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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So I finally got a hive through the winter, not for lack of trying ( third year beekeeping). Having finally gotten to the spring I'm suddenly unprepared for the upcoming flow. I have all medium 8 frame boxes and my current hive is just three boxes tall. The top 2 boxes have brood and stores of pollen and honey, but the bottom box is pretty empty. Is this what happens before they "backfill" ? If so I thought i read swapping boxes would fix this, if that's the case should I swap the bottom two boxes and then add supers before the flow, or should I put the mostly empty bottom box on top, and then super? I worry if I do the latter then they'll just fill the old brood comb with honey.
 

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Local feral survivors in eight frame medium boxes.
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If you are in the hive and the bottom box is empty, I would put it on top so you can see when they have filled it. If you leave it on the bottom they will eventually move down, if you don't add boxes before they do, but how will you know when they filled it so you know to add more boxes?
 

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Assuming that your Asheville location means Asheville, NC, you are well into you spring build-up, perhaps into your active swarm season. I am in northern NY, so my suggestions on what to do are different primarily because of the timing.

Your brood is in the upper most boxes because it is slightly warmer there. This is normal for all hives that experience some "winter" factor. I use three deeps, so my brood is often, but not always, just in the top deep. Early on (now for me up here), I take the top box off and set it on a stand, covered for protection while I go through the boxes below. I assemble a set of frames from the two boxes below, of all drawn comb, but half empty and half filled will some kind of stores. This set is put in one box, with remaining ones in the other. The box with the remaining ones goes on the bottom position. The box with the brood in it is put back in the middle position. Then the newly assembled box is put in the top position. This encourages the bees to keep brooding upwards. Depending on the spring (some years we very long ones, sometimes short ones) I may do this again with the remaining frames in the lowest most box.

I also add in the Opening the Sides of the Brood Nest technique (OSBN, see posts about it on the first page), starting a few weeks later. I do one side of the brood nest at a time, usually adding a total of four partial frames before I am done for the year. I have written about how I do it in the OSBN thread.

Other people in my area simple swap the upper box with brood, for the lower, empty box. Again, for the same reasons of providing additional space for the bees to brood up into. If you are using just two deep boxes, there is some risk you will move the brood area downward while it is still a bit too chilly, so it might be down a little later than I can because I have three boxes to work with.

Since you are are using mediums (or for other people if their top box is a medium above a deep) you are likely to have a brood nest are spanning two boxes. These two boxes should be considered a single unit (though you can separate them to work the bees). This is one of the reasons I don't like to have a medium on top during the winter, but some people are OK with it.

In your case I would move the lower box to the top position, not disturbing the relationship between the upper two with each other.

This (and all the permutations described above are called reversing. And it is for the brood nest boxes only. And it is not done with empty or undrawn frames, except perhaps one or two as fillers in the outermost position, if needed, to make up a full box set. It is intended as a mild anti-swarming tactic. Many people don't do it, at all. And some people, either having only one box worth of frames to chose from, or just not caring to take the trouble, don't bother rearranging the frames into the alternating empty drawn/drawn with some stores pattern (which is sometimes checkerboarding in this usage, though there are techniques described as checkerboarding involving drawn comb/undrawn frames.) In this instance you are ONLY using drawn comb.

In general terms it is done because beekeepers want to keep the bees brooding ever-upwards (expanding the brood area upwards into drawn combs) because it is believed this is helpful in keeping them from initiating swarm "plans" in the months/weeks before your local swarm season.

I always do this, (among other anti-swarm measures), and I have an extremely low incidence of swarm initiation (nearly zero, most years). YMMV.

You asked if what you are seeing is "backfilling". No, backfilling (in the context of swarming preps) is the filling-in of cells in the primary brood areas with nectar. Sometimes on a heavy flow, even at other times of the year, you will see some backfilling simply because they have run out of space to store it, temporarily. But during the run-up to swarm season backfilling is a warning sign that the bees have already got travel plans and that you may need to take action to interrupt that.

However, since you are so much farther south than I am, you should also be at the point (or past time) for supering. That's adding a box or boxes of drawn comb above the brood nest area to give the bees space to store nectar to make into honey. Many people use a queen excluder between their brood area and the supers precisely to keep the bees from putting brood in the supers. (I don't collect honey, so I don't, put I probably would if honey was my goal.)

So, in your case, I think I would reverse your brood boxes, by moving the lower one to the top. And shortly afterward, add a QE, and a drawn super above that.

Meanwhile, I would keep a very sharp eye on your brood nest boxes for more active signs of imminent swarming. And be ready (plans made, equipment gathered, etc.) to make a split to prevent that. I examine the underside of all the of the brood boxes every 5 days for signs of queen cell initiation. I would use a Snelgrove or double-screen boards for this kind of split, but there are other ways to do it as well. Splitting to prevent a swarm may reduce your honey crop, but the risk is loosing half your bees to the trees, which will reduce it even more. The best way to maximize your honey crop, IMO, and to manage this risk is to be aggressive in anti-swarm manipulations to forestall the bees' notions about swarming, starting at the very end of winter. if you have never had a winter survival before, you have no experience with the radically-different spring/early summer pattern of a successfully overwintered colony. It will not be the same as your experience in getting a package or nuc started in a hive. It's a bucking bronco compared to a tame saddle horse.

But I am also curious as to why you have never had an overwintered colony. Do you treat effectively for mites during the summer, fall and then just before Christmas? Do you make sure there are sufficient stores (honey or syrup) in the hive before winter for your area? Do you provide a well-ventilated, insulated hive environment? These three things are easy to do, and absent major disease issues, or a bear attacks, should produce pretty reliable year-to-year survival. In your area, (and increasingly in my own) SHB need attention and suppression, as well. I think it would be very discouraging to lose bees every year.

It might be useful to review your mite monitoring and treating program. (And by time you've supered, you should already have done a sugar roll or alcohol wash to assess your current mite levels.) Then after your spring/early summer honey comes off, use that interval to knock back the mites so that the nurse bees of your winter bees are not heavily-affected by the mite-borne viruses. Then make sure your hives are reaching good winter weight in the fall, while continuing to address the mites. Even if you've successfully treated in late summer/early fall to protect the winter bee brood, the hives can have another bug surge at the end of the year. You have to keep doing sugar rolls/ alcohol washes as long as the bees are flying. And additional rounds may be needed, before the final treatment just before they settle in for the winter.

Hope these ideas are useful;. If any are not clear, post back and I will take another crack at explaining them.

Good luck this year! I think you're off to a very good start.

Nancy
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thank you for the responses. I'll definitely be moving that bottom box to the top.
Nancy, my first year beekeeping i lost a hive to pesticides (bees got into termite spray from an irresponsible exterminator) the second year i didn't do the very things you suggested above. This year I did most of the above ( i didn't treat three times, but did vigilant monitoring and treated once) i wound up losing one and one made it. I'm not quite sure what happened to the one hive. I went to check in mid December and there simply weren't any bees at all inside.
Thanks again for the great advice!
 
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