THE FOLLOWING WAS UPDATED ON APRIL 02, 2014.
We reversed the brood chambers in Hive #2 today (our one foundationless hive). I was convinced the foundationless colony was only living in the top brood chamber and was running low on honey. But when we pulled the top box off, we saw just as many bees in the bottom box, at least on the top bars. I’m always concerned that reversing the boxes will split up the brood nest and kill off some baby bees, but in our urban environment, swarm prevention is always a top priority, even if it means chilling some baby bees to death. The photo on the right shows the hive after we reversed the boxes. (The third deep super on top is sheltering a jar feeder.) Reversing the boxes took maybe 10 minutes. It was a smooth operation, no smoke involved, and the bees were well behaved the whole time. Here’s how it went down:
I removed the top cover and inner cover. I could see bees covering at least 7 out of 10 frames. I couldn’t tell how much honey was left in the frames, but when I lifted the box off and put it aside, it was heavy. That’s when I noticed the bottom box full of bees too. I couldn’t tell if the brood nest was down in the bottom box, but when I lifted the box, it felt much lighter than the top box. The bottom board looked like this — some dead winter bees, pieces of old pollen patties and dried up sugar:
I put the bottom aside and replaced it with a clean bottom board. I could have just scraped off the mess, but I wanted to install our homemade combo bottom board. I really love the design of that thing. It’s so simple and cheap and I think it’ll work perfectly. I may paint the corrugated plastic floor with some wax so the bees can get a better grip on it, though at the moment, the bees in that hive hardly use the bottom entrance anyway.
We the put the boxes (or brood chambers or deep supers, whatever you want to call them) back on the bottom board but in the reverse order. The top box is on the bottom and bottom box is on the top. The lighter (and probably emptier) box on top helps prevent swarming as the brood nest expands upwards. It was too windy to do a full inspection. We didn’t pull a single frame. But maybe that’s a good thing.
ADDENDUM (April 02/14): Here’s a Gmail reminder that arrives in my Inbox on April 2nd every year: “Reverse the brood boxes as soon as the CROCUSES have bloomed or whenever the bees are bringing in pollen at a steady pace . This should happen by mid-April. DO NOT wait for the dandelions in May. By then the population in the hives could be through the roof and drone comb will fill the spaces between the boxes. Thus the frames in the bottom box — that are glued to the frames in the top box with drone comb — will come up when the top box is lifted. It’s a horrible disgusting mess when all that drone comb is split apart. Reverse the boxes before it gets like that. IF the between-the-boxes drone comb can’t be prevented, carefully and slowly twist the top box — to break apart the drone comb — before lifting it off. The other trick is to reverse the boxes (or deeps) by transferring the frames in the top box to a new bottom box right next to the hive and so on. That way you can reverse the boxes (which may or may not help prevent swarming), re-arrange frames if necessary, and get a full inspection in while you’re at it.”