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  1. #1
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    Mar 2014
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    Default Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    Due to spring splits I've never lost a hive to swarming but I have a funny feeling this year could be different. What does it look like, what are the first signs? Can you diagnose it without tearing things down in the hive? Could it possibly happen this early, this year in the PNW?

    Checked my hives yesterday and was amazed at how packed they were with brood and bees. The Pacific Northwest weather has been unbelievably warm and dry this year. Add to that I utilized Lauri's insulation between the hives technique this year and wow does it work, my hives are bursting.

    Based on history I was planning to pull my queens on cell builders the first or second week of April but I'm not sure I have that much time. There's lots of drone brood, drones in the hives and drones flying almost every day but I can't yet bank on 70 degree days for the queens mating flights.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
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    KC, MO, USA
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    1,822

    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    You can do splits, keep brood nest open or checkerboard.

    Here's a good place to start for splits;
    http://www.bushfarms.com/beessplits.htm

    Swarm Prevention;
    http://www.bushfarms.com/beesswarmcontrol.htm

  3. #3
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    Mar 2014
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    Battle Ground, WA
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    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    Thanks Flower but I'm not overly concerned with what to do, it's the timing that has me confused. Normally mid April would be pretty safe for me to split etc... This year things seem to be happening soooo much sooner. I'm afraid if I wait it may be too late. That said, I don't want to jump to early and miss out on maximum build-up and/or poorly mated queens.

    Would love to hear what other Northwest beeks are seeing, feeling, is swarm season going to start 4-6 weeks early this year?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
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    Lamar Co. Alabama, USA
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    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    If you have lots of drones flying and lots of drone brood, you shouldn't have a problem with poorly mated queens by the time they are ready for their mating flights. Sounds like your hives are primed for swarm season.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
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    Massillon, Ohio
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    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    Quote Originally Posted by Thershey View Post
    What does it look like, what are the first signs? Can you diagnose it without tearing things down in the hive? Could it possibly happen this early, this year in the PNW?
    I'm not in the PNW, but I don't know if there's a sure way to look for signs of swarming without getting into the hives. If there is, I haven't learned it yet.

    Other than drones, one of the first signs I see which indicates the bees are planning to swarm is the start of brood cell backfilling. If you have supers on with plenty of empty drawn cells, but you notice they are beginning to reverse brood expansion and backfill "brood cells" with nectar rather than store the nectar overhead in the supers, it's time to intervene. If you let it get past this point it's much more difficult to reverse their swarm preparations.

    And yes, swarming could happen early so plan accordingly. A few years ago we had a very mild winter here and all of my colonies prepared for swarming more than a month ahead of the normal time. I was not prepared and had to do a lot of splits and lost some to swarming.

    If you have drones flying, see blooms ahead of schedule, and your colonies build up looks good .. move your schedule up.
    To everything there is a season....

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
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    Mukilteo, WA
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    32

    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    Looking at our extended forecast up in Everett, WA it is going to be Fri (H:58 L:43), Sat (H:57 L:41), Sun (H:60 L:42), Mon (H:58 L:45) Sunny with very little clouds or wind for all of those days.

    Is that warm enough to crack those hives apart, and do a normal inspection to see if there's any swarm prep, clean bottom boards etc.?

    All I've done so far is pop the top and add sugar bricks, but they have been bringin in pollen consistently for at least a couple of weeks.

    Also, I've noticed some bees with pollen and others without hanging out on the grass in front of my hive very lethargic, seemingly unable to get back into the hive. What could that be about?

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Location
    Elkton, Giles, Tennessee, USA
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    1,566

    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    Your best indication of an early bee season is the field forage. If it's early, the bees will be too.
    2 or 3 years ago we had a very early tree bloom - average 2+ weeks early. The bees synced right in.
    Walt

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Location
    Victoria, Australia
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    805

    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    Another thing to consider is the amount of capped brood. A rough guide is:

    1 frame of capped brood will be 2 frames of bees in 2 weeks.

    So if the boxes are already crowded and you have at least 5 deep frames of capped brood, then you need to put on the equivalent of a 10 frame deep box as soon as possible. Just to house those bees. Otherwise they will start preparing to swarm.

    If you don't have enough drawn comb, try Opening the Sides of the Broodnest now.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
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    Battle Ground, WA
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    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    Thank you all for the generous input, grateful for the help. We're supposed to be hitting 70 this weekend, I think I'll dig deep to look for cells, signs of backfilling etc...

    Matt - having no extra drawn comb to checkerboard with I have been using your techniques of opening up the sides. Really working well, a few hives have already received an extra box, a couple of them got a second new box.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
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    Cookeville, TN, USA
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    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    Quote Originally Posted by Thershey View Post
    I'm afraid if I wait it may be too late. That said, I don't want to jump to early and miss out on maximum build-up and/or poorly mated queens.
    Strong population, lot's of drones, lots of nectar, lots of capped but reduced amts of open brood - and some people are going to disagree on these - lots of cups, and bearding. A hive with all of these already has its bags packed - they're just waiting for Momma to finish with her makeup so they can leave.

    Here's the thing though - when you are trying to strike that balance between strong enough and swarmy remember that even if a hive is not super strong it will still be more productive than an over strong hive that swarms.

    It's better to weaken booming hives and make nucs than to lose those bees to the trees. The weakened hives can still make honey in addition to nucs - the ones that swarm make neither.

    You have all summer to sort out poorly mated queens.

    All just my opinion - probably mostly wrong.
    Last edited by David LaFerney; 03-06-2015 at 09:15 AM.
    Since '09-40H-T-Z6b

  11. #11
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    Nov 2009
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    Jacksonville, Florida
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    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    You can also just break the boxes apart and tilt it up on its end and look at the bottom of the frames. You will see the beginning of swarm cells. If you check every 7 days you should see them before they swarm. I don't normally pay any attention to queen cups. But, when I see 10-15 new queen cups on the bottom of frames this time of year its a safe bet that the cups will become cells very soon.

  12. #12
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    Feb 2006
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    Massillon, Ohio
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    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    It's better to weaken booming hives and make nucs than to lose those bees to the trees. The weakened hives can still make honey in addition to nucs - the ones that swarm make neither.
    That's how I look at it too. If you wait until you see all of the signs described in your first paragraph, it's probably too late. They have already made up their mind to swarm and it's very tough to change their mind.

    In a booming hive I think it's better to make up a nuc and remove the queen with a few frames of bees before reaching that point, than to wait until you find them starting queen cells. At that point you would have to do a more aggressive split and would still run the risk of one of the splits casting a swarm anyway.
    To everything there is a season....

  13. #13
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    Cookeville, TN, USA
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    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Gillmore View Post
    That's how I look at it too. If you wait until you see all of the signs described in your first paragraph, it's probably too late. They have already made up their mind to swarm and it's very tough to change their mind.
    True. However a while back Oldtimer said that you can prevent swarming by smoking bulk bees up through an excluder - I believe he said that if you hit them hard enough they will actually tear down swarm cells - but will bounce back pretty fast. There have been times when I could/should/would have done that if I had known about it.

    I need to build a big funnel.
    Since '09-40H-T-Z6b

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    Hmmm. First time I've heard of it. Something to keep in my bags of tricks.
    To everything there is a season....

  15. #15
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    Dec 2011
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    Victoria, Australia
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    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    If you are Opening the Sides of the Broodnest you will get a large population of bees.

    Large population does NOT mean they will swarm!

    In fact a larger Broodnest means it takes longer for th broodnest to be backfilled. Remember just giving a frame of open brood can defer swarm prep.

    As long as there is plenty of room for the queen to lay eggs and they are making wax/building comb and of course have space to house all the bees.

    That's why I put an empty frame On each side of the Broodnest every couples of weeks during swarm season. It causes the bees to make wax and build comb and the queen lays eggs in it as it is being built.

    The Broodnest typically gets to about 2.5 deep boxes (unless there is more than one queen.)

  16. #16
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    Mar 2005
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    Erin, NY /Florence SC
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    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    Everyone hates to see swarms leave but last year I found total peace with it. Sqkcreek, Huggins, papas and a few of us were at Barton's queen yard in SC And his hives were swarming like crazy. I hived two while I was there. As we all looked up at one monster long swarm flying directly over head, Mark (sqkcreek) says in a real peaceful authoritative voice, " don't look up, those are God's bees". Totally awesome experiance and everyone knew at that moment he was as right as any man can be. It is fast becoming a catch phrase and when you hear it somewhere you'll know who said it first.
    We grade all our hives in the spring 1-5' 1 's are boomers, 5 are queenless and in trouble. We leave the 2's and threes alone and switch locations on 1's and 4,s to equalize. This curbs a great deal of swarming and really boosts the weak hives. We keep attentive for hives starting a lot if drones, mark them and manage them into our first splits.
    Last edited by Joel; 03-08-2015 at 07:04 AM.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
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    2,141

    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    I am Vancouver. Have been through one spring...last year. Last year I opened my hives mid April. This year I will go in sooner as some hives seem very active. However we are still freezing at night.

    If one sees drones and reasonable populations is it safe to split when it is freezing overnight?

    Also I will be looking to put nucs into full sized hives but don't know when it is safe to do that.
    Advice is more than welcome.
    Janne....first hives April 2013, 19 hives, treat, plant zone 8b, at sea level, latitude 49.13, longitude 123.06

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
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    Battle Ground, WA
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    247

    Default Re: Recognizing Signs of Swarm Prep

    As it turns out my suspicions were correct on a few hives, they were beginning to backfill a bit. Triple medium boxes had brood in all three boxes and were already loaded with bees. Pulled the queens on a few hives and did some OTS notching ala Mel Disselkoen. My promise to deliver nucs by mid-May just got bumped up a full month.

    Here's a few pics

    image.jpg
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    image.jpg

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