CHECKERBOARDING  DEMONSTRATION

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Pictured above with Walt are Butch Adams and Fritz Freese at the first checkerboard demonstration session

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Walt Wright (center above) is a member of the Madison County Beekeepers Association and resides just north of Huntsville, Alabama USA in Elkton, Tennessee, USA.

The above picture was taken on Saturday March 5, 2005 at the first session of a demonstration of Walt's Checkerboard technique.   The demonstration will last all summer and is available for anyone who would like to drop by and participate in or just to see the progress.   

The two above hives are to be used only for this demonstration.   The two hives were wintered in 1 medium super on the bottom board followed by one deep and 2 shallows (as shown).   All boxes have 9 frames.   All frames have drawn comb.

Walt devised this system of swarm prevention in the mid – 1990’s. His first test of the scheme was in the spring of 1996. It was remarkably effective. With 45 test colonies, no swarms were generated. He has spent considerable time since trying to get the attention of the beekeeping community – to no avail. The literature reports that swarming is inevitable. Beekeepers automatically rejected the concept because they couldn’t believe that such a simple procedure would counteract the inevitable.

Observing that the colony maintains a capped honey band overhead during the swarm preparation period, he set out to offset that limitation to brood nest expansion in the spring. After another approach demonstrated he was on the right track, he tried Checkerboarding, with the results above.

The main thrust of Checkerboarding is to break up the overhead band of capped honey maintained by the colony through the swarm preparation season. (The literature refers to the band of honey or nectar as causing a “honey bound” condition.) In the undisturbed colony, it is capped honey. In the colony reversed in the early season, the band is rebuilt with nectar. Maintenance of the band is deliberate addition of empty comb above the band is often ignored, and swarm preparations continue below the band – which Walt calls the “reserve”. He says that the reserve is maintained through the swarm prep period to offset forage drop – outs or bad weather during swarm preps.

Checkerboarding interrupts the reserve overhead with alternate empty comb. Every other frame of honey is raised to the next higher box. By combining a box of empty comb with the top box of honey, two boxes of frames of honey alternated with empty comb are generated. With empty comb two boxes down from the top, the colony encounters that empty comb during brood nest expansion of the build up. When they find empty comb within the cluster, filling that comb with nectar has a higher priority than starting swarm preparations. All that is required for swarm prevention is adding empty comb at the top of the hive to prevent their filling the comb to the top. Brood nest expansion continues through the swarm prep season, generating larger populations for honey production.

The schedule of events for the demonstration is roughly as follows:

March 5, 2005 the two hives stacks were disassembled and reassembled with the deep that contained the brood ball on the bottom board, followed by the lower shallow of honey that had wintered above the deep, followed by the empty medium from the bottom, followed by two "checkerboard" shallows.    Checkerboard (in simple terms) amounts to alternating combs "with honey" and combs with no honey such that when placed back in the hive stack the "honey filled" and "honey empty" frames are alternated vertically and horizontally. 

There is no magic in the checkerboard pattern of frames of honey and empty frames of comb. Both are diagonal like the red and black squares of a checkerboard. This diagonal layout gives the manipulation its name, but is not required for success. The diagonal layout is produced by Walt’s use of a nine frame brood nest. The odd number of frames just works out that way. Combining 9 frames of honey and 9 frames of comb into two boxes, and alternating empty and honey; puts 5 frames of honey in one box and 4 in the other. The reverse for empty frames of comb, that provides the diagonal effect. For a 10 frame brood nest, over and under frames of the same type produce the same results. Alternated, the outside frames of one box are honey and the outside frames of the other box are empty comb.   Follows is an example of the correct payout for a 9 frame super stack where "F" represents Filled with honey and E represents empty the two super frames would be as follows: 

 

Super 5:E F E F E F E F E

Super 4:F E F E F E F E F

 

Note: An error in this picture was corrected on Sept 29, 2005.   Specifically, the bottom medium was added.   Correction 2 was made made Oct 21, 2005 to change from all "E" to all "F" in the bottom super.  These were drawing errors, the hives were not changed.

It does not matter if super 4 or 5 is on top as long as they alternate "F" and "E" pattern is maintained.    

March 26, 2005 Club inspection revealed that the bees had removed the honey from the checkerboard frames that originally had honey.   From this point through fall the only swarm prevention activity will be adding supers.

March 27, 2005 Brood nest inspection: Walt provided the following: With my reputation on the line, several inspections were made to check progress along the way. There was no intent to be secretive but getting the word to interest other members was virtually impossible in the short time allowed for these impromptu inspections when weather permitted. Good records of progress were kept for those inspections, and the notes are available on request. First session attendees were provided a copy at the second session.

What was seen on those progress inspections was not good, with respect to results of normal Checkerboarding effects. The brood nest was not expanding in accordance with expectations, and there was no evidence of nectar storage above the brood nest – two key features of CB. About mid build – up it became apparent that a mistake had been made on the first manipulation. The two checkerboarded shallows should have been placed above the brood nest to encourage brood nest expansion and provide feed in reach. Instead, the empty medium from the bottom had been placed between the brood nest and the CB supers. A major blunder! Blame me; I know better.

On this date, the swarm prep season is typically ending in the Huntsville area. One last progress check was made before catching a plane to Oblivion. Hooray! They were storing nectar in the empty medium. Cancel that reservation at Abysmal Airlines. While not 100%, this was the first positive indication that the colonies might not swarm. Three days earlier (24th) they had not started storing in the medium. How marginal can you get?

April 16, 2005 It’s time for the pollen box maneuver. This manipulation is not part of Checkerboarding for swarm prevention, but is an investment in wintering for next season. A shallow of brood is placed on the bottom board below the brood chamber deep. On the main flow the colony will replace that brood with long – term stored pollen. The details can be found in a Bee Culture article of September, 2004.

While the colony was opened for the pollen box manipulation, the mistake of the first manipulation of this demonstration was corrected. The medium super, now nearly filled with nectar was moved above the two checkerboarded supers.

May 5,2005 White Wax starting – signaling the start of the main flow. This is the end of the progress monitoring off – line.

May 27, 2005 The honey flow is pretty near over but the top super on hive 2 was full so a second shallow was added.

June 30, 2005 Hive 1 has 6 shallow production supers with no empty space below the top most super.   Hive 2 has 5 shallow production supers with no empty space below the top super.

August 31, 2005 Starting at the bottom board and counting up, supers 4,5,6,7 and 8 were removed from hive WR2 ( left side) and supers 4,5,6,7,8 and 9 were removed from hive WR1 ( right side)  and  processed.  

The very top super was left on both colonies (click here for details as to why).  It will be removed just prior to fall medication around 15 September. Any additional honey these supers contain will be included and the yields will be updated. 

Both hives passed the "heft" test so it appears they have adequate winter stores at this time.   Honey produced was determined by weighing each super prior to uncapping and again after extracting the honey.   In reality, the weights given include what beeswax that came off with the cappings and what little Propolis was scraped from the supers as part of cleanup.   

In this part of Alabama it is not that uncommon for a colony the size of these to make an additional super of fall honey.    This possible additional honey will be sacrificed in favor of more effective medication and to assure adequate winter stores.   Yield could be increased if this honey was removed and the bees fed for winter survival.

September 28, 2005 All hives in the demonstration yard were "hefted" to approximate winter stores.   The two checkerboard hives were estimated to have in excess of 100 lbs of honey which is more than adequate for this part of Alabama.   One of the non-checkerboard hives (BOG-2) was quiet light and will require winter feeding.   All others including the high yielding BOG-1 appear to have adequate winter stores (100 lbs or so).

DEMONSTRATION RESULTS

BOG 5 and 6 are current year splits.  

BOG 7 was used for another experiment this year.

BOG 8 was a current class "trap colony".

BOG 1 and 2 are second year colonies.  

BOG 3 and 4 are first year colonies. 

 WR1 and WR2 are Checkerboard colonies

Not part of demonstration

This picture was taken 31 August 2005.

Part of demonstration

Background

The above is a picture of the entire yard in which this checkerboard demonstration was conduced.  The yard is located on the grounds of the Huntsville Botanical Garden.   The yard location within the garden was based more on aesthetics than honey production however most hobby beekeepers are likely to face the same options in their apiaries.  

This yard is used for training and educational purposes.   The colony in the foreground near the fence was a trap hive that the spring 2005 class set up and it captured a nice size swarm.   It was not part of the checkerboard demonstration.  

Each new class starts 2 new colonies each spring.   Every winter the two colonies that are three years old are removed.   This leaves 2 new start colonies, 2 one year and 2 two year established colonies for them to work with.   The thought behind this practice is to teach 3 years of beekeeping in one series of sessions.

In an effort to compare the results of checkerboard colonies to non checkerboard colonies.   Records were kept and yield comparison made.   Only the 1 and 2 year old colonies were included (four total hives).

The first week in March the non-checkerboard hives were manipulated to prevent swarming.   From 4 colonies, two strong (5 brood frames each) splits were made and the boxes were reversed so that the brood was on the bottom and the empty box on top.   The checkerboard colonies were manipulated as described above and no brood was removed for splits.

As is evident by the above picture that neither of the checkerboard hives swarmed.   One of the non-checkerboard hives did not swarm.  The other 3 non-checkerboard did swarm.

When the honey was removed, each super was weighed (dry), then the honey extracted and the super and frames (wet) were weighed again.   Yield was determined by subtracting the "wet" weight from the "dry" weight.

 

Per Hive Yield

WR1 produced 177 lbs.

WR2 produced 171.75 lbs.

 

BOG1 produced 217.25 lbs.

BOG2 produced 23.5 lbs.

BOG3 produced 71.25 lbs.

BOG4  required beekeeping class intervention due to a queen problem and was removed from the experiment.

Yard Yield Summation

348.25 lbs

From 2 Checkerboard hives (174.12 Lbs Avg.)

 

312 lbs

From 4 (3) non-checkerboard hives (103 Lbs Avg.)

Or if BOG4 was included @ an estimated yield of 30 Lbs. (85.5 Lbs Avg.)

 

The 2 Checkerboard colonies averaged roughly 75 lbs more honey per colony even with one of the non-checkerboard colonies produced 217 Lbs.

Another interesting result of the experiment was that with no queen excluders used, only one super had a small (3 inch diameter) patch of brood (this was the lower most super that was removed at honey harvest time).   The brood appeared to be from the very top of the brood ball that was in the supers above it.   There was also a small amount of what appeared to be "old" honey (2 frames or so) in one of the bottom checkerboard supers.   It will be used as bee feed.

The 2 checkerboard colonies will be left in this apiary until next spring at which time the experiment will be repeated.   This is being done to remove additional variables that could have influenced the outcome as the result of the two different groups not having over wintered in the same location.   This webpage will be updated as the colonies progress through the fall and winter season if there is significant information to be added.

January 31, 2006 One Checkerboard colony (WR-2) was lost probably due to queen loss in early winter.   The equipment was removed and the honey moved to colonies needing feed.   Both WR-1 and 2 had adequate winter stores.   Three of the four non-checkerboarded colonies (BOG-3,4 and 7) have required feeding since early winter.   BOG-8 was lost due to starvation after having had approximately 90 lbs of honey at the end of June.

2005 was a difficult summer, fall and winter in this area.   Virtually no summer or fall honey was made.   I realize that the sample size is much too small to be meaningful but the checkerboarded colonies appeared to have had better winter stores than other hives in the same yard.

For a compete list of Walt's articles on Checkerboarding only, click here.

For a compete list of all of Walt's articles, click here.

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File last edited 5/12/11 (correct spelling) brf/wr