Swarm control, have we been doing it wrong?

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Field Bee
Jan 13, 2016
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Hamilton, AL U.S.A.
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I think we could all benefit from discussion of the elements that lead up to a swarm issuing from a colony. I will post some thoughts about the behaviors of bees that lead to swarming. This is about reproductive swarming, not absconding. Swarming is the honey bee's natural method of reproduction so trying to prevent it is going against basic bee biology.

Genetics is a huge part of swarming. Some races and types of bees are hard wired to swarm every spring. Only extreme measures can normally prevent swarming with these bees. Carniolans and AMM black bees are examples of this biological imperative in strongest form. There remains a huge amount of variation that can be exploited to breed bees with reduced swarming tendency.

Bees will rarely swarm unless they have an abundance of drones in the hive, but if drone brood is removed from the hive, they will still swarm. I think the drones are a step in swarm preparation, but not a step that can be interrupted to effectively prevent swarming.

Bees won't swarm unless there is an abundance of nectar available. We had an unusual spring in 2007 with a freeze of -7C on April 7th which is during apple bloom in this area. This killed most of the spring flowers including fruit bloom and chinese privet. That year, there were no swarms. There also was no honey crop to harvest.

Bees in small hives become congested and swarm. I always heard that giving bees plenty of room to store honey was a huge part of swarm prevention. Well, there is a lot of truth to this statement, but it is not the entire story. A hive with volume of 1500 to 2000 cubic inches will almost always trigger swarming. A volume of 17,000 cubic inches will strongly suppress swarming.

The age of the queen is a huge factor in swarming. Older queens lay fewer eggs on average than young queens. A huge part of this gets down to formation of a honey dome, reduced queen pheromones, and supersedures that turn into swarms. Keep young queens that lay an abundance of eggs in your colonies and this swarm trigger can be prevented.

Bees will not swarm until they have "provisioned" the parent colony. This takes the form of constructing a honey dome above the brood nest. Break the honey dome - and keep it broken - and the bees will discontinue swarm preparation most of the time. Walt Wright documented this method of swarm prevention about 10 years ago. I've used it and it is highly effective.

The honey dome can be prevented from forming in the first place with management steps. This is common practice with "Brother Adam" square Dadant hives. The brood nest is constrained with follower boards so the queen has only enough combs to lay eggs. This forces the bees to store all surplus honey above the excluder which prevents formation of a honey dome except in exceptional circumstances. A prolific queen can keep about 7 modified Dadant frames filled with brood. Give her 8 combs to lay in and now there is room to form a honey dome and the bees will swarm.

Queen cells must be present before bees will produce a reproductive swarm. Swarms will usually issue sometime around the 10th day of the queen production cycle when the cell is sealed. It is possible to remove queen cells and prevent swarming. Miss just one cell and the bees will be in the air. This method is relied on by many beekeepers. Combining queen cell removal with other steps can be effective but is labor intensive and time consuming.

There must be an abundance of bees of all ages present in the hive. Swarms rarely issue from colonies with all old bees and no young bees or vice versa. Many beekeepers control swarming by removing the queen for 10 days shortly before normal swarm season, then giving a new young queen. This forced brood break disrupts the brood cycle so that either young or old bees are not present in quantities to enable swarming. Unless carefully timed, removing the queen can limit honey production because bees of the appropriate age to forage won't be present when needed.

Please add your thoughts about what constitutes effective swarm control. Do you encourage swarming to get more colonies of bees?
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I agree with your comments on room - it's probably the #1 reason for swarming. However 1500-2000 cubic in = 25-30l, the size of a nucleus: a queen will fill that rather quickly. On the other hand 17000 cubic in = 280l, which is absolutely enormous. The B.S. National brood box is just short of 40l, and I would expect to put on a super in early May to relieve congestion, perhaps adding another one or two through the summer, giving a total of around 130l.

I haven't read anything about this "honey dome" being a trigger - I would expect the bees to move any honey in the brood box as required.

Knocking down queen cells is of limited value - they'll eventually just swarm anyway.

Probably the most popular swarm control is to do an artificial swarm using the Pagden method, particularly early in the season when it won't impact honey production much. Later in the season, removing the queen into a nuc seems to be a good way to control swarming while maintaining production.
I select my future bees from non swarmy stock. Makes life easier.

And run jumbo langs for more space..And two out of nine colonies swarmed this year. I do no other anti swarm measures..An A/S with jumbo langs is hard work.
Internet has plenty of good writings about swarming, where I can trust

And swarming is very well discussed in this orum too. What you need is beehives and then action!

You seems to have your own theories about swarming issues and they are not parallel with common knowledge.

There are too fairytale like opinions about swarming "knowledge" in Internet. Theory is not allways best sides of professional beekeepers. And there are mixed too some naive opinions what others like to read (marketing above all)

and about queens
I am in it for the bees and a little honey. I am not in it for the commercial value, therefore a swarm or two is not the end of the world. The odd AS means I will always have bees, sometimes as many as 10 hives and sometimes as few as two. I am happy and don't need to worry too much about stopping a natural urge! Just controlling it to my advantage is better! But ...... Interesting reading all the same.
No, I don't encourage swarming to get more colonies but if a preferred colony begins to produce swarm cells then I will take advantage of that to harvest a few queen cells for my own use in addition to any grafts that I might have taken.
My experience of AMM is that they are not at all swarmy but then, I have only been keeping honeybees since 2010. During 2015 approximately 40% of my colonies made concerted moves to swarm. In the year to date, only two of my colonies have gone as far as producing queen cells. I responded with a variation on an artificial swarm and also harvested a few QCs which I then popped into Apideas.
I run Nationals (some poly, some wood) with a couple of Jumbo Nationals/14x12 hives for good measure. I have a couple of colonies running double brood boxes and I have experimented with a few brood and a half colonies this year also. The "halves" were added when I saw a lot of scouts showing overnight interest in the bait hive for that apiary. Within three hours of the halves being added, the scouts left the bait hive and I haven't seen them back. The colonies seem to like the brood and a half system and at this point they seem to have gone back into what Mike Bush has described as "establishment mode". Watching a bait hive in your apiary is a good indicator of whether your bees are looking for a new home and can allow you to try and encourage them to stay at home by giving extra space where it is needed or by otherwise putting them in a position as if they have swarmed.
It is arguable that all colonies make swarm preparations in the sense that they develop as the Spring and Summer progress and within this growth/development cycle they produce varying quantities of drones, they build varying numbers of play cells and attain a colony size whereby they have the size and other resources to successfully swarm and issue casts. In your words, they are adequately provisioned. I'll distinguish that sort of cyclical growth from colonies that make concerted efforts to swarm by seeking out new nest locations and most importantly, by creating swarm cells. I do not consider that the bulk of my colonies have not prepared to swarm, they have the continued potential to do so, rather they have not produced any swarm cells.
The colonies I really keep an eye on from week to week are the ones with the greatest number of Drones, those that begin to produce a lot of new play cells, those where they begin to polish the inside of play cells and in particular, where I see that they have begun to extend them downwards with new wax. The majority of my colonies tend to go through the season with only a small number of play cells present so new ones appearing over the comb is a good sign for me to do a more in depth inspection.
I super ahead to give the colonies room to process nectar into honey, to store the nectar and honey and to give clustering space. I also give the wax builders a focus for their energy and I will periodically harvest enough young bees from a colony to fill an Apidea and will similarly take frames of bees and BIAS to make up Nucs. I guess this can be summed up by giving them room at the right time, keeping the bees occupied and from time to time, slightly depleting the hive.
Fusion Power talks about breaking the honey dome. I generally only see a honey dome on brood frames from August onwards or, where there has been a delay in waiting for a new queen to get mated and start laying. I undersuper for the Spring and early summer flows and so tend to keep the area directly above the brood nest clear of capped stores. My colonies vary from having 2 to 6 supers on at present, some colonies already having had a couple of supers extracted and I have yet to see much of a Summer flow.
The other point I would make is that I do not consider there is such a thing as "Swarm Control". Realistically there is "Swarm Management". A subtle difference but one which I believe highlights that it is best to try to work with the bees rather than bend them to your will.
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In a ideal world I would would have the same number of spare hives prepared and ready for an AS as number of colonies.
Just about managed it this year except for one out-apiary.
Takes all the stress out of colony management during the swarming season. Just switch on auto-pilot.
If I Find the queen then I do a vertical Pagden if not then its a vertical Wally Snellgrove II.
Once all my spare kit is used up then further swarm preparation are dealt with by removing Q into a nuc and knocking the QC's down to one.
The other thing that helps is having plenty of newly mated queens in Apideas and 3 frame nucs.
You seems to have your own theories about swarming issues and they are not parallel with common knowledge.
I don't have an agenda finman.

are you talking about his method "checkerboarding"
Walt Wright wrote up detailed steps of his checkerboarding method which were published in one of the bee journals. The concept is sound and highly effective. It produces an open broodnest where the queen never runs out of room to lay yet the bees never form a honey dome therefore do not swarm. An old queen can cause this method to fail. Combine young queens genetically inclined not to swarm with checkerboarded hives and very few colonies will swarm, typical numbers are about 3% or less. The video shows all the required steps but does not carry it through an entire season. Dig up a copy of the articles he wrote if you would like to explore using this method.

In a ideal world I would would have the same number of spare hives prepared and ready for an AS as number of colonies.
Pulling a spring split is one method I used extensively this year. I wanted to double my colonies so it was effective both for managing swarming and for increasing colony count. But what if I didn't want to increase my colony count? What about the huge amount of extra equipment required? IMO, This method should always be in the beekeepers arsenal but only as one possible way to prevent swarming.
Last spring we had swarms from bees that didn't have enough stores. I was surprised, but they'd not built a honey arc in brood frames because there was nothing to put in. They were building brood right to the top of frames.
Last spring we had swarms from bees that didn't have enough stores. I was surprised, but they'd not built a honey arc in brood frames because there was nothing to put in. They were building brood right to the top of frames.

Lack of food on pastures makes bees really swarm..
While I agree that some need to think about rather more than they seem to be doing, not all by any means.

Beekeeping is simple enough without trying to complicate matters.

Nobody should encourage swarming for colony increase. There are far better ways for colony increase. Well, most sensible beeks don't encourage swarming under any circumstance - do they?

Swarming has been discussed so many times on the forum that it is clear that some think, some take notice and a lot don't do anything until the situation is acute. The ones that read this are likely not the audience that need to.
The ones that read this are likely not the audience that need to.
Never hurts to be reminded of things we should know already. Even finman needs to be reminded that there are more ways than just pulling a split to address swarm control.

I didn't see anyone mention that getting bees to draw new wax is also a swarm control method. This is partly because it reduces congestion in the brood nest and partly because it gives the bees a place to use up excess capacity. Bees that are busy working are less likely to swarm. This is one reason why giving a few new frames to the bees yearly is good management.
Please add your thoughts about what constitutes effective swarm control.

You're starting from the premise that swarm control is a necessary procedure. If, instead, you were to ask the question "why is there any need for swarm control ?" you might then uncover a basic fault with beehives that are currently in fashion.

Large, fixed volume hives - such as the Modified Dadant and De Layens - do not suffer from the same propensity to swarm that is a feature of hives with relatively small combs, such as the Langstroth and British National.

I'm not saying that swarming can be completely avoided - why should it ? - but there really is no need for taking pre-emptive measures if the source of the problem itself is addressed and rectified.
Never hurts to be reminded of things we should know already. Even finman needs to be reminded that there are more ways than just pulling a split to address swarm control.


Pulling a Split...(PS).. What is that. Never heard.

Where heck I need more ways?
Actually, I think it's good to remind ourselves of the basics of swarm prevention. I am very much of the view that we put too much emphasis on it. I am not one to encourage swarming but you no what, it's not worth getting so worked up about. It's natural reproduction so go with it if you are a back yard beek. I have huge respect for the late Walt Wright and I would be amazed if his articles had not been well read here in the UK. His method of checker boarding is, I believe, a well established practice of swarm prevention. However, beekeeping in Ecton TN, USA is very different to beekeeping in Teddington, Middlesex, UK. I just don't think checker boarding would work in the UK climate.
Where heck I need more ways?
Even an old beekeeper needs to be able to learn a new way to manage bees from time to time. I've used Langstroth deeps for 46 years and now I'm converting to Square Dadant. Maybe I can learn something new and useful in the process. Time will tell.

Large, fixed volume hives - such as the Modified Dadant and De Layens - do not suffer from the same propensity to swarm that is a feature of hives with relatively small combs

Which is one of the reasons I am converting all my Langstroth hives to Square Dadant aka 12 frame Dadant. I now have 23 colonies in the new equipment and love it so far. It was a huge effort this spring for the bees to draw all new combs, but I got enough to do for winter. I am using 31.5 mm end bars for the reason that I have used them for 40 years and know how to manage bees on them.

1. There are max 12 frames (14 in my hives with 31.5 mm end bars) to examine to find a queen, inspect, etc.
2. All of the brood a prolific queen can produce will fit in one brood box with plenty of room left over for winter stores.
3. It has enough room for wintering in one box
4. It is designed to run a horizontal 2 queen system using a divider
5. It reduces crowding effects so the bees are less likely to swarm
6. The wide entrance improves ventilation
7. The brood nest is more consolidated instead of being spread across multiple boxes of combs
8. My extractor was made to handle this size comb, the frames will fit my existing system if I need to extract
9. Easy to use to produce queens, just put a divider in place like a cloake board and have at it
10. It allows me to re-use the shallow extracting frames I already have, just add square supers
11. It is highly efficient for space utilization, the number of frame corners queens won't lay in is reduced
12. It costs less for a complete working hive than most other movable frame stackable super designs
13. It is much less likely to blow over in a strong wind
14. Square modified Dadant hives can easily be palletized, various long hives not easily done
15. Can turn the supers 90 degrees so the bees fill them evenly and mature the honey all at one time.
16. Provides clustering space at night and in rainy weather, just use follower boards and deep bottom boards appropriately
17. Diverts foragers from the broodnest directly into the supers, again an advantage of size and use of follower boards
18. Can easily adjust the number of brood frames to fit the queen's ability to lay

1. A box full of honey will weigh a bit over 100 pounds, not good for the back
2. These are obviously not standard in the U.S. which is a detriment if I ever sell out
3. Equipment is not normally available in the U.S., I have to custom build the frames and other hive components
4. Splitting has to be done by moving frames instead of separating boxes.

I just don't think checker boarding would work in the UK climate.
I suspect it would work. The objective is to eliminate crowding by opening up the honey storage area.
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What to learn today ....I am going to learn nothing. I execute my earlier skils .

I will split my 6 box hives and I lift them alone to sedan carry. I move them to rape field 10 km away. Some hives 17 km.

Selecting pastures is very essential part in honey production. Not shoosing new hive types.
What Fusion Power writes, that goes allready fine.

My hive furnitures have been the same for years. I am able to keep bees under 10 years. Perhaps I have died before that. I do well with these systems to the end of my story.

I have slept now 4 hours. I was buying irrigation systems in capital city yesterday. Day will be hard because of lack of sleep. I drink coffee and start to move bees when I feel so. No hurry. Rape has bursted to bloom couple days ago and this is , like we say, ram's flesh.

I am more than satisfied that I found those pastures. All depends, how we got rain during next two days. After two weeks the game is over. It is dry here. Fireweed gas stopped its growth, and nany rape fields.

Somebody might do it other way. But I do it my way. Hives have allready yield 80 lbs per hive, and after 2 weeks, I hope average yield is 200 lbs.

It comes what it comes, but I am working for it.

..PS. My next door neighbour said to me a month ago: "Do not take this personally, but move those hives to Hell." .. But not now my Pal, not now. ( bees make poo on his car).
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