beekeeping equipment

Should the number of frames in each box be the same?

A reader asked if each box in a hive should have the same number of frames in order to maximize both mite drop and ventilation. In other words, if you use nine frames in the brood box, should you also use nine in the honey supers in order to align the spaces. If the spaces are all aligned, theoretically, a mite could drop from the honey supers, past the brood boxes, and down through the slatted rack all the way to the screened bottom. Likewise, air could move through the hive without “bending around the corners.”

Let’s start with mite drop. Mites are very unlikely to drop off of bees in the honey supers. Here are the reasons:

  • Phoretic mites, if you recall, are the ones that hitch rides on adult bees. These are the mites that can be removed by grooming, and these are the mites you hope will fall out of the hive.
  • However, during times of heavy brood production (which corresponds roughly with heavy honey production) there are very few phoretic mites in the hive.
  • This is because during periods of heavy brood production, most mites are inside capped cells (mostly drone cells, but also worker cells.) These mites are busy reproducing, not trying to hitch a ride to a more favorable place.
  • That means that while honey is being stored, not many mites are going to fall from anywhere. In fact, many people who check for mites during a honey flow erroneously think they have no mites.
  • Furthermore, only phoretic mites would make it into the honey supers in the first place. Since there is no brood there, it is not attractive to mites. Since mites want to be in the brood nest, the likelihood of finding any mites at all in the honey supers is extremely low.
  • So, since they are not in the honey supers to start with, it doesn’t matter that the mites don’t have an uninterrupted pathway to drop to the ground.

Now let’s look at ventilation. I suppose that differing numbers of frames in the various boxes does reduce air flow. However, the purpose of nine frames vs. ten frames was not to increase air flow but to aid in hive inspections and/or make it easier to uncap cured honey. If you want more air flow during a honey flow, I highly recommend an upper entrance.

  • An upper entrance not only increases air flow through the hive, but it relieves congestion at the main entrance because many foragers will come and go through the upper entrance instead of fighting the traffic below.
  • If you are worried about travel stain on your comb honey, you can put the upper entrance just below the honey supers instead of above them. It works either way.
  • Remember, too, that the honey-curing bees are fanning like mad to dry down the honey. With even a small upper entrance you will get plenty of air pulled through your hive.

In conclusion, I don’t think the honey supers need to have the same number of frames as the brood boxes. Especially with regard to mites, the honey supers are in place for a very short time—and that time does not correspond with a high population of phoretic mites.


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