How To Use The Follower Board To Adjust Brood Chamber Size

The Follower Board: A Valuable Tool for Hive Management

In traditional Langstroth hives, many beekeepers rarely encounter a tool called the follower board. However, this simple yet effective device can play a significant role in hive management, especially in horizontally oriented hives. With The Keeper's Hive, our system allows beekeepers to reap the benefits. 

To give you some context, the Keeper's Hive brood chamber contains 8 deep frames, with 4 frames situated beneath the observation window and 4 frames located below the queen excluder. To maintain consistency in our frame numbering, let's designate frame #1 as the one closest to the observation window and frame #8 as the furthest frame under the queen excluder. This frame numbering system will be useful for future discussions regarding brood frames.

The Keeper's Hive brood chamber is internally 12 1/4 inches wide, the standard internal size of an eight-frame Langstroth box. This leaves some extra space when filled with frames compared to a 10-frame box. This space can have both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, frames aren't as tightly packed, making it easier to use frame feeders. On the downside, bees may use the extra space for building burr comb.

I place the follower board between the hive's outer wall and frame #1. There's ample room for the 1/2-inch-wide follower board, and it helps occupy the additional space, reducing burr comb production.

The follower board serves a crucial purpose: creating a new outer wall for the brood nest. Why would you want to do this? The answer is straightforward—whenever the colony is small. It's essential to have most frames in the brood chamber covered with bees because queens tend to lay more effectively in smaller spaces. Bees can defend a smaller hive better, and it's less likely that pests like small hive beetles and wax moths will become problematic.

You might find yourself needing to create a smaller brood chamber in various scenarios. For instance, when you first install a package or a nucleus colony, your colony will be small. Post-swarm or post-split, your colony may also be reduced in size. Sometimes, colonies emerge from winter in a diminished state. In all these situations, I recommend using the follower board to shrink the brood chamber.

If the bees only cover 4 frames, you can remove frames #1, #2, and #3, and slide the follower board next to frame #4. This reduces the brood chamber's size from 8 frames to 5. As the population increases, you can reintroduce the removed frames and return the follower board to the outside wall of the hive. This approach exemplifies the art of brood chamber management, where the primary goal is to have the brood chamber consistently filled with bees. When it's not, turn to the follower board.

So, I encourage you to use the follower board, especially when your colony is small. Having not been a follower board user myself until it occurred to me during a moment of hive design contemplation, I can attest to its usefulness. I made one on my band saw, placed it in The Keeper's Hive with a small colony of bees, and have never regretted it. Trust me, not all of my ideas work this well!

Happy beekeeping! 🐝🏡🍯