Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Flipping" the Hives

Yesterday and today I am doing what I believe is called "reversing" the hive bodies on my two beehives.  I personally call it "flipping" the hives but then it does sound like I'm trying to sell them on the real estate market.  If you just started your hive this spring with a package of bees or a nuc hive, this is something you will do next year on your over-wintered hive.

Bees tend naturally to move up in their hives just like they would if they lived in an old hollowed out tree.  But the little brood boxes we provide them to live in are quite finite and early in the Spring we beekeepers need to make room for them.  Or at least make what seems to be apparent room by manipulating the hive bodies and the brood frames they contain.

This time of year there should be a cluster of brood in the top, center frames of the hive.  To make the hive feel more roomy by moving the brood-bearing frames to the bottom box, it leaves an entire hive box for the laying queen to work up into.  She'll feel like she has all this new space to lay more eggs and it hopefully delays the natural drive for the colony to swarm in search of a larger home.

Reversing the hives can be a great feat of lifting if you literally remove each hive body and return them to their bottom board.  I did this last year because I took the procedure quite literally but this year I was a bit wiser and understood better why beekeepers performed this ritual every Spring.  

First, if you use a smoker on your bees, make sure it is working well with a good supply of material to keep it running.  You will be literally taking the hive to pieces and the bees will need to be calmed with the smoke.  Also, bring out an extra empty hive body.  This is going to be a place to park some of the frames from both hive boxes and make them a little lighter to lift.

Go through each frame in the top hive box and move any frame that doesn't have brood into the extra box you bought.  Leave any frames with brood in the top hive box.  If you come across a frame which has your queen on it leave it in the top hive box, too.  Now you are ready remove this top box and carefully place it to the side.

Now you should be bent over looking into your lower hive box.  Go through it just like you did with the top hive box but this time when you find any frames containing brood move those frames to the top hive body to join the other brood frames you pulled already.  Move the queen's frame too if you spot her.  You can leave frames that do not contain brood in the lower box or temporarily move them to the hive box you brought out, this will help reduce the weight of the lower hive box.

Lift the lower hive box off the bottom board and set it aside.  Now you have three boxes of angry bees. (Just kidding!)  Brush off all the dead bees and debris off the bottom board.  Return the top hive body, the one containing all the brood, to the bottom board.  Keep the brood frames to the center spots and fill in the sides spots with any of the non-brood frames that you have in the box you brought out with you.

Place what was once the bottom hive box next on top of the box you just placed.  Any remaining frames that are left in the extra box can be placed into this now top box.  Place the inner cover and lid...you're done!


  1. Gee, that sounds like a lot but you described it perfectly and me who has never even seen a bee hive up close could follow what you were saying. The "angry bees" is still an issue for me but the more I learn the better it will be. Thanks again.

  2. Hi Becky!
    I'll make a beekeeper out of you yet! ;)
    Don't want to scare you, the bees get a little excited because they temporarily displaced when you take their hive apart to that extent. This spring reversal of hives and when you remove the honey at the end of the year is the only time they have gotten worked up, which is not too bad.
    When you start out with a package of bees you will grow in your comfort with them as they grow in population.
    You'll be fine, just think of all that honey and how you can supply your home with your own natural sugar source. There's even a book on canning using honey as your sweetner instead of sugar.