3 Deeps = Overwintering Success?

8 Mar

She's heavy up top.

Despite being one of the coldest winters on record in Albuquerque (20° below, anyone?), we had our best beekeeping winter yet. 3 out of our 5 hives survived and those that survived all shared a single characteristic: We left 3 deep boxes full of honey and pollen for the girls.

Commercial beeks would likely gasp at our profligacy — how wanton! how wasteful! Why not dose up the hives with chemicals and sugar water and get that honey on the market? Giddyup.

But those who’ve read the studies coming out of University of Minnesota for the past 20 years are probably nodding their heads already. In a 1988 study, researchers Sugden at al.,came to the following conclusion:

Highest winter survival occured in colonies wintered in three brood chambers. There were no significant differences found between [the various types of insulation studied.]

p. 844 in The Hive and The Honey Bee

Thusly our girls survived Albuquerque’s Coldmageddon and we’re hoping it hints at a honey-filled summer ahead.


10 Responses to “3 Deeps = Overwintering Success?”

  1. karcuri13 March 8, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    My hive was 5 medium supers going into the winter months, and the girls came through great. Austin wasn’t as cold as Albuquerque, but I agree with you. I’d rather have happy healthy bees than a few more pounds of honey.

    • mistress beek March 8, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

      Hey Karl, nice to hear from you. So 5 mediums, huh? Sounds like a winning formula to me.

      For us, it doesn’t really matter when we harvest the honey. If leaving it on in the winter ensures a hive strong enough to gather more in the spring, we’ll end up with honey overload either way.

      Congrats, btw, on your first-ever sting 😉

  2. Dean March 8, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    Besides, you can always harvest again in the spring and that winter seasoned honey is the best!

  3. mistress beek March 9, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    Folks on beesource.com have also pointed me to this long-time proponent of 3-deep fall management:


    “We have used a 3 deep brood box method of beekeeping for approx 15 years and while it sounds expensive on equipment, it has other savings worth much more than a brood box. We haven’t had to feed sugar to our bees since the change over to 3 boxes, a massive saving on cost and time. It is now 12 years since our last swarm, and our honey crop each year is staggering, average last year of 215 lbs, and apart from putting three old queens into winter last year, which we shouldn’t have done but wanted to save their genetics, we haven’t lost a hive to winter kill for the last 19 years. ”

    “The best advice we can offer. Move to 3 box brood nests, practice regular queen replacement, use frame manipulation to help the bees, and finally keep an open brood area to maintain big hives.”

  4. Doug & Shirley Cooper March 15, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    what is the reason for putting an extra super on top of the three? Did some of the bees move in there before you split them?

    • mistress beek March 15, 2011 at 10:26 am #

      Hello Doug & Shirley,

      We gave them the extra super as a bit of swarm prevention because they’re already an extremely strong hive but it’s too cold to split them yet.

  5. Anna September 8, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    I’ve only been at this since June 2011, but after all the reading I did preparing for the bees, I had planned to leave a medium in addition to the 2 deeps for them to overwinter on. I hope it works, from what I’ve read and heard, 2 deeps just doesn’t seem like enough but I don’t have the practical experience…yet.

  6. Robert February 27, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    Could I run 3 boxes full time for the bees but leave a queen excluder between the second and third? That way providing plenty of stores for the hive during winter, but keeping brood rearing down to two boxes?

    • Steve June 15, 2015 at 6:08 pm #

      I know this is an old thread but I wanted to post a reply to this question to anyone who came across it in a search. I would not leave an excluder on in the winter, no matter what. Bees tend to move up in the winter and the cluster may move up through the excluder leaving the queen (who can’t get through) behind to freeze.


  1. How I winterize my bee hives « mistress beek - November 21, 2011

    […] Go into winter strong: If a hive is weak, I’ll combine it with another before November using the newspaper method. If I only have one hive, I’ll combine with another bee friend. If none of the above work, then I’ll feed sugar syrup for October and November. And I DEFINITELY overwinter with 3 deeps. See my earlier post for details on overwintering with 3 deep boxes. […]

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