Swarm Management

by Bob Arnold

Successful beekeeping depends upon having colonies at full strength when the major nectar flow starts. Swarming of the colony is a natural consequence of getting bees to the nectar flow with a large population of young healthy bees. Most colonies if managed to swarm strength by the major nectar flow will swarm if the colony is not managed properly. Even with the best of plans something will change to cause the bees to make cells and swarm.

Many ways have been developed to minimize swarming. Young queens tend to swarm less but will still leave if colony development is robust. Keeping plenty of space for the queen to lay in will reduce swarming but will usually not be sufficient under good colony development conditions. Some time intensive techniques such as the Demaree method where the queen is separated from most of her brood does work, but is so labor-intensive that it is usually not practical for any more than a few hives. Moving brood and colonies around to make them more uniform in strength will often reduce swarming but again can be very time intensive for a large number of colonies. All of these techniques do provide help in controlling swarming but in my experience do not control swarming to the extent required.

The best method that I have found to control swarming is to artificially cause the hive to swarm effectively removing further desire to swarm. This is done by splitting the colony into two colonies with the old colony having the old queen with a new entrance. The new colony is given a mated queen with the old entrance. Both the colonies are kept on the same stand with a screen board separating them. The new colony at the bottom of the stand on the original hive bottom is also given the first super with the new queen having access to one deep and one super. The old queen is above the screen board and has a few frames of brood, honey and empty comb in a single deep box. Usually this procedure is done at the outset of the swarm season when the population of the colony is just about at strength to start building swarm cells.

The double queen colony is kept separated with the screen board until the major honey flow starts. As the new queen gains population strength, additional supers are added as space is required. The old queen colony usually will loose considerable population and may need some brood from the new queen below to boost her colony size. She is given supers as required. At the outset of the major honey flow the old queen can be removed and a nuc formed with her or she can just be killed and the screen board removed. The colony is stacked with the two deeps together and the supers on top.

This procedure gets the colony thru the swarming period without a swarm issuing and into honey production with good colony strength. The additional work is manageable for large numbers of colonies as both swarming and queen management has been accomplished. Mite controls must be performed before the double queen operation or twice the number of treatments must be applied if treatment is required before the honey flow.

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