On Not Reversing Spring Hives Again

Along with the five hives next to my house, I have two hives on the edge of a farm (and another one in a secret location). The weather got warm enough for me to do full hive inspections on both of the farm hives. I only turned my camera on when I found something I thought could be educational for new beekeepers. Most of the video is me talking about what I found in the hives, what I did to each of them and why I did it. I know it’s a visually boring video, but it covers a lot of ground. This is exactly the kind of boring video I would been all over when I first started beekeeping.

Here’s what happens in the video:

00:00 — Bees building up comb into the inner cover. They need another box.

00:15 — Using a smoker in the wind.

00:40 — Reading capped brood off a medium frame.

01:00 — Brood nest favouring the sunny side of the hive.

01:30 — Bees are more docile when they have something to do.

02:25 — Explaining how I reversed the hive (which I have since decided not to do anymore).

02:50 — A heavy frame of pollen.

03:05 — A foundationless frame providing room for drones.

The production of drones is usually the sign of a healthy colony.

I explain why I don’t bother wiring my foundationless frames (just wasn’t worth the effort).

05:20 — Lots of brood about to emerge means they need another box.

06:40 — Demonstration of how bee jacket sleeves get saggy so bees can get in.

I explain how ventilated bee jackets work and have worked for me. Spoiler alert: I usually get soaked in sweat regardless of the bee jacket.

08:05 — Summary of the health of these bees.

They need a new box on top. I came by a day or two later and added a fourth medium box of drawn comb. I moved two frames of brood to the middle of the box to encourage the bees to expand upwards.

08:35 — How I mark my foundationless frames for comb honey.

09:25 — A foundationless frame prevents burr comb over the top bars.

10:10 — Review of my wintering hive with a ventilation rim and nothing else.

12:15 — A hole in my veil.

12:25 — Too many cracks between my supers.

13:25 — Review of my two farm hives.

14:00 — Why I won’t bother equalising the hives.

Why I’m Probably Done Experimenting With Reversing My Hives In The Spring

Reversing a hive is not necessary, and the process can easily do more harm than good. I do it with most of my hives every spring, but I’m very careful in how I go about it.

My main goal when doing a spring reversal is to get in my first — and often only — full hive inspection of the year. I leave the core frames of the brood nest alone, but I’ll sometimes add brood to it so all the brood is in a single box. More often than not (though not in this video), I’ll reduce the hive down by at least one super because I’ve noticed the bees build up quicker in the spring when they’re confined to a smaller hive. Sometimes I put the brood on the bottom of the hive (reversing) and sometimes I don’t.

Reversing a hive involves moving the brood nest to the bottom of the hive and placing all the empty frames (i.e., honey frames the bees consumed over the winter) that were in bottom to the top of hive. It’s supposed to prevent swarming. Reversing has been an evolving practice for me, because I’m a glutton for punishment and I like to learn from my own experience whether or not common beekeeping advice is true. I constantly do things I shouldn’t do, and I doubt that will ever change. However, I think I’ve reached the point where I’m done with moving the brood nest to the bottom of the hive.

Considering that the purpose of reversing is to reduce the chances of swarming by giving room above the queen for her to expand the brood nest, under the assumption that the bees naturally expand upwards like they do all winter, then yes, I guess it reduces the chances of swarming, but mostly I think reversing disrupts the integrity of the brood nest so much that it takes the bees two or three weeks or readjust to the new setup inside their hive. It knocks them back. I know people who reverse their hives two or three times throughout the summer to reduce swarming, and it works, but I don’t think it works because it frees up space for the queen. It works because humans are mucking up all the work the bees did to create a perfectly balanced brood nest.

So I can see how reversing might work for reducing swarms in the summer, but is that really something I want to do in the spring when my bees are just getting started? Nope. I say this because this year I reversed one of the most robust colonies I’ve seen in a long time, and within a week of reversing it — moving the brood nest to the bottom of the hive — I noticed less activity from those bees. They’re recovering from the reversal, not benefiting from it. I’m convinced of that now.

I should say, too, that this doesn’t happen most of the time. Most of my colonies do great after a reversal, but some don’t. And the strong colony that I knocked back by reversing this spring was already expanding its brood nest downwards, filling in all the empty comb in the bottom of the hive. And I could clearly 100% see that that’s exactly what I was happening, and that other than doing a basic inspection, I really didn’t need to mess with a good thing. They were doing well enough on their own.

I’ve known about this kind of thing for ten years, that it’s generally better not to reverse a hive, especially in the spring, but I had to make sure it was true. And know I now that it’s true. I still reduce my hives down in the spring when they’re small, because I’m pretty sure a small colony does better in a small hive just as a large colony does better in a large hive, but I don’t think I’ll reverse or move the brood nest to the bottom of the hive anymore. I don’t think reversing is a death blow to a colony. It’s not a catastrophic move. But I’ve seen more than once now how it can do more harm than good to a spring colony. The benefit of reversing in the spring is minimal, if there is any benefit, and the risk of causing harm is too high. So why do it?