When beginning beekeeping, the number one mistake that many amateurs make is adding a brood box too early. Without a doubt, this is something you want to avoid by all means necessary. But what will happen when a brood box is added early?
A brood box needs to be warm. From not providing it this type of climate, applying it too early will kill the larvae, resulting in the hive having a considerable setback in production. As beekeepers, this is something we want to avoid.
Many beekeepers get a 3lb package of honey bees with a newly mated young queen when spring comes around. When your new bees are put into the hive and your newly adopted queen is accepted, it will be a few days before the queen starts laying.
A standard queen can lay up to 1500 eggs each day. The size of your frames will alter the amount of time it takes for one established queen to fill it up with broods.
- A mini frame holds around 1500 cells, so it’ll take a single day for her to fill it.
- Standard deep frames typically contain 3500 cells, which would take about 2-3 days to be filled.
So in an entire mini framed box containing 5-6 frames would take a queen 5-6 days to fill up, and a deep box would take around 23 days for a queen to fill completely.
It’s important to understand that your bees have to spend time drawing out the frames, which in turn will delay the queen’s ability to lay. She cannot lay in a cell that has not been made yet, and there aren’t any bees to care for the broods straight away.
Want to find out more about what happens if you add a brood box too early? Read below:
What happens if you add a brood box too early?
After 2 or 3 weeks, it may appear like your colony is growing, but in reality, none of your eggs have matured into young bees. If a second box is added to the hive, your bees will probably do one of two things.
- Leave it alone
- The population will likely thin out and disperse into the new space, causing the bees to care for the broods to leave and prepare the new area.
A bee lives anywhere between 4 to 6 weeks. Some of the bees in your first package will already be on the older side. The natural progression of your hive cycle will mean that some of these bees die before the first emergence of any new bees. Your colony will initially shrink on its own, and adding a new brood box too soon is pretty dangerous for a new colony.
Consider this, the temperature in spring isn’t always stable. Cold spells sweep in, there’s plenty of rain, and sometimes you can even experience snow. Your bee’s most important job at that moment is keeping the brood warm. Adding a second brood box too early would mean your cluster couldn’t cover the brood efficiently, and if they become too cold, they will die. It could look like foulbrood, but it is simply your larvae dying. If you kept your hive the way it was, they could have regulated their temperature better, and more bees would have emerged.
When should I add another brood box?
Give your bees time to care for the first brood and allow the first cycle to complete itself, usually 23 days, give or take. The second emergence will occur after another 23 days and so on. The queen doesn’t lay eggs all in one go, so you’ll see a steady number of new bees arriving each day.
Generally, the earliest a beekeeper would consider adding a second brood box would be during the second cycle, but even then, most leave it longer. You want your first box to be at least 75% capacity before giving the bees more space.
This can take different lengths of time depending on a few factors.
- If your bees are natural foragers, it will take them longer to bring the resources for the hive to grow. The collected pollen will need to be turned into bee bread and then royal jelly, which your bees need to feed the young and the queen. Some beekeepers like to buy this and give it to their new hive straight away to help this process.
- What area do you live in? If the climate where you live is generally cooler this time of year, your bees will be slower and sluggish when growing their population. Lots of rain and snow can slow down your colony’s growth considerably.
- What style of frames have you provided for your bees? If the bees need to build all new wax within the frames, it will take them longer than with pre-prepared ones.
You also want to give your bees only just enough space to not allow extra, unprotected room for pests like a wax moth or small hive beetles to hide in the corners and eat the larvae you’ve been trying to grow.
The takeaway is, don’t introduce a second box too soon after setting up your bees. Give the hive time to establish and learn how to look after themselves; they’re intelligent little things and will let you know when they need more space.
One brood box or two?
Brood boxes are the foundation upon which thriving hives are built. Without one, there will be no queen to lay eggs. And with no eggs, there will be no need for worker bees to stay around. They will simply get up and leave; a hive with no functioning queen will be quickly abandoned.
It’s important to remember that you don’t need to settle on the number of brood boxes you’ll use straight away. You can always start off with just one box and add a couple of supers on top when the timing is right and see how your bees take to it. When the bees start running out of space, add a couple of supers. If you begin to get above five or six supers and your colony is still growing, then add an extra brood box on the top and build more supers on top of that.
Consult with a Local Expert
If you’re still unsure how to take on your brood boxes after reading this, the best thing you can do is get in touch with other beekeepers in your area. There are always people nearby with more experience than you, and they can help you figure out a decent arrangement from your supers and brood boxes. If you can’t find another local beekeeper, branch out into neighboring areas to find one. You’re ideally looking for someone that works in a similar environment to yours. The closer to where your bees live, the more valuable their insight will be.