Effectively Managing Space in the Brood Nest 

As we touched on in our previous Snippet, “Pollen and Nectar Stores in the Brood Nest”, bees are typically pretty good at managing their hive space effectively. But in some cases, especially in the brood nest, things can get a little congested and bees have some trouble solving the problem themselves.   

When pollen and nectar stores in the brood nest become too abundant and there isn’t enough space for the queen to lay, it can inhibit a colony’s growth and ability to produce brood as they’re meant to.   

Lack of space can also cause a colony’s risk of swarming to increase. Swarming later in the season can lower the chance that a swarm will survive, whether it’s in the wild or caught and re-hived by a beekeeper. Check out the learn more section below to find out more about managing hive capacity overall and inhibiting swarming behaviors.  

If that happens and your hive becomes “nectar-bound” or “pollen-bound”, it may be time to step in and help your bees to fix the problem.

Fixing a Nectar/Pollen Bound Hive  

Many of the steps you can take to fix a space problem in your brood nest involve rearranging the space they already have and giving them more real estate in which to lay eggs and store ample resources.   

  1. First, look through the brood nest’s frames. Focus your inspection on the middle-most frames, check to be sure there is enough space for the queen to lay eggs on the 5-6 frames in the center of the nest. How many frames of pollen and nectar do you see? A typical brood nest should have roughly 5-6 frames of brood, 1 full frame of pollen, and nectar filling the remaining frames.  
  2. Use your quick brood nest evaluation to assess queen status, brood pattern, and brood nest size. A queen-right colony with a robust queen should not allow for a food bound situation, since there are typically varying ages of brood present in most available spaces on frames in the brood nest.
    • The risk of a pollen/nectar-bound hive is greater when the queen is failing or lost, and brood rearing activity slows or stops. Bees then take advantage of the now empty comb by filling it with pollen and nectar stores instead.  
  3. Use your favorite beekeeping log method to take notes or take pictures of frames in the brood nest to ensure you remember what was inside. You can also use a free, printable resource like our collaborator Marta’s Beehive Inspection Checklist to easily make note of what’s on each frame and find helpful tips to keep an eye out for.  
  4. Once you’ve determined the specifics of what’s on frames in the brood nest, you’ll proceed with rearranging them in a way that provides more room for brood rearing. Inspect each frame in the brood nest carefully and remove any frames that are fully or mostly filled with nectar and/or pollen (and little to no brood).  
    • You can either move those frames up into a new deep brood box if the current box is full or remove them from the hive completely and replace them with empty frames. If you have frames with already drawn comb, they’re the best option as they give the queen space to lay immediately.   
  5. In addition to adding empty frames, adding additional brood boxes or supers can provide a nectar or pollen-bound hive with room for storage and for the queen to lay eggs.   

Keep the dreaded “honey ceiling” in mind when adding space in boxes or frames. Check out our recent Snippet here to learn more about what a honey ceiling is and how you can avoid it.   

Rotating Boxes

During certain circumstances, like in early spring after overwintering or when bees aren’t managing brood nest space very well, it can help to rotate boxes so that empty space is above the current brood nest frames. 

Since bees are naturally inclined to move up in a hive when searching for space to store resources or rear brood, even when there are empty boxes or frames below them, they may not be aware of their presence and won’t utilize that space.  

This happens often during early spring as bees have moved up inside the hive through the winter while eating through stores. If they started building brood inside the uppermost of two brood, often deep boxes, but aren’t using the empty one on the bottom (and no brood is there), move the empty one above the bottom box.   

No matter the time of year, box rotation should only be done if the brood nest is contained to just the one uppermost box, but two boxes are available. If the brood nest is split between two boxes, even partially, you should not rotate these boxes. 

Planning for Easier Future Brood Box Management

We’re often focused on how taking detailed notes about what’s happening in your beehive can help you in many aspects of beekeeping. Managing brood nest space and resources is certainly no different.  

If you use something to keep track of when pollen and nectar are steadily entering a hive at the same time as brood rearing is increasing, it can help you to stay prepared to help your bees manage in the future.   

Making notes on a calendar, like this awesome printable version, can be integral when looking back at how your bees and their brood nest space progressed throughout the season.   

Continued Monitoring

Whenever brood is present in a hive at the same time pollen and nectar are incoming, make sure that a part of your hive inspections always includes monitoring the brood nest and confirming bees have enough space. This will make assisting your bees’ brood box management much easier and better benefit the colony’s brood production, too.  

Learn More

We’ve compiled a few of our free resources related to managing pollen and nectar stores in your hive’s brood nest, as well as helping to prevent one issue that it may cause, swarming.   

Related PerfectBee Store Products

  • A Bettercomb Hive Inspection –  Bettercomb is a fully drawn comb made of food-grade synthetic wax. It’s a great option for adding more space to a hive quickly. Learn more from this article & video & if you find it might work in your hive(s), head to the PerfectBee Store to get yours today.   
  • Components –  Whether you hope to find new frames or foundations to replace frames with old, dark combs or extra boxes to give your bees space when they need it, you’ll find the hive components you need in the PerfectBee Store.   
  • Hive Management (Book) – If you’re seeking an in-depth guide to seasonal beehive management, look no further! This book is the perfect resource to help you work through many aspects of managing your hive and the frames in the brood nest.   
  • Honey Super Kit – The perfect way to get plenty of extra supers and frames all in one kit! Easily add storage to your hive with our super kit, for either 8 or 10-frame wooden Langstroth hives. Also available for Lyson and BeeMax Polystyrene hives.  
  • Beekeeper’s Problem Solver (Book) –  When certain problems in the bee yard arise it helps to have a handy reference close by that can give you a place to start finding solutions. The Beekeeper’s Problem Solver can help with over 100 common beekeeping problems.   

Colony Member Resources

Colony members, check out some of our PerfectBee Academy lessons that can help you dive deeper into knowledge about your honeybees’ brood nest & managing hive space.   

Member-Only Lessons:   

  • An Introduction to the Brood Nest – In addition to recognizing and noting what’s going on with the resources stored in the brood nest, knowing what else is happening can tell you a lot about the health of your colony. Find out more about the brood nest overall in this lesson.  
  • Inspecting and Understanding the Brood Pattern –   Learn more about the pattern of brood on frames in the brood nest with this detailed lesson.   
  • Why and How Bees Forage – This PerfectBee Academy lesson goes into all you need to know about why and how bees forage to find those much-needed resources and store them inside the hive (even if they store too much of them in the brood nest, sometimes!).    

Colony Forum Posts:  

In the Colony Forum, members often ask questions about how best to manage their hive, especially the brood box. Below are some notable discussion threads related to managing pollen and nectar stores and managing the brood box overall.   

  •  All honey——No brood! – Jay asks how to help his bees who are storing lots of honey but don’t have any brood. Could it be a space issue or a queen issue?    
  • Help bees built their own – Courtney experiences issues with bees building brood in supers and gets advice from Ambassador Ron about fixing the problem.   
  • Get the Queen to Move Down! –  Even long-time beekeepers experience trouble sometimes… in this thread, PerfectBee Ambassador Joe wonders how he can get the queen to use empty deep hive bodies for brood instead of the honey supers.  
  • Can it be “split time” already? –  Jay had a hive bursting at the seams with plenty of egg-laying activity and no room for egg laying. He asks if a split could help them manage things and gets some input.  
  • Rotating Hive Boxes –  Rotating hive bodies can help bees manage space in the brood box more effectively. Learn more from Ambassador Ron about how this might help in your bee yard, especially in early spring.   
  • Splitting frames of drawn comb –  Scott asks about sharing frames of resources and how to split them between two hives and gets some great advice.  
  • First Hive Inspection –  After his first hive inspection, Ed asked some excellent questions (and gets great input from Ambassador William) about what he’s seeing and what bees are doing inside the brood nest.   
  • 8 vs. 10 frame hive boxes –  Though not specific to pollen and nectar storage, Diana’s great question about the differences between 10 and 8-frame boxes provides an interesting discussion about hive capacity and the pros and cons of each option.  

Are you not yet a Colony member but want to learn more about bees and beekeeping by connecting with a community of kind and friendly folks looking to do the same? Consider joining our Colony community to access awesome learning resources (like our Academy syllabus) and find opportunities (like our Colony Forum or monthly Cluster events) to discuss beekeeping and get support from other members. Learn more about all that’s available with membership here.