Swarm Management

Swarm Management

This is where it gets super complex and beekeeping books contain diagrams with beehive boxes moving to the left and right, on top and below and/or turned round 90 degrees.  It’s enough to make you feel dizzy.  I usually read the instructions, don’t understand them and read them again. I keep going through this loop and I’m still confused.  Here I try to describe three simple options depending on the time of the year and if you are trying to expand or maintain your number of hives. At the time of writing I have done none of these – but I am writing them so that I am ready to carry them out. I’ll then write posts and update this page when I have the experience. Here goes, let’s hope I don’t confuse myself.

Photo below of a swarm cell.  These are built at the bottom of frames.

Swarm Cell (photo courtesy of RoofTops, BBKA website)
Swarm Cell (photo courtesy of RoofTops, BBKA website)

How To Reduce Swarming

Personally, I like to be proactive and do everything I can upfront to reduce the likelihood of swarming.

  1. Reduce overcrowding:
    1. Use a 14×12 brood box, double brood box or brood and half
    2. Put on a super before the end of April
  2. Brood box reversal: If you are using a double brood box or brood and a half, then put the upper box on the floor and bring up the bottom box every 12 days from mid-May
  3. Re-queen every 1-2 years: Only 5% of colonies swarm when the Queen is less than 12 months old
  4. Find and mark the Queen when the hive is less crowded (April, September) this make swarm management techniques described below a lot easier

What Not To Do

Cutting out Queen cells is not recommended.  The bees will lose general motivation and keep building Queen cells – resulting in less honey and the beekeeper having to keep returning at least every 9 days to cut out the cells.  Also, it is easy to miss a Queen cell, resulting in a swarm. Better to go with the natural instinct of the bees to produce new Queens.

Swarm Management Options

Here are three options for swarm management that as a novice beekeeper I am comfortable(ish) with.  Click on links in first column for more information.

OptionSkill LevelWhen To UseSummary
A: Create an artificial swarmAbility to find Queen- When you want to create an additional colony (or nuc)
- Queen cells are not required (but they can be present if you wish)
- Best done in first week of June (in order for colonies to have time to build)
Place empty hive on site of the original hive
B. Create a nucAbility to find Queen- Queen cells present
- Beekeeper wants to create a nuc
- Beekeeper wants a spare Queen on hand if something goes wrong with manipulation
- Best done after mid-June so as not to reduce honey production
Isolate the Queen and create a nuc
C. Split hiveTotal novice- When you want to create additional colonies
- Queen cells are not required (but they can be present if you wish)
- Best done in first week of June (in order for colonies to have time to build)
Take 3-6 frames from the original hive and place into 1 or 2 new hives making sure that each hive has eggs, brood, bees and stores

There are other techniques, but I like to keep is simple.

These how-to guides are provided for general interest and information only.  No liability is accepted for any injury or loss arising out of the contents of these pages.

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