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  1. #1
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    Question Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Hi Guys,

    I'm just getting back into beekeeping after several years and I've recently read a lot about Checkerboarding and Opening the Broodnest to help prevent bees from wanting to swarm and to also help build up larger populations.
    Has anyone done any tests or seen scientific studies with a number of hives that compare the two methods?

    It would seem that Opening the Broodnest by inserting empty frames requires more bees to stay in the hive to maintain brood temperatures, due to the increase in the volume of the nest area. So may not be useful at lower temperatures.

    So what about a combination of both? For example using Checkerboarding in early spring when temperatures are low and Opening the Broodnest in early Summer once temperatures are closer to brood temperature?

    Thanks
    Matthew Davey

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    I think that the only way a brood nest should be opened up is by splitting it in the middle. For example you have two boxes and insert a third box in the middle of the two.

    Moving individual frames like is done with checkerboarding sets a hive back weeks. The brood nest is specifically organized with brood in the center and stores around the fringes. When you change that dynamic bees scramble to reorganize everything back where they need it. This involves moving stores and in some cases they will even discard brood creating a break in the brood cycle.

    It may prevent swarming, but only because the bees are busy undoing the mess their Keeper just created.
    Always question Conventional Wisdom.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Quote Originally Posted by bluegrass View Post
    Moving individual frames like is done with checkerboarding sets a hive back weeks. The brood nest is specifically organized with brood in the center
    Checkerboarding doesn't involve any manipulations in the brood nest - the checkerboarding is done in the honey supers above the brood nest. It creates space where the brood area can expand upwards without separating the nest from overhead reserve stores. The theory is that without both of those two elements (space and reserve stores) the brood nest won't expand and the hive will start swarm prep.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Isn't it supposed to be done early in the spring? Who has supers on early enough to make manipulations within the super as described on Butch's site?
    Always question Conventional Wisdom.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    To a certain extent checkerboarding begins the previous year when you reserve resources so that come February (in my area) the hive still has 2 supers full of honey, and you have in reserve another super of drawn comb. Then in February you shuffle in your drawn comb with the first super of honey, and still have a full super of honey on top of the stack. So you end up with (from the bottom) - Brood nest, box of alternate full/empty comb, another box of full/empty comb, full box of honey. It's probably not something your going to be able to do during your first year or two of bee keeping.

    Disclosure - I wenta to the seminar, anda watcheda the video - but I've never actually done it.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    I have been at it... 20 years now I guess. I still never keep extra honey on my hives in the winter and definitely don't keep any in reserve. IMO forget "checkerboarding" and just insert a box of drawn comb between the bottom and top brood chamber to expand the broodnest. That way brood stays out of supers because you don't break the honey band that is in the top of the upper brood box and the bees quickly set out filling in the new space in the broodnest with stores and eggs.
    Always question Conventional Wisdom.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    quick drawing to illustrate.
    Always question Conventional Wisdom.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Checkerboarding and Opening the Broodnest are two different methods of accomplishing the same goal, keeping lanes open for the bees to expand the broodnest and not begin to backfill in swarm prep. Checkerboarding should be done well before broodnest expansion begins and is much less intrusive. It keeps the bees moving up and expanding without hitting a solid honey dome. Opening the Broodnest sets up the same configuration but is started later in the spring season about the time you might begin to add honey supers. If you come into late winter/early spring and there is not enough capped honey left to set up Checkerboarding then opening the broodnest and supering will be the way to go. I think that using one or both methods depends on your climate, your set up, and how much honey is left in the colony in late winter. If they have burned through their stores over the winter then you won't have enough to work with to checkerboard and it would be unnecessary because the honey dome is not there to stop their expansion.
    To everything there is a season....

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    I think that (in theory) the "honey dome" - Reserve stores - are part of the swarm prevention/colony expansion strategy. Ed Holcomb who is another highly respected local honey production guru (and great speaker - not a checkerboarding guy though) says this - If you do an early inspection, and the cluster is at the top it's already too late (to prevent swarming and build a big strong hive). Mr. Wright (if I understand correctly) says that lack of reserve stores is one of the factors that causes the colony to start the swarm process instead of expanding the brood nest.

    Something that everyone should keep in mind is that this might be a great strategy here in the Mid south where Walt Wright, is from, perhaps not as effective where there is a strong late flow - or some other regional difference. In this area If you aren't ready to capitalize on the spring nectar flow with strong hives by May 1 you almost certainly will not get a honey crop .

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    One's method of approaching this is driven by regional conditions. You need to know where your bees will be in late winter/early spring and what their typical reserves are at that point. In my area the following paragraph from Walt's manuscript in the Recovery chapter is usually where I find my colonies in early spring. But if there is a box of overhead capped honey remaining, then checkboarding is in order.

    " In more northerly locations where it takes more honey to sustain the colony through winter, the bees often have brood to the top. If the lower empty is raised, the colony is operating in the recovery mode immediately. All that is required to prevent swarming is to maintain empty comb above the raised empty hive body, so as not to let them fill the space to the top."
    To everything there is a season....

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Gillmore View Post
    If they have burned through their stores over the winter then you won't have enough to work with to checkerboard and it would be unnecessary because the honey dome is not there to stop their expansion.
    What if they have burn through to the top but have not consumed the stores in doing so? In other words they just went up and there is a lot of honey on the sides or below them. I am a new beek so I don't have a lot of experience to go on but I have heard the bees can do this when there is a lot of honey left on the hive.
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Sometimes my bees will do that. In a three medium set up they move from the middle box into the top box and are there through winter. I don't like to mess with their honey on the outside frames at that time of year, they might need it close to the cluster when our temps take a quick dive. If the bottom box is unoccupied it goes above the cluster. If it's empty comb it goes on as is. If it contains capped frames of honey that would be the time to add another box and divide the honey frames between the two, alternating every other frame capped - empty. That keeps them moving up as the season progresses and they expand the brood nest.
    To everything there is a season....

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Quote Originally Posted by bluegrass View Post
    I think that the only way a brood nest should be opened up is by splitting it in the middle. For example you have two boxes and insert a third box in the middle of the two.
    First off, that's a nifty drawing, bluegrass. What's the program that allows you to import it into beesource?

    And I agree with this idea of splitting the colony. It's a trick that's been around a long time and they used to call it "Demaree"...except with the Demareee manipulations, the frames were sorted with the older brood and open brood in the bottom box, the younger brood in the top box along with the stores, and the queen is put in the lower box. Then the two boxes are separated with the empty box of frames/drawn comb.

    Either way, the key to swarm prevention is giving the bees ample room to store incoming nectar (or thin syrup) and giving the queen ample cells to lay eggs. As I continue to keep more and more bees, I like the simplicity of simply interjecting a box in the middle.

    Grant
    Jackson, MO
    Beekeeping With Twenty-five Hives: https://www.createspace.com/4152725

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Gillmore View Post
    I don't like to mess with their honey on the outside frames at that time of year, they might need it close to the cluster when our temps take a quick dive.
    Just so I am clear, what time of year is this?
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    I agree, that's a great drawing. Makes the words come to life when you have a visual. The bottom line, as Grant mentioned, is to provide plenty of room for storage and brood rearing. There are numerous ways to go about it, some quick and easy, and others more time consuming. Returning to the checkerboarding concept, the diagram illustrates what I think Walt is attempting to eliminate with his method. As you can see in the drawing, adding a box of empty frames in the center of the brood nest will give the queen much more room for brood and would temporarily curb the swarming impulse. But you still have a solid dome of capped honey above the top of the brood nest. With that dome in place the bees will tend to try to store incoming nectar from the dome "downward". You will need to regularly insert a new box in the center of the brood nest and keep pushing the dome up or the bees would start to backfill the brood nest area. With checkerboarding there are alternating lanes of empty comb going all the way up through the dome and into any supers that are added. The theory is that this will prompt the bees to expand the brood nest up and store excess incoming nectar "up" through the fractured dome and to the highest point above the brood nest. I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth, but this is my interpretation of his method after reading his material.
    Last edited by Mike Gillmore; 12-21-2011 at 12:15 PM.
    To everything there is a season....

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Quote Originally Posted by Acebird View Post
    Just so I am clear, what time of year is this?
    In my area, I'm looking at mid March. After the Maples are blooming but before Dandelion bloom. In March the brood rearing gets cranked up but we still can get some periods of pretty cold weather.
    To everything there is a season....

  17. #17
    dr.buzz Guest

    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Gillmore View Post
    If the bottom box is unoccupied it goes above the cluster. If it's empty comb it goes on as is.
    If you have no capped honey dome/reserves, and instead just put drawn comb above the brood chamber, do you find that you still get the same result of 8 foot tall stacks, increased bee population, increased honey production and decreased swarming?

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Reversing and moving a box with empty drawn comb above the brood nest at the correct time of year will allow them to expand their brood nest upward. At the same time a super or two should be added so they start to store any excess nectar up and away from the brood nest area.

    The goal in my area is to have the maximum number of bees in the colony at the end of May when the swarming season is winding down and the main flow starts to peak. The boxes are rearranged in mid to late March to allow for rapid unimpeded brood expansion through April and into May. If I can get them into May without swarming things are looking good. So March and April it's key to have a lot of room available for brood rearing and nectar storage.

    8 foot stacks? - too much for this old coot. I'll extract before it gets close to that.
    To everything there is a season....

  19. #19
    dr.buzz Guest

    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Gillmore View Post

    8 foot stacks? - too much for this old coot. I'll extract before it gets close to that.
    Yeah, really, and especially because I run all deeps....I was mostly going by the photos of Walt and various folks that checkerboard. Most folks wonder how to get the extra drawn comb for CBing. I have comb, but I don't usually leave so much capped reserves that I still have deeps full in Spring. I mountain camp. So I'm just wondering if simply adding drawn comb above the brood nest produces the same results as actually CBing with honey and comb alternating, etc....Seems like it would serve the same function.

    Now if I can just find the best way to CB a top bar, but that's a different thread........

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Gillmore View Post
    But you still have a solid dome of capped honey above the top of the brood nest. With that dome in place the bees will tend to try to store incoming nectar from the dome "downward". You will need to regularly insert a new box in the center of the brood nest and keep pushing the dome up or the bees would start to backfill the brood nest area.
    This is quite contrary to what I have read and was told by older beeks. As long as you have enough space in the brood chamber (defined as two deeps or three mediums) the honey cap will keep the queen from venturing upwards but will not impede the worker bee from storing honey in empty supers above. If you don't have the supers on you will be in trouble.
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

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