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8 frame vs 10 frame debate

Colorful bee hives in a row on old car tires

Few hobbies benefit the planet as does beekeeping.  Backyard beekeepers make a direct contribution to their environments and local communities.  New beekeepers can quickly become overwhelmed by the many options and even more opinions out there about all aspects in beekeeping.  One of the very frequent decisions for new beekeepers is the type of equipment to buy.  This article will lay out some of the pros and cons about whether to buy 8 frame or 10 frame equipment, and should a beekeeper use deep hive bodies or mediums. 

When discussing the types of set ups, it’s important to consider location.  Most of our customers are located in the mid-Atlantic region, thus our recommendations are solely about managing bees in our area.  If you live in the Northeast or Southwest, your “standard” set ups will likely differ.   Also, when choosing the right set up for your beehives, this beekeeper firmly believes that efficiency in the long run is always better.   Finally, the brand of woodenware makes little difference; the major suppliers – Mann Lake, Dadant, Betterbee, etc – are all very similar in quality when it comes to standard “commercial grade” hive bodies.  For many years, 8-frame equipment was not as accessible as 10-frame is, but today, 8-frame equipment is readily available.

“Should I get 8 Frame or 10 Frame equipment?”

We like to break out the discussion into a few factors – weight, comb production, and population.

The difference between 8 and 10 frame equipment is, of course, 2 frames in width totaling roughly 2 ½ inches.  10 Frame hive bodies are 16 3/8” while 8 frame hive bodies are 13 7/8”.   While the width is very minor, that can equate to an easy 15 to 20 pounds of extra weight.  On average, a full, 8-frame medium honey super weighs around 60 pounds compared to a full 10-frame super that can weigh around 75 lbs.  

Since not everyone who chooses to keep bees is able to lift 75 lb boxes, the clear advantage in the weight category goes to 8 Frame.   

Weight Category – 8 Frame = 1 vs. 10 Frame = 0

A colony of honeybees requires honeycomb to survive.  Producing honeycomb takes a lot of energy and a well-balanced colony.  To help the bees’ efficiency in building their home, it’s best to keep your bees crowded.  Obviously, an 8-frame hive body is smaller than 10-frame, so the bees occupy a larger portion of the hive body’s total volume.  With 2 less frames to build comb on, the bees will clearly build out an 8-frame hive body faster than a 10-frame.  What this eventually means for the new beekeeper is that honey supers can go on sooner with 8-frame than 10-frame equipment.  

Keep in mind that bees aren’t working faster in an 8-frame hive body, but rather they have less home to build than in a 10-frame. Advantage here is to 8-Frame equipment.

Comb Production – 8 Frame = 1 vs. 10 Frame = 0

A simple truth in beekeeping is that more bees is better.   In fact, one of the trickier aspects of beekeeping is maintaining a balance between a crowded hive and an over-crowded hive.  The former is healthy, the latter can lead to unintended swarming.  Crowded hives generally indicate a healthy, well balanced (meaning all stages of brood and bees of all ages), colony that can easily keep unwanted pests such as Small Hive Beetles and Wax Moths at bay.   There is, however, more to population that simply keeping a crowded hive, as “crowded” is directly related to the volume of the hive.  
Consider one of the three requirements to survive winter – Strong population, healthy and mite free colony, and plenty of resources.  A 10-Frame deep hive body can hold conservatively 4000 more bees than an 8-frame deep hive body.   Going into winter, I’d like to shore my odds up with those added bees! 

For me it’s a toss up in the population category, so we’ll call it a tie.

Population – TIE

Looking at the practical side of things, 8-Frame woodenware has the advantage over 10-Frame when it comes to reduced weight and the speed at which the bees can build out their comb.  However, this beekeeper values the greater population that 10-Frame woodenware allows.  In the end, it doesn’t matter much, so take the time to evaluate what is important to you.