Understanding Brood Boxes
Purpose of a Brood Box
A brood box serves as the primary living space for the queen bee, as well as the area where she lays her eggs and where the brood develops. It also houses the worker bees and storage of pollen and nectar.
The size of the brood box will vary according to the type of hive you choose. Even with Langstroth-type hives, some beekeepers prefer 8-frame hive boxes to the typical 10-frame hives. Some beekeepers choose medium deeps for all their hive boxes, while others use a deep brood box with longer frames.
For those with horizontal hives, the brood area can be separated from the honey storage area with an excluder, though most people don’t use excluders. In that case, the brood area is as large as you want or as large as the bees choose to make it.
Factors Affecting the Time for Bees to Fill a Brood Box
Now, let’s discuss the factors affecting comb building and colony productivity, including bee genetics, queen bee health, colony size, weather conditions, and food availability.
Different bee races have specific behaviors that affect their rate of productivity. Some sub-species, like Italian bees, are known for building huge colonies, making them popular with honey producers. Most of the bees available now are a mix of several subspecies, but you can find a breeder whose bees have the dominant traits you are looking for.
Bees that build large colonies require more attention during the winter because they need more supplementary food to keep the colony alive. They are also prone to robbing. As a beekeeper, be vigilant about keeping them well fed during dearths.
Queen Bee Health
A healthy queen bee is the main ingredient needed to grow a colony. If she’s in good form, she can lay up to 3000 eggs a day during the nectar flow. That means that from 21 days after she lays those 3000 eggs, thousands of workers emerge daily, foraging, nursing, and building. A queen unable to fulfill her laying duties will slow the colony’s progress.
Commercial beekeepers replace queens annually, or at least every 2 years to keep productivity up. As a hobbyist, you don’t need to do it that often. Inspecting the brood at least twice a month is enough to look and see if the brood pattern is consistent with a healthy queen. If not, you may need to cull the existing queen and replace her.
Larger colonies will naturally fill a brood box faster than smaller or newly established colonies. As the colony size grows, so too does its productivity, thereby speeding up the process of filling the brood box.
Weather plays a significant role in the time it takes for bees to fill a brood box. Warm, calm days encourage bees to forage and bring back resources to build up honeycombs. On the other hand, cold, rainy, or windy weather can discourage bees from foraging and slow down honeycomb production.
Availability of Forage
The availability of nearby food sources, such as flowers and plants producing nectar and pollen, can affect how quickly bees fill a brood box. Abundant forage resources allow bees to efficiently bring back nectar and pollen, promoting honeycomb production and colony growth.
Availability of Drawn Comb
When giving the hive a box with a new foundation, the process may take longer as the bees need to build wax too. Some beekeepers report that drawing the comb out onto the new foundation takes about a week.
If there are frames that were already drawn out, the bees don’t need to expend energy building new comb, so they fill up those brood boxes quickly. That’s why colonies swarm at the beginning of spring. The bees that overwintered successfully start by collecting pollen as soon as it’s available, and the queen begins to lay even before the snow has melted. Since they don’t need to construct new comb, they find themselves overcrowded early in the season and instinctively need to split.
Observing and Assessing Brood Box Progress
When to Inspect the Brood Box
It’s crucial to regularly inspect the brood box to monitor the colony’s growth and wellbeing. As a general guideline, perform inspections every 7-10 days. Schedule your inspections on warm, sunny days, preferably in the late morning or early afternoon, when most foragers are out of the hive, is advisable.
Signs of a Healthy, Filling Brood Box
Maintaining a healthy brood box is about more than just speed. Optimal brood pattern, capped brood, honey and pollen stores, and a visible, productive queen are all essential indicators of a thriving colony.
Carefully observe the following inspecting the brood box:
- Brood Pattern: A consistent brood pattern with few gaps implies a healthy, productive queen.
- Capped Brood: Look for capped worker and drone brood cells, indicating successful development and emerging bees.
- Honey & Pollen Stores: Adequate amounts of honey and pollen stored around the brood help maintain the colony’s nutrition and health.
- Queen Presence: Spot the queen or confirm her productivity by identifying fresh eggs and larvae in the cells.
By closely monitoring the brood box’s progress and identifying potential issues early on, you can ensure the most favorable conditions for your bee colony._
Expanding the Hive and Adding Supers
As a bee colony grows, it needs supers to accommodate the increasing population and honey production.
Adding a first honey super to the beehive is done when the brood box is about 75% full of drawn comb, as it provides additional space for bees to store honey and prevents overcrowding. The exact time to add a super depends on factors such as colony strength and season. Adding supers too early can frustrate the beekeeper because the bees seemingly refuse to move into them. Waiting too long can cause overcrowding and swarming.
The size of the super you choose depends on what is comfortable for you. Although deep supers provide a lot of space for the bees to work, they are heavy and strenuous on the back come harvest time. Many beekeepers use only medium supers for that reason, but the bees will work with whatever you give them.
The time it takes for bees to fill a brood box depends on various factors, including the strength of the colony, the availability of resources, and the time of the year. New beekeepers should be patient, as a healthy hive on a good nectar flow can quickly fill frames, but this process may take longer during different times of the year or in varying environmental conditions. It’s crucial to monitor the growth of the bee colony and ensure that they have sufficient resources to thrive.