Pollen and Nectar Stores in the Brood Nest

Especially in the spring and summer months, paying close attention to what’s happening inside your honeybee hive’s brood nest is crucial to knowing what’s going right, and possibly wrong, with your colony.  

There are huge benefits to effectively managing your colony’s brood nest and beehive’s brood boxes. Brood boxes (these are often the deeper hive bodies but read on to learn more about that) are meant for bees to use to store BROOD, at least that’s what should be in 70% of your brood boxes, anyway.  

In some cases, bees will decide to utilize a little bit too much space for pollen and nectar stores in the brood nest. When that happens, a beekeeper should know when it may be time to step in and help them effectively manage the space they have for resources and rearing brood.  

Hive Sizing

When researching what you should see and the number of resource frames in your hive’s brood nest, don’t forget to consider the type of hive setup you’re using. Many guides and resources on managing the brood nest are geared toward the setup beekeepers most often use, Langstroth sized hives that have either 10 frames (most common) or 8 frames.  

Some beekeepers might use uncommon setups like horizontal hives or Warre hives. Even less common but gaining popularity, some Langstroth beekeepers opt not to use any deep hive bodies at all for their brood nests as they can get so heavy. Instead, their setups use 3 medium hive bodies in place of 1 standard Langstroth deep hive body.  

In this Snippet, the guidelines covered are based on standard Langstroth-sized hives. You may want to adjust guidelines slightly as necessary based on your hive setup if it’s different. 

What’s the “Norm”?  

In a standard Langstroth-sized hive, the following are rough guidelines of what resources your colony should have per box in the brood nest:  

  • 1-2 full deep frames full of honey/nectar – This doesn’t necessarily mean full frames of honey or nectar; you should add full frames of nectar/honey in the brood box together with any smaller portions of brood frames that may have honey or nectar to determine roughly how many full frames of nectar there are.  
    • For example, the photo below is a frame taken from a nuc’s brood nest. There are developing brood cells in a large semicircle at the bottom of the frame, a small ring of stored pollen cells around the brood, and honey at the top and corners of the frame. This frame would be considered to have between 1/3 and ½ of a frame full of honey. If there are 3 frames with honey like this, that would be about 1 full frame of honey.  
image 1
  • 1 full deep frame of pollen – Just as you would with nectar, add together smaller portions of brood frames with stored pollen to any full frames of stored pollen in the brood nest to get your estimate.  

Excess Pollen and Nectar Storage in the Brood Nest 

As mentioned above, a beekeeper hopes that bees use the offered hive bodies at the bottom of the hive stack for brood, not for storing full frames of pollen and/or nectar. But sometimes bees will do what they want to, even if it ultimately may make things more difficult for both you and them.  

Check for frames inside the brood nest that might be pollen or nectar-bound. Think about the honey ceiling, and how that ceiling may prevent bees from using any empty space above for storing nectar, instead of in frames in the brood nest.  

You should consider any cells with fully capped honey as “unavailable” space for bees, except in the case of emergency (like during the winter months). Bees can’t use this space for brood during times when the queen is actively laying, but without other open space to store the nectar above the brood nest, they feel the need to keep it there in case of a dire need. 

Stored pollen falls under the same category as stored nectar, it’s “dead space” in terms of bees being able to use it for brood-rearing or something else, except that, unlike nectar, bees cannot move pollen to another location to make space for eggs.

When bees store too much pollen and/or nectar in their hive but don’t leave enough space for the queen to lay, it is referred to as being “pollen or nectar bound” and can cause swarming activities to begin and keep the colony from growing as it should.  

Pay Close Attention to Hives with Queen Issues

Although bees will normally manage brood space naturally since the queen uses empty cells for eggs first, an imbalance with stored food sources can happen if there is no queen, or if she is present but not laying and there is a strong pollen and/or nectar flow on.

If you have been unsure whether or not a colony is queenright, be sure to still pay close attention to the resource storage in the brood nest. You want to ensure they leave enough space for a new queen to lay eggs quickly, whether the colony is raising a new one on its own or you’re purchasing an already mated queen that’s ready to start laying.

A colony inside a hive that becomes pollen or nectar-bound in the brood nest and has queen issues that lead to a brood break can delay the colony’s growth and possibly lead to swarming or absconding activity.

Add Empty Frames/Supers 

Read through our other PerfectBee Snippet, “Effectively Managing Space in the Brood Nest” for more details on doing this, but in short… if there are too many frames packed with pollen and/or nectar in the brood nest of your hive, switch them out for empty ones. Adding empty frames (with drawn comb, if you have it), gives the queen space to lay eggs, quickly, and allows workers to maintain normal resource storage and brood rearing activities.  

Pay close attention and keep detailed records of what happens on frames in the brood nest throughout the season to stay ahead of helping your hive manage their brood nest space in the future. 

Learn More

We’ve compiled a few of our free resources related to pollen and nectar stores in your hive’s brood nest, as well as 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

Member-Only Lessons:  

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.  

  • 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 nest and boxes. Below are some notable discussion threads Colony members have started related to managing pollen and nectar stores and 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 build 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 got great input from Ambassador William) about what he was seeing and what bees were 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 and our experienced PerfectBee Ambassadors. Learn more about all that’s available with membership here.