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When Should You Add A Second Brood Box?

When Should You Add A Second Brood Box?

A brood box contains the queen of your hive and her eggs, and it is kept away from the supers- the extra boxes stacked over and on top of the brood box- at the bottom of your stack, protected with a screen. This configuration allows for the workers and queen to see each other, but there is no way for contact among them – but when should you add a second brood box?

You should add a second brood box to your apiary when the first brood box is almost full. Beekeepers are also encouraged to maintain only one or two brood boxes, as committing to three could cause too much work and attention. If you need three brood boxes, split the hive instead so you can stick to a couple of brood boxes, which is much easier and more practical to manage.

Bees and Brood Boxes

If you keep or tend bees, you probably know about a brood box. This is the box that holds your queen bee as well as the larvae that she lays.

A brood box allows some separation in the hive between the queen and her worker bees. Some beekeepers may be in a quandary regarding whether to add a brood box or to simply add a second honey super- which is the right move?

Well, when it comes to brood boxes, ideally you will only attempt to manage one or two brood boxes.

Expanding the hive to three brood boxes is discouraged and most professional beekeepers and industry experts suggest splitting a hive before resorting to three or more brood boxes for your hive and apiary.

Layout of a Hive

When contemplating brood boxes and honey supers, it can help to understand the basic layout of a beehive. The bottom level of the hive is considered the floor of the hive and it also serves as an entry for bees. Most beekeepers use a plank or board with a raised lip or edging all around.

The next layer is the brood box, which is often considered to be the hub of the entire hive and colony. This is where you will find frames containing combs of honey- honeycomb!

This is also the location of the queen bee. She rests here in clear sight of the worker bees but not in direct contact with them as she lays her eggs. The ‘brood’ of bees will be born and raised here until they are big enough to fly away and forage for nectar to contribute to the colony.

The size of your brood box may vary, as it depends on the number of bees, type of hive, and size of the frames that you intend to use.

The next level of your hive might be a plank or board that separates the brood box from the honey super, and it has holes that allow bees to enter and exit- but not the queen. This is often called the ‘queen excluder’, and it does exactly that.

A honey bee hive in a crate

The next level is the super and it is only for storing excess honey. Honey supers tend to be smaller than the brood boxes as the honey makes them very heavy and difficult to handle with ease. Smaller supers make them easier to remove as needed. The honey super layer may be topped with a cover.

The final layer or level of a hive is going to be a roof that shelters and protects the hive from the elements.

The only real difference between honey supers and brood boxes is the purpose- and you may use larger brood boxes for honey as long as you are prepared to deal with the heft and weight of them when filled. Some honey supers can weigh as much as 60 pounds when full!

Every hive or apiary is different, so there are no hard and fast rules regarding the configuration and layout of your own hives. This is merely a suggested hive structure that has been used with success by generations of beekeepers.

Add A Brood Box

After careful thought and planning, add the next box to your hive. The timing of when to add another brood box is key, as too late and you defeat the purpose and possibly lose honey or too early and you can create problems later.

Watch the box for honeycomb- this will help to identify the right time to add a brood box. Watch for the bees to have drawn honey out over six or so combs in the first brood box to know when it is time to add another.

The time that it takes for the honey is influenced by many factors, including the weather, the size of the hive, and the number of bees in the colony.  

It is through careful inspection of the hive that you will know when to bring in another brood box. Check the frames in the box, too, for fresh eggs to ensure your queen is alive and well inside.

When the bees have filled in the frames of the brood box, it is time to add another. This is how to do it:

  • Remove two of the frames from your second brood box and put them aside for now.
  • Remove two frames from your existing brood box that are covered with ‘brood’ and replace them in the second box.
  • Add the two empty frames to your first or existing brood box.
  • Position your newer box on top of the older one.
  • You do not have to move the queen into the second or newer box. Make sure that there is, in fact, some brood on the existing or older frames before moving them to the new box.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew with too many brood boxes. You won’t have enough time to manage them, and the bees will suffer. Instead, split hives or speak to beekeepers and apiary professionals to learn more. Stick to one or two brood boxes for the best results and to protect your queen, her eggs, and your honey!