Bee Buzz Box October 2020 A History of Two-Queen Hives Part III – Commercial two-queen hive operations

Walton's classic 1974 study comparing performance of commercial single and two-queen colonies; brood nest setup

Alan Wade

Many advances in the operation of two-queen hives were made in the post war years including those made by Holzberleini(1953-1955), Millerii (1953), Latif and coworkersiii (1955-1960), and Haydak and Dietziv (1967).

Commercial two-queen hive apiaries

The net result of this experimentation was the development of commercial two-queen operations that greatly increased honey production. However the schemes were so fiendishly complex to operate that – except in the hands of exceptionally competent beekeepers – they were widely deemed too complex be worth bothering with.

By the late 1960s apiarists such as Robert Banker and Don Peer were operating very large apiaries based on Farrar’s two-queen system. Bankerv operated 1500-1600 two-queen hives with an additional 1000-1200 packages and divisions, a remarkable operation. In a very sophisticated and highly nuanced system he was able to maintain all production two-queen colonies at maximum strength throughout honey flows, while also averting swarming.

Banker made dead-of-winter preparations to ensure that absolutely everything was ready for the bee season. By early spring he commenced building strong double brood colonies, first lifting brood and reversing lower brood chambers to ensure he had strong colonies prior to dividing them to establish an extra queen.

The timing of introducing new caged queens to the top unit was critical to the process of maximising colony strength. It ensured that the bees had 6-7 weeks to build to extremely strong colonies headed by two queens ready at the commencement of the fist honey flow. A defining feature of Banker’s operation was contingency for every condition, ensuring starting queens were performing satisfactorily, strengthening colonies with brood, feeding bees sugar and pollen in the buildup phase, conducting rigorous brood disease checks and ensuring all bees were at optimal strength both at the commencement and right through the honey flow.

Banker employed ten frame gear throughout, full depth supers for brood chambers and shallows for honey supers, the latter for ease of handling and removal of the crop (Figure 1).

Robert Banker’s and Don Peer’s systems represented the apogee of development of two-queen hives as best understood in the 1960s and 1970s. Eva Cranevi reports on two large scale apiary two-queen enterprises, Don Peer’s on the Saskatchewan River and that of Mr and Mrs Warren at Babe’s Honey Farm on Vancouver Island in Canada, using package bees. Of Dr Peer’s operationvii she reported:

Don Peer uses two-queen colonies on Dr Farrar’s system … He gets 2-lb. packages about 23rd April, and uses two per hive, the division board between them being later replaced by a queen excluder. By 23rd June or so the 16 000 bees in the two packages have produced 70 000 or 80 000; by July there are
90 000 or 100 000 in each hive. A thousand or more hives, in apiaries of 25- 35, are spread over an area perhaps 50×30 miles, parts of which are also used by other beekeepers.

Pointedly Eva Crane also noted:

Don Peer left his career in bee research several years ago, because he could get a much higher income by producing honey.

Figure 1 Banker system for operation of two-queen colonies for ten-frame shallow super operation: OQ = old queen: NQ = new queen; ds = double screen; x = excluder; e = entrance:
(a) a strong double is built early in season using good previous season queen (OQ) or replacement queen if she is not performing optimally;
(b) the double brood nest is reversed with roughly three frames of brood with adhering bees moved above an excluder to draw nurse bees up. Shortly thereafter the excluder is replaced with a double screen and a new queen is introduced and established in the upper unit. The lower unit is supered above the lower double brood chamber – and below the double screen – to allow expansion of the lower colony to avoid swarming;
(c) the two-queen unit is further supered on a rotating super basis during honey flow; and
(d) the brood and super chambers are rearranged towards end of the honey flow to allow supersedure of the lower old queenviii and finally returned to the double super condition (d → a) for overwintering.

Note the older queen may survive though this is probably less common and very occasionally both queens may be lost. Note also that the system is operated with a double full depth brood chamber for the lower queen and a single full depth brood box for the upper queen. With most brood occupying the respective brood full depth brood chambers, the queens are never restricted in their egg-laying capacity. The operation employs regular reversal of the lower double brood chamber to further enhance egg laying.

At the same time during the 1970s, New Zealander Waltonix, working with apiarist Dudley Ward, conducted a large study comparing the performance of single-queen and two-queen hives. In their trial, strong double colonies were reversed then supered to facilitate expansion and to more evenly distribute brood and stores. The single-queen hives were operated in the normal way employing a double brood box. For the two-queen setup, a subsequent split was employed to establish the second queen, a mailing cage queen being introduced above a double screen. After 4-6 weeks the double screen was replaced with a queen excluder, each queen occupying a double brood chamber. Subsequent restriction of the upper queen to a single brood chamber was employed to encourage honey production as a tradeoff for loss of some worker bee production (Figure 2).

The enduring legacy of Walton’s study was that of clearly demonstrating the superior honey gathering performance of two-queen colonies.

Figure 2 Walton system for operation of two-queen colonies: ds = double screen; x = excluder; e = entrance:
(a) a strong double is built early in season employing strong overwintered hive with an old queen (OQ);
(b) the double brood nest is reversed and supered;
(c) a two-queen unit is established by introducing new queen above a double screen;
(d) the colony is united by replacing double screen by an excluder at the commencement of honey flow; and
(e) the excluder is removed towards the end of honey flow and to allow supersedure of the old queen.
Note: Supers are progressively removed at the tail of the flow returning the hive to a strong double for overwintering (e → a).

A postscript on doubled hives

Before moving on to the ultimate development of two-queen hives, those soon to be developed by Moeller and Hogg, it is worth reflecting on recent developments of the doubled hive, pairs (or multiples) of single queen hives sharing common honey supers.

The remarkable ease in the setup of doubled hives for honey flows and their simple deconstruction for overwintering signals a need for their wider adoption by small-scale operators. While they lack the ultimate potential of colonies with two queens acting synergistically to optimise raising of worker bees, doubled hives are nevertheless a simple means to an end, increasing productivity.

Between 2015 and 2016, Ray Naborsx and Bill Hesbachxi – in North America – and by Bernhardt Heuvelxii in 2013 – in Europe – popularised the novel doubled hive (horizontal so-called two-queen) system. These systems were by no means original: we can best attribute that to the 1892xiii finding of George Wells that we touched on in Part I. Eva Cranexiv cites such colonies, containing six queens, in a commercial operation in Western Australia in 1967. The well-known study by Duff and Furgalaxv also refers to the same system of horizontal two-queen hivesxvi while Garcia appears to have been familiar with such setupsxvii. An attempt to patent the general design of multiple-queened hives seems, in retrospect, to be preposterousxviii.

Doubled hives comprise side-by-side single-queen brood boxes, closely abutted to allow common honey supering above an excluder (Figure 3). This setup lends structural stability to the whole system and provides side-by-side access to the separate brood chambers. However, while the shared honey supers allows conventional crop removal and standard honey supering, neither brood nest benefits from the warmth generated by a sister brood nest nor from shared brood raising and effective sharing of queen pheromones. As in the original Farrar setup, the brood nests operate more or less independently.

Figure 3 Doubled hive 14 September 2020, Kambah ACT:
(a) juxtaposed brood nests, centrally located queen excluder spanning both brood nests, central riser shim with notched flight entrance and flanking covers for lateral brood frames. Newspaper is used to prepare colony for uniting: and
(b) colony supered for mid-spring and subsequent honey flows.
Photo: Alan Wade

Nabors and Hesbach describe many practical measures, for example providing design details for non standard covers to cover side brood frames and the use of a small strip of thin masonite or linoleum to bridge the joint between the brood boxes. This barrier averts the risk of migration of queens between the brood chambers. They also discussed the merits and drawbacks of the horizontal system, particularly noting that honey supers can be managed in much the same way as they would be in an overly strong single-queen colony.

The key advantage of the horizontal doubled hive is that each brood box can be periodically inspected to check that each is performing satisfactorily and is not honey bound. All this can be achieved without having to remove honey supers and having to take special precautions to ensure that the integrity of the second brood nest in a conventional two-queen hive is not compromised. The double hive system employs standard hive gear throughout though Hesbach sensibly screws the brood boxes together to lend lateral stability to the whole system.

Nabors reviews the main findings of two-queen colony operation reported by Farrar, Peer, Walton and Moeller concluding that two-queen colonies greatly increase honey production and details the different operational styles of two-queen hives.

In reflecting on myriad complications arising out of the operation colonies containing two queens, Hesbach notes that:

…two-queen systems [have] almost always [been] configured vertically but have since been configured in both vertical and horizontal systems; and

…vertical systems are upright stacks with one brood chamber on the bottom board followed by honey supers, a queen excluder, and another queen-right brood chamber on top.

While these conclusions ignore the consolidated brood nest findings of two-queen systems formulated by John Hogg and Floyd Moeller, their double hive setup and operation is extremely simple and requires – apart from ensuring queens do not migrate to their sister brood nests – little or no specialist expertise. Doubled hives are simply split near the end of the main honey flow and overwintered as paired strong single-queen hives, that is ready to be operated in the same manner once both hives need supering the following spring.

In a further refinement of their system, one that Canberra Region Beekeepers have been experimenting with for several years, Heuvel records a local professional beekeeper employing a jumbo bottom brood super with a central vertical excluder, queens to each side, claiming it produces more honey and less work than the Farrar-style two-queen set up. This configuration certainly avoids honey being stored in the upper brood chamber, but there are, nevertheless downsides. These include the upper brood nest not benefitting from the rising warmth of the lower chamber and the use of a non-standard oversized lower double brood chamber. His system and our modifications to it were reported on recentlyxix.

van Engelsdorp, Gebauer and Underwoodxx experimented with horizontal (doubled) colonies into which they placed frames of drone comb. By regularly introducing then removing and freezing capped drone brood on a rotating basis, they achieved some measure of control of Varroa. They evaluated levels of mite control by counting mites trapped by sticky mats comparing their findings with similarly operated single-queen hives.

Stoner and coworkersxxi investigated the relative honey storage performance of single-queen and [so-called] two-queen hives in a cotton growing area where bees were affected by pesticides. Their doubled colonies marginally outperformed single-queen counterparts, repeated field losses clearly masking the potential benefits of running a second queen and limiting the benefit of operating hives with that second queen.

In the concluding Part IV we will focus on the extraordinary development of hives operating with two queens laying into a common consolidated brood nest. Such hives are supered and operated in the same way as a conventional single-queen hive. Pioneered by Floyd Moeller, the scheme was refined by John Hogg in the latter part of the 20th Century and adapted to improve the age old art of producing section comb honey.


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Holzberlein, J.W. (1953). Getting started with two-queen management. American Bee Journal 93(3):114-115. Cited by Forster, I.W. (1972). Requeening honey bee colonies without dequeening. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 15(2):413-419.
and by Moeller, F.E. (1976). Two queen system of honeybee colony management. Production Research Report 161, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, 15pp., Washington DC 20402.
Holzberlein, J.W. (1954). Another way to start two-queen management. American Bee Journal 94:131-132.
Holzberlein, J.W. (1955). Some whys and hows of two-queen management. Gleanings in Bee Culture 83(6):344-347. Cited by Darchen, R. and Lensky, Y. (1963). Quelques problèmes soulevés par la création de sociétés polygynes d’abeilles. Insectes Sociaux 10(4):337-357.

iiMiller, L.F. (1953). Crop insurance with two queens. American Bee Journal 93(3):113-117. Cited by Moeller (1976) loc. cit.

iiiLatif, A. and Hussain, M. (1955). Double-queen colonies of Apis indica F. at Sialkot. Proceedings of the 7th Pakistan Scientific Conference, Pakistan.
Latif, A., Qayyum, A. and ul Haq, M. (1956a). Two-queen system in bee-hives of Apis indica F. at Lyallpur. in Proceedings of the 7th Pakistan Scientific Conference, Pakistan.
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Latif, A., Qayyum, A. and ul Haq, M. (1960). Multiple and two-queen colonies of Apis indica F.. Bee World 41(8):201-209.
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ivHaydak, M.H. and Dietz, A. (1967). Two-queen colonies, requeening and increase. American Bee Journal 107(5):171-172. Cited by Forster (1972) loc. cit. and by Butz, V.M. and Dietz, A. (1994). The mechanism of queen elimination in two-queen honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) colonies. [Nouvelles Observations Sur Les Abeilles]. Journal of Apicultural Research 33(2):87-94. and by Wallrebenstein (1958). My contribution to the multiple-queen system (Mein beitrag, um mermutterverfahren). XVII International Beekeeping Congress, Bologna-Roma, pp.277-286.

vBanker, R. (1968). A two-queen method used in commercial operations. American Bee Journal 108(5):180-182. Republished as Banker R. (1968). A two-queen method used in commercial operations. Apiacta 2:1-4.
Banker, R. (1979). Part B. Two-queen colony management in The Hive and the Honey Bee, Dadant & Sons, Hamilton, Illinois, Chapter XII, pp.404-410, 412.
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viCrane, E. (1966). Canadian bee journey. Bee World 47:(4):132-148. https://doi:org/10.1080/0005772X.1966.11097123 Online at

viiPeer, D.F. (1965). Two-queen management with package bees. Bee-Lines 21: 3-7. Cited by Crane (1966), pp.137-138, 145-146. and by Butz and Dietz (1994) loc. cit.
Peer, D.F. (1969). Two-queen management with package colonies. American Bee Journal 109:88-89. Cited by Valle, A.G.G., Guzmán-Novoa, E., Benítez, A.C. and Rubio, J.A.Z. (2004). The effect of using two bee (Apis mellifera L.) queens on colony population, honey production, and profitability in the Mexican high plateau. Téc Pecu Méx 42(3):361-377.

viiiDavis, J.L. (1908). Queen killed by a rival queen. Gleanings in Bee Culture 36(20):1259-1260.;view=1up;seq=1277
Skirkyavichyus, A. (1965) Can two queens live together? Pchelovodstvo 85(6):16-18. Cited by Reid, M. (1975). Storage of queen honeybees. Bee World 56(1):21-31., Forster (1972) loc. cit. and by Gary, N.E., Hagedorn, H.H. and Marston, J. (1967). The behavior of mated queens when colonized in multiple queen groups without worker bees. Apiacta 3(4):9-12.

ixWalton, G.M. (1970). More honey from two-queen colonies. New Zealand Journal of Agriculture 120(2):69, 71.
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Walsh, R.S. (1967). An experiment with queen banks. New Zealand Beekeeper 29(4):14–17.
Forster, I.W. (1972). Requeening honey bee colonies without dequeening. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 15(2):413-419.

xNabors, R. (1 July 2015). Beekeeping topics: My two-queen hive experiment – Part I. American Bee Journal
Nabors, R. (1 August 2015). Beekeeping topics: My two-queen hive experiment – Part II. American Bee Journal
Nabors, R. (1 January 2016). Beekeeping topics: My two-queen colony hive experiment and comb honey care. American Bee Journal 155(9):1005-1006.
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Nabors, R. (1 May 2016). Beekeeping Topics: How to make covers for my two-queen horizontal hive. American Bee Journal 156(5):649-651.
Nabors, R. (1 June 2016). Beekeeping Topics: Two-queen management and the different varieties of honey bees. American Bee Journal 156(6):577-578.
Nabors, R. (1 August 2016). US Department of Agriculture Products Research Report 55. Beekeeping topics: Comparing two-queen colony management methods. American Bee Journal 156(8):929-931.

xiHesbach, W. (2015). Two queens, one hive=lots of honey. Honey Bee Suite.
Hesbach,W. (2016). The horizontal two-queen system. Bee Culture 144(3):63-66.

xiiHeuvel, B. (March 2013), NRW, Germany. Running two-queen colonies. See Simmons on a modified Wells Hive: Simmins, S. (1908). Plurality of queens. Points in the Wells System explained. Bee World 36(8):506-507.;view=1up;seq=516

xiiiBritish Bee-Keepers’ Association. Quarterly Converzatione.(April, 7, 1892). British Bee Journal, Bee-Keepers’ Record and Adviser 20:132-133.
Wade, A. (2019a). Doubling hives: Part I: Doubled vs two-queen hives. Canberra Region Beekeepers Newsletter
Wade, A. (2020). Doubling Hives: Part II: The Wells System. Canberra Region Beekeepers Newsletter

xivCrane, E. (1980b). Multiple queen hives and hyper hives in Perspectives in world agriculture: Apiculture, Chapter 10. pp.261-294. Farnham Royal, UK: Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux.
Crane, E. (1968). Report on the visit to Australia. Apiculture, 2(8):115-125.

xvDuff, S.R. and Furgala, B. (1990). A comparison of three non-migratory systems for managing honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) in Minnesota: Part I Management and productivity. American Bee Journal 130(1):44-48.

xviFurgala, B. and Sugden, M.A. (1980). Horizontal two-queen system. Unpublished working paper. Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota, 4pp.
Brown, R.H. (1981). A simple two-queen system, 16pp. Illus. Exeter. [ML2394]. Referenced to Catalogue of the Moir Library [Second supplement 1963-1984]

xviiGarcia, E.A.G (1976). [Thesis]. Contribucion Al Estudio Comparativo De La Produccion De Miel Y Cera En Colmenas Con Una Y Qos Reinas. Facultad de Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia (Guadalajara, Jalisco, México). 52pp.

xviiiHueter, P. (23 January 1984). Multi-queen beehive. Patent application no.:490,524.

xixWade, A. (2019b). Establishing two queens instead of one queen in a honey bee colony Part III. Operating two-queen colonies. The Australasian Beekeeper 120(10):22-25.

xxvan Engelsdorp, D., Gubauer, S. and Robyn Underwood, R. (February 2006). A modified two queen system: Tower colonies allowing for easy for drone brood removal. An interim report.
van Engelsdorp, D., Gebauer, S. and Underwood, R. (2009). A. modified two-queen system: Tower colonies allowing for easy drone brood removal for varroa mite control. Bee Culture 137(2):S1-S4. The A.I. Root Company, Medina Ohio. Also published at Science of Bee Culture 1(1):1-4. The A.I. Root Company, Medina Ohio.
Cengiz, E.H., Genç, F. and Cengiz, M.M. (2019). The effect of the two-queen colony management practice on colony performance and Varroa (Varroa destructor Anderson&Trueman) infestation levels in honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) colonies. Uludag Bee Journal 19(1):1-11.

xxiStoner, A., Moffett, J.O., Wilson, W.T. and Standifer, L.N. (1981). Apis mellifera: Effect of management of one- and two-queen colonies on bee losses by spraying insecticides on cotton. Journal of the Georgia Entomological Society 16(3):323-331.

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