Rethinking the triple-deep hive

In spite of the HopGuard fiasco of this past winter, some of my hives pulled through. With one exception, the colonies that survived were either in triple-deep Langstroths or a top-bar hive.

I get a lot of questions about the wisdom of using triples and my usual answer is that the size of the hive should be commensurate with the size of the colony. It seems logical that a colony should not be crowded into a small hive lest food shortages occur, nor should the colony be overwhelmed by a large hive that cannot be patrolled and kept warm.

One of the interesting things about losses is that you get to see what works and what doesn’t under adverse conditions. All my hives were treated the same way last fall, but it is obvious now that the large-volume hives did better. I don’t know the exact volume of the top-bar hive, but my rough calculations show it to be larger than a double-deep Langstroth, but smaller than a triple-deep.

So what is the difference? Of the hives that died, each had ample supplies of pollen and honey, and no obvious signs of disease other than deformed wing virus (which is transmitted by mites). But since all the hives were treated at the same time with the same (inadequate) regimen for mites, why did the larger-volume hives survive? The truth is, I don’t know.

I don’t think that the number of bees was much different in the doubles and the triples in the fall, but the bees were more spread out. The triple-deep nests were more-or-less in a column rather than a sphere. Hive inspections showed the brood nests spanning all three boxes in the very center.

Here are some theories:

  • A larger brood nest encourages the queen to raise more brood. Even though more brood yields more mites, the vast number of clustering bees is able to overwhelm the phoretic mites.
  • Triple deeps allow the bees more room to move straight up, rather than move laterally, for food. This idea, though, does not account for the top-bar bees which have to move laterally in any case.
  • A fall nectar flow, especially one occurring after the honey supers have been removed, encourages bees to backfill the brood nest with honey. Sugar syrup fed in the fall does the same thing. As a result, the queen has little room to lay, so she slows egg production earlier than she should. The lack of brood forces the colony into winter with an older population of bees that are not robust enough to raise spring brood. By using three deeps, you give the bees more room for storage while allowing the queen more space to lay eggs in the fall.
  • A larger brood nest yields more bees to help keep the colony warm and hygienic. Even though a large colony uses more food, it is available in the three boxes.
  • Triple deeps have better ventilation because a taller hive increases the “chimney effect.” Damp air and mold spores go out the top; fresh air comes in the bottom.

Whatever the reasons, advocates of triple-deep hives report fewer winter losses, less need for spring feeding, earlier build-up of spring populations, and fewer swarms. I was never a believer. But based on my own experience this year, I think I will plan for triples in the coming season.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Valentine Bee

Comments

Paul
Reply

Hi Rusty Have you any pictures of the triple beehive or does it consist of three deep brood boxes? I would like to see some pictures if any available.

Rusty
Reply

Paul,

I will have to take some photos but, yeah, it’s just three brood boxes stacked on top of each other. From the ground up I have a hive stand, screened bottom board, slatted rack, brood box #1, brood box #2, brood box #3, feeder rim (eke), moisture quilt, inner cover, outer cover.

Jami
Reply

I wonder if those colonies made it through the winter because they were stronger then the colonies in the double deeps? They must have been to have you leave a third brood box on, right?

Chris
Reply

The Univ of Minnesota (Dr. Spivak) advocates the three deep configuration for “northern” beekeepers. They cite better overwintering success as the primary reason.

New package: Year 1 build to three deep brood boxes with little/no honey harvest. Year 2 do a split, with one deep the start of a new colony (w new queen) and the other two deeps (with the year-old queen) used to produce honey.

Sarah
Reply

Would it be better to add a third brood box under the two existing or on top? Does it matter?

Rusty
Reply

Sarah,

I would add it on top, but that’s just me.

Sarah
Reply

You know,when I was writing that comment asking where the new deep should go I thought, “I’m silly enough for wondering if it should go under the two existing–of course it doesn’t go between.” So I was very surprised when such a thing was suggested! I painted my hives so that the two deeps and two supers make a picture of flowers when on top of each other so I was thinking how I could maintain that, and a third deep and cause minimal disturbance (and hopefully minimal stinging) to my bees. Since they have to build the comb before the queen can lay, I wondered how that would affect the bees since there’d suddenly a big empty space in the middle of their home.

Gus
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Hope you see this comment, despite the article post date. First, I want to say – great site!

My question is this: When you have a triple or higher hive – do you find multiple entrances useful? Some beekeepers like Michael Bush even prefer a top entrance to a bottom one. I am adding my third deeps now (in Greece) and was wondering if I should add a second entrance above, as I am worried that the brood chamber must be getting awfully crowded. Do you have any experience with this? Any opinions?

Rusty
Reply

Gus,

I have always used just one entrance even on my triples. However, that doesn’t mean it’s best. I got out of the habit of using upper entrances when I started making comb honey because I don’t like bees with dirty feet walking all over the nice white comb. If they walk up from the bottom, it seems their feet are cleaner by the time they reach the top.

But if this is not an issue, I think two entrances would be a good thing.

Gus
Reply

Thanks Rusty!

I never would have thought about the dirty feet thing. Good point.

Karl
Reply

I just added a 3rd brood box. I just put it on top. Should I go back in and put brood in it or will she move up any way?

Rusty
Reply

Karl,

They will probably move up on their own. If they don’t, you can pyramid.

Mike P
Reply

Chimney effect works on the horizontal too. Offset smokers manipulate the air flow to utilize it. Many modifications designed for them to move air optimally. A top bar has horizontal room for air movement, in the same ways, and likely can be tuned some to optimize it. Vertical hives can also be tuned in similar ways to optimize air flow, and make it flow across between and over frames, like a brisket. Direction and size of entrances, top vents, screened bottoms, slatted racks, etc act as dampers, tuner plates, baffles, and smoke stacks.

First few months of using three deep brood 10 frame langstroth, after several years of two deep brood, the big and small obvious differences are astounding.

Any additional insight into inspecting, manipulating, winterizing, spring rotating or not to, using three deeps vs two, things that differ, or no longer seem to need done or not as often. Do you harvest any deep frame honey from brood chambers, at any point?

So far, the only additional inspection work, is one more gap between hive bodies to remove bridge and burr comb from.

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

No, I never harvest honey from the deeps, I just leave the honey in there—tons of it. Overall, I do fewer inspections because it is a lot of lifting, but they don’t seem to require a lot of inspections either. Like my tbh, the triples persist year after year. I usually catch a swarm or two from each one (or I split to prevent a swarm) and I use them for comb honey production.

Eddie
Reply

I have a three deep hive. Later this month will be the official first year of my beekeeping. Apparently they made it DESPITE me :0)

A thought I had about 3 deep hives. A queen lays at a rate of X number of eggs a day (understanding the value varies). A certain percentage of the eggs laid will be viable and turn into healthy bees. The worker bees that are living die after a certain amount of months. When chambers hatch, the spaces are set up for another egg to be placed in them.

So with the attrition, reproductive rate, etc. I’m wondering if there is a number of deeps that allow the colony just enough space to assure that there is always available space because of the rate of bee replacement against the rate of the bee loss. So *maybe* some special number (like maybe three deeps) gives the hive the ideal number for their numbers to grow and collapse and grow again, so-to-speak?

I’m probably not stating this very clearly. Basically, I’m wondering if there is a number of deeps that is optimum for a hive? I’m thinking that there must be.

Rusty
Reply

Eddie,

I understand your question but I don’t know the answer. I agree that there must be an optimum. You could probably collect a lot of data and figure it out in your spare time!

Karen
Reply

Hi Rusty
Have you heard of folks putting on their 2nd brood box under the 1st? We are newbees to beekeeping and it was recommended to us. Our nucs were installed 2-3 weeks ago. Thanks for your insight.
Karen

Rusty
Reply

Karen,

Yes, I’ve heard of it. Did the person recommending it explain why it is a good idea? I’ve never heard a compelling reason for doing it and it is definitely more work. Unless someone can explain the benefits, I would stick with adding a brood box on top.

Karen
Reply

The reason for doing so was that this person stated that bees build from top down. We have already added the 2nd box under the 1st and in retrospect I’m not sure it was the right thing to do……I’m trying to use common sense as well as tried and true beekeeping practices and also leaning toward fewer bee disturbances.

Rusty
Reply

Karen,

I wouldn’t say bees build from the top down, they build where they find space. If the space is below, they will go there. If it is above, they will go there. And if it is alongside, like in a top-bar or long hive, they will go there. People are always stating “rules” for bee behavior without consulting the bees. Honey bee are nothing if not adaptable and I believe that most of these decisions, such as where to add space, should be according to what makes the beekeeper happy. The bees don’t much care.

Karen
Reply

Thanks Rusty that just restored my faith in why I want to be a beekeeper/supporter! I appreciate the advice and your bee knowledge.
Karen

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