beekeeping equipment

The trouble with triples

If triple-deep Langstroth hives are so good, why are they not more popular?

This is a really good question with several possible answers. All of the answers I’ve listed below are valid, but each and every one has to do with the needs of the beekeeper, not the needs of the bees.

  • Most hives are singles or doubles simply because commercial beekeepers—both migratory beekeepers and those who move their bees from field to field locally—just don’t use them. It is difficult and probably not cost effective to move triples if you don’t have to. And if you lose a few more colonies than you would if you kept them in triples, the losses (I’m assuming) wouldn’t come close to justifying the extra time and expense.
  • As for hobbyists—especially beginners—hives are nearly always sold as singles or doubles when you order them from a catalog or buy them in a store. “Complete hive kits” are usually singles and sometimes doubles. Even hives sold between beekeepers are mostly singles or doubles. All of this makes us think of a hive as something with two brood boxes—but that is a human thought, not a bee thought.
  • Triples are harder to handle. Hive inspections in a triple are a lot more work than in a double, no matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise. And they are also taller, especially when topped with multiple honey supers. It’s hard to lift heavy weights over your head.
  • You end up leaving a lot more honey in a triple than a double. Many people find it difficult to sacrifice all that extra honey to the bees. Most people harvest the honey above the second deep. With triples, you harvest only the honey above the third deep. Of course, this is one of several reasons why bees overwinter so well in a triple—lots of food and lots of heat capacity.
  • It is more expensive. Not only do you need more equipment (more boxes with frames and maybe a stepladder) but you lose that extra honey and any income it may have produced.

As I’ve mentioned before, beekeepers frequently report better overwintering success, larger honey harvests, less need for sugar syrup, earlier spring build-up, easier mite management, and fewer swarms after they convert to triples. This has been my experience as well with the few triples I have overwintered so far.

But, as with most aspects of beekeeping, the decision to go with triple deeps should be based on your current success, personal objectives, climate, finances, and physical ability to deal with the hives. Whether the pros outweigh the cons is a decision only you can make.


Discover more from Honey Bee Suite

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


  • All of the benefits attributed to triple-deeps make sense to me except for better mite management. I’m pretty new so can’t speak from experience, but I’ve heard experienced beekeepers say that larger hives have worse mite problems, mainly because more brood = more mites in the summer, and unless the winter cluster is also proportionally large, this means more mites on the winter bees.

    Why do think, in your experience, triple deeps have fewer mite problems?

  • My set up consists of double deeps with mediums above. I intended to have them overwinter in two deeps and a medium (considered overkill for my area) and they appear to be condensing into one deep, leaving the bottom one empty. My goal is to never feed at all and definitely not because their honey has been overharvested, only to feed because of other extenuating circumstances.

  • Any size hive, its number of boxes to be used is dependent solely on bee behavior. Attractive queens, those with 12-15 workers in the queen retinue when she stops on the comb to be fed and groomed, will produce larger colonies. The width and height of the colony cluster depends on the width and height of the brood nest, which is related to the size of the wintering colony and queen quality.

    Many queens now days don’t produce large colonies that live through the winter in a northern state (WA) without needing to be replaced in late fall.

    Two deep (3 western) brood nests are ideal for wintering sizable colonies, given bee behavior in the spring up to the nectar flow here in WA.

    Those beekeepers who use a deep and western for a brood nest because they can haul more hives on a truck for paid pollination, usually have smaller bee colonies in the spring because of the width to height ratio again. That is one reason many have trouble meeting ten frame colony counts in the spring for almonds. So they go south and pour money into syrup and pollen supplement to build the colony for use in early to mid February.

    A three deep colony uses less honey per comb of bees because of the larger bee cluster. It is usually, not always because of queen quality, easier to make splits in the spring (late April early May) to replace dead colonies. Two deep colonies can winter here on 10-12 deep combs of honey thru to March. It only takes 2-3 more combs of honey to winter a three deep colony.

  • Hello Rusty and other readers,

    Can someone please post a picture of a triple so that I have an idea of what you all are talking about. Is it 2 brood chambers with a honey chamber on top which is what it sounds like but I don’t think so because that is not unusual and not difficult to handle. I would like some help understanding what it is please……

    Also this week I have had the first taste of honey and honeycomb ever from my own bees. Now probably everyone thinks the same about their bees honey but people I can tell you this ….My bees have made what I am going to call Honey and a Half when I can design some sort of label for the jars. I only have 3×450 grams because I want to leave as much of the honey in the hives. It is sublime….. I cannot stop thinking it is a magically glorious honey. It is not sugary sweet like some and has many complicated nuances in the taste. God Bless all bees everywhere they are incredible and we should cherish them more….

    • Lindy,

      I can take a photo later, but a triple is just a hive with three brood boxes and then the honey supers on top of that. They are especially hard to handle if you use deeps because a deep can run 90 lbs.

      Everyone’s own honey is the best honey, bar none. So, yes, I understand completely. Someday you will have two hives side-by-side with totally different honey in each one, and they both will be the best honey ever!

  • Rusty, I am studying all your posts regarding triple deeps as that is what I am now using. I seem to be experiencing the same benefits as you mention. Question: while there is, indeed, more frames of honey in triples, much is to the sides of the cluster and often of little use to the bees since they seldom move that far to the left or to the right to take advantage of it. Unless the beekeeper manipulates the frames in late winter to place frames of honey next to and/or above the brood nest (which I am loath to do), while that extra honey is there, they really cannot make use of it, correct? I am in mid-MD.

    • Dave,

      It’s an interesting question, but think of it this way. Those honey stores to the sides of the cluster have a high heat capacity, which means they go a long way toward keeping the internal hive temperature from wild fluctuations. I don’t think the honey stores in a triple are just a matter of food; they are also a source of insulation. When I was running triples I just left those frames there for the next season.

  • Thanks for the reply. It sounds like you are no longer running triples. If not, why did you stop?

      • Have you had many swarms since switching to the one deep? I had 10 swarms from 4 colonies (three with two deeps for the brood chamber).

        • Anna,

          Yes, I’d say there have been more swarms, but that’s the idea. Frequent swarming aids in mite management. I catch most of them in bait hives. I’m two for two so far this year.

          • I have been lucky to see all of them after work hanging in my neighbor’s cherry tree. I caught all of them but kept 8, gave two away, I’m tapped out.

  • Hi Rusty – I live in North Atlanta and am considering moving to only Medium boxes (no deeps). The standard around here seems to be one deep and one medium for brood due to temperate climate vs further North. My main motivation was for gear standardized and offer flexibility in managing frames throughout the beeyard with all mediums. Some challenges that come to mind are…will I need to go triples (or even quads) to overwinter, will two deeps be tight on space from the start and encourage swarming, etc. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this idea?

    • Sean,

      You ask, “will two deeps be tight on space from the start and encourage swarming”

      I thought you were asking about mediums, not sure.