how to swarming

Another take on Taranov

A beekeeper here in Olympia, Dave Hurd, sent me the following photos of splitting a hive with a Taranov board. His design for the ramp is slightly different than my own but the principle is the same. Because he split a Langstroth rather than a top-bar hive, I thought you might enjoy seeing his photos.

Based on these two examples, it’s hard to say if all bees are this smart or if Olympia bees are smarter than most. Hmm…

Anyway, in his comment, Dave wrote:

I’m an Olympia, WA beekeeper (well, I keep most of them) and today is my one-year bee anniversary! . . . I wanted to let you know that I detected impending swarmification (my word) a little over a week ago in my triple deep and so used this method to split the hive.

It was astonishing. It was also unnerving to be shaking sooo many bees out onto the sheet. The carpet of bees marched itself up the ramp and split just like clockwork. . . . My board prototype is a little different than yours but performed admirably. Both the triple and the new colony seem to be doing well, though I don’t think I’ll open them to snoop for eggs for a while yet. . . .

I crafted my board out of an 8-frame bottom board, plywood scraps for side stands, a chunk of 2×6 attached to the bottom for ballast, and 1.5″ wide piece of leather-backed fuzzy material that I cut off of an ice scraper cuff that I then stapled to a piece of 1×2. I figure by the time winter comes back my wife won’t recall exactly how long that ice scraper cuff was. . . .

Thanks, Dave, for your description and some really great photographs!

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Here is the Taranov board from the bottom, showing the fabric for the bees to grab onto.

Here is the Taranov board from the bottom, showing the fabric for the bees to grab onto.

As you can see from the photo, the ramp is a modified bottom board.

As you can see from the photo, the main ramp is a modified bottom board.

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Soon after all the frames were shook free of bees.

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The bees begin to climb the ramp.

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A few bees begin to look under the ramp.

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The process continues.

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Notice the four-inch gap between the ramp and the old hive.

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Eventually the bees cluster under the ramp or on the front of the old hive.

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The split is nearly complete.

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A beautiful cluster of bees.

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The split is ready for its new home.

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Home, sweet home.

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The new split gets a syrup feeder.


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39 Comments

  • Rusty,

    David Hurd’s picture series were just a wonderful set of blow by blow illustration of what is happening and when. I would like to thank David for his willingness to share.

    Can you provide more information on the timing of using the Taranov board method. Are there queen cells developing in the parent hive, and if so, at what point are they in the development stage?

    I would very much like to try the Taranov splitting technique.

    Best Regards,
    Steve

  • Great pictures!

    Question #1: Which hive has the queen?

    Question #2: Do you have to make sure you have some queen cells in each hive?

    Thanks

    • Tom,

      Dave will have to answer your questions, but in my case, I put queen cells in each hive because I couldn’t find the queen and so had no idea where she went. Also, I had plenty of queen cells to go around.

  • Rusty,

    You remember that old, circa 1930’s or 40’s British beekeeper film where they used those great, bulky insulated hives? They dumped the bees in front of the hive and the little sweeties marched up a ramp like zombified lemmings. Loved watching that. This split method is so simple and elegant it’s scary. Things aren’t supposed to be that simple. Beautiful.

  • OK, how long does it take to sweep/shake the frames of 3 deeps and then re-assemble while the mass it supposedly moving up the ramp? Can we have a youtube of this process? Just curious. Can you do this solo or is it better with 2 or 3 helpers? Or maybe a traffic cop telling the bees to wait while I reassemble the triple deep and all the frames!

    Thanks,
    John

    • John,

      It really doesn’t happen that fast. It takes about 90 minutes for the bees to sort themselves out. I did my top-bar hive with 23 frames by myself. With a triple, I would set the top two boxes aside, and start with the bottom box by taking one frame out, shaking it, and then returning it, etc. I would not move that bottom box from the bottom board or hive stand. That way it is in place and ready for returning bees. Also, you could put up signs: “Please wait behind the white line for the next available seat.”

  • This is awe-inspiring. It will be another 2 or 3 years before I would dare to try it. But it’s tempting, with one hive that’s crammed to the top bars with bees.

    The best thing about it is the chance to visualize JUST HOW MANY BEES are in a thriving colony. Even a good swarm doesn’t quite give the whole idea!

    Thanks Dave and Rusty, for the great series’ of images!

    Nan
    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, KY

  • I can add a little more info about my split experience. On the afternoon of 4/28 (two weeks ago) we were having some usually warm weather and the bees were flying so I thought it would be a handy time to start a HopGuard treatment. I first installed the strips in my nuc and then moved onto my triple. I put strips in the top box, then as I lifted it off I saw a couple of capped swarm cells along the bottom of the frames. I carefully lowered the box back into place and closed the hive. That was probably around 2:30.

    At that point I was sure that the hive had either already recently swarmed or was just about to, and decided to make the split immediately in case the girls hadn’t bolted yet. Having read Rusty’s excellent description of the Taranov method I knew what I needed to do (run back into the house to read it again), so I came up with the materials to fabricate my board and put it together, got a nice floral print sheet from my wife, and got set up.

    As I was placing the board and sheet I noticed right away that through some adrenalin induced measurement error the lip of the board was about 1.5″ too high, so I slipped a couple of 2x4s under the hive to even them up. It was probably about 3:00 when the apparatus was assembled, in place, and ready for action.

    I started shaking frames working from the top down, stacking the emptied boxes on the top cover. When I got to the bottom box I pulled, shook, and replaced the frames leaving the box in place.

    Per the instructions I made sure to carefully brush the bees from frames with swarm cells to protect the new queen. For the other frames it only took one or two firm shakes to drop the bees onto the sheet. The whole process proceeded very quickly; after 20 minutes the hive was as empty. I spotted the marked queen midway through the middle box as she fell on the sheet.

    At 5:00 all of the bees were either back in the hive, clustered under the board, or out foraging. By 5:05 the cluster was in a new home sipping sweet syrup. This was a brand new box, with brand new frames of brand new foundation; no queen cells added.

    Today, two weeks later, the old marked queen is still in the new hive with quite a bit of eggs, brood, and capped brood. They seem to be doing well; in fact they seemed a little crowded so I added a second box on top of the first. I’ll check the old hive to make sure there are eggs next week, and if not I’ll requeen it from my nuc.

    As far as needing help, I did this all on my own and it was, in hindsight, not a big deal work-wise. I will admit to being a little panicky during the process because, well, that was a lot of bees! I was much relieved when I saw the queen and knew that I had caught it in time. I don’t think it could have gone much faster if I’d have had help; but there would have been someone to hold the video camera…

  • How critical is the angle of the board? My bottom boards stand only a few inches off the ground, supported by bricks, not cinder blocks. The incline would be more like 10% than 45. How disturbed would my foragers be if I made a change to cinder blocks to get them farther from the ground?

    • Audrey,

      You want to create enough space under the ramp for the bees to cluster. If you increased the height, the foragers would find the the opening because the other bees will “fan” them to it.

      • Rusty, my actual question was not clearly asked. I read about this method the day after I watched my colony swarm. Several days earlier I saw some queen cells (swarm location) but erroneously thought they wouldn’t swarm because they had plenty of room. I was so wrong. I would have tried this method had I known about it but my hives are low to the ground.

        1. Regardless of impending swarming, can I change my hives from bricks to cinder blocks without disturbing my foragers?

        2. If not, if I see that swarming is likely, after I empty the lowest box of bees, can I then elevate that box to accommodate the gangplank at 45 degrees?

        • Audrey,

          Capped swarm cells are a sign that swarming is imminent. The reproductive urge exists regardless of the space available, in spite of what you hear.

          Any time you move a hive—even vertically—it causes confusion. At first the returning foragers will be confused, but if you just change the vertical distance by a few inches, they will soon sort it out.

          Can you change the elevation at the same moment you are doing a split? I don’t know. It will certainly add to the confusion, but it may work out just fine. I have done both things separately, never together. However, I wouldn’t be afraid to try it.

  • I think this is so adventurous, but if one is not picky whether the queen ends up with young or old worker bees, seems so much less back-breaking to just move the main hive away, find a queen and place her back into the position where the old hive was. Now the new hive will have the queen cells and no queen, and the old one will have old workers and old queen.

    Old workers tend to have less varroa too, so you’ll be doing a little mite control. Place a frame with drone brood into a hive with virgin queen and you’ll catch most all of the varroa in that frame too.

    I think it is an amazing way to catch young bees, but if I were looking for a simple swarm control….

    • Aram,

      I like the split to have the old queen, because it more closely simulates a swarm.

  • Hi Rusty, I love your web site. The feedback is so great and helps to get lots of input and great ideas to add to the ideas you present. I just finished a queen rearing class yesterday. I have a word of caution when shaking the frames of bees. The individual frames,with queen cells on them, should not be shaken, only very gently brushed and handled with utmost care. The queens in their peanut shaped cells can be easily injured or killed. The old queen will leave with the swarm you have created and we want the colony remaining to have a fresh new start with a young healthy new queen.

    • Steve:

      This is true and exactly what I stated in my original post: “You open the hive and, one-by-one, shake all the frames such that the bees land on the sheet. The only exception is that frames with ripe queen cells should be brushed free of bees, not shaken.”

  • That Taranov board technique is extraordinary! My beekeeper husband says that he has never seen or heard of such a thing before. 🙂

  • I wonder, if the original hive is on a tall stand, whether one can place a blanket over the new box in front of the stand. So the ramp base would be made out of the new box with frames covered with migratory cover all the way, except for maybe 2 inch gap. Then when the young bees start marching down, they’ll just enter the new box through the gap. I suppose an angled ramp would need to be placed on top of the migratory cover. But in the end, instead of having a mini swarm hanging, you’ll have a new deep box where the bees can enter instead. After all is done, move the complete new hive to a new location.

  • Sounds like fun.
    Since the old hive has had its population reduced, is there a reason one couldn’t use the upper brood box as the new hive bottom?
    How about leaving frames of brood and stores in the box as well?
    Thanks
    Doug&Sandra

  • Thanks for all the details on the taranov board. This is something I must try.

  • I will be doing this tomorrow or Friday, Lord willing, if my very full TBH doesn’t swarm first. I know someone asked about the fragility of the comb when shaking the bees off. You assured them this wasn’t an issue. Does this include combs filled with honey? I’m so scared I’m going to destroy something. I’ve successfully shaken bees off of comb before just not ALL the combs. Thank you.

    • Kimberly,

      Just make sure to keep the frames vertical when you shake them. Twisting them sideways could break the combs.

  • Great information. Keep up the great articles, it will give us older beekeepers a great refresher, and a good classroom for the beginners.

    Robert Gifford

  • I am determined to try a Taranov this coming spring. Reviewing the relevant posts again, it looks like the length of the ramp is not critical? Nor the height, or even the angle? as long as the gap is 4 inches or so? A lot of our eligible surplus planks got sliced into wood-stove-sized morsels recently, but like one of your earlier contributors I do have a ratty bottom board that I could re-purpose. Not to mention lots of really long cardboard boxes, already flattened for recycle, that might work if I make 2 or 3 layers.

    Do you think that a pro-active pseudo-swarm will work OK? That is, if I have a reasonably strong hive, can I do this without waiting for queen cells and imminent swarming?

    Question about shaking, though. I believe you’ve run another post regarding the carnage that occurs to a shaken frame full of brood, that many of them may not survive the rough ride. Will the bees fall off from a light shake? Since I’m nervous about that, I may just go straight for the brush anyway.

    Finally, I guess we are not worried about getting absolutely, positively, 100% of the mobile bees out of the hive. After all, some will be crawling around on the bottom board or the sides of the box, not to mention the few that manage to cling to the frames no matter what (they certainly cling to *honey* frames whenever I try to steal one). So as long as I disrupt the majority, I should be good to go?

    • I love Taranov splits! Even people who don’t keep bees become mesmerized watching.

      The length of the ramp, the height, and the angle are not crucial. I like to use about a 45-degree angle, but I don’t have a concrete reason for that. I think vertical isn’t ideal and I think too shallow makes the ramp too long. So that’s how I came up with that. The bees I spoke with don’t have rules for this sort of thing, so you have to wing it.

      The gap is important but again, it’s variable. I’ve been using 4 inches because I read it somewhere and it has always worked for me. Just make sure the gap is large enough that bees need to fly across and not jump.

      I think the thick cardboard idea will work, too. One thing to remember: when they start clustering underneath, that cluster gets really heavy. Surprisingly heavy. So your board substitute needs to be strong enough to hold it.

      Yes, I think you can do this proactively. I’ve always done it once swarming was imminent because I needed to do something immediately. It might be interesting to do if it wasn’t an emergency.

      Regarding shaking, I’ve always shaken the frames that didn’t have queen cells and brushed the rest. Just before swarming most of the brood is capped and so is less vulnerable. If you decide to do the split proactively and have lots of open brood, you may just want to brush.

      Yes, on the last question. I find that a lot of the foragers will go back in the hive as you work, so you’re never going to separate everyone. I got a lot more relaxed about it after doing it a bunch of times. I just go through the frames once: I shake one onto the sheet, put the frame back, and take the next one. I don’t revisit any. When I get to the end, I just put everything back together and let the bees sort it out.

      I know it takes a lot of hands, but please take pictures and send them. How fun!

  • I’d love to try that but my bear fence doesn’t leave enough room in my bee yard for the ramp. Or is that just my excuse for laziness? Anyway, just here to subscribe to the comments.

    • Roberta,

      We are all assuming the ramp needs to be straight. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it could turn partway up?

      • Interesting thought. After all, the “stayers” are going to fly in anyway, right?

        I don’t have a bear fence to avoid, but I do have concerns about the terrain near the candidate hive. However, if I set the ramp 90 degrees to the hive, I have a better slope, and a better working area. My hives are set on cinder block stands, so now I’m thinking I could set the top of the ramp on a temporary cinder block stand in front of the hive. The foragers should recognize the hive whether it’s in front of them or a sharp right turn, and the “swarmers” should crawl under the ramp regardless.

        I’ll be wandering around my apiary with potential materials for the next few weeks. And I’m mentoring a few new-bees from our club, so I should be able to get multiple assistants!

        • I am very interested to see if this will work. My guess? It will work just fine.

          And yes, the stayers will fly in regardless. It’s just the neophytes that will cluster.

          This would make a great write-up. Don’t forget the pictures!

  • Just did my Taranov split today. What a hoot! Back in January, I had planned to do this with hive E, but during an inspection 2 days ago I discovered that hive D had a couple of queen cells, one of them capped. I stopped inspecting! and switched immediately to finishing the Taranov setup and building the new hive stand.

    One of my newbies helped with the first part, and they both came back a couple of hours later to help stuff the resulting mass of bees into their new home. After the first 3 or 4 frames I said, “I’m with Rusty, I can’t believe this is going to work!” But pretty soon we could tell that by golly, they were indeed starting up the ramp. It was also interesting to realize they started crowding over to one side of the ramp – in the shade! and then walked up from there. There was a deep and a medium, and after all the shaking, I took some video with the iPad. Accidentally hit slo-mo, which actually highlighted the separation, especially the seething mass of bees at the top of the path which were clearly staying put.

    During the shake-outs, several more queen cells turned up, across 4 or 5 different frames. Had I re-re-read all of the above, I would have put at least one of them in the new hive, just to be sure. Oops. Now I figure to come back in a couple of days and check the new hive for queenly activity. And assuming I still have queen cells in the old hive, I can move one of them over if necessary, and maybe put a couple in a nuc box.

    FYI, I did build the ramp at right angles to the old hive, so there’s that question answered. And the bees were remarkably mellow during the whole exercise – I only got a few stings 🙂 and my helpers escaped unscathed. And I’m exhausted.

    I’ll send you some pics separately.

    • Please don’t forget to send the pics! I’m eager to see the right-angle setup. That’s great that it worked and answered our question.

      Also, I was interested in the fact the bees went to the shady side. I see bees go to shade all the time, and yet so many beekeepers insist that sun is all they want. Instead, they’re just like most other animals in that regard.

      I absolutely love it when people try the Taranov split and see it work. It’s so much fun and so instructive of bee behavior. I’ve never had anyone say it was boring!

      Send pics and let me know if I can post them.