There are a few things I do to a hive in the early spring. These tasks serve two main functions. These functions are inspecting the condition of the hive coming out of winter and to prepare the hive for the transition into spring.
The timing varies based on the climate in your area and the short term weather conditions. Some winters are longer and colder than others, thus altering the timing of spring hive manipulation. Generally speaking, though, once I am reasonably sure that winter is going to be over in about a month, I’ll start the process. I determine this by the average temperatures. Once the temps start reaching the mid 40’s on a regular basis I can assume spring is on the way. Additionally, it is very important to pay attention to the blooms in your geographic location. For example, I base a lot of my spring schedule on the maple blooms. The weather and temps will affect when these blooms occur.
So once the temps start rising, I do a preliminary inspection of my hives. My goal at this time is simply to get a good look inside the hives and see how well they overwintered. I check for a healthy population number wise. I also check to see if they still have enough honey stores to last the hive until the nectar flow starts. If not, I supplement with feed. It’s also important to ensure there is a healthy queen still present and that she is laying a good brood pattern.
Now on to the manipulation. I like to swap brood boxes and also checkerboard frames in the springtime. Swapping brood boxes simply means I move the top brood box to the bottom and the bottom brood box to the top. Simple enough. The reason for doing so is to encourage good hive space utilization and to help prevent swarming. As the bees try to survive the winter, they work their way up into the hive. They do this because they are following their honey stores up, and also to utilize as much heat in the have as possible. The bee’s natural instincts are to continually build their hive up vertically. So when they run out of room, it is possible that they could be triggered to swarm. Reversing the brood boxes helps to relocate the bees to the bottom of the hive, thus making them think they have plenty of room to expand the hive upwards.
The next critical operation to conduct in the spring is checkerboarding. Checkerboarding is the process of staggering empty frames and full frames in the hive. Bees have two fundamental instincts when it comes to hive growth, they either want to build up the hive they’re in or reproduce by swarming. When inserting completely empty frames in the hive, it gives the bees the idea that the hive is not built up enough to overwinter, thereby encouraging them to stay in the hive and build. The timing of this operation is important. If done too late it is possible the bees will already be in swarm mode. In my area, I have found success by checkerboarding about one month before the maple trees start blooming. This is early enough to stave off swarming, for the most part. If you do this too early, the bees may be spread out too much and thus can’t keep the brood warm enough on cold nights.
It’s important to understand that even if you think you’ve done everything right, the bees may still decide to swarm. At the end of the day, the bees will do what they want and we’re just along for the ride. So enjoy the process and learn from mistakes along the way.
I have attached a video which shows the process of brood box reversing. Unfortunately, I failed to adequately document the checkerboarding process. I’ll make a better video next spring.