To the beekeeper the one management problem which seems to remain a mystery is the reason why a strong and apparently normal colony of bees suddenly develops the urge to leave their parent colony, fly out and establish a new colony in a new hive. There they will have to build a complete set of combs and provision these in time before the coming of winter.

     The act of ‘swarming’ is the bees’ natural method of reproduction. When we speak of reproduction in this sense we are really speaking of reproducing one additional honeybee colony from another. 


Swarming is Aggravated by the following conditions:

  1.  Crowding - too many bees, too much brood and stores and no cell space in which the queen can lay.
  2.  A Failing Queen - bees may swarm during the time they are rearing queen cells to replace a failing queen.
  3.  Not Enough Ventilation – especially when the hive is crowded.
  4.  Inclement Weather – whenever bees are confined for a period of time by cold damp weather. If the colony is crowded they will build queen cells and swarm out on the first warm sunny day.


Treatment of Swarms:

     Colonies with young queens having the run of twenty frames and provided with sufficient super room will not often develop the swarming fever.

     Treatment of swarms depends on whether a full crop of honey is the main consideration of the beekeeper or increase of colonies. If the former, returning the swarm to the parent hive, so that the colony will afterwards be practically as strong as before swarming took place, with give the best results.

Catching the Swarm:

      A swarm will generally emerge from the hive between the period of eleven o’clock and one o’clock in the afternoon and most often at noon when the sun is at its’ highest point. The swarm will always settle close to the apiary for an hour or so during which time the beekeeper should make an effort to gather an empty hive, complete with ten combs, cover, bottom board and super. Let the swarm cluster for at least half an hour before an attempt is made to hive it. Note from which hive this swarm emerged, if you have more than one hive, as once the swarm has been captured and safely hived it will be necessary to examine the colony that swarmed and take whatever action is needed to assure that no after swarms will emerge.

Periodically examine the colonies every nine days from mid-May to the last week of June. Add room where necessary, cut queen cells, divide. Put into effect whatever method of swarm prevention or swarm control that is to be practiced.

     After taking the swarm, one of the easiest ways to find the queen is to place two or three drawn-out combs in an empty hive body and place this over the supers of the parent hive above a queen excluder. Put the swarm into it by dumping the bees in at the top, and cover. Before very long the bees will have settled down, and the combs in the top can then be examined and the queen easily caught, as she is almost certain to be one of them. After she has been found and caged, the frames in the brood nest can be looked over and all the queen cells but one either destroyed or removed. If the old queen is considered to be worth saving, a small nucleus consisting of two combs of brood and adhering bees can be made for her accommodation.

     Should the bees persist in swarming out again after this treatment, as they are almost sure to do if any queen cells have been overlooked, this swarm can be captured and returned to the old hive by simply shaking the bees in front of the hive entrance, so that they can run in. After this they will be almost certain to kill all but one young queen and settle down without attempting to come out again. If they do swarm again, repeat the operation.

     If increase is desired the method to be followed will be slightly different. In this case all the brood combs can be divided up into nuclei, consisting of two frames of brood and a queen cell to each, after which the swarm, together with the old queen, can be returned to the old hive on either ten frames of foundation or drawn out combs, replacing the supers as before.

     As bees will stay anywhere they are placed at swarming time, it will not be necessary to block the entrances of the nuclei with grass, as is the case when nuclei are made at other times. They should, however, have only small entrances at first, which they can more easily protect from robber bees.

Swarm Control:

     Now is a good time to divide colonies for increase as a method of swarm control. If division is made as a method of swarm control only, then the divisions can be reunited just before the main honey flow to provide one strong colony to gather honey. This is a good time for the beekeeper to use the queen excluder to good advantage. When examining the colony rearrange or cull out poor brood combs.

     *One of the most common mistakes noticed in the brood nest of colonies which are preparing to swarm is the presence of misshapen and poorly constructed brood comb. Combs in the brood supers must not contain large areas of drone cells. This mistake in poor management occurs frequently. An effort must be made to cull out such combs. These can be placed above a queen excluder over the colony where they will eventually be filled with honey.

    They can be culled out at extraction time and permanently removed from use. Cut out the comb and replaced with a clean sheet of brood foundation. If brood comb is moved up into the honey supers and foundation is not being used, it is an excellent plan to use only nine combs in the honey supers. These can be spaced out and if the honey flow is good, the bees will draw the cells well out above the normal level of the cell edges.


  • This information was taken from: ‘Apiculture: An Introduction to Bees and Beekeeping’ by Dr. Mark Winston, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, 1983.


 Supplying Water to Honey Bee Colonies

    Since honey bees do not store water as they do pollen and honey, a continuous water supply is important to the proper functioning of the honey bee colony. Water is used to liquefy granulated honey and to dilute honey and sugar syrup for feeding to larvae. Without sufficient water, brood rearing is curtailed.

    Bees collect water every day and generally visit the nearest source for their supply. They may become a nuisance around stock watering troughs, outdoor faucets and swimming pools if water cannot be found closer to the hive. If water can be found nearby, then less energy is expended by the colony and more foraging time is available for nectar and pollen collection. In the winter, the need for water is diminished, and bees use condensed water gathered on the inner sides and top of the hive.

     Natural water sources such as clean puddles, ditches, small ponds and streams are all suitable. If no such source is nearby, drums or smaller containers may be placed in the bee yard and filled with water and flotation devices such as sticks, boards and dried twigs for the bees to land on. Alternative devices include corrugated iron or plastic sheets sloped into a gutter or trough to collect rain water, or a cistern to collect rain water from the roof of an adjacent building. Syrup feeders can be used to keep a continual supply of water in each colony if desired. 

  •  This information was taken from: ‘Beekeeping in Western Canada 1998.’