Palmerized Bee Hives

Palmerized bee hives?  Is this where you ask if I am writing about a new breed of honey bee?  Or perhaps you are thumbing through a supplier catalog and can’t find the Palmerized bee hive in the equipment section? Ok, let me explain a management technique that Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey wrote about decades ago but has only gained acceptance through the sustainable apiary teachings of Michael Palmer of Vermont.

So, you installed a package or nuc, maybe several, or even dozens back in April.  You may have even completed spring increase through splits.  Well we all know those efforts aren’t always rewarded for some reason – lets blame bad queens for now since they seem to be an easy scapegoat.  What do most beekeepers do to strengthen those slower colonies?  Right, take brood frames from strong colonies and “equalize” them.  That certainly is one solution, but you will find that Palmerized bee hives may be a better course of action.

Palmerized Hives - Spiral Horn Apiary

Let me talk about Palmerized bee hives as a solution.  I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with Mike Palmer back in January at the American Beekeeping Federation annual convention in Hershey, PA.  He told me that he didn’t invent the management technique but finally came to understand what Brother Adam wrote about in his book.  Mike now runs over 700 hives and 1,000 nucs (Palmerized bee hives) using a sustainable apiary model guided by Brother Adam .

Those of us robbing out frames of brood from strong hives in order to build up slower hives have “equalized” all hives for easier management.  What we have done though is weaken a strong hive, thereby reducing its overall potential for honey production.  We want loads of bees in a hive in order to make loads of honey.  Mediocre hives don’t produce excess honey.  Medium strength hives often don’t produce excess honey.  So why reduce the strength of your hives?  Well, you don’t have to, just use Palmerized bee hives to become a self-sustaining apiary.

Palmerizing (our industry has pinned this management technique’s name on Mike whether he likes it or not) is nothing more than creating summer splits, or nucs, requeening those nucs, and using equipment configurations that will allow you to over-winter them successfully.  The Palmerized bee hives can be used as brood factories to support queen rearing; further strengthen honey production colonies; replace failed queens in production colonies; replace dead-outs the following spring; or even split them again in the spring.

Using a standard ten frame Langstroth hive body, we have added a divider in the middle, separating the hive body into two separate nucleus chambers.  The bottom board has a divider glued/stapled in place to completely isolate the bees between the two nucleus chambers.  Separate entrances are maintained fore and aft.  We made custom second story nuc boxes (the supplier catalog nucs are too wide), and custom inner covers to support syrup jars.

Our nucleus chambers can hold four frames very comfortably.  To establish the Palmerized bee hive, we create splits of two frames of capped brood, 1 frame of pollen, 1 frame of honey from our under-performing hives the first week of June.  We add new queens to the Palmerized bee hives, and feed syrup through an inner cover with two holes, one serves as a vent, the other holds the jar.  We cover this with either another ten frame standard box and telescoping cover or two separate nuc boxes with a telescoping cover.

As the brood nest expands into the second box and feeding is required, we continue to use the inner covers and syrup jars while stacking boxes.  If feeding is not required, simply tape 1/8 inch hardware cloth over the second hole for additional venting.  Note that the entrances of the two Palmerized bee hives are opposite from each other.

Palmerized bee hives will continue to build quickly.  Maintain a good inspection schedule to prevent swarming and don’t forget to test / treat for varroa mites!

By |2017-01-02T06:50:05-05:00June 24th, 2013|25 Comments

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25 Comments

  1. Charles Thomas February 9, 2014 at 9:18 pm - Reply

    Would like to find out the dimensions of Mike Palmer double Nuc hives, my bee club is trying to establish a sustainable apiary within the club and use it to teach new and old beekeepers the technique.

    How thick is the divider board in the ten frame deep box? ½ or 3/4 inch thick.
    Also what are the dimensions of the four frame super boxes? Or do you have a set of plains that you could send me.

    Thanks
    Charles Thomas

    • Mark Hedley February 10, 2014 at 8:10 am - Reply

      Charles,

      We use a standard 1x board (3/4 inch) for the divider. The 10 frame box is a standard langstroth 10 frame box you can get from any of the bee supply houses. Ours came from Mann Lake Ltd. The width of the nuc boxes that go on top are 8 1/8 inches wide. A standard “Nuc” box is too wide for 2 to sit side by side on top of that 10 frame. As all manufacturers may be slightly different, make sure you measure your 10 frame to ensure the 8 1/8″ width measurement is correct for your 10 frame. I don’t have a plan drawn up on this that I could send you.

    • Dewayne Florian April 30, 2017 at 10:23 pm - Reply

      It is 5/4″ which comes out to be 1 1/8″ milled thick divider that you would purchase at any lumber yard. That is what Mike Palmer has said during one of his talks.

      • Mark Hedley May 1, 2017 at 6:19 am - Reply

        Dewayne, We used standard 1x lumber. So the divider is 3/4 inch. The divider on your bottom board should be the same width too.

  2. Roy Vaughan May 22, 2014 at 9:31 am - Reply

    Palmerized beehives are actually from the work of Kirk Webster. Kirk tried for years to introduce Mike Palmer to overwintering nucs. If you want to learn more about the method and treatment free beekeeping, Kirk Webster is the person to go to.

  3. george ruble Maple hill honey August 31, 2014 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    I have been raising bees for 6 years and queens for 4. I would like to know how many hives I could realistically manage alone. I am really good at it and enjoy beekeeping, especially raising queens. Thanks, George

    • Mark Hedley September 1, 2014 at 6:28 am - Reply

      George,
      Everybody has different physical abilities and time constraints so I don’t think there is a hard and fast method. In the commercial beekeeping, at a steady state, 600-700 hives per person in a crew is not an uncommon expectation for managing hives. Every situation is different.

  4. mike November 30, 2014 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    In the 10 frame box with the divider in is that 4 frames per side or 5 frames per side?

  5. Mark LaBar December 31, 2014 at 6:36 am - Reply

    Can splits for nucs be made later in the year? Say mid July?

    • Mark Hedley December 31, 2014 at 6:53 am - Reply

      Yes, and we do. We build them up on 1:1 and MegaBee fed in liquid form (see their website for instructions) and they get to two levels in the split 10 frames by fall and winter over great. As soon as they get to about 60% in the second box we continue with MegaBee in patty form then begin to phase it out if we have good pollen coming in (Sept-ish).

  6. RickyRay January 1, 2015 at 9:08 am - Reply

    Thanks to all that offer there time to respond. Does the off set between the center divider of the 10 frame hive box and 2 nucs on top matter ? And I have wondered why larger bee keepers never talk of swarm traps for those times you miss a cell.

    • Mark Hedley January 1, 2015 at 9:14 am - Reply

      If you mean the space on top of the divider that the two nuc boxes rest on, I can say that the normal 3/4 width of a standard 1x board works pretty well. Offers plenty of support for the two nuc boxes to rest on (next to each other) but most importantly, it also serves as a stop for the two hives from combining. The divider needs to act as a continuation of the hive separator.

      lots of good swarm traps/lures out there if you are into catching them.

  7. Sean Pessarra May 17, 2015 at 11:32 pm - Reply

    Mark,

    Do you divide the hive in its original location (don’t relocate to split)? Do you notice that field bees will equalize themselves between the now two separated hives. Finally, how long do you wait before introducing a new queen? I would think if the field bees hadn’t figured out that there are not two different hives, they would try and kill the introduced queen. I am in Houston. We are experiencing a good flow now that will hopefully last until the end of June. I plan on Palmerizing/splitting my hives and feeding through the darth of July and August until the fall nectar flow from September to November, when the bees will gather winter stores.

    • Mark Hedley May 18, 2015 at 12:09 pm - Reply

      We relocate all the splits now to a central yard where we can feed them all in one place for efficiency. It is at least a mile, and in most cases, much farther from the original yards.

      We wait about 2-3 days before introducing the new queens. We split our hives in late April/early may, and then again after the first harvest in late July. We also feed them up so they build up nicely through October and over winter very well.

  8. Russell August 14, 2015 at 5:26 am - Reply

    Hi,

    I’m curious if Palmer and some of the people leading the industry are breeding several breeds/ types of bees or just sticking to one or two? (I’ve already seen a lot of people say breed doesn’t matter that much compared to just having good management and I’m ok with that. I wouldn’t change but it’s interesting to find out whats out there.)

    Just very curious. Like today I was reading about AMM bees but you almost never see any literature mention them…and then you find out the world isn’t really flat its round!

    • Mark Hedley August 15, 2015 at 6:23 am - Reply

      Russell, folks I talk to pretty much are in the one or two range. Couple good management with species or hybrids that do well in your region should be a recipe for success. Varroa mites are a problem in the US, and if you don’t treat or deal with them, no matter how good your management (other than Varroa) practices, or species (including VSH), you will have bees that don’t survive.

  9. Gert Kronkvist November 23, 2015 at 11:44 am - Reply

    Thanks for an interesting site. Mike Palmer gives me a lot of inspiration and for the moment I’m building hives like Mikes’. Several years ago I lucky to visit Buckfast Abbey and work with Brother Adam and Peter Donovan for some weeks. In my part of Sweden lots of beekeeper use descendants of the bees we got from Buckfast Abbey in the 80’s and 90’s
    My question:
    What type of bees do Mike use? I think the climate in Vermont is like what we have in in south Sweden.

    • Mark Hedley November 24, 2015 at 7:32 am - Reply

      Gert, I bet that was an awesome visit to the Abbey and working with Brother Adam and Peter Donovan.

      I am not sure what kind of bees Mike uses. May be worth a call to him. Google him to find contact info. I don’t think he emails much.

  10. Ian July 14, 2016 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    I’ve overwintered my red nek mongrel open mated bees in four frame nucs at 1200 feet in central vt….I try not to get too worked up over bloodline as long as they are angry,productinve and are from overwintered, local strains…I make them up in mid July and feed til goldenrod…have used 4,5,and 6 framers,double deeps and there’s usually a little honey in there come spring..I try to make as many as I have gear kicking around for…have fun and experiment!

    • Josh January 1, 2017 at 11:08 pm - Reply

      Can this be done with 8frame equipment?

      • Mark Hedley January 2, 2017 at 6:33 am - Reply

        Josh, The divided deep is a 10 frame box to allow for 4 frames with good spacing in each nuc. You could use an 8 frame box with a divider, your nucs would just be smaller – perhaps 3 frames.

  11. Ames February 9, 2017 at 8:08 am - Reply

    I have shied away from part of this (Better Bee) equipment method for the following reason. Living in central Maine, winter can be brutal. Feeding the mother hives is a necessity, not an option for over wintering.
    If I have a split 10 frame 2 nuc with a feeding shim or 2nd box and inner cover and outer cover on top of a two story hive with a feeding shim and a screen to let air up to the nucs and out….how do I get into the mother hive below without toppling everything over? Or exposing it all to drafts while I undo everything to get to the lower hive?
    I may not see 50’s for 4 months at a time and cannot see the benefit of nuks stacked over hives opposed to a well protected and fed nuc farm in its own area. This way I can monitor and feed everyone with ease.
    Thoughts?

    • Mark Hedley February 12, 2017 at 5:55 pm - Reply

      Ames, glad I don’t have the snow issues you have. I am sure that Mike Palmer faces some of the same challenges in Vermont. We just had him in Texas at our annual convention.

      The second box you see on the “mother hive” is normally filled with honey before going into winter so we don’t go into them until Feb or so. We peek on some warm days. Handling doesn’t seem to be a challenge for us, we turn the box on it side and set it down if we need 2 hands. I don’t find the bees having issues with cold – as long as we don’t take frames out. Temps are a bit different here though. May want to visit with Mike to see how he manages it in Vermont.

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