Swarm control is what you do when swarm prevention didn’t work and you discover larvae in queen cells; if you find eggs in cells it means nothing but once there are larvae you are in trouble! It doesn’t mean you failed by the way – it just means that circumstances have conspired to make the urge to swarm irresistible. Welcome to firefighting!
There are lots of things you can do to prepare for the swarming season – first of all set up a catcher or decoy hive.
Catcher or Decoy Hive
If there are bees looking in your windows at you – there is a swarm coming; those bees are scouts and they’re looking for a new home. They might be your bees or they might not – either way, if you haven’t already got your catcher hive out, do it now. Get an old brood box, the older the better because it will smell of bees. You’ll also need a floor and a roof of some description. Set it as high up as you can – perhaps on a shed roof or the top of a wall and if you have a choice – face it south or east, ideally in partial shade. Add a few horrible old frames, one or more of them containing old stores and you’re there. The scout bees will come looking – lured in by the smell of recent habitation – propolis, old frames and stores. If they like it they may come back with a swarm in tow.
Better still – set out two or three battered old hives. You will likely attract two or three times the number of scouts and maximise your chances of catching a swarm.
The artificial swarm is the most common way of dealing with a hive which is preparing to swarm but for it to be successful, the bees need to be quite well advanced along that road.
Ideally your hive will have cells which are close to being capped. If not it would be best if possible to leave them for another few days.
- A spare hive – floor, brood box, crown board and roof.
- A full complement of brood frames, preferably drawn or a mixture of drawn comb and some with new foundation.
- A rapid feeder
- Strong syrup.
- Set up a hive stand 18 inches to one side of your parent stand;
- Place the floor on it;
- Take the old brood box (Box A) containing all the bees, cells, queen etc and move it to the new stand;
- Set the new brood box (Box B) on the original, or ‘parent’ stand and remove two frames from the centre of the box;
- Find your queen and place her and the frame she is on – minus any and all queen cells in the space in Box B;
- Go through Box B and remove any and all CAPPED CELLS only BUT LEAVE THE REST ALONE;
- Add crown board and feeder with plenty of syrup whether or not you have given them foundation;
- Add roof and leave them alone for 7 days;
- All the flying bees from Box A will return to the queen in Box B who should now behave like a swarm and get on with their work;
- After 7 days you can either set up another stand 18 inches to the other side of the parent hive OR you can move them elsewhere within a couple of miles if that is more convenient – but no further away than that;
- Move the the entire hive containing Box A to that place;
- All the flying bees will leave Box A and join up with Box B and their old queen and help filling the supers;
- Meanwhile Box A, finding themselves without flying bees will either take down all but one queen cell or they will allow the first emerged virgin to go round and do the job for them.
- If you have no faith in this, then interfere – but get it right. Select the best open cell at the start, when you take out the queen, and mark the place with a pin in the top bar of the frame then wait 7 days (when you move the box) before pruning the rest out.
- Either way they won’t swarm because they won’t have enough bees and eventually after another 3 weeks or so they will have a new queen laying.
If you don’t want another hive of bees you can remove the old queen to a nuc and unite Boxes A and B over a sheet of newpaper.
Make a Nuc
You will need:
A 5 or 6 frame nuc;
5 or 6 frames;
Here’s what you do:
- Set the nuc close by, open it up and remove all the frames;
- Bung up the entrance with some foam;
- Find your queen and remove her on the frame she is found, minus any and all queen cells, and place her in the centre of the nuc;
- Go through the old hive and choose the best open queen cell – avoid any that are in amongst drone brood – DO NOT SHAKE THE FRAME OR YOU MAY DISLODGE THE LARVA;
- Mark the frame and the general location of the cell with a drawing pin;
- The reason for choosing the open cell is that you can be sure it is not a dud;
- Add another two frames of brood to the nuc preferably capped and not the one with the queen cell, one each side of the frame with the queen on it;
- Shake in a couple of frames of bees – do not shake the frame with the cell on it;
- Fill the space with two frames of stores preferably with plenty of pollen;
- Remove the nuc to an out apiary;
- If you don’t have one, make sure you shake in plenty of young bees then remove the foam and close the entrance loosely with some grass – if they have to remove it they will notice they have moved.
You can do this if there are no queen cells so long as you have brood on 8 or 9 frames. This is known as an early split and should be done between the last week in April and the first week in May before the swarming urge is initiated or even thought of. Instead the bees will just concentrate on queen replacement.
Follow the procedure laid out above disregarding the bit about queen cells.
- Always put the old queen into the nuc and not the other way round because a nuc is not strong enough and will make a poor ‘scrub’ queen.
- The main box will be strong enough to make a good new queen to take them through the season without swarming (!).
- Meanwhile you will soon be able to get the old queen and her colony out of the nuc into a full box with a super but they will be not be strong enough to think about swarming until very late in the year if at all (!)
- Between them, the two colonies will produce more honey than if you had left them together then had to perform some method of swarm control.
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