Managing single brood box hives

I have been keeping bees since 2013 and like most beginners I ran my colonies as double deeps. After all, there aren’t any classes or books or lectures teaching single box management. Obviously you can’t run a hive as a single brood box, right? There isn’t enough room for a good queen to lay in. If you could run a single brood box someone would be teaching it right?
I am here to tell you people have been running single brood box’s for decades if not longer. In fact most commercial operations run single deeps. I have decided to write an article explaining the methods and approximate timetable I use in my operation in central Massachusetts. You may need to adjust the timelines to suite your area and weather pattern.
I overwinter all my nucs in a climate controlled trailer I custom designed and built for that purpose. The method I use does not require indoor overwintering and will work just as well with outdoor overwintered stock. If you overwinter outside just skip the first step.
Depending on the weather, I put my hives outside the end of March or first of April. As soon as I put out the hives I immediately begin feeding either fondant or sugar syrup, which depends on temperature. I also begin to feed pollen substitutes to stimulate brood production. Around April 15th i preform hive assessments. I will tip each brood box forward from the bottom board so I can see the bottom of the frames and count the number of frames covered with bees. Doing this allows me to get a feel for how strong each hive is. I run 10 frame deeps so if you run 8 frame boxes you will need to adjust your counts. 8 or more frames covered with bees is designated a strong colony, 5-7 frames a medium and 4 or less weak. Each hive is then tagged to allow me to see without opening up the hive how strong it is, this will become important later as you will see. I use cattle ear tags to mark hives, they are cheap and can be used over and over for many years. I hang them on the hive from a small hook screwed into the front of each hive. Strong get green tag, medium get yellow tag and weak gets red tag. All weak hives get moved to a nursery Apiary. If you have only one apiary move weak hives away from the others until you can get their strength back in line with the rest of the Apiary. Around the first of May the dandelions begin to bloom signaling the beginning of the nectar flow. During the flow I do not feed. The only exception is in colonies that are rearing queens or colonies that are in the nursery Apiary , I use top feeders on those hives. I add a Honey super and queen excluder to every hive except the weak hives. Around The third week of May I will re-assess all my hives using the same method I described above. If any hive has less frames covered with bees then it did during the first assessment the queen needs to be replaced. Any hives who moved backwards in total numbers of bees will have the old queen removed and she will be replaced with a new laying queen. At this time any colonies that are still green tags will be given a second brood box. This step is optional and I usually only do a few to make splits later in July. During June and July I remove frames of brood and make splits as needed. This prevents swarming and builds numbers in the Apiary. For the colonies that got a second brood box, at the middle of July I begin to make splits from the second brood box and force the bees back into a single deep. About the third week of August I will begin to pull honey boxes. During the season whenever I added a honey super I always add the new super under the old super. This is called bottom supering. This means the oldest honey is in the top box. This puts all my spring honey on top and fall honey on bottom. I will pull honey Supers off completely at the end of September, right before I start fall feeding. After I pull my honey supers for the year in September, the queen will begin slowing down laying. At this time I begin to feed sugar syrup for the bees to backfill the brood chamber with winter stores. I want each box to weight about 95-100 lbs going into winter.
Now let’s talk numbers for those of you who say there isn’t enough room for a queen to lay in, forcing the colony to swarm. Each deep frame has 80 cells across and 44 cells deep. That gives us 3520 cells per side. There are 20 sides on a 10 frame deep box. This gives us 70,400 cells per box of 10 frames. The average number of eggs a good queen lays per day is estimated to be 1500. It take 21 days for a worker bees to hatch out, 21 days before the queen could potentially use that cell again. That means the queen can be utilizing 31,500 cells with eggs, brood or Larva before the queen can lay in those cells again. That leaves 38,900 cells that are not needed for brood production. Let’s say honey and pollen take up 2 frames each. That uses another 28,160 cells. We have 10,740 cells left over for the queen to lay or the colony to store honey or pollen. As you can see from the math, there is plenty of room for the colony to do everything that it needs to and still have room left over. I run all my colonies as either 5 frame nucs or single deeps. It is not only possible but it forces the queen to utilize space wisely. Give single box management a try, you may never go back to double deeps again.

12 thoughts on “Managing single brood box hives

  1. You said in this piece that on second inspection if strong (green tag) colony had decreased you add a second deep brood box for splitting later? Is that correct? Do you leave honey super on with excluder? Any help appreciated

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    • Hi Matt,
      I did find a spelling error in the piece, so thank you. But you were incorrect in what you read. The following is cut from the article and says. “Around The third week of May I will re-assess all my hives using the same method I described above. If any hive has less frames covered with bees then it did during the first assessment the queen needs to be replaced. Any hives who moved backwards in total numbers of bees will have the old queen removed and she will be replaced with a new laying queen. At this time any colonies that are still green tags will be given a second brood box.”
      So just to clarify here is what I try to do lol.

      I assess the hives when I put them out in April. I reassess them i the end of May. Hives that deserve to keep green tags will get a second deep box. That hive is now run as a standard 2 deep box hive for a short time to allow for more brood production so I can make splits. I usually do only a portion of my hives as second box hives for a month or so so I can split off the second deep as a split in June or July. During this time I do not run excluders between deeps but always run an excluder before my honey supers. Hope this helps.

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  2. This is my second summer running my hives with just a single deep brood box. Last year I had 3 swarm in late August, so this year I would like to stay ahead of that. Checking today, one hive had fresh eggs all the way to capped brood filling 8 of the 10 frames. I did not see any swarm cells started, but I’m trying to determine how full is too full? When should I step in and pull out a few frames to make a nuc and keep the hive from wanting to start the swarming process? Thanks!

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    • I would pull several frames from each hive and make nucs now. I usually do it by the first of July. That will give me plenty of time to get the hive built up and ready for winter. Herein Massachusetts if I wait much longer I will run out of time. Hope this helps.

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      • Yes, that is very helpful! But you only pull frames from hives that have 7 or 8 frames of eggs/brood. Otherwise, they aren’t strong enough?

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  3. Thanks for reinforcing the notion of single box beekeeping. When I first got into beekeeping all the literature I read pointed to double boxes. I did that for a number of years and you know how labour intense that is. From finding the queen to controlling mites, double boxes were a pain. Besides, people should study how honey bees in the natural state survive. Effective management from the beekeeper makes it possible.

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  4. Great article! This is only my second year to keep bees and during the winter I was researching the idea of running single boxes. So far this has been difficult for me due to swarming. I am in AR and we have had an amazing spring here and the bees have just been going crazy April up till Now end of May. I over wintered 1 hive and got a nuc in April. I already spilt the hive I overwintered but it keeps trying to swarm even with 4 empty frames put in it from the split and I already added a super to it a while back before I split it. It has a queen in it but when I inspected the hive yesterday it had a fully drawn out swarm cell on the bottom of an outside frame. Also the hive has become very nasty over the past few weeks! I am thinking I need to requeen this hive, “Thoughts”?
    In reading the article I believe I should have made splits sooner or added another deep box to the hive I overwintered.
    My problem is I am only trying to manage a hand full of hives and it doesn’t seem like you can run single boxes if you aren’t prepared to make multiple splits. Even if I put another brood box on that’s still going to become a split at some point if I am trying to stay true to the single box hive management. Am I better off to run two deeps since I am trying to keep my hive numbers down? I started out with 1 hive at the beginning of spring and after next week I will have 4. Maybe I can sell a few nucs which would help pay for my hobbie. I guess my fear is that I am going to end up with a bunch of split hives and really not have a good honey harvest. I am sure that my inexperience is not helping me either but I learn something new every day.

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    • Hey Chris,
      Single box management is a labor intensive method, you have to be in all your hives once a week to head off swarming. Just like not all people are the same this is true for our bees as well. You will find some are more hygienic some are more prolific layers, some will be better managers of space. This process is much the same in single boxes or double deeps. If you have a queen that doesn’t utilize space well in a single she won’t in a double either. The double just buys you more time that’s all. You could make splits and sell them that’s an option, you could do nothing and let them swarm. In my opinion that is poor beekeeping because you have created a nuisance to the public. What I have done in the past is just Re queened with a more suitable queen. I have found Russian bees tend to do best in single box management, Italians do the worst. There is no easy answer to this question, until you find more suitable stock maybe you should just add boxes as you colony expands and run two or three box hives and keep one single until you find the right queen. Then breed her to replace your other queens. Hope this helps

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  5. Thank you for the quick response. Wouldn’t you know I have Italian queens and the two new queens I have coming are Italians from Wildflower Meadows. I want to make the single box method work for me. It just makes sense and I hate having to pull the heavy brood boxes off all the time to inspect. Not lazy I have a bulging disc in my lower back. I will work towards requeening with Russians. How are the temperament of your Russians? I’ve heard they are more aggressive. Can’t be much worse than my original hive they lit my ass up yesterday! 🙂 I read an article during the beginning of the spring that said not to be in your hives all the time because you significantly hamper their production. Well I learned that that is a bunch of BS. I waited two weeks and all hell broke loose in that short of an amount of time! Dealing with swarming is a lot worse than getting into your hives every week. Besides I love getting in there as often as I can its my therapy! Ha Ha! Thank you for the great advice I’ll keep you posted!

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    • No problem Chris,
      I love getting into my hives as well it is one of the only places I am completely at peace. I go thru everyone on my 100 or so hives every week. Even if it is only Tipping a box up and looking for swarm cells ( which are usually on the bottom of a frame usually lol). I think Russians get a bad rap for being aggressive like everything in life not all of one species are the same. You can breed any species of bees for any qualities you want. I breed for efficient use of space, workability, winter hardiness then honey production last. The way I look at it if the other qualities are not there it doesn’t matter if they produce a great honey yield, cause they won’t be around next year anyway. If you take care of the other things first the honey yield will come. I’d rather have 100 hives that utilize the space I give them efficiently ( less boxes to buy paint and move) are a pleasure to work, survive winter with fewer replacements needed( minimizes new genetics into the Apiary screwing up my breeding program) I will produce more honey with 100 hives than 200 great honey production hives that are harder to work, sting the crap out of me, have to be replaced every spring and suck up money in boxes and paint. Just my humble opinion. Keep me posted on how you make out.

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