When and Why I Still Reverse My Brood Boxes

When I reverse the brood boxes, usually some time in April, I don’t just pull the hive apart and reverse the positions of the deeps. (That’s an easy way to squish the queen, by the way.) I set up an empty deep next to the hive and, if it’s warm enough, carefully inspect each frame before I move it into the new bottom deep. No heavy lifting required. But more importantly, this allows me to assess the strength of the colony going into the new season and make adjustments on the spot if necessary. I will add drawn comb to the brood nest if the cluster looks like it needs room. I will add frames of honey or pollen if the bees are starving for it. I will give them frames of brood from another colony if they’re weak. In short, I will take whatever action is required to get the bees started on the right path for the new season.

Drone comb split open after lifting up the top brood box for the first time this year. (May 05, 2012.)

Drone comb split open after lifting up the top brood box for the first time this year. (May 05, 2012.)


Then for the rest of the year, because I know exactly what condition the colony was in at the beginning of the year, I’ll be able to assess the strength of the colony without having to dig into the bottom deep and disturb the brood nest every time I do an inspection. Are the bees filling frames in the top box with pollen? Is the brood nest straddling the deeps? I can tell a lot from looking down into a hive where the brood nest has been working its way up from the bottom.

It’s more difficult when the brood nest has been working it’s way from the top down. It’s more work, at least for me it is. I usually end up having to lift the top deep, essentially separating it from the bottom half of the hive, and potentially splitting up the brood nest, so I can see what’s going on in the bottom, to see how much the cluster has moved down and so on. In my book, that’s too much work and too disruptive. It’s much easier and less disruptive to the brood nest — if it’s seated in the bottom deep — to pull out a few frames in the top deep and look down to figure out what’s going on — and I never have to lift a deep or potentially split the brood nest if its straddling the deeps.

That’s why I reverse the brood boxes on most of my hives sometime in April. It doesn’t necessarily reduce the chances of a swarm, but it gives me an excuse to carefully inspect and assess the strength of the colony and perform future inspections with greater ease and less disruption to the brood nest.

I could be singing a different tune by this time next year, or even this time next week, but for now, this is where my experience with reversing the brood boxes has led me.

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Reversing Brood Boxes (Video).
Checkers, Anyone? (Checkerboarding).
Reversing brood boxes: is it necessary?
How to checkerboard a hive.
Reversing brood boxes: when and why.

Reversing Brood Boxes (Video)

I performed the first full hive inspection of the year yesterday. I also reversed the brood boxes while I was at it. Next year I plan to reverse the boxes shortly after the bees start hauling in pollen from the crocuses (instead of waiting until the dandelions bloom). Whether from dandelions or crocuses, if the bees bring in pollen at a steady pace for about a week, that’s my cue to reverse the brood boxes. Had I reversed them a few weeks ago, I might have been able to avoid the disgusting mess of scraping off drone comb between the frames of the top and bottom boxes. I could have avoided splitting up the brood nest too. Check out Honey Bee Suite for more info on reversing boxes.


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No Brood in The Fall Doesn’t Mean The Queen is Dead – Part 2

ADDENDUM: READ THE FIRST COMMENT FOR A QUICK SUMMARY OF THIS LONG POST.

New beekeepers are so silly, aren’t they? One day they say the queen is dead and all is lost. The next day they say maybe not. And that’s the underlying theme of our first summer of keeping bees in St. John’s, Newfoundland. We don’t really know what’s going on. Reading about honeybees can fire up one’s enthusiasm for beekeeping. But keeping those bees in your small backyard by yourself, sometimes you get a little too close to them, so when they step out of line and do something you haven’t seen before, the sky starts falling. Silly little beekeepers. Not that all the little beekeepers’ concerns are invalid, but there’s a tendency among new beekeepers to freak out and mess around with their hives when the bees are most likely doing just fine on their own.

What follows is a possible illustration of that point. It’s long and there are no pictures. Just a bunch of words talking about how confusing it is at times to keep bees on an island, where perhaps no man is an island, but every novice beekeeper is.
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Why I Like Foundationless Frames: Reason #1

Drawn and partially-drawn comb look much prettier on foundationless frames. Here’s what some partially-drawn comb looks like on a frame with black plastic foundation:

Here’s a half-drawn comb on a foundationless frame:

Now don’t tell me that ain’t way prettier.

PHOTOS NOTE (SEPTEMBER 2015): The photos in this post may not display properly because they were uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates created more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.

Natural Foundationless Comb (2 Weeks Old)

Thirteen days ago, we added a second brood box to one of our young honey bee hives and included four foundationless frames as an experiment in “backwards beekeeping.” Six days later, we took a quick peek at one of those foundationless frames and found this:

Today, we took another look at that same foundationless frame — and look at it now:

But that’s nothing. Check this out:
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Expanding the Hive (Video)

Here’s a video of Jenny and me inspecting Hive #1 two days ago, scraping some honey off the frames and adding a second brood chamber.

The editing isn’t the greatest because I asked our friend, who was shooting the video, to take some photos during the video as well. I read in the manual that my camera can integrate photos while still rolling on video. But it didn’t work like I thought it would, so I had to cut out most of the integrated photos. It’s a choppy edit. Details on expanding the hive were posted yesterday in the Adding a Second Brood Chamber post.

UPDATE (Sept. 17/10): Just for my own records, we added the second brood box to Hive #2 around August 28, 2010, about two weeks after Hive #1.

Related posts: Dead Baby Bees and Foundationless Frames.

Adding a Second Brood Chamber

Another long post packed with photos…

We added a second brood chamber (or deep body or brood box) to Hive #1 yesterday. As far as I can tell, it went well. The bees were extremely calm being misted with sugar water, way less agitated than when we’ve used the smoker on them. All the frames had drawn out comb except one. We put about half the drawn frames in the new box on top with empty foundation frames between them. We installed 4 foundationless frames in the original box, placing them between drawn out frames. The honey and the brood seemed mixed together on the frames, so there were no all-brood frames or all-honey frames. There was brood in just about every frame we inspected. We saw some honeycomb hanging off the bottom of one frame, but no swarm cells. Hive #1 appears to be doing great. We’ll see how the colony adjusts to the new box and having all their drawn out frames spaced out. The big experiment is the foundationless frames in the bottom box.

Here’s a shot of the bees after we removed a few frames from the hive:

I’ll upload some video of the procedure soon. (UPDATE: The video is posted.) Until then, allow me to present a big load of photos and descriptions of what we did.
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Inspecting The Hives

Jenny and I decided to do a thorough inspection of our honey bee hives today. It was supposed to rain all day, but the sun came out in full force in the early afternoon, so we took advantage of the sunshine and put on our bee suits.

I need to find an experienced beekeeper to help us identify exactly what we’re looking at. I know we saw plenty of honey and plenty of uncapped brood. At one point we could see the little white larva at the bottom of the cells filling one full side of a frame. It was impressive. We couldn’t find the queen in either hive, but both seem to be laying plenty of eggs.

We’ve decided we don’t like smoking the bees. The Seldom Fools beekeepers spray their bees, and now so do we. Whenever the bees were agitated (we could hear the difference in their buzzing immediately), we just misted them with a little sugar water and five seconds later they were back to normal. We probably could have used plain water mist, but a little sugar never hurt no one. The last time we used the smoker on the bees, they were buzzing like mad and flying around the hives in large numbers for at least an hour afterwards. It took them awhile to recover. Today, using the water mist on them, they were totally cool. You’d never know we’d completely dismantled their houses and put them back together again. I can see maybe using the smoker next year when we harvest some of the honey and have to brush the bees off the frames, but I’m convinced for now that misting the bees with a little water is the way to go.
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