Un-Checker Boarding

Checker Boarding vs Conventional Methods

Un-checker Boarded Hives
Conventional setup.

After checker boarding for a decade, I reconfigured a beeyard and ran in a conventional manner.

Checker boarded yards:

  • 3 deep body hives
  • checker boarded in March
  • need no additional feeding
  • produced twice the average honey crop
  • less than 10% tried to swarm
  • minimal inspections/labor

Conventional  yards:

  • 2 deep body hives
  • need feeding
  • need frequent inspections
  • labor intensive
  • add extra supers when polished cups appear
  • cut swarm cells
  • 90% tried to swarm
  • 25% actually swarmed
  • swarm prevented hives were demoralized
  • produced less than an average honey crop

The reconfigured yard;

  • moved from 3 deep supers into 2
  • manually hefted to determine spring feed requirements
  • light weight hives were fed honey frames
  • at the first sign of polished swarm cups, a super was added on top of the two brood boxes
  • swarming hives were checked once a week
  • and swarm cells were cut out



The conventional run hive’s statistics reversed themselves compared to when those same hives were checker boarded.

With checker boarding:

  • less than 10 percent of my hives wanted to swarm

Without checker boarding:

  • over 90% wanted to swarm
  • broodnests were quickly backfilled
  • brood rearing was greatly reduced before the first cups were polished

Hard Work

After checker boarding for so long, I forgot how much work prevent swarming takes.

  • when cutting cells, it’s easy to miss one
  • some colonies swarm before a virgin hatches
  • some swarm before the queen cells are sealed!
  • 25% of these hives swarmed regardless of my anti-swarm efforts

The remaining hives didn’t swarm. But I was less than happy with the results:

  • broodnests were backfilled
  • brood rearing was almost completely curtailed
  • a few hives used the extra storage space in empty supers above the broodnest

Swarmed versus Swarm Prevented Hives

The difference between hives that swarmed, and those that didn’t swarm was dramatic. The swarmed hives were:

  • actively foraging
  • aggressively rearing brood
  • and filling the empty supers during a Yellow Sweet Clover flow

But, with one exception, the swarm prevented hives:

  • lingered on with backfilled broodnests
  • marginal brood rearing
  • and only minor foraging activity


The swarm prevented colonies didn’t preparing to swarm, or preparing for winter. They did nothing. This confused situation wouldn’t exist in nature. They swarm or not, focusing colony activity vigorously one direction. Maybe the frequent inspections added to the confusion.

Are both the parent hive and the swarm energized by swarming? While running Russian bees, I let my best colonies swarm without a drop in honey production.

I suspect most swarm prevention methods are more disruptive than thought. And I suspect the swarmed hives were better situationed for the main honey flow, the third week in July, than were swarm prevented hives.

Negative Impacts

Thinking about the negative impacts conventional beekeeping methods have on colony development:

  • most hives had broodnests that are too small, especially migratory hives
  • don’t have much stored pollen
  • expanding broodnests quickly consumes honey reserves
  • smaller broodnest easily become congested
  • and are quickly backfilled

This results in hives that need:

  • frequent feeding
  • pollen substitutes
  • swarm inspections
  • and volume management

Up north, these activities are often done when it’s cold. That impacts colony development at a critical time.

And sometimes the weather won’t permit any management. Then populous hives become damaged hives when honey reserves are depleted. Broodnest expansion stops. Brood is cannibalized.

Under such conditions, beekeepers become like busy bees, especially if right after pollinating California almonds. The corn syrup pumps must run daily. And pollen substitute fed, or the bees cannibalize brood making a bad situation even worse.

Comparing a typical migratory hive to a checker boarded, non-migratory one is interesting. When the migratory hives returns from California, their clusters match the best non-migratory hives. But two months later, the non-migratory hives are superior. They are 50% larger, as they have continued brood rearing for three uninterrupted, low stress brood cycles.

But the migratory hives continually struggling with their limited reserves and lack of forage. This creates stress which continues until dandelion bloom provides needed forage. In the interim, bee populations decline.

By the middle of June, a good migratory hive consists of two deeps ready to swarm. An over wintered/checker boarded hive consists of four deeps ready for the flow.


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