Two-queen hive: a simple method for increasing honey production

The two-queen hive is a beekeeping management method that many beekeepers around the world use with excellent results. With the same number of hives, they achieve much larger bee populations and honey yields that, in many cases, quadruple the average production.
The double-queen method we propose is not complex, but it requires attention and a thorough knowledge of the environment, climatology and flowering. If applied with care, it can give excellent results at a very low cost. We explain what the double queen hive method is all about.

1- Why use the double queen method?

Every beekeeper in the world wants to get more honey in each hive. And one smart way to do this is to use the two-queen or two queens per hive method. This is a relatively simple way to fully exploit the potential of bees, developing super hives that can produce much more honey in the same amount of time.

Nature teaches us that a hive is capable of producing a certain amount of honey in a certain amount of time. All things being equal, two hives will produce more or less the same amount. So why is it worth working with two queens? It is very simple: a hive with two queens produces much more honey than a hive with one queen. This is due to the so-called Farrar rule, according to which honey production increases exponentially with the number of bees in a colony.

2 – What is Farrar’s rule in beekeeping?

Farrar’s rule is a principle well known to beekeepers. It states that as the population of bees in a hive increases, so does the honey production that each bee is capable of producing. Or, to put it another way: twice as many bees will not produce twice as much honey, but they will be able to accumulate much more.

This feature of hives was described in 1937 by the American entomologist Clarence L. Farrar. His observations showed that there is a very striking synergy in hives as the population increases. The more workers in a hive, the more are engaged in foraging, that is, collecting pollen and honey.

Farrar found that a hive of 30,000 bees produces 1.36 times more honey than two hives of 15,000. Therefore, the increase in honey generated by the population to production ratio is not exactly geometric, but significantly greater.

Farrar also understood that the production capacity is equal to the square of the population weight, and in this way he was able to calculate the amount of honey a hive is capable of producing under favorable terrain and weather conditions: 50,000 bees can generate the square of their weight, and since they weigh 5 kg, they will produce 5×5=25 kilograms of honey. And 10,000 more bees, for a total of 60,000, will produce 36 kilograms.

The researcher was able to show that this is because as the hive becomes more populated, it can allocate many more bees to foraging tasks because there are enough bees inside to take care of the larvae. The ratio of workers to larvae drops to one worker to one larva, whereas in small populations each worker has to care for two larvae, so the indoor work is intensive and there are fewer bees available for foraging.

Applying this rule, it is easy to understand that a hive will produce much more if it has many more bees. And, to have more bees, it is better to have two queens.

3 – How is the two-queen hive method done? The super hive

So, if we need to have a lot of bees, the best thing to do is to have a super colony or a super hive, both in terms of population and space. Space is easy, just stack the hives. But how do you multiply the number of bees? A queen has a laying rate of usually no more than 2,500 eggs per day, and it takes a lot more to generate the population volume to trigger the harvest. To achieve this, the double queen hive method is used.

This method is relatively simple, but at the same time demanding. It requires the beekeeper to be very careful in choosing the right time and, above all, to have a good knowledge of the melliferous potential of his working area. He must also have a thorough knowledge of the weather.

To implement this method, you need two strong, growing colonies with high quality, well-laying queens. The goal is to unite them, so that the two queens live together in one large family.

One of the colonies will serve as a base hive and will remain in its original location. Another will be moved from its location (preferably from another apiary at least three kilometers away to prevent the bees from returning to their original location).

This relocated hive is placed on top of the other, but with the entrance facing the opposite direction. Between the two – one without a roof and the other without a floor – a double screen is placed, so that odors, pheromones, and sounds flow between the two brood chambers, but without the workers and queens fighting.

The double hive will be formed according to the characteristics of the climate and flowering. The goal is for the two colonies to merge into one super colony two weeks before the start of flowering. The process should therefore start about two months before the nectar flow reaches its peak.

During these two months, the beekeeper will provide the double hive of two queens with a stimulating (liquid) feed. The beekeeper will also make sure that the two hives are equally developed, by balancing the number of frames between the two boxes.

Two weeks before flowering begins, the colonies will be merged. One queen will be removed and used to make a nuc or replace a defective queen in another hive.

The other queen will be left owning the entire super hive and confined to the lower hive with a queen excluder above it. Above the excluder is the other hive, on which the empty supers are stacked.

At this point, the super hive will have up to 17 or 18 frames, and a queen that will continue to lay eggs in the hive. More importantly, it will have a considerable number of bees that will quickly emerge into the field. As the brood decreases, because there is only one queen laying, more and more bees are released to work outside. Applying Farrar’s rule, these bees will produce much more honey than those in a hive that has had only one queen.

This is a method designed to bring a colony to its maximum production potential at the right time: when the field offers more nectar and pollen. It is therefore essential for the beekeeper to know the best time on his territory, what climate awaits him and at what precise moment he must take each step.

4 – Main advantages of working with two queen hives?

As we have seen, the method is not complicated, but it requires a lot of attention not to fail. In any case, if it goes wrong, you will simply have a hive with a high population that arrives late to flowering. The damage is not very serious and you will only have to move one queen.

However, if done properly, it has some notable advantages:

Much more honey

Honey production increases dramatically.

Less equipment

By working with double queens, fewer hives can be managed, which means savings in equipment and overhaul time.

Exploiting the nectar flow

Having such strong hives means that the honey possibilities of an area can be exploited to the full.

Conversion to two hives

Once the big bloom is over, and in order to overwinter or to exploit the small bloom, the super hive can be dismantled and converted into two hives, taking advantage of its large population and distributing the brood. One hive will keep the queen and in the other a mated or virgin queen will be added. These two hives can be managed in the same way as the elaborate nucs, without changing hives.