Using Castellated Spacers in the Brood Box

Castellated Spacers in the Brood Box

Table of Contents - Castellated Spacers in the Brood Box

The use of castellated spacers in supers is fairly common in beekeeping but when it comes to using castellated spacers in the brood box (such as this) it’s a practice that many beekeepers find ill-advised. Mentors steer you away and your peers offer confused looks when you discuss it. For which there are reasons, and I’m going to talk about them here and hopefully get your thoughts on this issue too!

For us here we much prefer the use of castellated spacers when working full-size BS national brood boxes and we’re slowly transitioning to castellated spacers in our nucs where possible. But this wasn’t always our view on the matter, early on in my beekeeping I was always put off the idea and this led me to every other alternative. It took some time before I eventually circled back around to trialling castellations and haven’t really looked back since.

They rectified some annoyances and only took a little getting used to so it’s often now a default recommendation or at the very least a suggestion to just give it a go and see how you get on.

What are castellated spacers and what do they do?

Spacing frames is beekeeping 101, without the correct spacing the madness will ensue and manipulation and general management of the hive can become painful. Correct spacing allows the comb to be constructed neatly, allows for good airflow, helps with temperature control, and the bees can move around comfortably (back to back) as they go about their day-to-day business.

DN5 and SN5 (or Hoffman) build the spacing onto the frame and are generally more popular amongst beekeepers, spacing is easy and simple and minimises the need for additional spacing equipment, we’re all for working lean in our apiaries so Hoffman was a popular choice for us for a long time.

Castellated spacers are very different in that they build the spacing onto the brood box by attaching a specially cut piece of galvanised metal, these are cut to accommodate 9, 10, or 11 frames, whatever your preference. 11 being a maximum for BS national boxes and the reduced numbered options are to help draw out the wax deeper to store larger amounts of honey. A questionable practice, given that you’re sacrificing a frame to reduce the number of frames overall but perhaps it would make for some impressive cut comb for sale or competition.

Problems with castellated spacers in the brood box

The main problem that is associated with having castellated spacers in the brood box is that they can make it more difficult to remove frames, particularly the first frame as you set about doing your inspection. This is because the beekeeper has to lift the frame around the lugs and lift close to 8-9mm horizontally before getting any movement to the sides, this may have the effect of rolling bees if care isn’t taken. Once the first frame is removed the process gets easier and you can move the frames down the lug spaces as you work through.

I believe this option has generally fallen out of favour to help beginners who are learning to handle frames and who may struggle to take care even when using the more common alternatives, let alone castellated. The concern is valid and it’s important to build confidence in those early days and avoid rolling your bees, potentially injuring or killing the queen.

The other problem is that some castellated spacers are sharp! This is just a side effect of cutting thin steel in this way and is difficult to avoid, I’ve nicked myself on occasion through lack of care and these things can obliterate your nitrile gloves. Buy good nitriles like these to help avoid this! Leathers exacerbate the issue as they’re bulky and fingers need to be forced into those gaps to grab the lugs so are likely to be damaged over time, generally mixing leathers and castellated spacers is just a headache all around.

The benefits of castellated spacers in the brood box

For anyone with experience with BS National boxes will know that fitting 11 frames nicely is not an exact science. Adding 11 Hoffman’s will likely leave a gap on one side of the box and require the need of a dummy board, just leaving the gap will introduce the risk of brace comb which is always best avoided. I’m not a fan of needing an extra piece of kit and I can never seem to find a dummy board when I need one! 

Castellated spacers provide space for the 11 frames but will space them evenly through the brood box eliminating the need for the dummy board. Because the spacers are built into the box from day one there is little to no risk of losing them and I have a consistent state of play between each colony.

Transporting bees is rarely avoided in our work, reasons for which are numerous, moving to forage, quarantine requirements, helping with robbing issues, etc.. Castellated spacers fit frames in very snuggly which prevents their movement in transit avoiding any risk to queens, bees, and comb.

Hoffman frames are largely the more expensive of all frame options due to the complexity of the cuts. Castellated offers more flexibility in your frame choice allowing you to opt for cheaper alternatives like the DN1 and SN1 variations which have no self-spacing wedge. For the more hands-on bee farmer, these simper frames are easier to construct offering potentially more cost-effectiveness if you’re handy with a table saw.

I’m always apprehensive when saying that there’s less propolis or brace comb due to a particular method (there’s no exact science here) but in my own experience with my bees, in my climate, we typically deal with this problem a lot less. Frames are never gummed together, brace comb is rare, and generally speaking, inspections are largely improved. Please take this benefit with the additional salt it requires.

To Wrap Things Up

castellated spacers can be used in brood boxes, but there are a few things to keep in mind as we’ve discussed. It’s likely that your mentors and fellow beekeepers would prefer to steer you clear but if you have a few seasons under your belt it may be something worth considering, even if only to trial it for a short while. You may be surprised, in the meantime, we’ll be sticking with it 🙂