Checkerboarding a Beehive

April 2019 Introduction: Checkerboarding is another method of controlling a potentially over-populated hive so the bees don’t swarm. Some argue that the bees make more honey after the hive has been checkerboarded. I don’t know about that. I used to have massive colonies in the spring, some swarming as early as May, because I fed dry sugar, protein patties and then sugar syrup to my bees early in the year no matter what. I thought that’s what beekeepers were supposed to do. But I was wrong. A honey bee colony with plenty of honey and pollen stores doesn’t need any help from me. My general approach to beekeeping of always making sure the queen has room to lay pretty much keeps most swarms at bay these days. I would checkerboard a hive only if there were so many bees covering all the frames that I couldn’t tell what was going on. It can be a shock, for instance, to pull up a thick frame of bees and think, “Great, looking good,” and then clear the bees away to reveal a dozen swarm cells poking out of the brood cells. That’s too many bees.

I checkerboarded a hive for the first time yesterday. It wasn’t planned and I didn’t have my camera with me, but I whipped up a nifty little diagram to illustrate what I did — and I’m not saying what I did is right. But anyhow… I reversed the brood boxes on one of my hives last week and didn’t have time to scrape off the bridge comb / burr comb that had built up on the frames over the winter. Unlike the last brood box reversal, all I did was exchange the positions of the boxes. I didn’t touch the frames. So yesterday during a brief hot spell (17°C), I decided to pull the frames, clean them up and inspect the hive while I was at it. Well, in my 661 days of beekeeping, I’d never witnessed so many bees packed into one hive, and most of the foragers weren’t even home.

The frames in the bottom box were full of brood and pollen and some honey — and drone cells packed into every crevice. The frames in the top box had some brood in the middle, but most of the frames were being backed-filled with nectar on the way to becoming honey — thus reducing space for the queen to lay. So that was it: I decided to checkerboard the hive right then and there. Otherwise the queen could become honeybound and trigger a swarm, and that probably wouldn’t go over well with my neighbours. So here’s what I did:

H = honey / nectar frames (mostly uncapped).

B = brood frames (and some pollen).

F = foundation (empty).

D = drawn comb (empty).
Note: Imagine the frames in the box below this one packed with brood.

See How to checkerboard a hive from Honey Bee Suite for an explanation of checkerboarding.
Continue reading

Reversing Brood Boxes

April 2019 Introduction: I’d be extremely pleased to see any of my colonies in early May looking as good as the colony in this video. The colony probably got that way because I was feeding it syrup all throughout April and the population was exploding. Reversing is an okay thing to do. I don’t think it hurts the colony and it’s debatable whether or not it prevents swarming. For me, I just use it as an excuse to do a full inspection early in the year so I know exactly what shape the colony is in and can gauge its development throughout the summer by only looking into the top box. Which means the reversing / early colony assessment often ends up being my only full hive inspection of the year. I also like to knock my colonies down to a single deep early in the year instead of reversing because they seem to build up quicker when they only need to focus on 10 frames instead of 20.

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.


Continue reading