two half frames. You could, I suppose, use only seven frames and put followers on both ends in position 1 and 9, but that gives you only seven brood frames. It might work; it wouldn’t be much different than using followers in 8-frame equipment.
I know you didn’t ask my opinion on this, but my first hives had nine-frame spacers and I really hated them. I found I couldn’t slide frames during an inspection and worse, they gum up with propolis after a couple of years that is almost impossible to remove. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use them. Who knows? You may really like them.
In any case I have no experience with spacers and follower boards, because I soon ripped out all the spacers I had.
Re: Phillip’s comment above about burr comb and frames not aligning; If I decide to use dummy boards, do I need to use them in all the boxes, including honey supers? I assumed so, so when I started building the boards I went a little crazy and made about 2 dozen of each size (for 8″ and 10″ boxes). If they only need to go in the brood boxes, does anyone need a BUNCH of dummy boards?
I would use them only in the brood boxes, but it won’t hurt anything to put them in the honey supers.
Instead of making and using follower boards, what do you think would happen if I just
(a) put a plastic bag over a frame?
(b) cut to size and taped onto a frame a corrugated plastic political sign?
Corrugated plastic works well inside a frame. Plastic bags get torn apart and removed from the hive.
I am an avid reader of your blog and a first year beekeeper in Westchester County, NY with 7 hives. All my hives are 8 frames medium boxes. Most of my hives have empty frames, and I am worried about how to prepare the hives for winter. Could I use follower boards to replace the empty frames?
You could. Or you could move some frames of honey around to make the brood nest as compact as possible.
I’m just guessing that this would be incompatible with most slatted-racks – as the space has been offset/book-shelved by the followers one would now need a compressed 9 frame slatted-rack with wider end-openings to line up with the 9 frames?
Do you use standard 10 frame slatted racks?
I just continue to use stand 10-frame slatted racks.
Does anyone know where I could buy follower boards? I am getting ready to move my hive to a Long Langstroth and need at least 3. I don’t have the ability/tools to make anything.