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Bee Yard Shuffle

Equalizing Hives across the Bee Yard

Bee Yard Shuffle - Sounds like a dance doesn’t it?

In reality I guess it kind of is! I write this article today as a suggestion from a beekeeper on our January Monthly Zoom call.

For those new to beekeeping, I have some wonderful news! You can take components from one colony and give it to another in need! Yes, it’s that easy!

So often we see a bee yard with multiple colonies, even on the same platform, where 1 or 2, for what ever reason, are under performing. I should point out that I’m not referring to colonies that have issues with untreated pests or diseases – but instead colonies that had (could have been pests or diseases) an issue causing a shortage of nurse bees, foragers and/or brood. Most often this is caused by queen problems.

When we put our minds to what happens when a queen fails, it all makes sense. Any interruption in the brood cycle causes an interruption in the workforce! Logic!

So, what do you do when this happens? Correct the original problem first – be it queen replacement or in some cases getting Varroa mites in check. #1 in the 

book of successful beekeeping is having a healthy young queen in your colony. Once you have that, the rest is just housing, nutrition, and management!

Hive correction ~

One of the hardest management skills to gain confidence in doing is frame manipulation. After all, it was drilled in your head as a new beekeeper to put frames back “exactly” like you found them, right? Well, in this case we won’t! Take a breath and put your confidence hat on, you can do this!

Hypothetical Hive #1 (HH #1)

Requeened the hive 3 weeks ago because the old queen had died (make up your own scenario). The colony had been without a queen for about 2 weeks prior to that and is very low on nurse bees and foragers because of it. The queen will only perform to what her workforce will provide. If she isn’t being well fed, her laying will be diminished. If there aren’t young nurse bees to clean cells and feed larva, her laying will be diminished. You want her to be laying like gangbusters, but to do so, she needs a workforce!

Hypothetical Hive #2 (HH #2)

Great hive – thriving young queen laying up a storm – everything working like a well-oiled machine!

Need for HH #1:

Nurse bees, nearly emerging brood, and foragers


Take 1 frame of capped (about to emerge) brood with adhering bees + 1 frame of open brood (uncapped larvae) with adhering bees and add to HH #1

Note: Locate your queen– it is not your goal to move her!

Next – Trade locations with HH #2 (the colony you just took the 2 frames from)! In trading hive locations, you gain the foragers you so desperately need! Make sense?

Note: You’ve actually given HH #2 a shot in the arm and not a deficit by taking from it. How’s that? Taking the drawn comb frames from HH #1 and placing them in HH #2 gives instant access to space for the good “young” queen to continue laying! Boom! Both colonies happy! 

Have you ever heard the phrase “Rob Peter to pay Paul”? That phrase refers to taking a problem from one and giving it to another. This is NOT what you want to do. Ensure you do not give good resources to a bad colony – and on the other hand –Do not give bad resources to a good colony! Have your mites in check and nutritional requirements met giving the equalizing method the best chance possible of being successful.

Equalizing populations by location ~

There are times a colony just needs a population boost. It’s lagging behind although it has plenty of brood. Simply trade locations with another and watch the magic happen! The boost it will get from a replenished forager population will make a huge difference! Note:

Do your hive swap in the middle of a warm day when the foragers are out, so that when they come back it will be to the colony that needs them.

If I had to point a finger at one aspect of beekeeping under-emphasized, it would be forager/house bee population ratio. A colony is truly a well-oiled machine when given half the chance. It takes a balance of workers bringing in resources to pass off to another worker (house bee), which in turn – feeds the queen, cleans the cells in which she will lay, feed the larvae and mind the front door! Without this balance, one of the steps goes undone. When a step is undone it throws the entire ecosystem off. Basically, it starts a downward spiraling effect that if not caught, can and will, cause you to lose your colony.

I can hear someone out there saying “but don’t the bees fight when you take them from one colony to next?” A short answer: No, Not really. When you think about what causes a tussle at the entrance of a hive, it’s the attempted entry of a bee “with nothing to offer”! In other words, it’s there wanting to get in to “take,” not to work, or give back. When you exchange/trade frames and bees or swap colony places, the bees are somewhat caught off guard (no pun intended) plus you are typically taking them with the frame they live on. They just go about working as if nothing happened and the new colony you put them in just looks at it as a gift because it is!

Time of year ~

When can you do this? Really anytime. I can honestly say other than right smack dab in the middle of a nectar flow you are ok to exchange frames and hives. I singled out nectar flow/honey flow simply because you’ll run the risk of robbing and slowing your honey production down.

Get comfortable equalizing colonies. It’s part of successful beekeeping and it’s probably one of the easiest maneuvers in management. If you haven’t already, educate yourself on frame ID – it is key to knowing what you are “supposed” to have so that you can recognize when you don’t have it. Easy as that!

Chari Elam

Texas Bee Supply Instructor

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