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Triple deep questions

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 comb—together with your moisture quilt—prevent 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 balance—you 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 deep—you 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:

Olympia Temperature

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

Olympia Precipitation

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.

nick holmes

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.



Hi Rusty!

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 🙂



Hi Joel,

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.


Hi Rusty!

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.

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