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Brood Frame Morphology - What does it look like now?

As a first year beekeeper, I have thrown myself into blogs, chats, and printed books on basics in beekeeping. One thing that struck me is that what a brood frame looks like in early spring is not what it will look like in the fall or winter. Having devoured several texts on basic beekeeping, I noticed the “classic” photograph of a Langstroth frame has brood in the middle surrounded by pollen and then capped honey. Nice classic picture we have all seen. But as I have been faithful to perform regular and thorough checks on my two hives (Milan and Zyppah) I have noticed consistent changes through the season.

Here in Nebraska it is the end of August. Fall is just around the corner and as best I can tell we are still in a nectar dearth at the moment. The bottom brood boxes are incredibly light weight. There is little in the way of brood cells now. There are very large stores of pollen but barely any honey. The top brood box has brood cells in the center surrounded by honey. The weight is dropping and the number of brood cells also declining.

Yes both are queen right. All stages of new life present. But the main point I am bringing up as a new beekeeper is that the frame morphology (what they look like) is very different from May. In fact, they are very different than just 2 weeks ago when the top brood box was full of honey in my Milan colony. Now, I had no difficulty lifting the box. Milan has been my over achiever group. Their numbers are so large I always thought Zyppah was a weak colony. Zyppah, however, due to smaller numbers has a lot of honey stored in the top brood box while the army living in Milan has drained its stores up top in 2 weeks. The shear numbers in the Milan colony may be its undoing. Too many mouths to feed.

So…experienced bee keepers (hint hint Dawn) through the seasons Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, what would you expect the frame morphology to be as the hive evolves? Thoughts beyond the classic picture in the dadant book of a late spring frame. What would the frames look like as the hive prepares for winter? Do experienced beekeepers see differences in storage patterns from lower brood box to upper brood box?

I know this is a bit wordy but I didn’t see a similar topic covering changes in frames over time so I thought this might be a good educational thread.

Ok you seasoned pros…go for it…and thanks in advance.


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Ah Don, you rattled my cage. :smile:

That is a typical mid to late nectar flow image. The rest of the year is different… :wink:

I don’t know what kind of bees you have, but my Italians do that too. They will fill the box beyond reason with pollen, but the honey is lacking. You really need to feed them. They will starve if you don’t. I suggest @Michael_Bush’s 5:3 sugar to water syrup. It is not quite 2:1, but it dissolves better, and the bees don’t care.

That is normal, but the winter bees still need enough to eat, and they need to pack it away ASAP if you are using liquid feed. If you are going to use candy or solid sugar, you have a bit more time.

As you describe, except I like to see increasing capped supplies in the brood box, lowering capped brood, and about 2-3 frames of pollen in a double deep 8-frame hive. Michael will have more sophisticated ideas, I am sure, but that would work for my hives.

My hives vary a bit, probably depending on what kind of frames I gave them when I set them up (new, drawn, old brood etc). My best hive has a whole upper 8-frame deep of capped honey (all new frames). The lower box is about 3 frames of brood, 1 frame of pollen and the rest a mix of capped and uncapped honey.

My oldest hive has about 2 frames of brood in the upper box, with mostly uncapped honey in the rest. The lower box has about 4 frames of pollen, 1.5 frames of brood and the rest capped and uncapped honey.

The youngest hive has about 2.5 frames of uncapped brood in the lower box, 1 frame or less of pollen and the rest mostly uncapped honey, with 3 frames only partially drawn.

So, like in medicine, it is complicated… :smile:


Dawn thank you so much! :sunglasses:

For those reading this…I did not tell her I had posted this but I think Dawn has a post on almost every thread so if I gave my title something scientific and used big words like morphology…she’d find it. :laughing:

OK…this is excellent information for newer bee keepers for a lot of reasons.

  1. It reminds us that what we see during nectar flow will change as the year progresses.
  2. A lot of blogs and published books do talk about feeding in late fall if stores are not sufficient. But in this case I need to start feeding NOW and fall hasn’t started yet.
  3. Dawn was dead on right. I have Italians. And this makes an excellent learning point for me. As a first year (hey I like the medical analogy so should I call myself a B1?) when having two hives, I assumed that the Zyppah colony was a weak hive and Milan was normal. As it turns out, the shear size of my Milan colony is so large they have eaten themselves out of house and home. In fact, when I harvested, I got more honey out of the weaker colony and far less out of my prolific colony for the reasons noted above. Now that creates an interesting dilemma. Which colony has the strength to survive a Nebraska winter? The larger or smaller? Well…I’ll let you all know next spring.
  4. Frame morphology DOES change. Yes…the Italians have packed pollen into the frames of the lower brood box. The upper brood box has a frame appearance similar to classic text books except there just isn’t much of anything…brood, pollen, or capped honey.

Now…I was a little confused about your link for food and the ratio. I know about 2:1 but where are you finding a 5:3? Is that prepackaged? I only ask because I feel like I have spent many hours in the kitchen mixing sugar. I need to buy stock in C&H as there was a lot of feeding earlier this year and now it looks like I will be back at it by early fall.

Monitoring…I have followed your recommendations and I have my Arnia set on order. I’d love it tomorrow of course but it probably won’t arrive until October. I’ll have to move fast slipping the leads into the hive as to not drop internal temperatures much but I think I can do that.

For those reading this thread Dawn has a great post on Arnia hive monitoring and as a scientist type I really like the data feeds coming out of a hive. The scale itself will be invaluable for my first winter.

Well I hope this thread is helpful to other B1s. Thanks Dawn!


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It is the concentration of syrup that @Michael_Bush makes up when he feeds. If you have hard water, you may find it difficult to dissolve 2 parts of sugar in one part of water. However, 5 parts of sugar in 3 parts of water is much easier. I believe that Michael also adds Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) powder to take the pH of the syrup to around 4. Apparently it is helpful for the bees too.

Thank you for the feedback. :blush:

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September 10 Update - (In Nebraska we are in a dry spell and the weather is cooling)

As a first year if I can pick a single thing of all the pearls of wisdom people have given me this first season, probably the single best one is…start with two hives (or at least more than one). Comparison observation has provided more learning than spending hours sifting through the internet for answers.

Hooray for Stinky Feet!
So…what does it look like now? Well both hives smell like stinky bad foot odor. Ok…both hives. Hmm AFB in both? Nope, look in my yard, completely full of blooming goldenrod. Hive inspection between my two hives Milan and Zyppah radically different but both perfectly healthy.

Zyppah, my laid back taking the summer off Italians. Bottom brood box pollen and dwindling but present brood. Top brood box - couldn’t lift it if I wanted to. Individual frames of solid capped honey across the board. What did it look like a month ago? It looked like the classic picture out of a text book with brood surrounded by pollen surrounded by some honey.

Milan, my overeager mafioso Italians. There were so many of them I gave them a third brood box to play with two weeks ago. I harvested and we shortly went into a dearth so I feared giving them a new brood box with frames that had NO comb would pull precious resources from winterization plans. So for Milan, they go some food to help. Third (top brood box) completely framed with comb and filled with nectar. (They did this in two weeks) Middle brood box and bottom brood boxes, more similar to Zyppah.

What’s different? Location of the brood nucleus. One queen favors the center (for today) while the other is working periphery (for now).

Why is this important for a first year? The point is things change. Your hive is dynamic. The pictures give a single static snapshot at the moment in time it was taken. There is a good thread in this forum on temperature probe placement for those who monitor their hives. I don’t have that equipment but the nugget of information if you read past where to put the probe is that the brood nucleus moves.

This means that as we have discussions about if a queen is honey bound or if frames need to be moved, stacked, or whatever, we might need to rethink or consider the time of the season as part of the decision making process. If I had followed some advice pertaining to where my Queen in my Milan hive was laying I would have been chasing her all summer long. As it turns out…she seemed to know what she was doing all along (and textbook normal is not what it was).

Pest Management
SHB - only one or two in my traps so either didn’t work or really didn’t have a large problem.

Varroa - Didn’t have much luck with the Apiguard. Found maybe a dozen mites stuck below the screen Followed the advice of those who advocate heated oxalic acid. Wow is that effective. Hundreds of dead mites now readily visible and I didn’t think I had a problem. Treatment is easy and I didn’t have to pry the ApiGuard that had been glued, sealed, and nailed into place with propolis by the bees.

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Very nice report, thanks Don. Hope all is going well with you - it sounds like your bees are being well cared-for. :blush:

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I was just in the middle of sending you a direct with some pics. Give me ten.


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Sept 29th Update with a fun twist.

I posted on the mite varrox issue under another thread. But in this thread I had been commenting on what frames look like and how bees react differently at different times of the year. As a scientist, a picture may be worth a thousand words but is meaningless if it doesn’t have identifiers such as date, time, season, etc. Without it, a picture is meaningless. So to that end here is what you need to know about the next two photos. In Nebraska we are now just early fall. Images were taken mid morning. What is interesting is that I had heard that bees in a three brood box setup tend to spread out a little. It appears that is indeed the case. My two brood box hive is holding out in the upper brood box at the moment.

And one last fun pic. This one is interesting to me because there are three bees in the photo. The two on the right spent the night outdoors while the one on the left just got back from a run. Not hard to see who has a better core temp.


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October 18 Inspection.

It is amazing how much you learn in a short time. My wife and I started our beekeeping class at the local college. We have Italians. We learned from the local expert that in our region of the country Italians don’t winter as well as other subspecies options. They continue to lay brood well into the fall resulting in large colony numbers. The large colony count results in the Italians eating themselves out of house and home. This is exactly what we noticed. We have been having to feed them to keep their stores up. In our locale, people who have Italians and are serious about beekeeping apparently send them south for the winter. Wow…and I thought only retired snow birds do that!

I am happy to report both colonies are finally taking the Fall hint and have stopped laying. Brood count is negligible. Both colonies have done nicely storing up food in the top brood box leaving room for hanging out underneath.

Nucleus location remains consistent to each hive respectively. My two brood box hive tends to cluster at the lower end of the upper brood box. The three brood box colony spreads out across the middle brood box (the top is packed with honey).

I received my Arnia monitors installed. The three brood box colony weighs in at 85kg! I don’t know if this is correct but that’s more than a lot of guys I know!

I will cross post a question thought about oxalic acid and a late fall bloodless treatment and ask how that affects the monitors installed inside the hive.

My point in posting this entire thread for those of us who are new is simply this…locale and time of year changes what the frames look like. For first year bee keepers we should be mindful of this if we have questions and concerns and post them looking for answers or clarification.

I would even suggest that if questions come up, the thread should include your locale, time of year or season, and maybe even what type of bees you have…food for thought.

Happy Fall!!!

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Mine is only 2 boxes, plus a slatted rack. I would say that there are about 5 frames of brood, the rest is a mix of capped and uncapped honey/pollen. Each box is 80-90% full. Today’s weight is 38.5kg:

The reason for the step down on the 14th was that we removed the feeder bucket to refill it. I then discovered that we were out of sugar, so I haven’t replaced it yet. :blush:

An 8-frame deep box, packed full of capped honey, should weigh around 25 to 30kg, so it sounds like your hive has plenty of stores for winter! :wink:

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