How to checkerboard a hive
Before I explain how to do it, I want to repeat that checkerboarding is done above the brood nest. 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 (see Checkerboarding).
In my opinion, checkerboarding is easiest when you overwinter in three brood boxes. By early spring, the brood nest is usually in the middle box, with a box full of honey above and an empty box below. You can just put the brood box on the bottom and use the other two boxes to checkerboard. Your extracting supers can go above the checkerboarded boxes.
You can also checkerboard without three brood boxes, as long as you have a box of honey and a box of drawn comb to use for setting up the checkerboard.
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 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