I received this list of questions from a beekeeper in the UK. Since others might have similar questions, I’m posting the answers here.
1. Does pyramiding just help the queen put brood upstairs, or does it give an improvement in comb building in supers above the excluder?
Pyramiding encourages the queen to expand her nest into the upper box. By moving part of the brood into the upper box, you prevent the bees from building a honey barrier above the main nest. Because there is now brood in that upper box, the workers treat it like part of the nest and so does the queen. Once the bees are tending brood in that box, they will also build comb in it. Pyramiding will not necessarily encourage the bees to build comb in honey supers.
From my experience it appears that the winter cluster in a triple brood chamber is substantially larger than in a double. But I believe the main advantage comes from the orientation of the cluster within the boxes. Since the cluster has more room to expand in the vertical direction, it doesn’t have to expand sideways, which keeps the nest centered and surrounded by lots of honey. This provides plenty of food, yes, but the main advantage of all that honey is thermal mass. The heat-holding capacity of the honey prevents the hive temperature from fluctuating wildly up and down.
And by providing top ventilation, you can keep the moisture down even though you have lots of bees. A tall stack of boxes provides better draft than a short stack, but all the honey, brood, bees, and combtogether with your moisture quiltprevent the air from moving too fast through the hive. A dirty chimney draws poorly because the rough interior surface impedes the air flow. That is bad. But a rough interior in your beehive is good because it prevents the air flow from being so great that it chills the bees. Airflow requires a delicate balanceyou want as much as necessary but as little as possible.
I see no reason for using an excluder in a triple deep hive. It’s hard enough to get the queen to lay in the third deepyou don’t need to worry about her going above that.
2. What is so wrong with sugar? Expense? The “junk food” concern of feeding them “unnatural” products? You would just like them to be self-sustaining? Or something else?
I could write a book about what’s wrong with sugar, and my reasons are not nearly as idealistic as you might think. It begins in the store. Since it’s expensive, I buy large quantities to save money. A 50-pound bag is nearly 45 percent of my weight so I hate putting it in the cart, moving it from cart to truck, moving it from truck to shed, moving it from shed to house, etc. I don’t like making syrup, getting stickies all over the counter, the stove, the cabinets, and myself. I hate it when my socks adhere to the floor, or worse, my husband’s socks. I hate filling plastic bags, or feeders, or jars, or anything else. I hate spilling it in the hives or cleaning it up if the bees don’t finish it. In fact, I hate every single thing about sugar. Hands down, sugar is my most unfavorite part of beekeeping.
3. I live in the UK, I’m not sure I have the climate to support a full 3 brood chambers being filled. What size brood chambers are you using?
Basically, we have a nine-month rainy season (October through June) and the other three months are bone dry. Average temperatures in the winter range from the high 30s to mid 40s °F (about 3 to 7 °C). Some years we have snow, some not. A few days every year the temperatures drops into the 20s (about -7 to -1.7 °C).
Where I live, the average annual first freeze of the year is September 30 and the average annual last freeze is May 17, which means we have a fairly short growing season. When I install packages, I do it mid-April.
Here are some climate statistics for Olympia, Washington. I live about 15 miles (24 km) away, but this is the best data I could find:
Average temperature: 49.7 F (9.8 C)
Average maximum temperature: 60.2 F (15.7 C)
Average minimum temperature 32.9 F (4 C)
Yearly days with maximum temperature of 90 F (32 C) or higher: 6
Yearly days with minimum temperatures below freezing: 84
Yearly precipitation in inches: 50.6 (129 cm)
Days with precipitation of 0.01 inch (0.25 mm) or more: 163
Average yearly snowfall in inches: 16.7 (42.4 cm)
Other Olympia Weather Conditions:
Average wind speed: 6.7 mph (10.8 km/h)
Clear days: 52
Partly cloudy days: 84
Cloudy days: 228
Average relative humidity: 88.5
My brood boxes are what we call standard deeps. They measure about 41 x 50 x 23 cm. But no matter what size box you have, a thin pine box does not provide insulation like a tree trunk. Beekeepers must assure that the bees have plenty of insulating material surrounding the cluster.
4. With a stack that high I’m guessing you need to tie them down all the time or support them in the wind in some way?
The kind of wind we have here would not knock them down. Not only are they impossibly heavy but they are all stuck together. I tie down all my hives, one deep or three, to discourage animals that may want to eat brood: raccoons, possums, foxes, wolves, coyotes, cougars, and bears (small bears, anyway) and, as it turns out, bulls. I live adjacent to a large state forest (91,650 acres or 370.9 km2) so these critters are common and curious.
5. Does the weight of that huge stack not cause any issues? This year I had a hive stand collapse on me, hence the question.
Nothing short of a sizeable earthquake or Mt. Rainier erupting will dislodge my hive stands. You could use them for a house foundation. They are two-by-six treated construction with cross-bracing and sunk in 18 inches of concrete at all four corners. They have roofs, too. Each one will hold three hives. Someday, far in the future, archeologists will discover them and puzzle over what the ancients used them for.
Are you doing all deeps as a rule? I use mediums for everything, but the brood box. So I use medium, deep, deep medium. They tend to winter in the deep, and store pollen in the medium below the deep. Then in the spring as they move up, I checkeboard with the bottom medium. As WW metioned in his writng, 8 out of 10 times I find the queen in the deep even w/o the excluder.
I use all deeps for brood boxes and either shallows or section supers for honey. I don’t use mediums for anything.
Sorry, I meant to write medium, deep, medium.
Thank you so much for such thorough answers; so much information. I might just have to give that a try.
“3. I live in the UK, I’m not sure I have the climate to support a full 3 brood chambers being filled. What size brood chambers are you using?”
As well as the climate being different, I wonder if there is less competition for forage where you are. We have a high population density in the UK, and particularly in urban areas there can be a lot of hives about sharing a limited amount of forage. That must affect how well colonies can do.
I would love not to have to feed my bees, but with all the rain we’ve had here this year, I have been feeding them just to keep them alive, forget trying to harvest any honey.
“Someday, far in the future, archeologists will discover them and puzzle over what the ancients used them for.”
You really should imprint some bee images in the concrete, and then those future archaeologists could puzzle over a race of superior insects that mastered construction technology.
This seems like a good time to mention a favorite fact: that Napoleon Bonaparte’s furnishings and livery had golden bees embroidered all over it as a symbol of “industry” – which didn’t mean “manufacturing,” but rather work and productivity. His great (unsung) accomplishments were in agrarian improvement.
Sorry, I didn’t know where to ask this question…I have just made it through my first winter with three deeps and have checkerboarded the hives already as I posted in another thread. We already have plum trees and red maple trees blooming along with hawthorne bushes, redbud trees and black locust is on its way, so I have gone ahead and placed my supers on the hives already…
I had 5 swarms from 4 hives last year, and the last swarm weakened one of the hives so much that it died. I really want to avoid that this time, so I have placed all three of my supers on each hive already in an attempt to 1) be sure and be in on the nectar flow as long as possible 2) provide LOTS of space to avoid congestion and subsequent swarming and 3) do it while I can since for the next 5 weeks I am going to be working or out of town literally every day without a break.
My 2 hives are in triple deeps, have plenty of honey remaining, have one body full of brood with another 5 frames partially brood filled, have a TON of bees in them already, and are healthy.
I use medium supers, and have placed three on each hive. I am using a mixture of drawn comb and undrawn foundation in the upper two supers, and in the lower-most super have empty frames in an attempt to get them to draw it out so I can use it for comb honey.
What do you think of this? Is it OK that I went ahead and placed all three supers on already? I felt that they were strong enough and populous enough that they would be able to deal with the extra space to heat since we are only going to have a few more colder nights…strong enough and it’s early enough in the season that infestation shouldn’t be a problem… as well as for the reasons I mentioned above…
Everything always suggests one super at a time…what are your thoughts…is it OK to leave them on, do you think?
Also, I have never used empty frames before, so I put them lowermost to encourage wax drawing early on with the rest of the season to fill the others…would you have positioned them differently?
Really would like to hear your thoughts…
Thanks for taking the time to read this 🙂
First off, there is no problem with adding your honey supers all at once. Many people put them on one at a time to get them filled as completely as possible before adding another, but the bees don’t care. And if you can’t be there to check, it’s absolutely fine to add them all now.
You say you have empty frames in the lowermost super. Do you mean foundationless frames? If so, do you have guides or starter strips? If you don’t have guides or starter strips, you should alternate empty frames with foundation or drawn comb so the combs will be built parallel to each other. Also, you may want a queen excluder above the brood box so the queen doesn’t lay in your comb honey super.
Also, checkerboarding and using triples can reduce the tendency to swarm but it won’t eliminate it. If you are starting early with strong hives coming out of winter, don’t be surprised to see a swarm. Check your hives when you come back from wherever. If you find swarm cells you may want to make a split rather than lose those bees.
Thanks for answering so quickly! Sometimes I get in a rush…yes, I meant foundationless frames. No, I did not use starter strips or alternate with foundation. My reasoning was that last year I used the drone trapping frames I built for the first time, and the bees drew them out perfectly, so I didn’t think I needed to bother with it since they did so well last year…but now that you have mentioned it, those frames were set along side frames of drawn comb…
I guess the best I am going to be able to do is embed the remaining frames I have with foundation and alternate them…or I guess I could mark the frames meant for comb honey and just scatter them throughout the three supers. I hate to get back in them, since I learned last year that the more I disrupt the hive the poorer they do. I was like all new beeks, trying to do everything every book told me to do, and ended up in the hive way too much. This year the plan was to be minimally invasive after rearranging the bodies and checkerboarding…
I figure I have done everything I can to prevent a swarm this year, and hope it will work. If they swarm, I figure it just means I have healthy hives and am doing something right…for bee reproduction, anyway.
I only lost one of the swarms to the wild last year, by the way…the rest were given to a cousin to increase his operation, since I wasn’t experienced enough to be attempt to recombine them with the old hive, and had no desire for more hives myself. With my schedule, two is about all I can manage appropriately.
I hate that one got lost to the wild, since they were probably doomed at that point what with all the disease and mites they will have had to face…but who knows..maybe that is the swarm that has resistance enough to survive and pass that resistance on. It would be nice to think so, anyway.
That all sounds good. If anything, I tend to err on the side of not doing enough sometimes because I think, overall, bees do better with less interference. It means I miss something now and then, and sometimes a swarm gets away, but I still believe the bees are better off for it.
Like most of those soliciting your advise, I too am a new beek. My kids decided I needed another hobby and I got a hive for Christmas.
I painted and prepared as best I knew how over winter and got my new bee package in early north Georgia April. I was feeding the new hive via a feeder housed in a frameless medium super until the girls started quickly building comb onto the feeder. I replaced the frames into the super and moved the feeder to the hive entrance. This is where my apiary experience turned scary.
I opened the hive to make sure my queen was good and found drawn comb with many many eggs and some capped brood. I didn’t find her majesty, but all of the babies let me know she was good. What wasn’t good was a few “maggots” in my new hive with my bees. I quickly googled, found your site and learned about wax moths. My ladies had a fight on their hands. I knew about mites and had already bought treatment, but these nasties were a different animal. I read quite a few posts and most said little about how to get rid of them. I felt defeated as some sites told me that, without a strong hive, the worms win.
I got rid of all the moth larvae I found. And hoped for the best. I decided that too many sources of information was not necessarily a good thing. Since the posts on this site seemed to fit best with my thinking, and you seem to genuinely care that we all have healthy hives, I decided to use your advice on all things bee where possible. As I apologize for my rambling, I get to my point. My hive is now overrun with bees. They are bearding heavily, I smell honey standing next to the hive, and I am not seeing anymore moth larvae – a few hive beetles though. It is
Mid July here in North Georgia. The daytime temps are low 90’s and if the humidity got any higher we’d need gills. My plan was to let the hive be this first year. Let them keep all of their stores etc. now, with heavy bearding lasting deep into the night, I wonder if I need to add a second deep brood box to give them more room?
I read the post about the seasons and so I wonder if they will be decreasing and won’t need the second brood chamber this year. Since we have at least two more months of summer weather here in the southeast, knowing that a second brood chamber might give the pests a means of expansion that my girls might not be able to patrol, what would you advise? Also, should I remove the queen excluder?
Thanks for all of your advise for all of the rest of us!
If I were having a problem with parasites, specifically moths and beetles, I wouldn’t give the bees any more room than what is necessary. They need to patrol every inch of space to keep them at bay. Bearding is just bearding and not harmful. I say if bees want to beard, let them. No harm, no foul. Swarm season is over, so the likelihood of a swarm is very low. The queen excluder is optional. If you don’t want the queen laying in the super, then leave it in place. If you don’t care that she lays in the super, than you can remove it. Your call.
Thanks for your reply, and I apologize that I misspelt ‘advice’. My girls seem to be doing okay. I added some SHB traps and have fought a few of those pests – yet still not eradicated. They seem to be the greater of the pests for now. I think this winter I will return the hobby favor and build my 30 yr old son a hive. He is very curious about my bees (has managed to get stung every visit), and I have narrowed down this new hobby of mine to his desire to make mead.
I greatly enjoy your site. The information is extremely valuable, your stories give me hope, and your writing is very good.
Talk soon, I’m sure cold weather will allow me more worlds for worry 🙂
Spot on again.
I did not add the second brood chamber. My girls decreased after a cold spell, and I started seeing moth larvae crawling from under the hive. I wanted to give the girls a good chance to make through the winter, so I took hive apart this evening, it was heartbreaking. More moths and webbing, no visible brood, found several beetles, but not my queen. I removed the frames with the moth damage and replaced them with the frames from the unused deep. I put the moth damaged frames into the deep freeze, and now I will need to clean them – not real sure how to proceed or if any of the brood comb can, or should, be saved.
As this was my first year – and my hive and queen are in peril or worse – I’m not sure if I should try again. It has been a trying year. Yellowjackets are bad, learned about mites, moths and beetles – not to mention spending quite a bit of money only to fail
I suppose you hear these stories often. Was your learning curve this steep?
All the best, Jeff
After the moth-infested frames are frozen, they can be given to a colony. The bees will clean up and repair in no time.
Beekeeping is a lot harder than it used to be before tracheal mites, varroa mites, viruses, and beetles were imported into this country. I would say, it’s very hard and very expensive. And I still have situations where I feel like giving it all up. But in the end, the good outweighs the bad.
Thanks Rusty –
All my girls are now gone, and the hive is empty. It is sad, but I have already ordered a 3# package of Texas Weaver bees for spring. I learned quite a bit this year, and will have another go—and I will not give them as much room at the start.
To my question. I am pulling the frames from the freezer. There are so many dead moth and beetle larvae. I want to give my new bees as much advantage as possible, so how much of the damage should I clean from my frames? There is a great deal of drawn brood comb that I would like to leave, but there is webbed worm droppings and differing sized larvae through the comb.
Should I try and remove just the damage and leave as much drawn comb as possible, remove everything down to foundation, leave well enough alone and let the bees clean it? So many questions.
I have tried chasing the webbed tunnels with a small tool resembling a dentist pick with fair results. It doesn’t destroy all of the drawn brood comb and takes most of the worm droppings as they stick to the webbing. I took a photo fresh from the freezer, but I didn’t know how to post it.
As/if you get a moment – I know you are far too busy to drop things for raising bees in GA – I appreciate your insight, encouragement, and advice.
It’s a judgement call, but as long as I see no evidence of AFB or EFB, I just let the bees clean it up. The freezing kills all the eggs of moths and beetles, so you aren’t infection the hive with those. The rest the bees can put right in just a couple of days.
If you want to send a pic, you can just email it to me: firstname.lastname@example.org
How many these days run a triple brood?
How many frames do the bees normally have brood on the triple?
When do you put a super on triple brood? Do you wait for the hive to packed with bees on all the frames?
Thank you in advance and look forward in your reply.
I had 3 hives with bees on all 30 frames. I added 2 supers each this past weekend. I place at least 4 extracted frames in the center of the first super to get the bees to move up quicker and with 3 deeps do not use an excluder. I would not wait until they are “packed” early in the year I tend to pull the trigger sooner on space. Later like after July I tend to leave them a bit longer.
My answers to your questions in order:
How many these days… My guess < 50%
How many frames… Either 30 frames of bees or 20 frames of bees and 10 frames of honey, with the 10 frames of honey I pull some and use it to add to splits, giving the donor hive more room.
When do you put… Mine are on before the dandelions bloom, I have seen 1 super of dandelion honey collected by strong 3 deep hives. With out supers in place this would fill and cause swarming.
I use 3 deep for several reasons but the biggest one is the bees cannot poop all winter. So with a small hive each bee may feed to create heat 8-12 times and at some point the waste will fill the bee and become an issue. With a large hive the bees may feed 3-7 times a winter, so there is less waste build up in "each" bee. As a whole the hive eats maybe 30–40 percent more honey but there are 3 or 4 time as many bees so the same heat is produced by larger number of bees with each eating less. Only the bees in the core produce heat, they take turns making heat and clinging to the outside for insulation. With a smaller number of bees they need to take more turns producing heat, hence more waste buildup.
Hope this helps,
I have one hive that was 2 deep boxes. There were already eggs in the lower box in March so I wasn’t able to swap boxes. I had to leave the state for a few days I put an extra box on (now have 3 deeps) to try and keep them from swarming. It worked but now I have zillions of bees in all 3 boxes. The top box is all honey but it is contaminated because I had to treat for varroa. I am getting ready to put honey supers on tomorrow so my question is… do I leave the 3rd deep on and put the honey super on top of it or take it off and then put the honey super on.
Personally, to optimize honey production, I would empty the top brood box using an escape board, and then put the new honey super on top of the second box. But to just put it on top of the third box is not wrong, it’s just a management choice. I find though, that with too much space, the bees are less likely to move into the supers.