Recently, my friend Phillip at Mud Songs.org wrote about the pros and cons of using 9 frames in a 10-frame Langstroth. He began by writing about honey supers and then segued into brood boxes as well. Since I’m sort of a renegade on this subject, I thought I would add my two cents to the discussion.
Many beekeepers use ten frames in the brood boxes and nine frames in the honey supers. As far as I can tell, this is the most common variation from the normal “ten frames in every box” philosophy. The reason for using only nine frames in the honey supers is that, given the extra space, the bees will build the honeycombs slightly wider. These wider combs hold more honey. Whether nine wide combs hold more honey than ten narrower combs, I really don’t know.
However, if you are using an extractor, you first have to open the honey cells with an uncapping knife. This step is definitely easier to accomplish when the combs are wider. If you plan to extract, this might be a good way to go. The one downside is that you have to make sure your nine frames are spaced evenly in the box if you want all your honeycombs to be the same width.
Most beekeepers seem to prefer using ten frames in the brood boxes—and for good reasons. There is really no benefit to having extra wide spaces for raising brood, and ten frames provide more area for the brood nest, so this makes sense.
Personally, I do something totally different—I use nine frames in the brood boxes and ten frames in the honey supers and here’s why:
- I find that ten frames in the brood box become so jammed I can’t easily do a hive inspection. So I like to put nine frames in the center of the brood box and leave the extra space at the ends. During an inspection, I slide the first frame into the empty space and then lift it out. Then each successive frame can be pulled straight over to the side and lifted. There is very little chance of rolling the queen with this system.
- If you use nine frames in the brood box you can add follower boards on each end (also known as dummy boards). These can lessen the chances of swarming by providing the bees a place to “hang out” without keeping the brood nest too warm in summer. In the winter, they provide insulation against the outside walls.
- I like ten frames in the honey supers because I don’t extract. Ten frames give me more square inches of cut-comb honey. In addition, I find that with cut-comb honey, it is easier to make nice clean cuts if the comb is not too thick.
Phillip was able to dig up a lot of opinions from the Internet on the nine-frame vs. ten-frame issue, many of which I cannot verify from my own experience. For example:
- [regarding nine-frame honey supers] “Nine-frame spacing acts as a natural queen excluder because queens prefer 10-frame spacing.” I wish it were that simple! I’ve even had queens lay in section boxes which in no way resemble 10-frame spacing.
- [regarding nine-frame brood boxes] “The bees will build drone comb in the extra space on the two outer frames and everything else will become worker-sized cells.” That would be a beekeeper’s dream come true! But sorry, it just doesn’t work that way. Usually drone comb is built at the perimeter of each comb. Remember, the bees are not trying to please you—they’ve got a totally different agenda.
As with many other aspects of beekeeping, I think the decision on how many frames to use in a box should be based on personal preference and what type of honey you will be producing. Experiment until you find a system you like.