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For the second year in a row, I’m overwintering my bees in single-deep hives. After years of running double deeps, and three years with triple deeps, I went to singles beginning about sixteen months ago. My decision was prompted by Thomas Seeley’s discussions of single deeps and the fact that very large colonies seem to have disproportionately high mite loads. But most persuasive were the infrared photos I had taken of my winter colonies.
Winter bee life in double deeps
My IR photos of the double deep hives showed that at the beginning of cold weather, my colonies were nearly always in the middle of the hive, straddled between the two brood boxes. As the winter progressed, the colonies would move up, and by late winter the entire colony was in the upper brood box. Spring inspections showed that honey remained untouched in the lowest box, while the upper box was empty of stores and the candy boards were licked clean.
The movement of the colony out of the lower box meant the area was largely unguarded. The bees used the small top entrance exclusively, and therefore had no reason to go down through the cold and empty lower box. Instead, non-bee things could (and did) move in. I’ve found both mice and shrews to be quite pleased with the arrangement: relatively warm and dry with lots of food.
I kept thinking that confining the bees to one box would be more efficient. So I rearranged frames and used escape boards to winnow all the doubles down to singles for the winter. The first year I overwintered 100% of my colonies and went into spring boiling with bees.
My winter setup using single deeps
From the bottom up, I used a bottom board with a reduced entrance, a slatted rack, a single deep 10-frame brood box, a queen excluder, a medium containing ten frames of honey, an Imirie shim with an upper entrance, a no-cook candy board with a central hole for upward ventilation, a moisture quilt, and a telescoping cover.
Although I often use 9 frames in 10-frame boxes when I’m running double deeps, with single deeps I reasoned that the last frame would give me 10% more brood comb. I used a queen excluder because, come spring, I wanted to keep the bees in single deeps and I didn’t want a bunch of bee brood in my medium boxes. To me, it seemed easier to keep them below.
Remember that I’m living in the Pacific Northwest coastal area on the 47th parallel. That means our winters are relatively mild, but they are wet and dark for a very long time. I live in USDA hardiness zone 7b, which means the average annual minimum winter temperature ranges from 5 to 10 degrees F (-15 to -12 degrees C). In a colder climate, it might be better to skip the queen excluder and let the cluster get closer to the food.
Some problems with singles
Overwintering in single brood boxes is not without management issues. Most surprising to me was the seemingly unrestrained growth in early spring. With little expansion space, I thought the colonies would stay a bit smaller. They did not. Instead, it seemed that workers were living in the honey supers and the candy boards because the brood box was already packed.
By spring, the colonies didn’t actually fit in the brood box any longer. When it was time to remove the empty candy board and the medium honey super, I used an escape board to coax them down into the brood box, but there was no room. I ended up leaving the medium boxes on until the nectar flow began, at which time I put comb honey shallows in place of the medium and put the bee-filled medium above them with an escape board.
That worked, and I ended up where I wanted to be: a single deep with a queen excluder and two shallow supers above it, each with its own entrance. Towards the middle of the flow, I added a third honey shallow on top of the first two.
Although my bees were building comb honey like never before, I planned to remove the honey supers early and give them mediums to fill for winter. This also worked well. Of course, this past spring was particularly late and long, so putting away stores after building comb honey seemed easy. It won’t always be that way.
Swarming from singles can be early and frequent
With jam-packed singles back in March, I knew swarming would come early. And it did. I split some colonies in time. Others threw swarms I was able to trap. But some got away. None of this was a surprise, of course, but due to other commitments, I wasn’t always able to be proactive.
In any case, if you successfully overwinter in singles, early swarming should be on your mind. By the end of swarm season, I had more colonies than equipment, so I ended up re-combining some of the smaller ones.
Smaller hives are easier to manage
All in all, it was a lot easier to manage the single deeps, simply because they’re single. You don’t have to lift one brood box off another, and the entire colony is clearly visible. Everything about it seemed quicker, easier, and lighter.
Nevertheless, I’m more nervous about overwintering this coming winter than last. The weather is the problem. Yesterday on Thanksgiving, all my colonies were out and about, flying, darting, and using up their food stores. I told them to go back home, but you know how well they listen.
A word about moisture quilts as thermal insulators
As an aside, I wanted to mention the moisture quilt as a thermal insulator. My primary reason for using a moisture quilt is, oddly enough, moisture. My lids, inner covers, and top bars used to drip water all winter long. But now everything inside the hive is bone dry, even the wood chips. Made properly, the quilts are magic. Still, I never thought of them as insulators, simply because it’s not that cold here in Olympia.
But earlier this fall, I was feeding some leftover syrup in baggy feeders, mostly to get rid of it before winter. After a month, two of my smaller colonies would not drink the syrup, and I realized it was too cold for them. I almost gave up, but I decided to place the moisture quilts above the baggy feeders and just leave them.
Three days later when I checked, the syrup was totally gone. The colony heat held in by the moisture quilt was enough to warm the syrup to a drinkable temperature. I’m sure it’s that same colony-generated heat, held in by the moisture quilt, that keeps the wood chips dry all winter long. I had always thought it was simply the ventilation ports that kept the chips dry, but now I realize it’s more complicated than that.
The future of singles in my apiary
I don’t know if I will continue with single deeps or go back to doubles. Certainly, there are issues with both methods, and if you live in an area where swarming is a problem, singles might be difficult. But overall, I find management of singles is easier and lifting is minimized. Although my honey production per hive was way up this past season, I think I have to attribute that more to the nectar flow than the hive configuration. But still, singles are my management plan for the immediate future.
Honey Bee Suite
Thank you, Rusty. As usual, this is really helpful.
Interesting idea Rusty. It’s my first wintering over of my single hive and I was in to check it this afternoon while the weather was 54F. Unfortunately, my hive looks wet inside, even with the quick box on top. My candy board is damp and soft, which is wasn’t when I put it in. The wax looks opaque which indicates moisture, so between my inner cover and the quilt box I’m just not getting enough ventilation through my hive. SO I took a gamble and pulled out my inner cover for the screen vivaldi board I have and put the quilt box back on top. This opens up the entire top a little better to help with airflow. I did a quick check and my bees are sitting between the bottom brood and the top brood box.
They are active, flying out to meet me when I opened the brood boxes up and in and out the bottom entrance and up on the candy, so they are moving about some inside with the warm temps. I”m going to give this a try for a bit until the weather drops down in temps and moisture and then put the inner cover back on under the vivaldi board to hope that cuts the moisture back. Here cold spans this year are short lived and I just have this feeling that moisture is going to lead to a much larger issue then cold at this point. Maybe next year I will try to go down to just one brood box and see how that goes. I just need to establish two more hives so I have a back up if I lose one. Thanks for the ideas…into the “experience” box they go. 🙂
I don’t use an inner cover in winter because it just gets in the way. Does your moisture quilt have ventilation? Your wood chips should stay dry except for a very thin layer of moisture on the top, perhaps a 1.4-inch deep. Your hive should look dry, rather than wet, so maybe you need to adjust things a bit.
Very Interesting….and I had never heard of moisture quilts before…and I can definetly see the efficacy in using them…! I’m gonna look ino them,…P.
Interesting. I have heard of doing this and even have considered it. I live in south east Idaho (zone 5) and have wondered how this would work. With the swarms I got this past year, most of them I put in a deep/medium on top configuration at first. I was hoping to move them into all mediums (three deep for the winter). Seems they had other ideas. One swarm was so large it took two deeps for them to all fit. My wonderment is: since large colonies are prone to more mites, how does one reduce the bees for the fall treatments and put them to bed in either a single deep or deep/medium configuration? If they are busting at the seams with bees, if you reduce their living space are there not still as much bees? I have been struggling with this all year and realize the answer is probably simple and obvious, but it just isn’t coming to me!
If they are that large, won’t they eat through a lot of honey befor the winter is over? Now I am more thinking out loud.
Thank you for your great posts.
The colonies start to contract soon after the summer solstice, so by fall there aren’t nearly so many bees. But yes, they do burn through a lot of food. I have two colonies that barely fit in a deep plus a medium super. Even now, with an IR camera, I can see they are bursting at the seams. I keep giving them more honey that I held back, but I will just have to keep watching and see what happens. This is definitely learning by doing.
Appreciate the followup of your experiment with 3 deep.
I have a different configuration and location, which possibly gives me an advantage overall and mitigates some of the reported drawbacks. I’m also a gardener/small orchardist and hobby beekeeper, so my motivation is primarily personal pollination and honey is only a bonus, not the driver. Healthy self-sustaining colonies of bees and associated fruit and veg are my desire.
First, my hive setup is a hybrid AZ configuration with 4 deep high 10 frames each x 3 hives. Fixed location protected from elements in a garden shed. Az hives (Slovenian style) are like bookshelves with a screen and outer door. The frames are manipulated like books. Most Az configurations are 2 deep. But my husband built me mine for my 50th birthday and one doesn’t argue with a gift.
Second I’m in Australia. I am blessed that we don’t know mite bombs – yet. SHB, wax moths, etc, but luckily no varroa.
Last winter I packed my hives down to two levels with min 10 frames honey topped with a cerecell feeder with dry sugar. On top of the feeder was a divider board. I have entrances at level 1&4. Entrance 4 was blocked with hardware cloth from pests but allowed airflow. Entrance 1 was reduced with hardware cloth too. I made my own moisture quilt (bee duvets) out of an old Polly fill pillow enclosed in painter’s canvas to act as attic/wall insulation and slow the chimney effect of the gap between doors and screens. One went on the top and one went between the screens and the doors. I have the same average temperatures as you, but slightly less rain as I’m in the mountains. I probably get more snow.
The bees overwintered really well. I had temp sensing and FLIR and the bees basically hung in a loose cluster all winter, they ate the honey sure, but we also have gums flowering in winter so they never bothered with the sugar much. After solstice (probably after grey box flow) they were bubbling over so I let them expand up to 3. By spring we were already 4 deep when I switched the top level to flow frames with a queen excluder. We haven’t had our local eucalyptus flow yet but I’ve been steadily taking honey all season.
So given these conditions (and I realise 3 hives is too small a sample size to undertake any experimentation with any scientific rigour) I’m wondering if it’s worth packing down to doubles in autumn or if I should just leave the hives do their thing in 3 deep? And I have better things to do than haul bags of sugar up the hill to my apiary. There are other beekeepers online still advocating 3 deep, but mostly their complaint is the difficulty of inspections and treatment so many have abandoned the model. The AZ configuration mitigates that issue. I’m really tempted…at least I’m considering trying it with the strongest one or two. I’ll probably make the call in autumn based on the number of bees the hives are carrying at that time.
I’d value your perspective, and any advice, as I have valued your articles over the years.
I’m familiar with AZ hives, although I haven’t used one myself. I’m in agreement with those who think the triple deep is too much work, and for those with varroa issues, large colonies seem to have a disproportionate number of mites.
Since you don’t hive the mite issue, why not try wintering at least one or two in the deeper configuration, just like you suggested. That’s what I would do: try it and see what happens.
Hi Rusty; My winter set up is similar to yours; I have uncooked sugar mixed with very little water in a 2 inch shim, with the bottom being 1/4” hardware cloth (I use a rolling pin to pack the dampened sugar in) and the shim has an entrance. No inner cover but insulation put into the outer cover. We insulate every side of the hive except the south facing one. I keep the sugar away from the entrance in the shim so the bees have easy access to the upper entrance and helps with ventilation. I use screened bottom boards with drawers closed too. The sugar shim acts as a moisture quilt as I have no problem with moisture. I wonder if this would work for the above MB in Ohio. I am trying a one deep hive this coming year with a QE. I will winter the same way I do now except no QE, a medium of honey and the sugar board. I saw a u-tube video on this style of beekeeping (yeah u-tube!) and I believe this man is in Ontario Canada. We’ll see how it works. Here’s the link https://youtu.be/YjyNcyVvbEI
Thanks for the link. I’m glad to see people trying new (or new to us) ways of overwintering.
Thank you for this article. This year when I attended EAS, I love the presentation given by Paul Kelly from the University of Guelph. They have been overwintering in single deeps for some time now and got the suggestion from old beekeepers. I have plans to start using single deeps myself.
Yep my quilt board has a bunch of ventilation. I am using about 2 inches of wood chips and they are a little damp on the bottom at the moment. Hopefully when I check later in the week, they will have dried out more by taking out the inner cover. I built my own Vivaldi board that is all screen, since I know my climate is very wet in the winter I wanted that extra airflow. Next week is suppose to get up into the high 50’s again so I will get it a check again to see if things dried out more I’m glad my instincts to just take out that inner cover seems to be on track. 🙂
I Deb, Yep I also have a very low moisture sugar patties on wax paper over the Vivivaldi board, which are all now rather damp, so they are wicking up the moisture too, just not enough of it. Again, my ground is like a wet sponge through the winter…so I know moisture is going to always be an issue for me. I just have to figure out how to get the best airflow without overchilling the hive…
That’s a new twist. I’ve never seen the wood chips get wet on the bottom. Normally, they get wet on the top after the water condenses on the inside of the telescoping cover and rains back down.
I offer a triple-layer wool blanket with all of the Valkyries that we sell. It is special order: the Canvas inner cover comes standard with each hive. The blanket is kept on all year long and aids in temperature and moisture control. Check out the website… have a great Holiday season!
Thanks Rusty, I think it has to do with where the inner cover was below the vivaldi board and quilt box. The inner cover was acting like a false ceiling and I think it being wet was wicking into the bottom of the wood chips. The hive is much wetter below that, so moisture is likely condensing and raining back into the top brood box from the inner cover more than on the telescoping lid. Taking that inner cover out should solve all of this (I hope).
That baffled me as well, dampness under the wood chips, so that means, somehow, the moisture is hitting the bottom of the chips and condensing or being absorbed there, and not being released by the upward flow … hummm …. a ponderment. Something would have to be there to allow the moisture to condense and not flow upward. I would get rid of the wax paper under the patties as wax paper will condense moisture. I found that out a few years back. (not the problem in this case) I make my candy boards in a super, that way, above the 2/3 inches of sugar is dead air space for the air flow to hit the moisture board and move out and in deep winter it gives me a place to add additional sugar or patties. This issue will have me thinking for days ! Where in Ohio are you MB? I was wondering since you said you were in such a wet area. This hive must be extremely strong to be producing so much moisture as to wet the hive in such a fashion from the bottom upward. I have found that candy boards, altho hardened, will start to crumble if they start absorbing too much moisture coming up from the hive. Is this happening? A great problem to ponder ! Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.
I run medium 8 frame boxes exclusively for my hives (bush farms method). This makes my life so much easier when it comes to moving/adding boxes and frames not to mention the weight when full of honey/brood. Everything is the same size so there is no guess work or pre-planning needed. I think this would also aid in your single brood box issue where they expand too quickly in the spring. Note that I use two 8- frame mediums in the winter which equals about 1.5 standard size brood boxes. All I need to do is add boxes on top in spring and let them go crazy. I realize converting existing boxes/frames to all medium is not cost effective, but if you replace them over time it is feasible. Just thought this might be interesting to you as a different was of dealing with this particular issue.
Anyone familiar with beekeeping history knows that the single Langstroth hive was the standard a hundred years or so ago. The question at the time was whether to enlarge the single (as the Dadants did) or use two Langstroth deeps for brood, like the Roots promoted.
The double deeps caught on, once beekeepers produced more extracting honey than comb honey. By switching to a big, multi-story hive — problems with swarming, supering, and queen excluders all went away. At least one commercial beekeeper I know runs single brood boxes and they just put on all the supers at once.
I use two deeps for brood, no excluder and throw on 3 mediums as soon as they look ready to expand from the two deeps. Once the flow hits, I go around and redistribute the supers so that the better hives have more, and supers are not wasted on hives that are slow.
When I used to run all deeps, most hives were in three, four, or five during the main honey flow. Basically enough space for maximum brood area and a hundred pound average harvest. I usually have two or three harvests.
Wintering in singles used to be common as well, but the chief advantage to two or three deeps for winter is that sometimes in spring you can’t get equipment to the hives, and with this arrangement the stuff is already there. You can reverse the boxes to get them to use the empty combs below, or let them expand downwards. I don’t worry about swarming at all with this plan.
Where is your apiary? Enough detail so that I can figure out the typical weather please.
> Where is your apiary? Enough detail so that I can figure out the typical weather please.
South of Ithaca, NY. USA
approx 42.34, -76.50
I overwintered in a single deep last year but my go to is one deep one medium. This year I’m trying 5 over 5 nucs. Quilt boards are always a must for me. I leave them on year round.
Hi Rusty—- first much thanks for all your efforts in maintaining this great website. I am a largely self taught beekeeper living on a somewhat remote island in northwest Washington. Your site has been an invaluable source of information for me as I try to navigate the many intricacies of beekeeping.
A few years ago I read one of your posts on moisture quilts which seemed an excellent idea, particularly in our Pacific Northwest climate. Since I began using them the interior of my hives have remained dry and I have had fairly good overwintering success. I typically place a feeder rim with two small holes for an upper entrances below the moisture quilt.
While upper entrances seem to be conventional wisdom for almost any type of winter setup, an article in the August edition of ABJ, Derek Mitchell, Honey Bee Engineering: Top Ventilation and Top Entrances, has lead me to question their use in winter. This article concludes that the heat loss from an upper entrance will significantly reduce the depth of the heated space in the upper portion of a hive with some degree of top insulation, even though the very upper portion of the interior space will remain constantly warm. I have noticed that by mid winter in some of my hives the cluster will have moved into the feeder rim space directly below the moisture quilt. I have attributed this to premature consumption of honey stores, although in hindsight I am not sure this has always been the case and in one instance the cluster had moved to the very top as early mid December, a colony which had at least five frames of honey in each of three medium boxes only two months prior. Mr. Mitchell’s article suggests that another possible explanation for this upward migration is an effort by the bees to cluster in the limited, but warm, area in the very top of the hive. Regardless of whether or not this is the case, his analysis certainly indicates upper entrances may well be counterproductive in winter for a hive with some form of top insulation. Your thoughts?
I don’t have a copy of the article, but if I can locate one, I will definitely read and comment. Without reading, my first questions would be where is he located and is his real issue temperature or moisture.
You will lose moist, warm air through an upper entrance. In a very cold climate, the heat loss through an upper entrance might be too great, such as most of Canada and the Midwest of the United States. Perhaps quilt users in those climates should consider a small, lower entrance in winter, a single deep arrangement, and experimenting with the quilt thickness. The quilt should be thick enough to keep the hive warm and allow the moisture in the warm air to condense in the upper layer of the insulating material, but thin enough to assure a sufficient flow rate of air to move moisture out of the hive to keep all interior surfaces dry most of the time. Another obvious variable is the ability of air to flow through the insulating material. Rusty has had very good performance with a few inches of lightly packed wood shavings that are very dry when placed. I was amazed when we noticed how dry the lower chips were and how moist the upper ones were on inspection. It was that moment where the mechanism of what was occurring dawned on me.
You have a vapor barrier on the inside of your home’s wall insulation typically to keep moisture from condensing in the outer portion of the insulation. Your wooden wall and siding will rot if you allow your walls to behave like a hive quilt. So the goals are a bit different in the two habitats. In our homes, we add dry heat and a little ventilation to keep the interior air dry. Then we keep the moisture out of the walls. In the hive, your heat source is the colony, and that heat is very moist per unit volume. You allow moisture to enter the roof insulation, and discard the insulation each year – or use the chips for another purpose.
But the ultimate goal with your house and hive are the same. It is to keep the habitat livable.
There is also a comparison of a Langstroth to a colony in a tree cavity. The wood on the inside of the natural hive both insulates and absorbs moisture, leaving the hive dry. The Langstroth with a quilt mimics the natural environment quite well.
I work in U.S. embassies around the world on two or three year assignments which makes beekeeping difficult. We also have a weight limit on what we can take with us from post to post. I have switched to poly hives to help with weight, have you ever thought of keeping one poly hive in the bee yard? I love your insight and would love to hear your experiences with a poly hive.
No, I’ve never had a poly hive. I’ll put it on my “possibly might do” list.
Well, heck, that would do it, having the inner cover above the brood box and then the moisture box. Ok, got it now … makes sense now more than before … This really had me thinking about the dynamics of it all, could not figure out why water w/condense up under the moisture box! With inner cover gone and moisture box over brood box, will work much better. These moisture boxes hold in a lot of heat for the bees as well. I opened a hive in October that was small, and it looked cold, when I added their candy board and moisture box, within an hour, they were warmer and started flying outside the box. A lot of that heat would have just rose and left the hive. Glad you figured it out MB. Had me going!
Ah, now you’ve given me yet another woodworking project to build – a slatted rack (but probably not until spring). As it is, my single-deep overwintering seems to be going okay. Rer your suggestion, I put a second box on top with a moisture quilt I built on top of that. For the second box, I built a rack to hold two bags of sugar and some pollen patty strips (I’m hoping the rack – instead of just a flat board – with unscented Swiffer pads underneath the sugar and pollen patty will help reduce hive beetles).
Only issue I’m having is that in the 3 weeks it’s been in, they don’t seem to have touched the sugar or the patty. I even went with two types of sugar as an experiment… I have a bag of granulated, and one of powdered, and put a few drops of peppermint oil around them to try to pique their interest, but apparently not. Will they work through their own stores first before turning to the sugar, or am I missing something? We have had a few warm days when I’ve seen them out and about, but on the whole it’s been pretty cold here, and I don’t want them to starve.
Don’t worry about that. I’ve had them go months without touching the sugar, and then one day, there they are. That’s fine, after all, it’s emergency rations, not their regular food.
Well, we had a solid week of sub-zero temps here and my single-deep didn’t make it. I’d attempted to help the hive maintain temps better by putting in a bottom board with a number of 1/4″ holes drilled through to allow air circulation without letting the wind get in, and I also stacked straw bales on the upwind sides of the hive, just leaving the front uncovered (which has trees and a fence for its own natural windbreak), but to no avail. Went to check on them again after the cold snap broke and they were all there, just dead. Clearly didn’t starve to death, as even the frames had honey and pollen left; there just wasn’t enough bee-mass after the varoa and robbing deaths to maintain their core temps I guess.
So now to get ready for a new nuc this spring. I guess the only silver lining is I’ll be moving it into a hive which already has comb, honey and pollen. The frames are all wrapped airtight and being stored outside in a shed to keep them frozen and keep pests out. New furnished apartment, ready for occupants! …and we’ll see how this year goes. I guess my only question would be when I install the nuc, I have two brood boxes with drawn-out frames, honey and pollen… should I put the nuc into just one brood box or have both on to let them go really crazy?
That is sad. I agree, probably not enough mass to keep the colony warm.
As for the new nuc, it can be done either way. My preference is to start them in one box because sometimes they will chimney in the center, perhaps covering three or four frames in each brood box. If you withhold the second box, they are more likely to spread to the sides. Also, when the colony is first establishing, it is easier to inspect its progress without the second box.
Like Isaac B, I run two 8-frame mediums as a brood chamber. It works well here in TN, where our winters are relatively mild. I check the boxes in late February, and if the girls are in the upper box I will reverse them and let them expand upward again. This has worked well for me for several years. The supers go on when the first dandelions bloom, usually in late March. Hives are checked weekly at that time and any queen cells are moved to a nuc. I try to run about 15-20 colonies a year. Since I’m an old geezer, the 8-frame mediums work well as a standard size for all equipment plus the weight of each box is not as heavy as a 10-frame deep or medium. I’m one of those beekeepers with the bad back!! Thanks for the info and enjoy the holidays!!
Hi Mike, looking at your timing, I’m curious when/if you do a winter/early spring mite treatment…and what product do you use if you treat.
When I worked at the Dyce Lab one of the prominent New York beekeepers was touting the single story brood nest, saying that it was right for “today’s bees.” Professor Calderone’s opinion was this was an excuse for substandard colonies, a real colony would need more than one box for brood.
Of course, we didn’t have Varroa mites in 1933. In truth, I don’t know if that is relevant or not. Most accounts I’ve come across of small colonies faring better against Varroa are anecdotal and I don’t think I’ve seen much actual data. You would know better than I.
In my case, I’ve found singles much easier to handle and the dynamics of the small colony are interesting. And in my opinion, the very best comb honey comes from a freshly captured swarm. I think that’s because the wax is laid down at a furious pace, making it thin and flaky.
I will probably continue with singles until I get tired of messing with them. At least they give me something to write about.
> Of course, we didn’t have Varroa mites in 1933. In truth, I don’t know if that is relevant or not. Most accounts I’ve come across of small colonies faring better against Varroa are anecdotal and I don’t think I’ve seen much actual data.
Well, that is a valid point. The big colonies seem to experience varroa explosions before the small ones. But is that sufficient justification for keeping the colonies small — or is the better plan to have big, otherwise healthy colonies and to control mites with formic and/or oxalic …
As you know, Tom Seeley has been studying single story colonies which are not supered at all and swarm on a regular basis. He claims this do not succumb to varroa like the big colonies, and can over winter here in Upstate NY. He says they are similar in size to feral colonies in trees.
Perhaps a comparison could be made with dwarf fruit trees. You could get lots of apples, but you would need more trees. With the same equipment a person could have a lot of small colonies, or a few really big ones. Something in me just feels that in this case, bigger is better.
Lots of questions still unanswered!
“Perhaps a comparison could be made with dwarf fruit trees. You could get lots of apples, but you would need more trees. With the same equipment a person could have a lot of small colonies, or a few really big ones.”
Not quite the same equipment. You would need a ladder, just as with large colonies, I need a lifter!
I am currently in Ukraine where they make great poly hives at a fraction of the cost of those sold in the U.S. My favorite is a six frame poly hive with a vented bottom that can be split into two, three-frame nucs. If you PM me an address I can send you one for my good deed of the day. Happy holidays from Kyiv!
Hi, could you give an indication of the cost and a web address of the manufacturer, please?
Hello. I was wondering do you not worry about the cluster leaving the queen down below the excluder. That would be my big concern. I overwinter hives in all sorts of configurations from single 5 frames, single 10 frame deeps, double and triple deeps to 5 x 5 x 5 deeps. My single deeps I overwinter with 10 frame deep then a candy board with a an vent / top entrance in the board then a quilt box then a pc of pink board between the quilt box and the top entrance the pink board keeps all condensation from the top cover and the wood chips, I have very good overwintering success on my single deeps. When I have losses it usually comes on my bigger hives. I run about 50 hives and last winter I lost one I am also in zone 5 in western Pa. I have been following your site for some time Very informative. Thank you.
You have no faith in your bees! They cannot survive without their queen, and they know that. The bees will not leave the queen as long as she is healthy. In a winter cluster, certain workers have the chore of going for food and bringing it back to the nest where it gets distributed by trophallaxis. The rest of the bees remain in the cluster and keep the queen and brood warm and cared for.
I have used these feeders repeatedly with no problem, and so have many others. By spring they are nearly empty and the colonies have exploded in population.
That said, if the idea makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. There are many types of winter feeding systems. Beekeeping is all about making the beekeeper happy.
If ever there’s a subject that mandates information about what winter is like in the poster’s area, it is this one. How about it, folks?
Also, what type of bees does the poster have? These posts could be like discussions about overwintering roses without talking about species and rootstock.
I’ve spent the last year learning all that I can absorb and then some and intend to start with two hives in the spring. Thank you for all the great information you share. I love the scientific/principle-based approach you use.
Interestingly, I’ve been reading a lot about using single brood chambers and it seems to be unique (not unheard of, but unique) to those in the US. Swarming seems to be one of the biggest issues with single broods, which leads me to a question – could a queen excluder be applied to the entrance to keep the hive from swarming until ready to do a split?
The other question that stems from MBs issues with moisture – could the hives be temporarily moved to a barn or a garage during the winter to minimize exposure? Or would the bees decide to try to come out of the hive to forage if they are too warm in the enclosure?
1. Yes, you can use a queen excluder (called a swarm guard) for short periods of time. But using them is tricky because the drones cannot get in or out either. Also, sometimes a small queen may be able to squeeze out, but maybe she can’t get back in. If you need to use a swarm guard for a few hours, or maybe even a whole day, while you get ready to split, that’s fine. Otherwise, beware.
2. Lots of folks overwinter their hives indoors, especially in Canada and other cold areas. There is much written on how to do it. But yes, if the bees get too warm the will fly out of the hives. Light will cause they to fly out, too, so beekeepers often use red lights to see what they are doing.
3. I don’t know where you are so I can’t be much help, but you may be overthinking the whole thing.
I took over a hive in mid July that I don’t think was managed well and it never was bigger than a single deep. Since there were no additional boxes with honey and pollen stores I decided that I would need to feed the hive through winter. I looked at a few different configurations and I found a YouTube video of someone who made a moisture quilt/feeder/Vivaldi board combo that was just what I was looking for. My version is slightly different as I drilled two 2″ holes on each of the four sides but everything else is pretty much the same. This allows me to feed syrup with all the advantages of having a moisture quilt. I am also using a winter pollen patty from Mann Lake that has reduced protein. I am anxious to see how this all works out come spring. As always, thank you for another great post!
Wet under the wood chip Update!
For Rusty and Debbie…
Well, removing the inner cover did the trick. I checked the hive on Wednesday while temps were in the 60’s here and it’s BONE DRY. Yes! So the problem was the inner cover under the wood chips wicking moisture.
My brood from my Queen Amber II were active and happy, poking out their little heads and taking a few purge flights and chewing away on their sugar patties.
Debbie, I’m in Northern Ohio – Portage County and I have a rather large stream on my property that is about 100 feet from my bee hive. This creek regularly jumps the banks and comes up into my side yard about 40-60 ft. My grass is ALWAYS green, even in the depths of August. I’ve started to plant white clover down by the stream so I don’t have to always mow it. Unfortunately, my lawn mower gets auggered in at the lowest part of my yard by that stream about a dozen times before it semi-dries out in late July.
I swear I could grow rice on most of my side yard. My own house runs about 65% humidity in winter and 85% in summer and yes I’ve burnt up two dehumidifiers in the past 5 years. So yep, you want a yard you never water…that’s my place. My bees are a rather nice ball still, I’d say around the size of a large softball in the hive so between the climate and the numbers, moisture is going to be my nemesis.
Rusty, here in Indiana, we are one zone cooler than you. What are your thoughts about wintering in 3 mediums, rather than your deep+medium configuration? Does the air gap between boxes make a difference?
And is your queen excluder metal or plastic? (For winter use, I’d guess plastic.)
I think 3 mediums would be fine, and I don’t think the small air space makes much difference. I use wood-framed metal excluders.
Paul Kelly has promised he’ll post a video in the UGuelph series on managing in singles. Devan Rawn has YouTube videos on singles, and worked with Paul. From what I understand, the broodnest can be expanded above the queen excluder by moving brood, so the single is really the site of the active broodnest. Devan, in Ontario, winters with just the single, but I would find it hard to give up the full honey super = insurance feed, so in winter would remove the queen excluder. Last year my strongest spring hives were the three dinks from the fall before I wintered in singles….next season 4 beekeepers in my club are running singles as a test project. We’ll contrast and compare results and blog that up! It just makes a lot of sense to confine HRH to the single, and manage around that, not least because we will only have to do inspections carefully on that single with the queen and new brood in it.
I am looking forward to reading whatever you come up with. The singles I overwintered last year did great this past season, each giving me two to three supers of comb honey plus a medium for wintering. In addition, I had very low mite counts. After just one season it’s impossible to know if it was coincidence or not, but it certainly is a fascinating experiment.
I’m in Washington DC where the temperatures have dropped to the teens this week. We haven’t had any major snow but have had some rain before our cold temperatures started this week. Today I saw about 20 dead bees in front of the entrance reducer and lots of dead bees inside near the bottom baseboard. I’m trying to figure out if this is normal winterkill since this is my first winter with the bees. I’m working in 3 medium boxes. Should I be worried?
That is absolutely normal. Bees dies every day but we are more apt to notice them in winter when it’s harder for the living bees to keep the place clean.
Hi Meg! I’m in DC too (out Purcellville way, west of Leesburg). I’ve been cleaning out a couple of dozen bees a week from the space between the (reduced) entrance and the robber screen. I figured they’re just cleaning house. In the summer they dragged them out from behind the screen and dumped them over the side, but I guess it’s so cold they’re doing their version of “it’s too cold to walk all the way to the garbage can, so I’ll just leave the trash bag right outside the back door” 🙂
This is my first year working with bees. As part of my overwintering, I made a moisture quilt and placed it above an eke. I live in Ohio, zone 6a. We had a warm day in January that reached 60 degrees, so I got a chance to look at how things were progressing. The bees were taking cleansing flights, and I was able to observe the top of the cluster between frames. I accidentally broke an outside frame of capped honey as I was checking their stores, and decided to lay it on top of the upper frames; it just cleared the fabric of the moisture quilt.
Since then, bees have been all over that comb on top, even though temperatures have dipped back down into single digits for a few days and up into the twenties. I just checked on my hive as we had 5″ of snow last night. I took a half-second peek, and I was surprised to see bees enjoying that slab of comb! I am wondering if the moisture quilt is the reason bees have been able to be out of their cluster despite the temperature.
The warmest part of the hive outside of the cluster is the area just above the cluster. Heat rises to that area and then is trapped by the moisture quilt. So yes, it’s a combination of those two factors. I find with a quilt in place, I can feed just about anything in the winter and they will gobble it down.
Hi Rusty – I overwintered with a single deep, due to the small size of my colony going into winter & lack of drawn out frames from my colonies last year. I am in MD (7a). My hive set-up currently is a bottom board, screened bottom board, entrance reducer, 1 deep super, shim, non-cook candy board (using your recipe, about 10 lbs), moisture quilt, inner cover, outer cover. As of now, my bees have survived winter, but I know it’s not totally over yet. I still have a decent amount of sugar left in the candy board.
I know at some point in the next couple of weeks, I know that I will need to place another super on my single deep in order to help with swarming. Then the set up would be bottom board, screened bottom board, entrance reducer, 1 deep super, 1 medium super (with poorly drawn out frames), shim, non-cook candy board (using your recipe, about 10 lbs), moisture quilt, inner cover, outer cover. I am worried about putting a practically undrawn box of frames on top of the deep that I overwintered the bees in. Our temps are spiking right now at about 70 for the next 2 days, but then we’ll have a few consistent weeks of low-50s-high 40s degree weather. The bees will still cluster but I am sure that they’ll start expanding the colony soon . . . . by adding an additional super with poorly drawn out frames and no honey stores on top of my deep, will I run into trouble separating the bees from the sugar board? Would the cluster then be able to reach it when we have our colder days & nights? I don’t want to run into an issue where they starve even though there’s a candy board on top because of my poor planning! I’d appreciate your help!
I was confused when I first read this, but I think I get it. When you say “supers” you mean brood boxes. You are worried that if you have undrawn frames in your medium brood box, the bees won’t be able to reach the candy board. I wouldn’t worry about that if outside temperatures are in the 40s and 50s F. That is almost flight temperature, and the area above the brood nest will be a lot warmer than that. Retriever bees will go up, get food and bring it down to the cluster.
That said, I wouldn’t be overeager to put the medium brood box on unless you have bees covering most frames in your lower brood box. If you are seeing drones, then by all means put it on. I’m in zone 7b, and I don’t expect drones for a month or more, but it could be different in Maryland. But those would be my two criteria: an almost full lower brood box or the presence of drones. If you wait for those conditions, then the brood boxes will stay plenty warm, even with an empty space between them and the sugar board.
Thank you! You understood my question perfectly. We had about a 70 degree day last Thursday (with snow on Saturday) – I tried to peek below the candy board and bees started pouring out. I didn’t have the right equipment with me to do a proper inspection, but I am expecting to get in & do one in the next few weeks.
I don’t have a hive yet and am trying to figure out the right configuration. I live in Indiana about an hour north of Indianapolis. If you use a single deep with a queen excluder and a medium super is that enough food for the winter? Why wouldn’t you put a deep super on to give more food or possibly multiple mediums. My hope was to as much as possible avoid having to feed in the winter by letting them keep enough honey. If they should only have one medium at a time would it make sense to freeze a second medium filled with honey and at some point swap it in?
All beekeeping is local, which is why I gave you my hardiness zone and climate particulars. Different conditions call for different management. You can certainly give your bees more food stores. There is no “should.” I don’t know why you would freeze your second honey super, but if that’s what you want to do, do it.
How did this work for you in 2017-18 winter. We live in zone 4b so I understand totally different winter. But we have people here trying it. I am going to try half and half this year. Currently I have 8 hives.
I overwintered 100% of my colonies with this method for two years straight.
Hi Rusty. I’ve followed your blog a few years now. I always enjoy your perspective so thanks. I want to try going to singles through winter too. Last year, 1/3 of my hives did not put enough stores away in their 2nd deep. And I ran out of money and time and didn’t employ the candy boards I wanted. The hives I am wintering in singles are the ones I am not worried about. Yup, that’s what I am gonna do. Thanks
I have eight hives in central Ohio I use ten frame mediums. I had one deep with a couple of mediums, the rest were three and four mediums. All hives came through winter but two are not strong. I think all but one could be stronger. I wanted to reduce all my hives to single brood box but I am unsure if one medium box would work. But I didn’t know with a single medium if they would have enough room for brood and stores. I would like to know what you think.
I don’t thing one medium is enough space. I think two would be best.
How are things working with singles in the NorthWest? I’m pretty close to you regionally and am interested wanting trying the same with 2 of my hives. Hope things are well!
I continue to use singles over winter and like it.
Do you keep your brood nests in single deeps all summer as well as all winter? Have you had to treat a smaller percentage of your colonies for varroa than you did before switching to single deeps? Have you had a smaller percentage of mites per bee in the colonies you did treat? I know you keep records, I’m just interested to know if you did the math on those things.
Another question: when you did triple deeps, how did the percentages of colonies treated and of mites per bee compare to years when you did singles and years when you did doubles?
Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience! I want to manage my hives with single brood boxes but have a question about the use of the queen excluder during the winter. In your article “Ultimate Guide to Overwintering Success” you write to remove the queen excluder, but then in your article “Overwintering in Single Deep Hives” you put to include the queen excluder as part of your winter set up. During the winter especially, I would like to keep the queen and brood confined to one box but in my area we need to keep several honey supers on. If I put a queen excluder between the brood box and the honey supers how does the colony get to the food it needs while keeping the queen and what little brood there may be warm enough to survive?
Have you tried an 18 1/4 x 13 1/4 interior dimensions box with 12 frames of 13 length, 16 height, 1.5 width? You can also fit 13 of 1 3/8 inches width in this box.
I build this box to 14 1/8 x 19 3/4 x 16 1/2 height because my langstroth boxes are 19 3/4 x 13 7/8 (that’s what Flow sent as a brood box). The 16 1/2 height accounts for a 1/4 inch round metal rod running the 19 3/4 length; the frames are perpendicular to this (parallel to the entrance rather than perpendicular), have no ears, and ride on the rail. A flat, aluminum reinforcing bar is bolted to the underside and top at one end, parallel to the round rods.
The trick is that ENTIRE SIDE (with the bar) comes off, and I slide 1.5-inch-wide brood frames out of the brood horizontally. I don’t lift the top box off to open the brood.
In this way I have 12 frames of 16×13 as a brood, and can use this as a brood under a Langstroth deep super with 8 x 1 5/8 honey frames. That’s equivalent to 15.5 langstroth deep frames, roughly, I think, and I’d rather run 9 (12 Langstroth deep frames, roughly) but it won’t fit under a Langstroth super.
If you want to run pastorale, you’re better off building two such boxes of nine frames each and running them one on top the other. You can yank the honey frames from the side of the super, anyway. You can take rear access instead of side; it depends on if you want to run your frames warm (parallel to the entrance) or cold (perpendicular to the entrance).
Rusty – I know this is an old post, but I am intrigued, and hoping you might still be monitoring comments on it. You mentioned that you were able to feed sugar syrup in cold weather via a baggie feeder under the moisture quilt. I really like that idea, but am having trouble picturing how that configuration would work. It seems like the moisture quilt would not leave any space for a baggie feeder to rest on the top bars. And how do you have a moisture quilt above a baggie feeder without the wood chips putting pressure on the baggie and forcing the syrup to leak out? I need help picturing how this could work.
A baggy feeder has two parts: the rim and the bags. See: “How to use a baggy feeder.” You put the feeder rim above the brood box and put the baggy feeder inside.
Thankyou. That makes sense. I was picturing the baggie inside the quilt box.
Many thanks for your quilt box idea. I live in a Mediterranean climate (California) that has short, foggy winters. I have used the quilt boxes for the past two years and it has almost eliminated winter losses. Thanks again.
Really enjoy your blog and your writing for ABJ.
I’m curious, after you used escape boards to winnow all the doubles down to singles, what did you do with the extra boxes and frames you had?
I just made them into bait hives. Equipment that smells like bees works really well for attracting swarms.
Another newbie here. I live just north of you in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. I have a question about reducing to one super for the winter. I have been told by many people to reduce my hives to one super for the winter. I see that is something that you are doing as well. I was thinking of doing that this coming weekend, August 12.
The question that I have, is in regard to the brood. Currently, I have brood spread between two supers with a queen excluder above the second super. If I knock all of my bees down into one super, what happens to the brood in the second (upper) super? Is there a way to salvage it? At this time of year, would that not be the start of my winter brood?
I think what you’re saying is you have your bees in two brood boxes and you’re thinking of going to one. I think supers have nothing to do with it, but that’s just what I gather from reading this. (see English for Beekeepers)
Assuming I understand you, simply take all the frames with brood and put them in one brood box. At this time of year, it’s highly unlikely that both brood boxes are full to capacity with brood. Above the brood boxes, you can put a super filled with honey. You can leave the queen excluder in place if you like because the retriever bees will go up to the super, collect food, and bring it down for the cluster.
If you find you have more brood frames than will fit in one box, just wait another month before combining the two brood boxes. The colony will continue to shrink between now and the end of the year, and I suspect it won’t be long before the bees easily fit in one box.
If my colony is overwintering in one brood box, I keep either a honey super or a candy board above that. Once brood starts building up again, say in January or February, the colony will go through food like crazy.
Thanks for the quick response, and excellent advice. I am really enjoying your site and am coming away from it every day with valuable suggestions and ideas.
Yes, you are correct. I said supers, I was thinking brood boxes. I will see what it looks like this weekend, and then decide whether to wait a month or so.
I have a couple of candy board frames and quilt boxes made and ready to go for my two hives.
I understood you to mean you literally had only one deep brood box for overwintering. I wondered where all the capped honey was kept, but now I am thinking you also had a super, yes?
I have all 10 frame medium boxes. How would you overwinter in this situation?
Sometimes yes and sometimes no, depending on how big the colony is. If the bees cover only four or five deep frames, then the rest can be honey and the whole thing can fit in a single deep. If the bees cover more of the frames, say six or eight, you may need to add a super. Each situation is different.
With mediums, I would use at least two. Put the bees in the center of the bottom box and put honey to the sides of the bottom box and in the top box.
I have successfully overwatered in Eastern Idaho using double medium boxes. This works Quite well.
Wasn’t sure which subject to post this under. Chose this one. Thanks for all the information you provide. I have tried many of the ideas. Someone mentioned the cost involved with going to mediums. I am 71 years old and have decided that lifting deeps is not something I want to do anymore. Since you don’t often have to lift the bottom part of the hive one of my hives has a deep and the rest are mediums. My other hive is from a split so I made and it is all mediums. They are so much easier to work with and the bees don’t seem to mind. So, what to do with my deeps and deep frames? Cut them down of course. It is very easy to cut a deep into a medium on a table saw. A bonus is that with the cut off piece I now have another spacer I can use. I then tackled what to do with the deep frames. They can also be cut down. I took the frames apart. I have plastic foundation so I just scored it to the correct depth for a medium and broke them on the scoreline, shortened the frame sides by cutting and carving them down to the correct size. I then put the frames back together. Hope this helps others save some aches and pains and money. Thanks again for all of your information. I share much of it with my 4-H Club.
I’m going to try this because I, too, am getting tired of lifting deeps. Thank you.
Hi Rusty, I’m a five-year backyard beekeeper living in coastal NC. Your website posts have been incredibly helpful! Thank you and your followers! I had four colonies last fall, all in a two-deep stack. Successfully wintered all four, and in late January the bees were growing rapidly; I added a queen excluder and a third deep to provide space for the growing population. Like many, I read Tom Seeley’s studies and I’m another growing tired of lifting deeps. Yesterday, I split three of the four colonies. Following your single brood strategy, I divided two, of the two deep-stacked deep colonies, each into a single deep, a queen excluder, and a medium. With the remaining colony, I did a side-by-side split and added a deep to each, so each will be a two deep (stacked) colony. One question I have with regard to the single brood colony is: when the bees are rapidly growing in late winter/early spring, what is the best strategy for mite treatment vs. adding supers to provide added space for growing bee population? Many mite treatments need to be in brood chamber six weeks, and I’m concerned the bees will swarm during that time….any thoughts? Thanks!
In most places swarm season lasts about 6-to-8 weeks. Sure, you can get swarms outside of that window, but not often. Ninety percent should fall within your regular swarm season. Once you figure out when that is (ask around if you don’t know) you can schedule your mite treatments before or after that period.
In effect, you did not switch to a truly single box if you left a medium on. https://youtu.be/C_oYsyB1PvM Will explain how single hive management works. Also, this link https://youtu.be/YjyNcyVvbEI Or this one https://youtu.be/qYWRI1S8xWo The main thread is you need to feed and feed fast. You can also wait until the queen stops laying in the fall. Here in BC that is usually mid-September pending weather then pull ALL frames with no honey and plug in extra frames kept over for this purpose. Then stuff the box full of bees.
The bees are confined to a single deep. The medium above the queen excluder acts like a feeder.
Thank you for posting this info. I’ll take a chance and go into the winter with single deeps. Your posts are terrific!
Hi Rusty, I’m curious if you still are wintering in single deeps or what combination of boxes are you currently using. Due to having to start over again and having my new package queen failing and the replacement going awol, my main hive is NOT stocked up on honey for winter. I have 1 original and 2 small hives that were splits resulting from emergency cells when the original package queen laid a few eggs… but I still wanted a purebred queen (Saskatraz) to go with my Saskatraz package so moved the supersedure cells to their own boxes as backups. I was trying to keep everyone happy while we waited for yet another replacement queen. Anyway, all 3 hives currently still only need one brood box and no matter how much I’ve fed them, they havent filled a super with honey this season to winter over so I’m thinking i’ll have to keep them all in a single deep and feed heavily. I’ve been also feeding them frames of crystalized honey hoping they will move it into their supers but they are not. I do use a moisture quilt, as well as a slatted rack and the 2-3 inch deep no-cook candy board with the pollen patty sandwhiched in the sugar board. Anyway, curious what your current thoughts and practices are on wintering in single deeps . I am in NW MT. Thanks for your input :}
Since the destruction of my apiary by bears, I’ve only been keeping top-bar hives. There’s no particular reason for that decision except that is what’s left. I still like single deeps, and after reading Thomas Seeley’s The Lives of Bees, I’m even more convinced they are good for the bees.
Still, Montana is a cold place. You will need to be well-prepared for the winter months. It sounds like you are doing just that with the moisture quilt, candy boards, slatted rack, etc. But just remember to check on the food supply frequently because, without a lot of stored honey, they will go through their food quickly. You also might consider adding a skirt of tar paper around the base if the hives are up off the ground. One downside of wrapping too tightly is retaining too much moisture, so there is a compromise. You can also stack straw bales around the hives to break the wind, or even place them inside a barn or garage.
Alternatively, you can stack the hives one atop the other with a double screen board between each one. That way, they can share heat. Put the most populous hive on the bottom and then let the heat move up through the other two.
Im so sorry to hear that the bears decimated your apiary 🙁 How very sad and disappointing!!! ;(
Thank you much for your update, input, and suggestions!! I sure appreciate it :} I have learned so much from reading your pages over the years!!! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us all :}
Hope you have a good and successful wintering over and can start building back up your apiary next spring. Thanks again!! 😀
That is interesting. I wonder how it is beekeeping in NW Montana as I was raised up there. When I was a kid I knew a fellow that had bees.
I also know the climate up there. Went to school in Troy. I now keep bees in southeast Idaho.