At the 2019 National Honey Show, I was with a group of senior beekeepers having coffee and discussing how beekeeping was getting harder the older one became. None of us wanted to use polystyrene which although lighter is so bad for the environment. Some suggested using only one brood box, changing to a WBC hive (more work but not so heavy), and then Professor Robert Pickard put forward his idea of partitioning the brood box into two halves, writes John Chapple from Acton, London.

Would the queen go on both sides of the partitioned box? Robert assured us she would, so I tried a partitioned brood box last year.

The bees did not seem to know there was a division board between them. This year on opening the hive, all the bees were in one half and had fared well, so I now have the confidence to convert more boxes.

As I did not have a saw bench to cut used National boxes in half, I bought a new brood box in kit form, cut the relevant pieces in half and used marine ply as the other ends (see photos). The clamps in the photos are necessary only at the start. Once the bees start to work the boxes, they seal the joints perfectly.

As well as tackling the weight issue, the partitioned boxes make swarm management simple – just separate the two halves. The queen will be in one of them and the other will raise new queens. I‘d like to hear if anyone else has success.

I would like to thank Professor Pickard for all his encouragement over the years in giving non-academic beekeepers the benefit of his ideas.

Professor Robert Pickard adds: I have used National brood half boxes for two to three years to reduce the heavy lifting involved in beekeeping. I made up 12 boxes as a trial. They work well and are very convenient for dividing a double-brood-box colony into four nuclei of five or six frames each.

When assembling a hive with empty boxes, I clamp the half boxes in pairs so that they can be handled in the same way as conventional brood boxes. The half boxes (and frames) can be set at right angles to the ones below, so that the stack is locked together like a pile of bricks. That facilitates a quick, modular response to unexpected events.

I have had no overwintering losses with them. The important thing is to make sure that they are built accurately, true and square. This then allows smooth interchangeability, which is their main function. Warped half boxes would cause problems.

Many beekeepers divide whole boxes with a partition board to create two nuclei that can share heat. The half boxes provide management flexibility with less need to move individual frames and probably do less damage to the bees themselves.

April 2021

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