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.

The inspection went well. I saw at least seven frames of open and capped brood in the first box and several frames in the second box. The edge frames were full of honey. Old and fresh pollen was stored all around the brood. The bottom box (now the new top box) had plenty of empty cells for the queen to lay. It was perfect. If the warm weather keeps up, it won’t be long before that colony is busting at the seams and I’ll have to start pulling frames or checker boarding.

    ADDENDUM (July 01/14): Today, if I saw a hive jam packed with bees like the one in the above video, I would immediately add a honey super and get them making some honey for me, and I’d probably find a way to insert some drawn comb into the brood nest so the queen would have more room to lay. That colony is on the verge of swarming.

A note about scraping off the drone comb from between the frames (edited out of the video because it wasn’t on camera): I didn’t have to deal with the drone comb between the frames last year when I reversed the boxes because I only had foundationless hives then (that’s my best guess, anyway). There is no lack of space for drone cells in a foundationless hive. Conventional hives of plastic foundation with cells sized only for worker brood don’t provide space for drone cells, so the queen lays them whenever she can — along the edges of the frames and between the brood boxes. I’m tempted to put a foundationless frame in my hives next spring just to avoid that mess.

I get this Gmail reminder every year on April 2nd: “Reverse the brood boxes as soon as the CROCUSES have bloomed or whenever the bees are bringing in pollen at a steady pace (whether from crocuses or some other flower). 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 the spaces between the boxes could be full of drone comb. 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.”

I recommend reading Reversing Brood Boxes: When and Why from Honey Bee Suite for suggestions from a more experienced beekeeper, particularly this part: “If you imagine the cluster as a sphere spanning both boxes, you will see that reversing causes the cluster to be broken into two parts. One part (the largest part, we hope) ends up in the lower portion of the lower box. The other (smaller) part ends up in the upper part of the upper box. If you reverse too early in the year, there won’t be enough bees to keep both parts warm. This is where good judgment—and good luck—comes into play.”

See my post on Checkerboarding for another hive reversal / swarm prevention procedure.

April 25th, 2014: Here’s another video of me reversing the brood chambers in an early spring hive. It was too cold to do any kind of inspection, but I was able to add some honey to the hive instead of adding some kind of syrup feeder.

4 thoughts on “Reversing Brood Boxes

  1. That thing about drone comb is a very interesting observation. Thinking of it now my inspection this year showed almost no bur comb and zero drone comb between frames, but I remember it was always present where I worked for a commercial beek (ALWAYS lol)

  2. I did a reversal of two of my hives today, but it was only 7°C and foggy, so it was quick, not a leisurely inspection like in the video for this post (it was 17°C that day). I’m impressed by the number of bees in the hive in the video. None of my colonies this year are anywhere close to having that many bees, and probably not for a while. It’s been a long, hard winter.

    It’s still too cold to add hive top feeders, so I gave each hive a honey super full of partially-filled frames today, probably about ten pounds of honey each. I’m sure it’ll work much better than any sugar syrup.

  3. My latest Gmail reminder is about swarm prevention…

    “It might be warm enough now to think about rotating the hive bodies and making splits (swarm prevention). NOTE: Our bees swarmed on May 25 in 2012. It takes 16 days for the colony to create the swarm cells and for the new queens to emerge. Those new queens don’t usually emerge until a few days AFTER the swarm. That means our bees in 2012 began swarm preparations around May 12. So here’s the deal for the city hives: Rotate the boxes and check the brood chamber for swarming signals at least every 7 days until the end of the month. And NEVER feed the bees after May 30.”

    That’s not bad advice, though it could be a little too cautious for this year considering that we’re still living with close-to-winter temperatures around St. John’s.

  4. I just added another “Reversing a Hive” video to this post. It’s a quick video and a quick procedure of reversing the brood chambers before the frames got all gunked up with drone comb. I also give the bees some honey instead of adding a syrup feeder.

Comments are closed.