Improving Honey Bee Survival and long-term Sustainability in Indiana by Using Three Deep Brood Boxes vs. Traditional Two Deep Boxes

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,771.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Steven Lesniak
Peace Bees, LLC

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: general animal production

    Proposal summary:

    Colony Collapse Disorder continues to decimate the honey bee population in the United States with no definitive solution in sight. Our goal is to challenge traditional beekeeping methods and mimic the environment of feral colonies found in our area to show minimal human intervention provides more sustainable honey bees.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The number of producing honey bee colonies in the United States has decreased from 5.9 million bee hives in 1948 down to 2.5 million in 2013. (USDA ARS) “Since 2006 an estimated 10 million bee hives at an approximate current value of $200 each have been lost and the total replacement cost of $2 billion dollars has been borne by the beekeepers alone (J. Frazier, unpublished).” (USDA October 2012)

    Honey bees contribute to one third of our food supply and approximately $20 billion to our economy. It is vital that we find a solution to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) or a new way of keeping bees in order to insure their sustainability. The USDA states that research is focusing on four general areas as a cause for CCD: Pathogens, Parasites, Management Practices and Environmental. Furthermore, studies have found no consistent pattern in pesticides found in healthy vs. CCD-affected colonies. Of those tested, the most common pesticides found were Coumaphos used to treat Varroa mites and neonicotiniods used in crop treatments. In our own beekeeping operations, we have observed feral colonies during cutouts in farmhouses and barns that are strong, long lived, and able to cope with mites and pathogens. Most of these were located on or directly adjacent to farmland planted with crops using neonicotinoid pesticides, specifically commercial seed corn. We have also found that we are experiencing far less winter loss than the national average and the local Michiana Beekeepers Association. The commonalities between our beekeeping methods verses the others is that we do not treat or feed our colonies. A third item is that we keep larger colonies, usually three deep brood boxes vs. two deep brood boxes.

    Our hypothesis is keeping larger colonies; three deep brood boxes vs. two deep brood boxes will provide sustainable colonies with high production potential while providing numerous opportunities for splitting and growing colony numbers. These larger colonies will have the ability to better maintain food stores and not require supplemental feeding to survive. Having sufficient winter stores will allow the colonies to build brood earlier in the spring than other colonies and take advantage of early spring nectar flows. We also believe these colonies will be healthier than their sugar fed counterparts and better tolerate and manage mites, hive beetles and pesticide exposure in the environment. These larger, healthier colonies will have the ability to produce larger and more frequent honey harvests.

    The basics of our test will be to compare three deep systems vs. two deep systems over the period of 22 months. We will start with 15 splits building half up to three deeps and half up to two deeps. We will also start 5 packages building half up to three deep and half up to two deep. All colonies will receive minimal management of frames to ensure consistent comb draw. None of the colonies will be given any supplemental feeding (sugar syrup, HFCS or pollen patties). None of the colonies will have box reversals to stimulate the queen movement within the hive. None of the colonies will have queen excluders and all will use solid bottom boards. All colonies will be given as many supers (6 5/8 boxes) as they will draw and fill once they have reached their designated two or three deeps. All colonies will be checked and honey supers extracted as needed in June, July, August and October. No honey will be removed from deep (9 5/8) boxes after April. All colonies will receive an insulation box on top with top entrance and 15lbs felt wrap for the winter.


    We currently have several far-reaching avenues to communicate our activities in place and plan to expand during the project. Current activities are posted to,, @Peace_Bees (Twitter), and These outlets currently reach over 1,500 individuals in more than 50 countries. We will also share our results with hundreds of members in each of Michiana Beekeepers Association, Indiana Beekeepers Association and Indiana State Beekeepers Association. There are also the publications of American Bee Journal and Bee Culture should they be willing to publish our articles. We also have access to Randy Oliver, who has shown interest in our current work. Other opportunities to present our findings will come at the various community events we participate in such as Ag Days, Earth Day, Growing Summit, Chicago Green Festival and beekeeping classes offered through Peace Bees and The Unity Gardens. We have also been asked to present at various group meetings and anticipate this will increase when our findings become known.

    Previous Research

    To the best of our knowledge, no one has done any research on the benefits of three deep, no-feed honey bee systems as a way to combat CCD. The current research is focused on Pathogens, Parasites, and Pesticides. There has been work done regarding management practices such as stressing bees by transportation and monoculture food resources because of pollination services. We have found work that suggests that high doses of sugar syrup turn off the gene responsible for Vitellogenin production (Amdam 2004). Vitellogenin being a yolk precursor and vital in the development of healthy honey bees (Oliver 2007). Previous SARE projects that relate but are quite different are Harris, Harris and Holden (FS11-252) studied various dilutions of sucrose and HFCS; Paslawsky and Ostiguy (FNE12-752) looked at a fabricated feed that included honey. We believe our research takes a unique approach, which more closely simulates feral colonies. The advantages of larger brood space, more frequent harvests and no supplemental feed will allow the bees to do what they do best and be more sustainable than common methods.


    Measurements – pounds of honey harvested, mite counts, number of brood frames, dates and number of harvests, winter survival rates, Infrared monitoring of colony for size and location within the hive, photographs and videos. All data collected will be kept in Hive Tracks online database ( ) to insure security of the data and accessibility. Hive Tracks (HT) allows the recording of General items such as date and time, queen sighting -- is she marked or not, eggs capped and uncapped brood. HT automatically records, time, date and weather conditions. Hive Conditions include temperament, population, queen cells, laying pattern, and equipment type and condition.

    Disease and Treatment section records problems and treatments but we will not be treating. Feeding and Food Stores will be used to track honey stores and again we will not feed. All sections of the application offer the ability to record freeform notes where we will be able to track general thoughts, comments not directly available. Hive Tracks allows printing of QR Code sheets for easy hive identification as well as To-Do List to track upcoming activities. Monthly mite counts, brood frame counts and honey harvests will all be kept in Hive Tracks. We also intend to make use of photographs and HD Video to supplement our record keeping by adding visuals to the data. Date and Time stamps of images will be kept in sync with the data. We will also make use of the photographs and video in our presentation, Facebook and website posts. The use of an Infrared (IR) camera will allow us to monitor the size of colonies, location within the hive and movement without opening and disturbing the bees, specifically in the winter. It has been a long practice to reverse hive bodies in the spring, as many keepers believe it is the only way to move the queen down to the empty bottom box. It is our belief that properly managed colonies will move the queen down on their own as a natural activity. The IR camera will document our belief and add to our data that minimal management is best for colony sustainability. Through the use of all of our data collection methods we intend to show that when properly managed, given sufficient space and not adulterated with artificial feed and chemicals, honey bees will: produce more honey than other colonies, be more prolific allowing colony count via splitting, be more resistant to mites, pathogens and environmental chemicals. All of which leads to sustainable honey bee colonies contrary to the current commercial decline due to CCD.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.