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:

When:

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.

Where:

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.

What:

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:

Full Empty Full Empty Full Empty Full Empty Full Empty
Empty Full Empty Full Empty Full Empty Full Empty Full

Why:

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).

How:

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.

Variations:

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.

Results:

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

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Darwin
Reply

Rusty,
I live in Central Minnesota, and was wondering when would be the ideal time to checkerboard my 3 deep hive?

Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Darwin,

I’d wait for a warmish day, at least 60 degrees. If you don’t disturb the brood nest you should be fine even if you get some nighttime freezes.

Joel
Reply

Hi Rusty!

Just did my first checkerboarding, and just went through my first winter with three deeps..gotta say, they did extremely well, the hives are booming right now, and I haven’t had to feed anything at all…they made it all the way through just on their stores.

I had to make some adjustments to the brood when I was doing this because they had created an elongated brood area with some in top part of frames in the bottom body, most in the middle body, and some on the bottom frames of the top body.

Essentially I moved I the middle box to the bottom, put the other frames with brood in the center of the middle body, put a full frame of honey on each side of the brood in the middle box, then checkered from there out…in the top body I did the typical checker pattern

The second hive was essentially the same, and I did the same thing, but had fewer full frames of honey to checker with, so in the top box I checkered the 5 frames in the center and just put empty frames on each side of that.

Was wondering if you thought what I did was appropriate/ acceptable…

Thank you so much for this site…

Joel

Rusty
Reply

Joel,

That sounds excellent. My experience with triple deeps is they make that long narrow brood nest. I think they stay warmer that way because they are all tucked in the very center of the hive and are surrounded by lots of honey, pollen, and comb that acts like insulation.

It was good to checkerboard because it sounds as if your hives are going to explode with bees very shortly. I love to hear it. Congratulations.

Biddy
Reply

Dear Rusty,

I am a beekeeper in the west of Ireland and I am fascinated with the simplicity of checkerboarding as a method of swarm prevention. The facts that it is not invasive of the brood nest and avails of natural bee behaviour is most appealing. In the west of Ireland ( my nearest neighbour as I look west is the Untied States of America) the prevailing winds are south westerly and consequently we receive a lot of rainfall throughout the year. Most beekeepers in Ireland use the British National hive. Some use brood and a half (brood chamber and shallow super). The commercial beekeepers have begun to use double brood. I use what is termed a Modified Commercial brood chamber (it is about one and a half times the area of the National) and simply used to add supers as and if required throughout the summer. This year I wintered on brood and a half because we had a mild autumn with ivy flow up to a few days ago. I don’t like disturbing the brood nest or clipping the queen, practices promoted in modern beekeeping education, and hence my appreciation of checkerboarding.

Although I have read articles on the subject on Beesource and understand the logic of the technique I am not sure of its application.
As I understand it (I am open to correction) I must checkerboard the overwintered honey super in the spring which will result in two checkerboarded honey supers over the brood nest. Do I continue to check these two supers (weekly or whatever) so as to maintain the checkerboarding effect above the brood nest? Is it permissible to leave full supers above the latter? I would greatly appreciate your comment.

Biddy

Rusty
Reply

Biddy,

The purpose of checkerboarding is to reduce the chance of swarming. Bees like their honey storage area to be full before they swarm, but checkerboarding makes it appear half empty. In most places, the primary swarm season lasts only six or eight weeks, so after that amount of time, you don’t have to keep re-checkeboarding. Swarming, like everything else in beekeeping, is seasonal. Read “Checkerboarding: the X-files of beekeeping” for more about why it works.

By the way, there’s probably no problem with leaving full supers above the checkerboarded ones.

Roy
Reply

How do you go about accomplishing something like this in a top-bar hive, if that’s even possible? If you’ve already explained this elsewhere, I apologize; if you could just point me in the right direction.

Rusty
Reply

Roy,

You can do this in a top-bar hive if you super it. I’ve never supered a tbh, but I’ve seen it done. The beekeepers usually make a sort of half roof for part of the hive and make a box with top bars in it to go over the other half of the hive.

Do any readers have a photo of this? Or advice for Roy?

Martin
Reply

Roy, In the TBH just simply do the same thing but horizontally. Move each bar of honey over and put in a new empty bar. It basically opens things up. If you run out of space you may need to take some honey to open things up. But just leave one new empty bar between each bar of honey.

Leave a comment

name*

email* (not published)

website