Shook swarming for brood diseases of honey bees

Shook Swarm

The shook swarm can be used in swarm prevention and comb replacement. It can also be used in disease control. It may appear brutal but it works and once they get over the shock the bees seem to appreciate it and go like stink to get back on track.

Basic Shook Swarm

When to do it?

If you are doing this to change a full box of comb you can do it up until late June early July. To help set back swarming and turbo charge the bees the best time to do it is around the last week in April and the first week in May.

Why?
  • Eggs laid during this period would become foragers in the June gap when there is often a dearth of forage for the bees. You don’t need them;
  • Eggs laid after this time are the foragers for the flow. You do need these.
When not to do it
  • Don’t do it at all after mid-July as the queen is on the wane, the bees are no longer in build-up mode and are more likely to be demoralised. Also you are in danger of removing brood that would become much needed winter bees.
  • Don’t do this to a weak hive of bees – it might finish them. Anything over 5 frames of brood should benefit from this but you must feed them.
Method:
  • Move your target hive of bees to one side;
  • Set a floor in its place;
  • Put a queen excluder on top of the floor;
  • Place a brood box with a full complement of frames kitted out with fresh foundation on the queen excluder – never use horrible old foundation for this – it needs to be lovely and fresh and fragrant;
  • Remove three frames from the centre of the new box;
  • Find the queen and place her out of harm’s way;
  • Carefully shake all the bees, frame by frame, from the old box into the space in the centre of the new one;
  • Brush any remaining bees from the old box and floor into the new box;
  • There should now  be flying bees returning home and the shaken bees should be creeping up the frames;
  • Gently persuade the queen into the new box;
  • Replace the crown board;
  • Feed strong syrup;
  • After about a week check that there is brood present and remove the queen excluder;
  • Place it above the brood box and add a couple of supers.

If you are sure the bees are disease free you can distribute the brood to weak colonies but be careful not to overload them. Give emerging brood to the weakest – only give larvae and eggs to colonies that are strong enough to feed them. You’ll have to gauge that yourself!

If the bees have Varroa, EFB or bad Chalk Brood just burn the brood.

Shook Swarm for Disease

Certain brood diseases of bees such as AFB, EFB and chalk brood can be successfully treated using a shook swarm. However, always respect the laws of your country regarding bee diseases and if they say burn the bees – well, you’d better burn them.

EFB and chalk brood and to a certain extent – Varroa – can be treated using the method above but if you want to be sure to be sure – use the method below. It’s more or less the same as above but incorporates a brief starvation period during which time any disease propagules are either consumed or incorporated into wax. Either way they are removed from the bees.

This will only work on a strong colony. If the bees are already tottering with a huge amount of disease or if the queen is mediocre or if it is late in the year – don’t bother because you are wasting your time.

  • Move your target hive of bees to one side;
  • Set a floor in its place;
  • Put a queen excluder on top of the floor
  • Place a brood box with a full complement of frames kitted out with 2 inch starter strips of foundation on the queen excluder;
  • Find the queen and place her out of harm’s way;
  • Carefully shake all the bees, frame by frame, from the old box into the space in the centre of the new one;
  • Brush any remaining bees from the old box and floor into the new box;
  • There should now  be flying bees returning home and the shaken bees should be creeping up the frames;
  • Gently persuade the queen into the new box;
  • Replace the crown board;
  • When all the bees have returned home in the evening – close the entrance with foam and move the entire hive into a cool dark place;
  • Leave it there for two days;
  • During this time the bees will empty the collective honey stomach and use it to build comb and to survive. Any spores and other disease propagules will be incorporated into the wax or voided by the bees;
  • Drip-feed them a little syrup during this period if you fear they are starving of if you just can’t bear it;
  • Burn the frames and blow-torch the brood box, crown board and floor;
  • After two days place a new floor, a queen excluder then and a new brood box kitted out with a full complement of frames with fresh full sheets of foundation on the old site. Again you don’t want them to abscond;
  • Remove the middle 4 frames;
  • Bring back the poor bees from that cool dark place;
  • Gently shake all the bees off the frames and brush the remainder into the fresh box;
  • Replace the 4 frames into the centre;
  • Replace the crown board;
  • Release the bees;
  • Feed them like mad;
  • These bees should now be disease free;
  • However, burn any comb and brood they have produced and blow torch all the old equipment;
  • If there were supers – these should be disease-free unless the queen was allowed to get up there and lay in which case you should probably burn these frames also;

When dealing with infectious diseases always burn your gloves, torch your hive tool and don’t forget to scrub your smoker with a strong solution of washing soda and water.

Click here for more about Brood Diseases of honey bees

Click here for more about AFB

Click here for more about EFB

Click here for more about Chalk Brood

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2 thoughts on “Shook Swarm”

  1. Hi there
    On reading your post above you have hopefully answered my prayers/question barr one. After last summer’s honey flow ended I did my usual and treated this particular hive with trays of Apiguard as usual then in January as the mite drop was still high I treated with oxalic acid.
    Now with the honey flow approaching fast this method you’ve described seems perfect other than the fact this queen is now on her third season I’m wondering when is it best to move her on(squish her) and still try rid the colony of this varroa that persists.?
    Kind regards Kieran

    1. Hello Kieran,
      First of all – this winter was so mild the chances are that your colony would not have been broodless in January and that’s probably why the oxalic didn’t work.
      I’d worry about shookswarming a 3 year old queen unless she was still good and strong – it’s a pretty stressful thing to do and it’s still quite cold. Have you got drones?
      If it’s just varroa you are worried about – you could try again with Apiguard when the temperature comes up a bit (15 degrees).
      However, the honey flow is approaching (hopefully) and you won’t want thymol in your honey.
      You could consider MAQs as you don’t have to remove supers, the formic acid won’t get into your honey (if there is any) and they work at 10 degrees or above – brood or no brood. But that can be hard on the queen as well – it can cause a failing queen to be superceded. Not always a bad thing.
      Once you have drones, you could consider taking away your old queen in a nuc with lots of bees and just a little brood, leaving most of the varroa behind. Meanwhile, the original colony will rear a new queen for you. During the short period they are broodless and before the new queen gets laying, you could trickle (or vaporise) with oxalic acid.
      If that manoeuvre was to work, it would fend off the varroa for the season and get you a new queen as well.
      If the original colony failed to get a new queen laying you would still have the old girl in the nuc.
      Hope this is helpful.

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