What are the Pros and Cons of Using Nine Frames vs 10 Frames?

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Dave D asks: What are the pros and cons of using nine frames in the brood boxes? If one wished to go from nine frames to 10 frames, how should it be done?

Rusty Burlew replies:

When the frames in a 10-frame brood box get so jammed and stuck together that hive inspection becomes impossible, beekeepers often reduce the number of frames to nine. With fewer frames, it is easier to free the first one, and after that, the rest are easy.

If you start with 10 frames and want to maintain 10, you need to scrape away the wax and propolis frequently, especially around the top where the frames rest on the rabbet. In that area, the frames tend to get wider and wider until they are all glued together. Sometimes, when you lift one frame with a hive tool, many others come along with it.

Going from nine frames to 10 is more difficult because wherever the bees find extra space, they build combs that are wider. In a brood box, you will find wide combs on the end frames and at the top and sides of the other frames–wherever the bees store honey. The brood-rearing areas tend to be normal width because the size of brood doesn’t vary much.

To go to 10 frames and maintain bee space, I would start by scraping away the beeswax and propolis wherever you find it. Then I would go through the frames and pull out any that have extra-wide combs. You can either cut away these combs entirely or shave them with your hive tool until the cells are about as tall as a brood cell. You needn’t worry about the damage because the bees will quickly patch things up.

Once you have all the high spots removed, try inserting the 10th frame. You may have to repeat the process until you get the last frame to fit. Needless to say, this process is easier without bees. If you are working in a box with live bees in it, try to do it when the population is low, such as late winter or early spring when some of the frames are still empty.

Bees don’t generally add bee space in tight quarters. In fact, they are more likely to connect two combs that are very close. I don’t know of any major downsides to using nine frames instead of 10 except that you have fewer bees per box and more space for them to build burr comb. It’s mostly a personal choice between battling with hard to remove frames or battling with burr comb and inconveniently wide combs.

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