June 2019 Introduction: The original post from 2015 was incredibly long and detailed and I obviously had too much time on my hands. Thanks to social media platforms such as Facebook, Murray, my goldfish, has a greater attention span than most people flicking through their phones these days. It’s not in our bones to slow down and read anything carefully anymore. To hell with poetry! Give me a meme! In that spirit of progress, I present to you a lovely digestible little ditty called, “What is this pyramiding business, anyway?”
This is a hive packed with bees…
…so many bees that they’ve run out of space in the hive and it’s time to add another box (i.e., a deep super or a hive body) so the colony has room to grow. But sometimes the queen won’t expand the brood nest into the new box because the workers fill it with honey instead, which can cause the queen to become honey bound (trapped in by honey with nowhere to lay), which can then trigger a swarm, not something most beekeepers want.
A little trick called pyramiding is the solution to that possible problem.
A simple explanation of pyramiding is pulling up two or three frames of brood into the new box, preferably in the middle surrounded by drawn comb. 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.
This is usually only done with a hive that’s overflowing with bees and brood. The brood frames more or less create a pyramid inside the hive when it’s all done: 2 or 3 frames of brood in the top box; 4 or 5 frames in the next box; and even more brood in the bottom box if we’re talking about a 3-deep hive.
But whether adding a second deep to a single-deep hive or a third deep to a 2-deep hive, the idea is the same: Put some brood in the middle of the new box to entice the workers and the queen to expand the brood nest upwards. It can also help relieve congestion (crowded bees) in the lower box, which again helps reduce the chances of swarming.
In Newfoundland, this is usually done during the prime swarming season which begins around the summer solstice and carries on well into July and August.
As usual, I stole most of this from Honey Bee Suite where you’ll see that true pyramiding involves splitting up frames of brood in the lower box, alternating frames of brood with new frames. I don’t often do that part of it because the east coast of Newfoundland where I live is prone to unexpected bone-chilling cold spells at any time in the summer which can do damage to the brood nest if it’s split apart. So I’m cautious with that aspect of pyramiding in my particular cold climate.
June 2019 Postscript: This leads to another hot topic in beekeeping: maintaining the integrity of the brood nest. If I have to choose between splitting up the brood nest with alternating empty frames or having my colony swarm on me, I’ll split up the brood nest any day. I suspect much of my early successes in beekeeping, mainly building up giant colonies that didn’t swarm on me, were due in large part to splitting up the brood nest with empty frames at crucial stages in colony development. But like I said, that’s another topic for another day.