How to checkerboard a hive
Before I explain how to do it, I want to repeat that checkerboarding is done above the brood nest. Many beekeepers believe that checkerboarding a hive is done in the brood nest. But on the contrary, you do not disturb the brood nest in the process. Checkerboarding is often confused with opening the brood nest, pyramiding, or unlimited brood nest management—all of which are different, and all of which I will describe later.
The following applies only to checkerboarding:
Checkerboarding is done in the early spring before the bees begin swarm preparations. Since there is no disturbance to the brood nest, many beekeepers like to do it as early as possible. In any case, it needs to be completed before the expanding brood nest starts to contract due to backfilling.
Checkerboarding is done in the two supers that are directly above the brood nest. The boxes may be of any size—but they should be the same size.
Alternate frames of honey are removed from one box and replaced with frames of drawn empty comb. For example, in your first super you may remove frames 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 (which are all full of honey) and replace them with frames of empty drawn comb. When you’re done, the even-numbered slots have honey, and the odd-numbered slots are empty.
You take the frames of honey you just took out of the first super and put them in the second super in the same position they had before, that is, in position 1, 3, 5, 7, And 9. This time, the even-numbered spots have frames of empty drawn comb, and the odd-numbered slots are full of honey. When stacked atop one another, the boxes look like this from the side:
Checkerboarding breaks up the solid band of honey that rings the top of the brood nest. This band of honey signals the bees that winter preparations are complete and it’s time to swarm. When the band is interrupted, more storage areas are exposed, and the bees defer swarming until the empty spaces are filled. Eventually, optimal swarming conditions pass and the colony may not swarm at all.
How to checkerboard a hive
When the first honey super begins to fill, simply add another empty honey super and alternate full and empty frames in the pattern shown above.
If you have two brood boxes, you can reverse them in spring (or not). As soon as the first honey super is nearly full, add another and checkerboard the frames.
The original checkerboarding model used only empty drawn frames between the frames of honey—and the purists still do. Many beekeepers, however, have had good results using frames of undrawn foundation or even foundationless frames.
If a colony does not span the entire box, you can just checkerboard the middle frames, say 3 through 8, and leave the end frames alone.
Done properly and at the right time, checkerboarding will
- Prevent or delay swarming
- Increase hive population
- Produce a larger crop of honey
- Eliminate the need for invasive swarm-control manipulations
- Prepare the hive for winter without supplementary feed
For more information, see “Checkerboarding: the x-files of beekeeping.”