Are you wondering how many brood boxes you should include in your hive? You want to make sure you give your bees enough room to store honey while leaving ample room for brood. This is a common question among beekeepers. It’s one I have the answer to between my own research and experience I’ve gained keeping bees over the past several years.
So how many brood boxes should a hive have? Every hive should begin with only one brood box. As you add honey supers to the hive, you’ll be faced with the decision to add a second brood box or split your hive. If you choose to add a second brood box and it becomes full, it’s time to split your hive.
Many new beekeepers can feel overwhelmed by all there is to know to keep bees successfully. It’s vital to understand how and why you should split a hive. You should understand the basics of how a hive works, how many supers you should have on your hive, and how to decide between one and two brood boxes.
How Many Brood Boxes Should a Hive Have
A brood box is where a queen will lay her eggs to ensure the hive will continue after she retires. If the queen is dissatisfied with her surroundings, she’ll leave to start a new home. When the queen leaves, the worker bees are right on her heels. This equates to your dreams of honey flying away with your queen, and your investment in honeybees being wasted.
It’s a sad story, but many beekeepers have faced it. By giving the queen proper space to lay her eggs, you’re protecting the hive and your investment. It’s ideal to start your hive with only one brood box. After hearing how the hive works, you may feel inclined to give the queen multiple brood boxes. Yet, a single brood box is your safest bet because it gives her adequate laying room without giving her too much space at one time.
The queen needs enough room to lay while still feeling cozy. Space is a delicate balance for bees. They like to feel snug and protected without being overcrowded. If you give them too much room, bees will overwork themselves striving to fill the void.
The key to keeping the hive in balance is simply paying attention. During the warmer months, when the bees are busy making honey, and the queen is laying, keep a close eye to make sure the supers aren’t becoming too full, and the queen has room to lay.
If the workers need more storage room or the queen needs more laying room, you’ll decide whether you want to split the hive, add more supers for honey, or add another brood box. Making this decision will depend upon your goals in beekeeping.
Did you begin beekeeping as a basic hobby? If so, you’ll need to decide if you want this hobby to grow and take up more of your time. If you only have time for one hive, add more supers and brood boxes. However, when you hit two brood boxes or six supers, it’s time to make a split.
Are you raising bees with the intent of selling honey? You should only allow your hives to have one brood box. This will put less of a strain on the hive in caring for brood. Therefore, they’ll have more bee-power to put towards collecting ingredients for honey. My partner and I have raised bees together for five years. Our goal as beekeepers is to produce honey. We use only one brood box per hive, and it has worked well for us over the years.
Yet, if you’re raising bees to sell, you should allow each hive to have two brood boxes before splitting the hive because this will increase the number of bees you raise per hive. If you’re raising bees to sell, make sure you pay very close attention to your hives. By increasing your amount of brood, the hive will swarm much easier. Your intentions with your bees will make all the difference in how many brood boxes you allow each hive to have.
How Many Supers Can You Put on a Hive
Supers are the boxes in a hive where bees will build comb and store honey. Hives shouldn’t exceed six supers. The supers should be added one at a time. If the supers become full after six have been added to the hive, it’s time to split the hive.
When hives go beyond six supers tall, you open them up to multiple issues:
1. Not Enough Bees
If you add all six supers at one time, you won’t have enough bees to maintain this amount of space in the hive. As mentioned earlier, bees prefer a cozy home. If you create too much space in the home, it causes the bees to work too hard.
This weakens your hive. It could also cause your queen to become discontent. All these factors could lead to the hive swarming in search of a better home.
2. Wind Damage
Dealing with the elements is something you must consider when keeping bees. This should come to mind when deciding where to place your hive initially, but you should also consider it as you add to your hive.
If your hive becomes too tall, it could become top-heavy. These conditions make it more susceptible to wind damage.
3. The Hive Will Swarm
You’ve slowly built your hive, but you’re now getting ready to surpass the sixth super. Should you split it?
If you have the numbers in your hive to maintain this amount of room, chances are the bees will begin to run out of room faster than you’d like. In short, the queen will feel crowded out, take part of the hive with her, and they’ll leave. I’ll discuss this in greater detail in the next section.
For now, instead of losing bees, you could split the hive before they swarm. This will limit your losses while keeping your bees happy. I should mention here; if you’re against splitting your hives, you can extract the honey from the supers and let the bees begin again. This is a personal choice that will vary amongst beekeepers.
Why Split a Hive
Some beekeepers avoid splitting their hives because the process can seem intimidating at first. However, if you don’t split your hives, you’re opening yourself up to losses. Performing splits on your hives is necessary because they’ll become overcrowded, and the bees will swarm.
Yet, if you split the hives prior to your bees swarming, you can create new hives with no additional investment. This means more honey for your consumption or for sale. If you’re raising bees to sell, this will boost your numbers without adding to your investment.
The only time you may wish to avoid splitting your bees is if you’re at your maximum capacity as a hobby beekeeper. In this case, be sure you see queen cells in your hives if you’re concerned about the bees swarming. This will give the bees left behind from the swarm a fighting chance at survival.
How to Split a Hive
Splitting a hive doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, it’s a simple process every beekeeper should know how to do and become comfortable with:
1. Introduce the Queen
If you have a queen cell being produced in your first hive, move the frame with the queen cell into a nuc box. When you move the frame over, nurse bees will remain on the frame and come with it.
However, if you’ve ordered a queen to start a new hive, place her queen cage between two frames. The idea is the bees will eat through the edible plug of the queen cage to release her. By the time they’re able to set her free, they’ll be used to her scent and accept her as their leader.
2. Add the Bees
Once you have the potential queen in place, it’s time to add the bees. Place two or three frames from your original hive into the nuc box.
When you move the frames to the nuc, leave the bees on the frames. They’ll be your original transplants. Block the entrance to the nuc for two or three days to give the bees time to adjust to their new home. Make sure there’s honey on some of the frames being moved into the nuc to sustain the bees during the adjustment period.
3. Watch It Grow
Once your bees are in the hive and have adjusted to their new home, you can open the door. Watch the hive closely to make sure the newly hatched queen stays with the hive and begins to lay after her mating flight.
The bees will quickly outgrow a nuc. Be prepared to upgrade them to a regular hive with a brood box and super within the first month.
With that, we find ourselves circling back to where we started: one brood box, one queen, and worker bees coming together to produce a thriving hive and plenty of honey.