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Managing packages and swarms

Sometimes little gems of wisdom get hidden within the comments section. In this tip, Jim of Withers Mountain Honey Farm in Flint, Michigan, describes how he bolsters new bee packages with brood from strong hives that might swarm. It is a way to equalize the strength of his hives while boosting packages and reducing swarming. It also increases his chances of getting a honey crop from first-year colonies.

Jim is a beekeeper I trust because his management ideas are always based on a solid knowledge of honey bee biology and colony life cycle, which he then combines with a good dose of economic sense. Although he has many hives, these steps would work for anyone who has both a strong overwintered colony and at least one new package. Below is the entire message:

I installed 20 packages this year and and bought 35 queens for splits bringing my hive count up to 150 . . . I know, crazy! One of the things I like to do to boost my packages and, at the same time, reduce swarming is to steal about 5 frames of bees and brood from my strong hives to combine with the package.

The procedure works like this:

    1. First, I give the package time to release the queen and for her to start laying. Indeed, I wait until there is capped brood a couple of days from emerging. By this time the bees that came with the package are only a couple of weeks from expiring at best. This typically occurs around the end of April. This is also when the bees around these parts begin having visions of swarming.
    2. I go through those strong hives and do a little thinning of their population by stealing about 4 frames with capped brood with the attendant bees and a nice frame of honey. Obviously, you must be certain not to take the queen when you do this. I checkerboard either empty drawn comb or new foundation in the place of those frames. In most cases, this slows the swarming instinct.
    3. The bees I took are combined with the package bees by placing a sheet of newspaper over the box with the package and placing the box with the stolen brood and bees over top of that. It takes the bees a day or two to chew their way through the newspaper and, in the process, become accustomed to their new queen’s pheromone. I would guess the success rate of the combined bees accepting this new queen to be in the high 90’s percentile. I have seen times when the new bees, apparently, killed the queen and made an emergency queen cell but this is rare, likely because I make a point of taking only capped brood and larvae too old for them to make a queen out of.

This procedure super charges the new hive so that I can expect a honey crop from it and, perhaps, prevent an overwintered hive from swarming. It has worked well for me the last couple of years.


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