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Two queens, one hive=lots of honey

Note: Two-queen systems have fascinated me for a long time, but I’ve never known exactly how to set up the equipment and get started. Finally, I decided to ask Bill Hesbach of Connecticut, the one person I know with both the knowledge and practical experience to point me in the right direction. Bill was kind enough to write the following post that contains a little history, some basic explanations, and many “how to” pointers.

As I explained to Bill, I want to set up a two-queen system to use along with ideas gleaned from Anthony Planakis for increasing honey production, namely a series of upper entrances in my section honey supers. After reading this, I feel like I’m ready. The critical part for me will be overwintering some good strong colonies.

Many thanks to Bill for this insightful write-up.

Rusty


First, a little history

A-vertical-two-queen-system
A vertical system with one full deep and 4 supers above the queen excluder. This started in spring as a swarm manipulation and ended as a two-queen system. You can see that the vertical method soon becomes unmanageable.© Bill Hesbach.

Two-queen systems designed to manage and increase honey production have been used extensively, but have not been adopted on a large industrial scale. As you can imagine, the hive manipulations can get complicated and there are arguments both for and against the effort required for the increase in production. Early on, two-queen systems were almost always configured vertically but have since been configured in both vertical and horizontal systems.

In their simplest form, vertical systems are upright stacks with one brood chamber on the bottom board followed by honey supers, a queen excluder, and another queen-right brood chamber on top. Vertical systems can grow rapidly into large towers and require lots of heavy work to manage properly. The literature commonly references vertical systems with 10 or more boxes and goes on to explain that for ease of manipulation they were, if you can imagine, tilted to the ground so they could be worked on horizontally and then reassembled vertically.

The horizontal two-queen system

The system I’m describing is a horizontal system in that two colonies are placed side by side so they can share a common set of supers. The colonies stay physically separate although I prefer to join the bottom boards with screws. This ensures both sets of brood chambers are at identical heights even if the assembly is placed on a slightly uneven surface.

We begin with two colonies on separate bottom boards allowing bees to fly out different entrances—all fairly straight forward. It’s the next step of stacking supers that allows us to share both the field force and the nurse bees making this technically a two-queen system. This is accomplished when we stack supers in the middle between each colony allowing both access to the supers.

Horizontal-two-queen-system
This photo shows how a horizontal system would look in production, although this one is empty. © Bill Hesbach.
Initially, the supers are placed over a queen excluder. Some beekeepers consider the queen excluder optional. I prefer to use an excluder until harvest and just for reference, when a queen excluder is used the systems are sometimes referred to as two-queen verses a multiple-queen system when a queen excluder is not used.

The use of a queen excluder will allow you the option to decide when, or if, you want a “royal battle.” The preferred excluder is flat without a raised rim. When you place a flat excluder, so it straddles both brood chambers, it eliminates the bee space on the box edges between the two colonies so the queens can’t wander over and try to kill each other. If you use a wood framed excluder, the raised rim will provide a bee space so you’ll need to add a filler strip under the wire portion of the excluder to eliminate that space.

A-flat-queen-excluder-cover-half-of-each-colony.
This photo shows where a flat queen excluder would be positioned before adding the honey supers. If the hives were populated, five frames of each hive would be covered by the excluder. © Bill Hesbach.
In this side-by-side configuration it’s not clear that nurse bees will readily share brood tending because of the journey required to travel between the boxes and the fact that each queen’s pheromone may be more isolated to their own side. In a vertical system it’s easier to visualize how nurse bees can move freely up and down through a queen excluder. Also a vertical system has the added advantage of efficient convective flow aiding heat transfer and pheromone distribution. Although nurse bees may be not be as efficient in a horizontal system, the boxes are more accessible for management and you can intervene to increase brood by adding frames and also equalize the colonies strength by moving brood around.

The next items you’ll need are two small half covers for the 5 frames left exposed on each colony when honey supers are stacked in the middle. They can be migratory or half telescoping covers. You’ll also need a set of full-size migratory covers for use during the spring build when there are no honey supers. The half covers should fit snugly against the side of the supers to keep rain penetration to a minimum. That leads to the issue of the queen excluder’s thickness. A flat excluder is usually a little larger than the outside dimensions of a box. Although it’s only a fraction of an inch it will prevent a migratory cover from fitting snug against the honey super’s side. To eliminate the issue, I add a full size shim to the underside on the cover but stop it just short of the edge allowing the excluder lip enough room to run under the cover. An inner cover is not needed if you choose migratory covers but a telescoping cover may be glued down without one. If you make half telescoping covers and end up using an inner cover it will act as a shim and you can slide the telescoping cover against the honey super for a snug fit.

A-half-telescoping-cover
Here is a view of the special half telescoping covers needed, but they could also be just migratory covers. © Bill Hesbach.
That’s basically the equipment you’ll need so the next step is to consider your startup choices. If you’re trying for increased honey production, it’s best to start a two-queen system with a strong overwintered colony and a young queen that you can split early. That way you can use the parent colony for one side and immediately re-queen the split for the other. Another way is to start with your own overwintered nucleus colonies, or other strong yard splits. You can also start with real early packages on drawn comb and feed so they build quickly. However you decide to start, the idea is to begin about six weeks before your main flow so they’re ready in time with a large field force. With packages you may need more time even when using drawn comb. If you use packages and foundation you’re less likely to meet the flow in the temperate climates.

Final Notes

Most two-queen systems are used for increased honey production and if that’s your goal, it’s important to keep in mind that a two-queen system depends on productive forage and accurate timing of your main nectar flow. So if you decide to try one in an area with historically low nectar flows, you may not experience increased production. Even without increased production, since a two-queen system requires more attention to early spring preparation, the skills you sharpen while preparing the colonies will enhance your beekeeping in the rest of your apiary.

In addition to increased honey production, once mastered, the skills can be used to assist weak colonies, help manage swarming, facilitate re-queening, and generate new colonies. Finally, on a more personal level, more than any other system a two-queen broadens your understanding of your area’s floral sources and bloom schedule. Once you begin to yoke floral sources to your observation of how the biology of your colonies are affected, you’re on the way to a more complete understanding of beekeeping as art—they’re worth a try.

References

1976. Two-queen system of honey bee colony management. 11 p. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Production Research Report 161. Moeller

American Bee Journal 1990 Vol. 130 (1) pages 44-48 http://www.tc.umn.edu/~reute001/pdf-files/comparison%20I.pdf

The role of queen mandibular pheromone and colony congestion in honey bee (Apis mellifera L.). Journal of Insect Behavior, 1991, Volume 4, Number 5, Page 649.

Mark L. Winston, Heather A. Higo, Simon J. Colley, Two-queen vs. single-queen colony management. Gleanings Bee Cult. 64(10): 593-596.

About the author

Bill Hesbach is a sideline beekeeper, and artisanal honey producer, in Cheshire Ct, where he owns and operates Wind Dance Apiary. Bill studied beekeeping at Rutgers University in NJ and is currently enrolled in the master beekeeping program at the University of Montana. Bill serves on the board of directors for the Backyard Beekeepers Association of CT, where he helps teach new beekeepers, and designs and teaches advanced beekeeping courses. Bill has an avid interest in honey bee biology and beekeeping history. As an advocate for bees, Bill is an active speaker at local beekeeping organizations, area elementary and high schools, and regional agricultural programs. Bill is also a contributing writer to Bee Culture Magazine.

Comments

Rob
Reply

I think I will try to figure out the 1 queen first! lol Does look interesting though.

Aram
Reply

It is tricky in the spring when you have two queen in a vertical setup. You show up a little while later and inadvertently lots of bees migrated up to be with the higher positioned queen. Higher queens get both the heat and the workers from the bottom. Manipulations are kind of tedious. Using a propolis catcher or hardware mesh to separate two colonies will enable heat sharing, without loss of workers.

Or another option would be simply giving brood from one hive to the other hive periodically. This will ensure populous workforce come honey harvest without doing two queen system. The donor hive will lack workers for sure, but they will also lack mites and that’s very helpful if you later decide to use non-chemical methods of trapping them with drone comb or brood break in the harvesting colony. Even if they die off later from mites, their numbers are so great, one could get massive crops along with lots of new comb drawn out. Their freshly laid frames with 2-3 day brood could be used to boost the donor hives during harvest, thus eliminating need to feed the larvae and further conserving new honey harvest. No mites in the young larvae cells.

Bill Hesbach
Reply

There’s lots of interesting ways to increase honey production and as you stated vertical systems require some tedious manipulations. What you describe in your second paragraph,except for the mite part, is basically standard honey production management – it’s just not as much fun as trying a two-queen system.

Rich
Reply

“a serious of upper entrances” should be a “series.”

Rusty
Reply

Thank you, Rich.

Rich
Reply

…royal battle.”

Rusty
Reply

And again . . .

Rich
Reply

Great post with cool photos!

Bill
Reply

Really interesting post. I think Aram is on the right track. I have been toying with the idea of a 48″ horizontal lang with say 2/3 of it for the brood nest with a queen and the remaining 1/3 a nuc with a queen to feed capped brood into the main brood nest. They would be divided by a double screen board. Set it up about 3-4 weeks before the main flow to insure you get capped brood out of the nuc and super with 8 frame shallows or comb honey supers (for ease of manipulation) over the main brood nest. Harvesting honey as you soon as the super is 2/3 filled or harvest by the frame. Then after the flow break it down and requeen both or split the main and maybe even the nuc and requeen both for a brood break. (Sorry I got lost in that last sentence but the idea is to get a brood break and a fresh queen to overwinter with.) You would end up with 2 or 3 nucs and plenty of time to build up for wintering.

Bill Hesbach
Reply

I like your enthusiasm and ambition. One of our club members just made a similar one this fall. You may also be interested in some other alternative hives I run. Search Dadant Jumbo hives and I also run 18″ deep frames that fit nicely into double deeps.

Gary Fawcett
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Great guest post, love this blog post and so did our readers. We discussed it on our latest beekeeping podcast. We hope you enjoy it

Looking forward to hearing how you get on with this system in your spring.

Gary and Margaret

Laura
Reply

Rusty,
Last week when I checked my double-queen hive, the super was almost fully filled with nectar and I added another super. Today I checked again and, no kidding, ALL of the honey they had is gone. The cells are intact, not chewed at as you’d expect with robbing. My guess is double the brood also consumes double the stores and they simply ate it all.

Unfortunately I’m going to have to end this experiment, at least temporarily. One side has become unbearably hot and needs to be requeened but I don’t want to mess with that in this set up. I found and removed a usurpation swarm hanging on the outside of another hive several weeks ago, and I wonder if this hive was infiltrated by another I didn’t see. They were not this unhappy a month ago.

I may let them raise a queen from eggs from the other half’s queen and put them back together later.

Hope your tinkering is going well.
Laura

Rusty
Reply

Laura,

Well, that’s depressing.

I’m curious to know how you recognize a usurpation swarm. Do you have a lot of Africanized bees where you are? I hear that’s common with them, but I don’t know if I could recognize one type of swarm from another.

I finally got my double queen hive set up. Long story. So far no one’s tending the supers, but the colonies are real busy.

Laura
Reply

Rusty,
I might not have been suspicious of it or recognized it myself if I hadn’t attended a session on Africanized bees at a recent seminar. The speaker addressed this topic. The one I found was a ball of bees no bigger than my fist, hanging on the back of a hive cover early in the morning. The timing was odd because a few hours later we had severe storms with a tornado several miles away. I wouldn’t expect bees to swarm in those conditions.

Anyway, I was curious as to why this clump of bees was hanging back there, so I poked around in them and there was a queen in the middle.

I live in Central Texas and there are a couple of “hot spots” for Africanized bees south of me. I have raised several queens successfully without growing a nasty hive, and I’ve raised a couple that were unbearable. It’s hit or miss, but I put drone foundation in my most docile hives with the hope that if I can put out lots of calmer genetics, it might help dilute some of the more defensive genetics flying about. A beekeeper can hope.

I haven’t pulled the hive apart yet. They’re not bad when I’m checking the supers, so I’m going to leave them until my queen orders arrive next month.

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Laura. The seminar sounds interesting. I’d like to know more about Africanized bees.

Laura

The local response to Africanized bees can be a bit humorous sometimes. A college-aged girl told recently me she was stung by an Africanized bee while camping. I said, “AN Africanized bee? As in one?” I explained that they look exactly like our honey bees and those sting too if they feel threatened.

It was a great seminar covering a variety of topics. Lance Wilson is one of the directors of the Austin Beekeepers Association and he’s very knowledgeable about Africanized bees. He might have some resources to share with you. http://texasbeekeepers.org/organizer/lance-wilson/

One of the comforting things I learned is that, while Africanized genetics will always be dominant in tropical areas with short or no winter, the more temperate climate of the US, even as far south as Texas, encourages the European genetics to continue with cross-breeding, so all it not gloom and doom for southern US beekeepers. This past winter was very mild, with no hard freezes, but we typically have ice storms and a few more days of below freezing temps.

Another interesting fact is queen development time is 2 days shorter than European queens.

bob
Reply

I’ve attempted two queen systems before. The vertical has worked when I would leave the bottom box to raise it’s own queen. The top box would have the older queen and I would use a Snelgrove board and manipulate from there. It increased production from an average of 80 lbs. to 130 lbs. I’ve never seen the 300 plus pounds or triple honey production that some sites say will happen.

I’ve got some ideas for next season (spring of 2017) that I’m going to try. The experimenting is the best part. Sometimes an idea works and sometimes (like this past spring) they don’t work quite as well as I would have expected. I’ll see how it goes and present it to our local club.

deb klughers
Reply

How do you configure a 2 queen horizontal system for winter?

Rusty
Reply

Deb,

I don’t know how others do it, but I just separated the two hives after I took off the honey supers.

deb klughers
Reply

I’m feeding them now with the queen excluder under the feeder. I didn’t want to separate them for the winter… they’ve become such good friends! I was thinking of keeping the queen excluder, placing a spacer, adding some winter patties, inner cover, moisture board and top cover. Or is it best to separate them when I’m done feeding them? Thoughts?

Rusty
Reply

Deb,

I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work. You could even use a no-cook candy board that is made with a queen excluder.

Tammy
Reply

I did this vertical 2 queen system. I see the queen layer eggs and are capped, I went in and there are no attendants near her…is this a problem?

Rusty
Reply

Tammy,

If the queen is laying normally and the brood is being capped, it doesn’t appear to be a problem.

Jackson
Reply

Hi. Can you please add some videos on two queen system management?

Rusty
Reply

Jackson,

Sorry, video is not my thing. I’m sure you can find something on YouTube.

BursaAricilik
Reply

I made the 2 queens beehive system horizontal cove. Honey was very good. Also the hive maintenance is very easy. The queens are under constant control. Hive 20 frames. Only 2 or 3 months of you are working with 1 queen. We take one of the queens before the beehive season. The queen is filling the hive with the ball in a very short time. I advise… https://www.facebook.com/TurkAricilar/videos/326245337877352/

Patrick Purcell
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I am about to try the 2-queen system in one of my older 4′ long Langs.

The current residents have 10 frames of brood as of the end of last month when I harvested 3 frames of honey. The queen is 18 months old, but we are in the tropics where it’s dearth and flow conditions, no winter, per say.

The new queen in a 5 frame nuc, I raised here on Gizo, 15 miles away from my coconut/noni plantation apiary. When I last checked her I found older eggs but no fresh eggs and very little pollen stores. Not surprising as it had been raining a fair bit preciously. Other nucs and queens I have taken over to the plantation apiary, perk up and take off very quickly, so I am not worried about that.

The long hive I will add her to will get a plastic queen excluder cut to the correct partition width. The entrances are 3/4 inch holes drilled every 4″ along the 4′ box. That is now covered with an anti-robbing screen with a reduced entrance at one end. One question I have to answer is whether I should cut another entrance in the anti-robbing frame, at the far end closer to the site to our second queen and her brood?

Any suggestions?

https://honeybeesuite.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Patrick-Purcell-long-hive.jpg

Rusty
Reply

Patrick,

I suspect this may be my first comment from the Solomon Islands. So cool!

It seems to be that if you put a five-frame nuc in a four-foot box, the entrance should be somewhat close to the brood area. Otherwise the bees have to do a lot of traveling back and forth inside the hive.

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