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  1. #1
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    Default Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    I've been thinking over the last few days that in order to compare the various swarm prevention methods, especially Checkerboarding and Opening the Brood Nest, I think it's worth making a list of the general stages (not considering the age of the hive) and factors in spring buildup that contribute to Reproduction Swarms.

    This is what I believe happens as concisely as possible. If I have things out of place or just plain wrong let me know.

    • A couple of inches of capped honey around the outside of the brood nest is seen as the boundary of the colony.
    • Space is created in the brood nest by consumption of honey during winter, aiding in heating, and then during spring build up, generally moving upwards.
    • Due to lower temperatures, clustering continues, especially at night and so nectar is preferred to be stored in the brood nest.
    • Large amounts of pollen are available in early spring and this is stored in the brood nest to raise increasing amounts of brood. This is determined by cluster size.
    • Brood are often raised in batches during spring buildup due to limited space. Brood population can almost double with each batch. As the brood nest expands, gradually all stages of brood are present.
    • Wax making capabilities are very limited in late winter and early spring due to temperatures being too low and limited incoming nectar. So extension of comb is limited.
    • Expanding areas of brood, and storage of nectar and pollen in the brood nest by foragers puts pressure on the available space in the brood nest.
    • During a spring flow, empty cells are quickly filled by the foragers with nectar, before the Queen finds them.
    • Empty cells become less and less very quickly as they are filled with nectar. Quickly reducing the amount of open brood.
    • The Queen starts loosing weight due to laying less and less eggs.
    • With a large amount of young Nurse Bees, any very young brood start getting a lot of attention and large amounts of Royal Jelly is available to get deposited into these cells, making ideal conditions for Queen Cell building.
    • Once the brood nest is backfilled with nectar, and there is a large number of unemployed Nurse Bees, then queen cells are built.
    • Due to little space to store nectar, Nurse Bees are also full of nectar. This aids in preparing for wax production. (It is held on to as long as possible, in preparation for a swarm.)
    • The Nurse Bees are now ready to swarm as soon as weather permits.
    • Scouts start searching for a new hive location.
    • When ready to leave, a signal is sounded and bees (especially Nurse Bees) start flowing out of the hive, chasing the Queen out as they go to get her to leave with them.



    Contributing factors to Swarming
    So when looking at the stages in spring buildup it seems that the main issues in causing swarm conditions are backfilling of the brood nest with nectar, which then causes there to be large numbers of unoccupied Nurse Bees. Once there is a large number of unoccupied Nurse Bees, opening the brood nest may not be enough to prevent a swarm.

    Checkerboarding attempts to get the foragers to store nectar above the brood nest rather than in it, by providing empty comb above the brood nest. Ideally this is done before nectar sources becomes plentiful. It becomes clear that this leaves the brood nest free from congestion and allows for maximum population. All stages of brood continue throughout the spring buildup. Ensuring there is enough open brood to keep large numbers of Nurse Bees occupied. The issue with Checkerboarding for those new to beekeeping is lack of drawn comb.

    Opening the Brood Nest does not stop backfilling of the brood nest with nectar. Rather it tries to maintain enough space in the brood nest to allow for backfilling, while maintaining enough space for the queen to lay and to ensure that there is always open brood to keep Nurse Bees occupied. Placing empty frames or foundation in the brood nest encourages wax builders earlier in the season, but wax making uses extra nectar and likely requires higher temperatures in wax making areas, again using more nectar.

    Conclusion
    So based on that, it seems that deterring foragers from storing nectar in the brood nest in the first place looks like the best way to prevent swarms, produce a higher population and to yield a larger honey crop.


    Thanks to Walt Wright and Michael Bush and to everyone else who contributed to the Checkerboarding verses Opening the Broodnest thread with helped in developing this. I certainly learnt much from it.

    Hope people find this useful.
    Matthew Davey
    Last edited by MattDavey; 04-04-2012 at 07:41 AM.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Good job. There is one fine point that I wish to discuss:

    Opening the Brood Nest does not stop backfilling of the brood nest with nectar. Rather it tries to maintain enough space in the brood nest to allow for backfilling, while maintaining enough space for the queen to lay and to ensure that there is always open brood to keep Nurse Bees occupied.

    I can agree with the first half, that it can not stop backfilling, but there may be an effect that you have not considered. When the capped frame of brood is removed from the brood chamber, and placed above the excluder; and a drawn empty frame replaces it, the effects of the bees hatching in an area NOT the brood chamber has not been examined in your analysis. Could you rethink your scenario with half of the new bees hatching above the excluder, and using their own entrance?

    Crazy Roland

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Just signing in to keep up.
    Walt

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Great post.

    Matt great I deat to have a summary post about a topic. Sounds like a great idea for the forum.
    Rmns 1:16/Prv.3:5,6/ Beegan BK May 09/ Zone 5b
    I have NOT failed. I have only found many many ways that do not work!

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Roland, there are two separate things to consider in your question. 1. Moving capped brood out of the brood nest and 2. An entrance above the excluder.

    1. I believe you have had experience with this, I haven't. So i'm speculating. IF the emerging Nurse Bees just stayed above the excluder, then you don't want to move too much of the capped brood away from the open brood and from where the queen is laying, as the emerging Nurse Bees are needed to tend to open brood. I don't know how long recently emerged Nurse Bees are likely to stay on the frame they emerge from.

    So Nurse Bees are likely to stay until most brood have emerged. But I suspect they will be attracted down below the excluder to any open brood as well (maybe by the smell of royal jelly). Once all brood in the frame have emerged and there is a cold night I suspect they will be drawn down below the excluder to cluster around the open brood to keep warm with the rest of the colony. The point is, as long as there is reasonable areas of open brood, there will be Nurse Bees there, and they will be occupied. The extra room in the brood nest allows for more eggs to be laid by the queen, so more population. But if the main entrance is below the nest, backfilling will continue.

    2. Placing the MAIN entrance directly above the excluder changes things, but it's got nothing to do with the Nurse Bees. (This is based on what I have read by Jerry Hayes in Point of View and several posts by Joseph Clemens and a few others using this method.) The excluder is an obstacle to foragers. So foragers wanting to get in and out as quickly as possible store nectar in the super above the excluder rather than going through the excluder. The open brood below the excluder is not neglected, but a point to note is that the brood nest is NOT backfilled with nectar. Only enough nectar is stored in the brood nest to raise brood and to feed the colony when clustering. This is something I will be experimenting with next season (as it's Autum/Fall here.)

    Matthew Davey

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Quote Originally Posted by Acebird View Post
    I think the queen looses weight because the tenders stop feeding her.
    Acebird, considering at this stage of the season there is probably more nectar and pollen coming in than nearly any other time of the year. Why would the tenders stop feeding the queen?

    I think it's more likely that the fact that she is laying less and less eggs is the reason that she losses weight. Her ovaries start to shrink as less eggs are needed to be ripened in the ovaries. The good old saying "Use it or loose it" applies.

    To approach it from the other angle. A newly mated queen is quite slim and it is only once she starts laying eggs that her abdomen increases in size. The more she lays, the more the ovaries enlarge due to the increasing number of eggs needed to be ripened in her ovaries.

    Those who would be able to confirm whether or not this is the case would be Queen Breeders who cage mated queens in a queen bank.

    Matthew Davey

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Matt, I have a years experience with Roland's method. When you raise the brood above the excluder it is tended by nurse bees, there is no real distance for those bees to travel - the raised frame(s) are directly above the excluder and the manipulation is done when weather and bee populations are favorable. It is not a one shot deal, every 12-14 days the frame(s) are exchanged with frames below the excluder thus providing the queen a place to lay without having to resort to a double deep just for brood. Workers pass freely through the excluder and the population above the excluder grows and works in the supers.
    With this method there are fewer frames to inspect for queen cells, just tip the bottom box. The majority of the honey you want to harvest is in the supers and not in the brood nest. Try it with a couple of hives for a season.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Quote Originally Posted by MattDavey View Post
    Why would the tenders stop feeding the queen?

    ... The good old saying "Use it or loose it" applies.
    The tenders stop feeding the queen to slim her down for flight so they can swarm.

    If the queen looses it, how does she start up again? The swarm would be doomed.
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Ace, use muscles as an analogy (think body building).

    The more often muscles are used the bigger they get. Stop using muscles for a week or too and they quickly shrink in size. You don't have the muscles shrinking to nothing. They just change in size to the demand placed on them. I think it's the same sort of thing with the size of the Queen's ovaries.

    Again, a Queen Breeder who uses queen banks would be able to verify.

    Matthew Davey

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Thanks Adrian.

    Just wondering, if you're finding queen cells, there still may be a large number of unoccupied Nurse Bees. Is the Brood Nest backfilled with nectar when you find queen cells? Have they swarmed as well if you have left an inspection too long? If so, I'm not sure of the advantages (in terms of swarm prevention) but can see it could build a bigger population.

    Matthew Davey

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Roland/ Adrean,
    Is the configuration of the hives Deep / excluder/ deep and then you are moving frames from the bottom deep above / below the excluder? Or is it a “one size fits all MB” and the mediums are swapped across an excluder. I was going to check Roland’s Method but seen he had 1500 posts so if he has already explained it perhaps a link to it would be great.
    “Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up” Alfred Pennyworth Batman Begins (2005)

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Commit to Swarm

    To summarize, in order for a hive to Commit to Swarm
    1. A large number of unoccupied Nurse Bees (Due to little or no open brood.)
    2. A large amount of stores, of nectar, pollen and honey. (Probably more the two thirds of the available cells.)
    3. A queen to go with the swarm and a queen to stay with the hive (Queen cells.)
    4. Good weather. (A warm to hot and humid day is preferred.)


    Matthew Davey

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Matt,
    Would agree that the list is almost manditory for ISSUE, but the commitment to reproduce by swarming precedes that. The starting of swarm cells IS the commitment to reproduce by swarming. Is that nit picking?

    Re Nurse Bees:
    We have written in other places that major colony decisions are made in the brood nest. At first glance, that would seem to be in error. By our standards, we would expect importent dicisions to be made by senior bees, but mostly young bees work in the brood nest. That would seem to add some credibility to the young bee theory.

    But does it really matter which bees make the decision? When made, it is a COLONY decision, and all members work toward that goal. No dissenters, as is the case with other colony-level decisions.

    Walt

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Speaking from a theoretical viewpoint, the commitment to swarm is made BEFORE swarm preparation begins. The processes are probably initiated related to number of bees vs the available empty storage space as percieved by the bees, incoming nectar flow, and weather.

    Warm days are not a trigger -- the bees swarm on the first warm, quiet day after the swam cells are of an appropriate age. Unemployeed nurse bees are a result of a backfilled brood nest, not a trigger (since the brood nest is backfilled already, else they would be making more bees, eh?). Absolute number of bees is more likely the trigger, although too many nurse bees for the brood might also factor in.

    I suspect the cascade leading to swaming is more likely not a "triggered" cascade, but an interupted one. Meaning, of course, that the swarm initiation is ALWAYS the normal condition in spring unless something interupts the course of events. There is no specific trigger(s) to start swam preparation, there are only things that turn swarm initation off. The earlier this cascade is interupted, the better in terms of honey production, of course.

    Rather than thinking in terms of stopping it once it starts, we should be thinking of ways to interupt the process. Reversing boxes, cheakerboarding, unlimited brood nest, and opening up the brood nest with empty comb make much more sense looked at this way. The sooner in the cascade the signal gets turned off less disruption there is in building bee numbers and honey production.

    Peter

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Thanks Walt, I did meant the list to be the conditions for a hive to "Commit to Issue a Swarm."

    I'm not sure if the whole Colony decides to issue a swarm. To me it looks like the older forgagers continue focusing on 'the flow' and getting all that pollen and nectar out there. Where as the younger bees, especially older nurse bees are focusing on 'there is nothing for me to do here, who's leaving with me? Let's make a Queen (to come with us).' Anyway, I don't think it matters which bees make the decision to issue a swarm. My point in this thread is to look at the process and therefore the things that will cause them to call off issuing a swarm.

    We agree that the earlier in the process the better, that is encouraging the foragers NOT to backfill the brood nest with pollen and nectar in the first place. The issue with a number of beekeepers is not having enough drawn comb. (So that the foragers have an alternative place to store nectar early in the season.)

    So yes Peter, that is exactly why I'm looking at the cascade of events and what can be addressed to interrupt the process leading up to issuing a swarm. Obviously the earlier the better in terms of honey production.

    I'm also interested in looking at other techniques that don't get much attention. For example, I recently found the Taranov Board on David Cushman's site, which is about separating young/Nurse bees who want to swarm from Foragers. This is probably a method that is a bit too late in the process but is based on the same issues that I'm talking about.

    Matthew Davey

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Belaboring the cascade/trigger thing, it seems to me that there is a trigger. Brood nest expansion stops abruptly at the minimum capped honey reserve. This can easily be seen in the weaker/slower colony that plods on in expansion with no inclination to swarm. They can still be expanding at reproductive swarm cut off timing, without backfilling.

    We arbitrarily say that reaching the expansion limit (minimum capped honey reserve) initiates swarm preparations (backfilling). Looks like a positive trigger to me. The colony can start backfilling and still not commit to swarm by starting swarm cells. So there is a second prerequisite - adequate broodnest reduction by backfilling. Two fairly positive steps in the cascade, IMO.

    Not many folks buy the repro c/o concept, but I see it every year. Last time, 3 weeks ago. We are safely by it for another year of zero reproductive swarms. (6 colonies) Each with at least 2 shallows of nectar stored during the swarm prep period, above wintering quarters.

    Walt

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Walt,

    When did you checkerboard this year? I did it when I usually do it, about the 3rd week of February, and I could tell when I did it that the hive was at least a month ahead of schedule. Our winter barely happened. I should have done the checkerboarding in January. I'm now having swarming issues, since I was late and I've got plants blooming at the same time that usually are spread out. Weird year, for certain.

    Neil

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Neil,
    Yes.
    Seeing the advanced vegetative season, we moved CB to the first week of Feb - normally done in the last half of Feb. It's a given that it can be done too late to be effective. The bees base their schedule on their perception of the vegetative/forage season.

    Interesting side note: We didn't get the brood volumes we are accustomed to. With normal cluster sizes in Feb, they were slow getting out of the blocks, and the shortened season cheated us out of 3 weeks of brood volume growth. Now, at "main flow" they don't have the normal bee power.

    In the past 3 weeks of the "lull", blooms were everywhere, but of course, it didn't go in the supers. We will not get our normal production with CB This year.

    Walt

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    I agree with the triggers Walt. Seems that most intervention is aimed at stopping the second trigger, such as Opening the brood nest.

    Obviously Checkerboarding is aimed at avoiding the first trigger. So by what Neil is saying, if it is left to after backfilling has started, will it stop getting to the second trigger, or do you need to start opening up the brood nest?

    The other option is to stop foragers from backfilling the brood nest. I think that something like the Snelgrove Board for example, even though is an overly complicated design may help with this.

    I'm looking at trying my QUEWE board (QUeen Excluder With Entrances) on a couple of hives next season to see if it will discourage foragers from storing in the brood nest. With the Main entrance shim directly above the excluder and a very small entrance (escape for Drones) shim directly below the excluder.

    I also agree with the Repo cut off. Have seen the Nurse bees dumping the wax they have been saving up in a sudden burst of comb building, often the comb is built straight upward above the brood nest. (Usually in the roof of my hives, with them ignoring the frames of foundation on the sides! Now I better understand what's going on.)

    Matthew Davey

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Factors contributing to Swarms and Swarm Prevention

    Matt,
    Re wax purging. Pleased that somebody buys the concept. Thanks for confirmation. Thought I might throw in a little persuasion for the sceptics. During growth, the colony fills the cells as they are built - essentially in parallel. In honey storage, on foundation, the cells are filling as the comb is drawn.
    In wax purging, there is typically nothing in the cells being built. The wax makers are just unloading their load of wax to change jobs, but it's not wasted. The wax is normally used to generate cells for the future. One more indication of efficiency in their instincts.

    Old literature speaks in terms of the early flow and the main flow. Since new wax is generally associated with field nectar availability, I suspect that the "early" flow is really the effects of wax maker purging at repro c/o.

    Walt

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