SHORT VERSION: When adding another hive body (or super) to a hive because the population is expanding and crowding all the frames, I try to pull up two or three frames of brood to reduce the chances of the queen becoming honey bound. I also surround each brood frame in the original hive body with blank or drawn comb to encourage the queen to fill them with brood. All of which may or may not reduce the chances of swarming.
LONG VERSION: Whenever I add another hive box (or deep) to a nuc or colony that’s population is expanding, I pull up two or three frames of brood while I’m at it because, on her own, the queen won’t always expand the brood nest up into a new deep. The worker bees fill it with honey instead and the queen becomes honey bound (or trapped in by honey with nowhere to lay), which can trigger a swarm, not something most beekeepers want.
Some people call the pulling up of brood pyramiding or creating an unlimited brood nest. It’s also similar to checker boarding. But it all seems like a variation on a theme to me. Pulling up brood encourages the queen to expand the brood nest up (not just to the sides), thus reducing the chances of her becoming honey bound.
So let’s say your deep has six frames of brood. You pull three frames of brood from the middle and then put a new frame (drawn comb, foundation or foundationless frame) between each remaining frame of brood, thus providing space for the queen to lay between the frames of brood. (The bees will have to build comb first if the new frames aren’t drawn comb, but that’s not bad because it gives the bees something else to do — fill in space with new comb — instead of preparing to swarm.) Then you add another deep and put the three pulled frames of brood in the middle, with empty frames on the sides. This new configuration of brood is in the shape of a pyramid and now the queen has plenty of room to lay in the lower and upper deeps (or hive bodies).
I did a little pyramiding with a 2-deep hive yesterday. I’d noticed the medium honey super on the hive suddenly became crowded with bees, so I decided it was time to check it for swarms cells and give the queen more room to lay.
I could have left the hive alone because we’re probably past the swarming season and all those extra bees will help make honey that I can steal later in the summer, but I decided to add another deep and expand the brood nest because I need bees more than honey this year.
I could have easily inserted empty frames between the frames of brood…
…but I forgot.
The brood nest in this hive has always been off-center for some reason. I found brood frames beginning with the second frame from the edge. So I only pulled two frames of brood in total, along with one frame of nectar, and then replaced them with drawn frames.
Inserting empty frames between the lower brood frames in this hive wouldn’t have been a problem because with so many bees there’s little chance of the brood becoming chilled and dying. If I was pulling up brood in a nuc, though, and the temperatures were ridiculously cold like they’ve been in most of Newfoundland for all of July, I might keep the brood frames together in the lower box. (In the case of this hive, the lower box is the green deep.)
It was a perfect day (25°C and sunny, no wind) and a perfect time (11:30am) for beekeeping. I had my smoker lit but I barely touched it because the bees seemed totally relaxed. (I gave them a good shot of mist, though.)
So I pulled three frames from near the edge of the lower deep (green), leaving the brood on frames 4, 5 and 6. The brood frames pulled to the new top deep (white) are directly above it on frames 4, 5, and 6.
That’s not what you call the best pyramid, but the brood nest is surrounded by mostly empty frames in both deeps, so it’s good enough.
I went on to add a honey super full of drawn comb over a queen excluder. The smell of the drawn comb entices the bees to work the honey super.
If the frames were empty (no comb of any kind), I wouldn’t use the excluder until the bees had begun drawing out comb in the honey super. Moreover, if I was using foundation in the honey supers and wanted the bees to work them ASAP, I’d spray the frames down with sugar syrup spiked with anise extract. Ain’t no way the bees will ignore that.
Now that the weather is hot (hotter anyway), I use a rim and an empty moisture quilt (a variant of my famous ventilator rim) for ventilation.
The brood nest in this hive now spans all three deeps. I can say this even though I didn’t dig into the bottom deep. When I look through the bottom entrance, I can see bees clinging off the bottom bars of several frames. As far as I can tell, those are nurse bees keeping the brood warm. With any luck, the top deep will fill with brood soon and I’ll be able to use those frames to boost up the population in the rest of my hives, all of which are dealing with some calamity or another. I have a lot riding on this one colony.
P.S. (a brief history of this honey bee colony): Normally I would have harvested some honey from a fully established colony by this time of year. But this isn’t a normal colony. It has been nursed back from the edge of its existence over the past few months after being nearly destroyed by shrew predation over the winter. Near the end of May, it was a single-deep colony spanning two frames and a cluster about the size of a baseball with maybe a golf-ball sized patch of brood on one frame. I gave it several frames of honey and pollen and hoped for the best. The queen began to lay — and lay well — and by July I had her laying in a second deep (pulling up brood like I’ve demonstrated in this post). I’ve never given this colony sugar syrup, only frames of honey and pollen (from all the hives I lost over the winter to shrew predation). I added a moisture quilt full of wood chips when I added the second deep and kept the wood chips inside for extra warmth until about two weeks ago. I don’t know if I’ll get any honey from this colony — and I don’t care. I helped bring it back from brink of death. And look at it now. That’s what I call beekeeping.
AUGUST 06/15: I took a quick peek to see if the brood nest was being expanded to the third deep. It wasn’t. It isn’t. The bees are back filling the brood frames I pulled up with nectar. That’s normally a sign that the bees are getting crowded and the queen is honey bound — a potential swarm risk. But that’s not the case here. We’re at the time of year that a full brood nest stops expanding. The bees are shifting into honey making mode with the heavy nectar flow on the go. So I added a 4th deep to this hive today because the way they’re going at it now, they can easily fill it with honey, and my bees will be able to use all that honey in the winter.