Key point – DO NOT CHECKERBOARD YOUR BROOD NEST.
In your effort as a good beekeeper to better understand the bees so you can be a better “manager”, this is a non-invasive method to naturally curb your bees behavior. This technique is used to prevent swarming, stimulate larger honey production, increase hive populations, and even to help the hive prepare for winter without the need for supplementary feeding in colder climates.
When should I checkerboard? 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.
Where do I checkerboard? Checkerboarding is done in the two supers that are directly above the brood nest. (Supers can be in any form – the important part is that you’re only alternating food not brood) The boxes may be of any size—but for practical reasons they should be the same size as you’ll want to be able to interchange frames.
How to checkerboard? Alternate frames of honey (full frames) with empty preferably drawn out comb as shown below. A reminder – this is only done with honey frames, breaking up the brood nest can cause a lot of confusion and result in a number of self-induced problems. So, it’s actually pretty simple – since this method requires honey stores to start off the checkerboard, this is not a “first year” activity.
We overwinter in 2 deep brood boxes although many in Texas overwinter in one deep with a medium. This “double deep” method allows us to start checkerboarding in the top box in early spring after the hives are reversed and a third box can be added. We use this method to encourage the bees to draw out new comb and will place plastic foundation in the “empty” slots. We tend to use the drawn out combs in the middle of the box to encourage them to go up since it’s their natural tendency to build the middle and move outwards.
Why go through the trouble? Checkerboarding exposes more storage area to the bees directly around the brood nest. By alternating frames, you can encourage growth – the bees use the honey borders to help them decide how much to grow. Left alone, hives tend to limit their size because they feel their storage is plenty full for the winter and they are more likely to swarm.