Hi... I live in eastern Massachusetts where the weather during the days has been upper 50s and evenings mid 40s. I have an overwintered hive, very active.... with 2 deeps.....where all the bees
are in the upper hive and none (very little activity) in lower hive body. The queen is laying like crazy in the upper hive and I'm afraid in another week it's going to get very crowded in the hive.
My question.... would now, with the temps I mentioned, be okay to rotate the hive bodies? Thanks!
If it gets too crowded in your hive, the bees will expand themselves (and their brood area) down into the bottom box - up to a point.
I am west of you (north of Albany NY) and in a slightly cooler zone than you (Z4b/Z5a), but paradoxically my daytime highs are a bit warmer, especially on the particularly warm days when 60s and even low 70s occur, at least for a few hours. (Warm days like that are not yet continuous, with only about one/week right now, the rest of time it's in the 50s.) Brewster being close to the ocean, your spring temps are kept cooler, longer.
Still I would expect that you may be seeing some spring flowers, and even some dandelions. (nothing like that here, yet.) Many beekeepers use the appearance of dandelions as the point when they add supers, or do a reverse because at that point not only does the hive need room to expand their brood area, but also there starts to become a surplus of nectar that needs storage. And it is that crowdedness that i think is the most provocative to the bees.
Now some people (including me most years, but not this one) have already done a reversal by now. But I run triple deeps in the winter so even when I reverse, my brood area is not placed in the lowest position, just moved down to the middle position in the triple stack. And that illustrates the main point against early reversal: The bees have placed their brood in the warmest part of the hive (the uppermost frames.) They did this, of course, back in February when that probably was more important than it is now. Your bee population is probably larger, now, too. More bees= more bees to keep brood warm when it's chilly.
Since you have double deeps, if you want to reverse, then I would do so. I'd put the entrance reducer in (and make sure the screen board is closed up, too, if you run with one) io keep the brood from being chilled. And maybe look ahead to a medium range forecast and not do it just before an unusually cool week. After a warm week the bees will have started to move the brood area upwards again, away from the chilly area around the entrance.
One other thing you might consider is setting a 2" shim between your lowest box and the bottom board (a slatted board also works, but they are more expensive to purchase.) All of my hives are set up like this and I find that my bees raise brood right down to the lowest point in the frames of the bottom box. I think it helps to keep that area up and away from direct drafts into the entrance. Very rarely, there will be little nubbins of dry comb hung under the frames down into this space, but it is not generally a big deal - providing my bees are not otherwise crowded.
You know the typical pattern of spring temps in your area, as well as the local area where your hives are placed. But I think it would be OK to do a reverse now if you are looking at a period with 7-14 days of not-colder-than-normal temps. And by all means, be ready to super up (with drawn comb, if possible) by the time you see dandelions in the yards and fields around your hives.
Like the answers to many bee questions, probably a longer, more complex, reply than you expected. But I always like to get replies with the "why" included with the answer so I can adapt it for my own circumstances.
Just had a conversation about this yesterday with a gentleman who on the same day took off his insulated wraps and reversed hive bodies and in the process divided the brood nest in several. I am afraid I was too graphic with him on what he had done. Even after a day it would be too late to put things back! This reversal of hive bodies seems to be done because that is what the herd does without a lot of thought. I reverse hive bodies occaisionally but conditions have to be right. The bee population may warrant it but if we have a cold week forecast, by doing it you are sentencing a lot of brood to death. All I will say about reversing is THIMK!
Thank you all for your thoughts. One other thought I had is rather than "disturb" the colony by doing a reversal now... is to just add another deep on top.... so there would be 3 deeps
with what is now the current top body would now be in the middle.
This would be less disruptive and provide room for the colony to expand upward. When the weather starts to get really warmer, like in the 70s, I can just remove the bottom deep.
I think that is a better course of action myself, especially if nights are still cold and ground cold too. I just think that reversing hive bodies is dogma that is often applied to situations that do not warrant it. But remember, in my beekeeping locale, night time temperatures dip into the high thirties far into June! Cold is a limiting factor for brood and colony development and I am a fanatic about helping the bees keep their broodnest warm. And heat rises!
How many seams of bees do you see in that deep? I feel the present colony strength is more telling of when or if to reverse than anything else.
I reverse at beginning of dandelion (now on southern exposures) hives with 7+ seams of bees, add a QE and super and reduce entrance to a couple of inches for a few weeks. Those with less than 7 seams will get reversed in a week or two.
Our weather is the same.
Nice thorough answer Nancy. I'll toss my opinion on the stack as this seems to be the trend.
I'd leave them be. I do not subscribe to the reversal craze, unless it is needed. Then only after the night time temps do not fall below 45 degrees or so. They have chosen to be up top in their house due to it being warmer. You basically are saying , HEy I know better than you dumb bees, you will make them heat the bottom box , move stores all around, for swarm prevention I guess. Go ahead and give a super of comb if you have it, space is good. Maybe even a frame or 2 of OTBN. putting brood down to the bottom IMO if not the best choice this early. Now if this is in Fla. it may be time, It looks like you are in MA. If after all these opinions you just cannot resist, then reverse, but put an empty box under the whole thing so the brood is still 10 inches above the cool air at the entrance. If you have ever been in an Igloo laying on the floor is way different, than laying up on the bench at 42 or so inches from the floor. The brood should be like 93 to 95 degrees, so they have it up top for a reason.