Reversing Brood Boxes in the Spring — Is it Necessary?
Ask the Expert!
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Jeanne Waligroski Behrens asks:
I have one overwintered hive that has two deeps. None of the bees are entering through the bottom hive and the bees are entering the top deep through the cracks. They are feeding on sugar water on the landing board below then entering on top. There were a lot of dead bees that I cleaned out of the screen underneath. Do I have to take it apart to see what’s up? Would drilling a hole about 9/16th in both —or just top box — help?
Rusty Burlew replies:
During the summer and fall, the bee colony packs honey above and to the sides of the brood nest. As the winter progresses, the bees eat their way through the food stores. As they eat, the entire winter cluster moves up, following the food. By spring, most colonies are in the upper brood box.
Because the colony is near the top, the bees are most likely to use a top entrance, even an unintentional one, as you have. This is normal. Since you are feeding syrup at the bottom, it is likely easier for the bees to move the syrup up on the outside, where they can fly, instead of on the inside, where they must walk.
Because of this phenomenon, many beekeepers begin spring by “reversing brood boxes,” which just means switching the two so that the cluster is on the bottom. Some beekeepers do this routinely, while some never do it. It’s not necessary because, as the brood nest expands, the queen will eventually begin laying in the bottom box, especially if you use a queen excluder to keep the queen out of the honey supers. Whether you reverse the boxes is just a matter of beekeeper preference.
Lots of dead bees on the bottom screen is also normal for an overwintered colony because bees die every day. By spring, there can be quite an accumulation, but normally the bees have it cleared out before too long. An occasional yellowjacket or other predatory insect is also not unusual. I wouldn’t worry about a lone yellowjacket, but if you start seeing many, you can add a robbing screen to keep them out of the hive.
Drilling one hole in the top box should be enough. I think 9/16th inch is a bit small, though, because it can get congested in a hurry. I recommend one inch. If you have a standard electric drill, you can get a hole saw at your home improvement store that should fit your drill. A hole saw looks like a metal cylinder with teeth on one end. If you want, you can also buy plastic plugs that can be used to close the hole in winter. Then in spring, you just pop them out again. Just make sure to buy a plug the same size as your hole saw.
We hope this helps! Good luck with your hives!