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:
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.