My experiment into triple deep hives began this spring after I experienced unusually heavy winter losses. I noticed that the hives that survived were the triples, and when I mentioned this in a post, other beekeepers wrote that they too had good results with triples. Keepers of triples reported:
- Fewer winter losses
- Less need for spring feeding
- Earlier build-up of spring populations
- Fewer swarms
- More honey
- Better mite management
So in April I started four new colonies as triples right from the start. Three of the colonies came from packages, and one colony was a tiny nucleus that had managed to overwinter but was not much bigger than a grapefruit.
Here are the steps I took:
- I put each colony in the center of a single deep on six frames of drawn comb flanked by two frames of honey on each side. I fed no syrup, but relied on the honey to get them started.
- After two weeks I added a second deep. I prepared these deeps by alternating drawn comb with empty frames—five of each. Before I added the second deep to each hive, I removed two frames of brood from the middle of the first deep and put them in the middle of the second deep. This is called pyramiding and it encourages the queen to expand her nest upward.
- After three more weeks, I added a third deep using the same method of pyramiding. At the time, it seemed premature because the second deep was nowhere near full. But I had a plan and I stuck with it.
- Each hive was outfitted with a screened bottom board, a screened inner cover, and a fully open entrance.
- By mid-June there was substantial activity in all boxes. I added a comb honey super to all colonies, just to see what would happen.
- After three weeks, I added a second honey super to each colony. One colony got a third honey super.
I hadn’t planned on writing about these colonies until next spring, but I’ve noticed several things about them that I want to mention.
- Although these are now large colonies, there has been no bearding even on the hottest of days.
- In spite of filling three deeps, the colonies issued no swarms this year.
- Oddly, the entrances never seemed crowded. There was a constant stream of bees coming and going, but no entrance congestion.
- These are the most docile bees I have ever had. They were even calm when I removed the honey supers without smoke.
- Even though these were first-year colonies, I got harvestable honey off three of the four hives.
So how much of this is due to their being triples and how much is random good luck? It is impossible to say, but I think it is more than coincidence that so many beekeepers have success with triples. Some of the theories can be found in my earlier posts, “Rethinking the triple-deep hive” and “More on triple-deep hives.”
The real test for me will be the coming winter. What I want to achieve is a total withdrawal from sugar syrup. Three deeps worth of stores provide not only lots of food, but lots of thermal mass to keep the bees warm in winter and to decrease temperature fluctuations within the hive. Large colonies eat more, but large colonies also produce more heat and are better equipped to keep the hive clean and disease free. So far, these colonies have never tasted sugar syrup (except in the shipping crate) and I want to keep it that way.
I have just begun a fall mite treatment of ApiLife Var (thymol) and after that is completed I will check for active queens. If all looks good, each colony will be set up with a fully-open screened bottom board, reduced entrance, moisture quilt, and top ventilation for the winter. The rest is up to them.