Swarming by Mark Winston

From: Apiculture: An Introduction to bees and beekeeping by Dr. Mark Winston

Dividing colonies for increase and is a good method of swarm control as well. 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 replace 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 and if the honey flow is good, the bees will draw the cells well out above the normal level of the cell edges.

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, will 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 zenith. 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 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.

If the beekeeper lives close to the apiary, 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 on 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 stop up 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.

Cutting Queen Cells

By tipping the second brood super and glancing along the bottom, the presence of swarm cells can be easily detected. A few puffs of smoke along the frame bottom bars will drive the bees up into the super and will help to reveal queen cells which may have been covered with bees.

If no queen cells are present, it is usually safe to assume that the colony is not at present preparing to swarm. Most hives will build swarm cell cups along the bottom bars, but these do not necessarily indicate the urge to swarm unless eggs are found in the cups.

If queen cells are located they can be cut off. At this point, it is advisable to remove the second brood super and check frames in both the first and second supers for additional queen cells. If there are large numbers of bees on the brood combs, shake these bees off the frames to further examine the combs.

If you are finding a large number of drones you may want to consider replacing the queen. The best replacement would be with a supercedure cell, which is found in the middle of a frame. You could put that queen cell in a nuc box to start another colony.