beekeeping equipment how to

How to use a swarm guard

A swarm guard is similar to a queen excluder except it is designed to fit over the entrance to a hive. Just like a queen excluder, it prevents both queens and drones from passing through because the wires are close together. Worker bees are small enough to pass through easily.

Swarm guards have their uses but they can only be used for short periods in particular circumstances. If they are left in place for too long, they can produce disastrous results. For example:

  • Since drones can’t get in or out, the ones outside can’t return home and the ones inside can’t leave. You can get hundreds of dead drones piling up behind the guard until the entrance becomes virtually blocked to the workers. The workers can’t remove the dead drones either, so you are left with a big mess.
  • A swarm guard will prevent swarming for a time, but its presence won’t stop the swarm impulse. Eventually, the swarm may leave with a virgin queen that is small enough to fit between the wires.
  • If you put the guard on when a virgin is getting ready to mate, she may not be able to get out. Or if you put it on when she is already out, she may not be able to get back in. In either case, you are creating a queenless hive.

But it’s not all bad

Nevertheless, swarm guards can be useful tools. I use them sparingly for the following purposes:

  • Swarm guards are useful when installing new packages. Since the queen can’t leave the hive, the colony is unlikely to abscond with a swarm guard in place. I usually leave the guard in place until the new queen is laying eggs. Since there are no drones to get caught behind the guard, and you have a mated queen on the inside, it is safe to leave it on for a few days.
  • If I happen to see a colony that is itching to swarm, I install a guard immediately. This stops the swarm from issuing long enough for me to gather equipment and set up a split. I’ve been able to forestall many swarms just by having one of these devices on hand. If I can’t do the split the same day, I take off the guard before dark so the drones can sort themselves out, then I do the split first thing the next morning.
  • During fall and winter when no drones or queens are coming and going, swarm guards can be used as mouse guards. Still, you have to remember to take them off before drones appear in the spring.

I’m sure other beekeepers have found creative ways to use swarm guards. Let us know what you do with them.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

A swarm guard in place with bees examining the new hardward.
A swarm guard in place. Photo by Herb Lester.

17 Comments

  • Hi, Rusty. Quick tip: If you don’t happen to own a swarm guard or, don’t have the time to make one, you can place a queen excluder between the bottom board and the bottom super. It will do the job in a pinch.

  • I have captured several swarms here in El Paso, TX and three of them have absconded. I have started putting on cut queen excluders until eggs are laid.

  • I’m glad to see that your uses for a swarm guard usually involve it in a process for overall management. My fear with this tool is that people will use it to prevent swarms, period. Swarms are usually an indication of a healthy, growing hive and to ignore the bees’ instinct to alleviate overcrowding or rejuvenate with a new queen is invasive in the worst sense. I know this is exactly the opposite of what you are advocating, but I just thought I would put this view out there.

    • You are exactly right, which is why I’ve waited nearly four years to mention them. I’ve always been afraid of advocating something that is easily misunderstood. But in Herb Lester’s photos in the recent post about installing packages, he shows one being used in a perfectly legitimate application. As a result, there were a lot of questions like “What is it?” so I decided to go ahead and describe its uses.

  • I always learn something from your posts, which is good, as my bee knowledge is woefully inadequate.

    You mentioned “seeing a colony that is itching to swarm” – could you build on that a little? How can you tell? Are there obvious signs or is this just from experience?

    • Chris,

      I don’t know if I can answer that. Most swarms seem to happen in midday and some of the bees pour out in groups and fly around without foraging. Few, if any, bees are carrying pollen. Sometimes they pour out and then go back in a while later. But of course, if you wait too late, they all pour out and leave. I can’t explain it, but it’s like the electricity in the air before a thunderstorm—I feel it more than see it. How’s that for helpful? LOL.

  • I have been feeding my bees the sugar water and I just noticed today the hive is not so active. I looked in it and it looks like most of the bees are gone, I cannot find the queen either. There are some bees still in there maybe a hundred. The hive looks awful and I do not see signs of mites. We have been having lots of rain and then sunny days. I do not see new eggs or honey now in the hive. What happened? Do you have any ideas? I live in the woods in Maine and there is 3,000 acres to roam. To much for me to search for.

    • Judy,

      I’d be guessing, of course, and I don’t know what you mean by “the hive looks awful,” but it sounds to me like the queen failed and the colony has been dwindling ever since. No point in looking for them because it sounds like they are dead.

  • Just getting started. I’m so excited to finally at 62 years young to get to do what I’ve always had a very deep desire for many many years. Love honey and to be able to have my very own beeswax…it means a never ending hobby…

    I will be reading and watching videos from now own, plus my friend behind me, he and his wife, are 20 year and 30 year old the get around like kids from eating honey and drinking a glass of honey wine every day. ?

  • Rusty,

    We had a rainy spring, which prevented me from performing timely swarm checks. I’m therefore having to do reactive swarm control.

    I was out looking at a hive with capped queen cells yesterday and noticed a queen on the landing board. I continued to watch, thinking maybe she was preparing to take her mating flight when the frenzy came (bees pouring out of the entrance to leave.)

    I unsuccessfully tried to catch the queen and don’t know if she went back inside or not. I quickly put a swarm guard on to buy a couple of days to decide what the next step is to try not to lose the bees to swarm.

    I added a double screen board a few days ago, (with some of the capped QCs above) and added more space for them below, but obviously it was too late, so now what?

    I’d welcome any advice you have.

    • Terry,

      The easiest thing would be to split the hive. Take the old queen (if you can find her) and put her in the new hive so the colony “thinks” it already swarmed.

  • I considered that, but since there are multiple swarm cells (and I don’t know if she was in or out when the swarm guard went on) I didn’t want to disrupt them further by trying to find her. Should I split again by taking the rest of the QCs I left below the double screen and see what they do?

    • Terry,

      Don’t take all the cells, because if she’s not in there, they will need a queen as well. Just take some.

  • Just got my first package 4 days ago! So far so good. Looked this morning and queen has been released but was afraid to disturb them anymore to look for her. I have had a swarm guard on since day 1. I did notice the wax foundation being worked by the bees and actually they were building around queen cage. Would it be safe to take off swarm guard or leave a little longer?

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