The bee brood box is the most important structure of a modern beehive. Herein, lives the heart of the hive. This area holds the next generation of worker honey bees. Conditions inside the brood box tells the beekeeper a lot about the current status of the colony and the future. Yet, the term can be confusing as not all bee brood boxes look alike. Let’s discuss the most important factors you need to understand about this area of the hive.
Of course, it is very important to know the technical name of every part of a beehive. But, it is ultimately the honey bees that decide – where they want to put what. As a beekeeper, I strive to help them meet their goals – so I can meet mine.
What is a Bee Brood Box?
The area or “box” of the hive that contains the most developing bees is called the brood box or brood chamber.
For a new colony, it is common to start with a single deep box (Langstroth hive) also called the hive body. As the colony grows more boxes are added. But, that first box – the brood box is where the future of the hive begins.
Brood Box Sizes
It is not uncommon to hear all the boxes on a Langstroth hive referred to as “supers or beekeeping supers”. While we consider them to be used for different purposes – the bees don’t care.
The only difference is the height of the boxes – the other dimensions of Langstroth hive boxes are the same (16” wide by 19 7/8” long). Heights are:
- deep 9 5/8”
- medium 6 5/8”
- shallow 5 11/16”
Traditionally, the tallest or deep supers are used as the brood box of the hive because it gives the bees the most room. While these boxes can be used for honey storage – they get very heavy.
Keep in mind that beekeepers use different hive configurations – so you may have a hive stack of all mediums. In that case – the bottom 2 mediums are likely your “brood boxes”.
Difference Between a Brood Box and a Super
The only true difference between a brood box and a super is the contents. It is not the size of the box but what is located inside that defines it.
However, the primary purpose for this area of the hive is to function as a nest for rearing young. These frames of comb should be replaced every few years to maintain colony health.
What Happens Inside
This area of the colony is always busy but especially so during the warm season. Growing larvae are constantly tended by nurse bees. The voracious appetites keeps the workers in constant motion.
Around the edges of the brood comb region, it is common to see an arch of pollen or bee bread. They also store honey nearby for quick access.
If the colony need to raise a new queen, this is the box where you will see the first stages of queen cell development. Checking the brood nest for queen cells to prevent bee swarms is a common practice.
If you spend any time at a local beekeeping association meeting, you are sure to hear one topic discussed. “What is happening in your brood box?” Yea, it is that important.
How Many Brood Boxes on a Hive?
The number of bee brood boxes on a hive varies by the choice of the beekeeper. While primarily used for rearing young, some food is stored here too-if space allows.
Beekeepers in colder climates tend to use 2 deep supers ( or 3 mediums) for the brood chamber. This gives the colony a chance to grow large. Lots of room for a large population and plenty of food storage.
Conversely, those in the deep southern regions of the United States may use only 1 deep super for a brood chamber. The Winters are shorter. The colony does not need as much stored food or as large a population to keep warm.
Your beehive configuration may not be the same as that of others – even in your region. It is not “wrong” to have 1, 2 or 3 brood boxes on a hive. If you have enough bees to support it.
Managing Your Beehive Brood Boxes
Each hive inspection requires an evaluation of some frames from the brood nest area. It is not necessary to look at each frame – though sometimes you might need to.
A strong brood pattern signals the presence of a laying queen bee. During most months of the year, we should find all stages of bee development represented.
Eggs laid by the queen can be hard to see – at least until you gain some in-hive experience. But, pearly white bee larvae are easy to identify. Finding dead larvae in your hive can be a sign of disease.
Adding a Second Box
How do you know when to add a second brood box to your hive? This decision is not one that can be defined by the calendar.
The same factors apply as deciding when to add a honey super. Let the progress of your colony be your guide.
When the bees are using most of the frames in the first brood box 80% (7/8 out of 10), it may be time for box number 2.
Excluders Inhibit Expansion
The use of a queen excluder to prevent egg laying in the top honey boxes is common. This makes harvesting honey easier for the beekeeper. There is no brood to worry about. To use one or not is your choice.
You will see pictures of queen excluders placed on top of a single deep box. I don’t like this method personally. My bees need more room for their nest and I do not want to restrict them that much.
I use one deep and one shallow (I could use a medium super if I wished). When using an excluder – I place it under my honey supers-not between the two boxes I give the bees.
Other Hive Styles
However, they still have a brood chamber or area of the hive – you just do not manipulate whole boxes.
Management techniques for these hives is different than that of a Langstroth hive. But, to the honey bee colony, it is all the same – an enclosed space to rear young.
Yes, if you have a large enough bee population to patrol and protect the comb. Beekeepers that use all medium supers often use 3 boxes. If you used all shallow supers you might need even more.
If your colony is using 80% of the current box and the warm season is not ending, it may be time to add a box.
Yes, you can harvest honey from a brood box if you have not used chemicals for mite treatments. However, do not take all the honey from your bees – they will starve.
The biggest danger is that pests will attempt to move in the empty space. Installed wax foundation may also be ruined if the bees decide to tear it down. If you have drawn comb in the second box wax moths may destroy it.
There are pro and cons to using double brood boxes. They provide more space for the bees but are heavy to move. You also have double the frames to search through when trying to find the queen.
One thing that makes beekeeping terminology so confusing is that beekeepers use different terms to describe items. This is why it is important to explain your situation fully when you are discussing hive conditions with other beekeepers. In the end, the bees really don’t care what size beehive brood boxes are used – they just want a safe enclosed place to raise their young.