Preventing a swarm is not easy

It is totally presumptuous to say we know what’s going through a colony’s mind, but it seems that bees swarm for two reasons: the colony is crowded or the colony wants to reproduce.

If the colony wants to reproduce, the “plans and preparations” have been going on for quite a while before it actually happens. It is very difficult to stop a swarm with the reproductive urge. Most steps you take will delay—rather than prevent—the eventual swarm.

Requeening in the early spring can help reduce swarming because young queens tend to produce more pheromone than older queens. As the amount of queen pheromone decreases the urge for swarming increases.

Cutting swarm cells is popular among beekeepers, but this often becomes a battle of wills: you keep cutting cells and they keep producing new ones. The beekeeper usually loses because if he misses a single cell or cuts a day too late, the swarm will issue anyway. Worse, if he unknowingly cuts the cells from a hive that already swarmed or is just about to swarm, he may leave the old hive queenless.

If swarming is imminent, one of the best things to do is split the colony in two. By splitting you are essentially initiating an artificial swarm during which you (try to) control when and where the bees go. By taking the old queen and some brood and nurses and putting them in a new hive, both parts seem to “think” they have swarmed and, if you’re lucky, they will both grow into strong colonies. Both colonies together won’t produce as much honey as one big colony, but you were going to lose them anyway so it doesn’t much matter.

If a colony has an urge to swarm due to overcrowding, anything you do to reduce congestion will help.

  • Follower boards between the brood box and frames give bees more room to cluster
  • Screened bottom boards not only separate mites from the colony but provide better ventilation
  • An upper entrance improves ventilation and decreases congestion at the lower entrance
  • Reversing hive bodies keeps the brood nest lower in the hive and provides room above the brood nest to store honey
  • Empty supers provide room above the brood nest to store honey
  • Burr comb built between the frames should be cut away. Not only does the queen need lots of room to lay, but she needs to be able to get there easily.

If you do all these things you may be able to prevent a swarm—or not. In spite of all we know about bees, we are not bee psychologists. The best we can do is note what has worked in the past and experiment in the future.

Rusty

Related posts:

Comments

Hello_Kitty_
Reply

What do you mean by “Follower boards between the brood box and frames give bees more room to cluster.” I have a Top Bar Hive which has a follower board in the back. How is a follower used in a Langstroth-style hive?

Rusty
Reply

You caught me; I was going to write about follower boards tomorrow. Follower boards in a Langstroth hive are the same shape as a regular frame except the top bar part is only ¾” wide. Instead of filling them with foundation you fill them with masonite or some other thin, solid material like plastic.

You take out one regular frame and replace it with two followers, one on each side of the brood box. That is why the top bar part has to be narrow—because you replace one with two.

The theory here is that the bees can collect on the follower boards without sitting on the brood. In hot weather, the bees have a hard time keeping the brood cool enough, and sitting on it makes it worse. So both follower boards and slatted racks give the bees a place to “hang out” without making the brood hotter. This also reduces the feeling of congestion in the hive, and congestion is a major factor in swarming.

Thank you for taking the time to write!

Rusty

Gary
Reply

Rusty,

So, I was checking the hives this weekend and noticed that one had much less activity than just a few days before. Once I opened the hive it was clear that for the comb I had absolutely too few bees. I’m thinking they must have swarmed. The frames are full of empty comb, with the exception of the lower deep which has what seems to be a nice ratio of brood to honey. Getting to the point, is there anything special I should do? Maybe plan to combine with another, or just let nature take its course?

Thank you for all you do to help. I read every one of your posts.

Gary

Rusty
Reply

Gary,

Hard to say what happened, but they may have swarmed. You need to figure out whether you have a queen. If you can estimate the date you think they may have swarmed, you can figure out roughly when a new queen should start laying. After a swarm leaves you need about three day for the virgin to mature, a week or so for her to mate, another three days to mature further, and then she should start to lay. Let’s call that about two weeks, but it can be longer if the weather is bad.

So if you see eggs or young larvae by then, you are good to go. If not, you can introduce a purchased queen, combine the hive with another, or give the hive a frame of eggs from another hive and see if they can raise a queen. Or, if you can find a swarm cell in another hive, you can give them that.

Gary
Reply

Rusty,

Excellent information. Thank you. I have a path forward!

Please keep writing, it’s great.

Gary

Robert
Reply

Rusty,
My bees love bridging the bottom box frames to the upper box frames with honey cells. Of course they get all kinds of worked up when I break this comb and the honey starts running all over the place.
Two questions, first, could it be that there is too much space between the upper and lower frames?
Secondly, it’s pretty easy to scrape the comb off the top of the bottom set of frames but how do I get it off the bottom of the top box frames?
Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Robert,

Yes, there is probably too much space between the frames, and the only way to get it off is one-by-one. That’s the reason so much attention is paid to bee space.

Leave a comment

name*

email* (not published)

website