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 we’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): We didn’t have to deal with the drone comb between the frames last year when we reversed the boxes because we 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.
P.S.: This hive happens to be the one with follower boards (or dummy boards). I can’t compare it to the other hive that’s sans follower boards and was also started from a nuc last year, but so far it’s looking great.
ADDENDUMS (April 02/14): 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 and drone comb will fill the spaces between the boxes. 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.”
APRIL 25, 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.