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Managing Single Story Hives

By: James Elam

Beekeeping popularity among hobbyists is at an all-time high. One of the greatest barriers to some beekeepers is the necessity to repeatedly lift heavy boxes. A deep brood box full of bees, brood and honey should weigh about 80 lbs. A deep honey super is likely to weigh 70 – 90 lbs. The elimination of even a single brood box may be the difference between “I physically can’t do this” to “I can see myself doing this.” Single deep box management absolutely offers the opportunity to control the physical lifting aspects inherent to beekeeping.

Along with limiting the weight to a single brood box, this method of beekeeping offers additional advantages that make life easier for the beekeeper and maybe even for the bees.

  • Effective mite control is more easily attained as testing and treatments are primarily confined to a single box. And an added bonus, less cost for treatments, as most require you to double the dosing for each brood box.
  • Hive inspections of the brood nest are easier as is finding the queen when necessary.
  • Single brood box management tends to tame or minimize the power in numbers equation common to defensive hives. The larger the colony population the more likely it is to self-organize in a potentially extremely defensive behavior (J Millor 1999)

Honey bees have the remarkable ability to adapt to the nest size available by expanding and/or contracting populations as required for survival. 

When populations exceed cavity capacity, something must change. Feral colonies can manage populations through swarming. Beekeepers can also enact change through population manipulation, space expansion and the division of assets (splits).

 A key factor for keeping bees in a single deep is to focus on space. Space constraints are what cause swarms, but space doesn’t have to be “brood space.”

Bear in mind, a queen cannot lay in more cells than there are available in any single brood chamber hive. But the amount of bees present can take up much more room than a single hive body has available.

Consider: A single deep brood frame has approximately 3500 cells per side (7000 per frame). Multiply that by 10 (10 frame brood box) = 70,000 (+/-) opportunities for emerging/living bees.

 A queen can lay on average 1500 eggs per day which emerge in 21 days for a total brood cell occupation of 31,500 or roughly only half of the cells available. 

The remaining balance of 30,000 cells can now be used for brood foods and or additional brood space if required. The 50 /50 ratio allows for a revolving door of over 30,000 cells for the queen lay in as required during buildup and peak season.


There is enough brood space in a single deep for a queen to lay effectively and efficiently. Where the space constraints come in, are from the working bees and resources!

Solution without adding a second deep – Add a honey super (preferably with drawn comb.) It is imperative you use a queen excluder between the deep brood box and the honey super for this system to work. The queen must stay in the bottom box.

Adding the super early in the population growth season will supply the bees with more room to move around, feeling less crowded and open up space for the queen to move freely (limiting a swarm sequence.) 

In turn, workers will continue bringing in resources but instead of putting them in the brood box, they deposit most of it in the super as the pantry for the nest. Supers act as an extension of resources. They will move those resources back and forth as they are needed. Now that the super is an extension of the “nest” (notice I didn’t say brood nest), honey will be stored above leaving more space for bees and brood and the bottom box.

Managing your Single-Story Hive

  • Continue adding supers as the season progresses allowing them to store plenty of honey for themselves and for honey production to be extracted.
  • At the end of nectar flow remove all but 1 honey super. Remember, the first honey super is their food and additional living space.
  • Feed after extraction to encourage the bees to store in any open cavities in the single brood box as the population peaks and ultimately declines as the season progresses.
  • Overwinter with a super if there aren’t enough stores in the single brood box.

Splits and Frame Manipulation

Part of keeping single story hives is taking advantage of the growing resources (including bees) in your hive. Beekeepers that keep single deeps tend to have more bee hives due to the fact that they have the bees to continue to grow their apiary. Each single deep has the opportunity to make at least another hive each population growth season, if not several.

Sharing frames from hive to hive is part of a healthy apiary. For a single-story hive beekeeper, it is more often used as a balancing act than a boosting for another colony. Keep a regular check and good records on each hive in your yard. As one out grows another, pulling a frame (or trading frames) helps manage and equalize all the hives.

From beginning to end, single brood box management is possible for those who enjoy managing and regularly going into their bees.  

While the process details are best implemented by experienced beekeepers with a clear understanding of bee biology and best management practices, all can enjoy the benefits of this method of beekeeping.

James Elam

Did You Know?

   In a traditional hive set up – a strong colony can produce up to 100 pounds of harvestable honey per year. But, considering unexpected factors, on average you can expect 30 – 60 pounds per hive.

Factors that can affect the yield:

  • Weather conditions
  • Hive location
  • Presence of pests and diseases
  • Competition from other colonies
  • Beekeeper management skills




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