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Rivers of Honey 06/01/22

Rivers of Honey 06/01/22

Rivers of Honey: Keeping Bees in Doubled Hives and Two-Queen Colonies

A talk and presentation by Alan Wade and Dannielle Harden of Canberra Region Beekeepers

This talk was by Zoom, courtesy of Somerset Beekeepers, and included an invitation to West Dorset Beekeepers, our usual partners for the January meeting. Approximately 190 participants attended the meeting.

Dannielle and Alan must have been up bright and early to join the Zoom meeting at 7pm in the UK. They live in Ngunnawal County, a region traditionally occupied by aborigines for thousands of years. They gratefully acknowledge the privilege of sharing their bountiful eucalypt landscape.
Alan started by pointing out that there is nothing new about two queen systems. Some names from the past in the UK include George Wells (1892), Cruadh, Medicus, and J.M. Ellis (1921). In the USA, E.W. Alexander, Robert Banker, Floyd Moeller, and John Hogg. Other well-known names are Clayton Farrah and Tom Seeley. (Search the web for more information)

The generally accepted benefits of running hives with two queens are:

  • More bees = more honey
  • More queen pheromone = less swarming
  • Colonies are never likely to become hopelessly queenless

The downside of hives with two queens:

  • Dearth and swarming leads to 2Q going to 1Q. For example, if one queen swarms then the bees will tear down the queen cell as there is already a queen present.
  • Colonies can be tough to manage. Two queen hives can get very large and cumbersome to manipulate.
  • The timing of the build-up and extraction is challenging. Large numbers of bees left in the hives when the flow stops will result in them eating the crop!
At this point Alan went back to beekeeping basics to emphasise bee preferences in the wild. Through the work of Seeley and Morse and more recently Seeley (2010), we know that bees prefer a 40lit cavity in a hollow tree with a 15cm² entrance, usually near the base of the cavity. This leads to the brood at the bottom of the cavity with the stores above. Thus, the colony can migrate upwards during the winter to stay in contact with their food store.
For successful two queen colonies the cavity size should be at least double the single queen cavity size. The colony characteristics should mirror a well-managed single queen colony with the emphasis on young queens, bees locally adapted to flora and climate, minimal pests and disease, plus a well-insulated environment.

How it all started

Dannielle described how she moved into the two-queen scenario. At the time, she was only allowed one hive in the tiny back yard of her rented home, so she put two hives, one on top of the other, and combined them with appropriate queen excluders. Alan had read ‘The Hive and the Honey Bee’ and started running eight 2Q hives in the late 80’s resulting in a tonne of honey harvest.

The types of hive

Dannielle and Alan made a distinction between ‘doubled’ hives and ‘two queen’ hives. With the aid of diagrams Dannielle championed the modern ‘doubled’ hive setup and operation with Alan following on with the ‘two queen’ scenario.

Dannielle’s doubled hives

This requires a two-stage setup and operation:

  • Overwinter pairs of hives
  • In spring, place queen excluders above the brood boxes and add shared supers. Use nuc box lids to cover the sides of the brood boxes. The bees will soon propolise these and make everything water tight.

There are many variations on this theme. You can read all about the history and development of doubled hives in Alan’s book (Wade 2021). The following diagrams show historic doubled hive overwintering setups.

Alan’s two-queen hives

These are established annually with:

  • Initial setup phase
  • Build-up and harvest phase
  • Late season decommissioning phase

This setup is referred to as a consolidated brood nest.
Again, there are numerous hive configurations and techniques for introducing the second queen. There is even a method for creating a side-by-side two-queen colony in a long hive with flow frames in the centre and the queens at either end. Some alternative two-queen hive configurations are shown below.

CBN = Consolidated Brood Nest.
Our thanks to Dannielle and Alan for a comprehensive talk on multiple-queen colony management.


Wade (2021) – A History of Keeping and Managing Doubled and Two-Queen Hives – ISBN: 9781914934162.
Seeley (2010) – Honeybee Democracy – ISBN: 9780691147215