Tower Hives

A few years back in 2006 as part of collaboration with Betterbee Inc. and Penn State University, the idea of a tower hive set up was piloted in New York as a method of Varroa mite control.

A tower hive configuration is simply two hives placed side by side. When the hives are ready to be supered, the super is placed over the top of the center of the adjoining hives. In order to keep the queens separate, a flat queen excluder is placed under the super, on top of each brood area ensuring the queens will never meet, but that the workers will get acquainted with one another. Two modified covers (aka fancy, schmancy plywood) are placed on either side of the super to cover half of each of the two brood boxes. In each hive, underneath the modified cover, there is a drone comb frame.

Once every month this frame is removed from the hive and placed in the freezer overnight. The idea is that the drone comb frame will act as a magnet for Varroa mites, as they prefer to lay their eggs in drone comb. The mites will concentrate on this frame and when it is removed and placed in the freezer the mites will die. The hope is to catch the mites right before they hatch alongside of the drones. The frame is then placed back in the hive and the workers clean out the remains of the dead mites and drone larvae. Now, we all know that honey supers in the summer can be heavy and awkward to lift and this is why the drone comb frame is placed directly under the modified cover for quick, easy removal.

Not only does the tower hive seek to be a method of Varroa control, but also has numerous other benefits. One such advantage is that if one queen dies over the course of the summer the other queen can sustain the population of both hives, laying eggs in one hive while the other side is filled with honey from workers. This will keep the hive from becoming infested with wax moth. Although the information is somewhat limited on the effect of honey production, it is quite possible that the tower hive configuration could increase the honey production of hives in the tower. This needs further research as the reasons for this are currently unclear.

One thing is for sure, Varroa mite levels were lower in colonies in a tower setup in New York. Note that Varroa were not completely eliminated, but prevalence was certainly lower.  To say that putting hives in tower configurations will cause you to be Varroa free and eliminate the need for a possible chemical treatment (if that is your method of Varroa control) is not so. However using a tower configuration can stave off the need to treat for longer and lower the treatment amount.

Because this study was done in a small scale in the past, we are looking to carry it out in Maryland. All interested in participating should go to to find out more information. If the window for sealed drone brood has already past, as I know it has in USDA colonies, we would love to invite your participation for next season.



Written By: Jennie Stitzinger

Jennie Stitzinger has written 55 post in this blog.

In the summer of 2010 I walked in to the Penn State Agricultural Sciences building to inquire about a job a friend had mentioned to me. I was a poor college student, I needed to pay my summer rent, I was offered the job and I took it—I had no idea what I was in for. Fast forward a little over a year and I was kneeling on rocks and mud, in the cold, northern California rain, surrounded by dairy cows and hundreds of hives while Africanized bees were pinging off my bee suit. With a degree in Community Development from Penn State University, I never thought in a million years I would be working with honey bees upon graduation, but I guess life sure has its surprises. Now a member of the University of Maryland Diagnostic team, I work on many different aspects of BIP and the National Honey Bee Survey. Whether it is field work, traveling, report writing, crunch time projects, or larger missions, I am most likely working on it. What is my favorite part of the job? Working on an awesome project that has impact and is helping beekeepers around the country, learning more about honey bees than I ever thought I wanted to know, and giving me experiences I never thought possible.


7 Responses to “Tower Hives”

  1. Kyleen

    Why not do one hive with 10 frame brood box and 8 frame supers? I don’t understand the benefit of sharing a super.

  2. Bo Sterk

    Tried this method a few years ago. It works great in Florida for mites. The only drawback I incured was the queen on one side would shut down and go queenless. I would move the queen to the opposite side and they would never requeen. Even queen cells were rejected. It was a one queen apartment building. I eventually became tired of moving her monthly.

    (Marked and clipped queens used)

    Anyone else have this issue?

  3. Jack Mingo

    That seems like a complicated solution to keeping access open to a drone frame. Why not just use a standard hive, shift the supers over a few inches to make it easy to get at the drone frame, and cover the gaps with plywood? Even easier, just use a standard hive and lift the darned supers out of the way.

  4. Jarrett Clay

    What ever happened with this? Did this work? Is there any other info out there in this method? This is intriguing but I can’t seem to find any other information.