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  1. #1
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    Default Signs of swarm preparation?

    The general consensus is that once a hive "decides" to swarm it is quite difficult to make it change it's mind.

    So whatever you are going to do to prevent swarming sooner is probably better than later - so as to head it off before they go in that direction. At least that is the impression I am under.

    This has been touched on in another thread - Simple Effective Swarm Management for Beginners? So - what are the signs to look for that it is time to do something?

    Squarepeg said - "walt wright describes looking for a band of 'dry cells' between the brood and the open nectar and pollen. they may appear polished or they may have a very small amount of nectar in them. this indicates that the bees are expanding (opposite of backfilling) the broodnest. it's easy to see even for a beginner. if there are no open cells there, and if the bees are filling cells in the nest after brood emerges instead of getting them ready for more brood then swarm preps are well underway."

    Mike Gilmore said - "There is a point prior to swarm prep when they will inspect their colony and find a LOT of new "capped" brood on several frames. The next inspection might find an explosion in population and many of those cells now empty. If at that point they notice some of the brood cells are being backfilled with nectar it's time for them to think about..."

    These are both great insights - what other signs can we look for that it is time to take action to try to manage swarming?
    since '09-25H-T-Z6b

  2. #2
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    Aug 2002
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    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
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    45,379

    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    Lots of drones flying.
    Lots of traffic.
    A crowded hive.
    Backfilling the brood nest.
    and the clincher, of course, swarm cells...
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  3. #3
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    Mar 2011
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    The general consensus is that once a hive "decides" to swarm it is quite difficult to make it change it's mind.
    The preparation that the hive goes through is probably three weeks long or better starting with expansion. You don't want to stop expansion or you won't have any bees for the flow. In the heather land they let bees swarm and caught them with a net coming out of the hive. So there are a bunch of opinions on how to prevent hives from completing their swarm instinct. It is just a question of which one you favor or which one you want to try first. All things beekeeping is timing. Get it right you win, get it wrong you lose. Problem is timing is not always the same.
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    True. But this thread is not actually intended to be about how to prevent swarms, but rather how to know when a hive is about to take that fork in the road - swarm/don't swarm. But, as we know the road to an internet food fight is paved with good intentions.

    A "FOOD FIGHT!" icon would be handy at times. Just a suggestion.
    since '09-25H-T-Z6b

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    It is often suggested that dandelion bloom is the time to add the first supers, which assuming that is true then the implication is that if you don't then swarm prep could be triggered.

    Of course depending on weather they may or may not be able to even bring in early nectar. So if you see white wax like this:

    it seems like that could an indication that nectar is available in excess of the day to day requirements - even if it is ealier than dandelion. Maybe maple, but the weather is unusually fine for gathering it in.

    Does that make sense?
    since '09-25H-T-Z6b

  6. #6
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    May 2012
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    Knox, Pa. USA
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    When the bags are packed and sitting on the front porch. Is usually a sing of impending departure!

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Acebird View Post
    The preparation that the hive goes through is probably three weeks long or better starting with expansion. You don't want to stop expansion or you won't have any bees for the flow.
    My experience has been a little different than what you described above. I've found that swarm preparation begins "after" a massive build up and expansion of the brood nest. Near the peak of brood build up is when I've noticed the initiation of backfilling of brood cells and brood nest contraction. That seems to be the beginning of the final stages of swarm preparation, and is when I like to start some type of intervention to stop the process. If not, a couple weeks later I will be looking at capped swarm cells.
    To everything there is a season....

  8. #8
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    Aug 2005
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    Washington County, Maine
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    2,676

    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    It is sounding like some are adding precautionary supers of drawn comb (and excluders?) before it is consistently warm enough to do invasive inspections. Do I have that right? What is the effect of placing supers with undrawn foundation (and no excluder)? Here we go from winter to summer with maybe a week long spring in between. Generally the shift in seasons happens just as Dandelions bloom locally - perhaps two/three weeks before Apple bloom.

  9. #9
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    Jul 2010
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    david, that new comb in your picture looks like drone comb and that it was drawn in the empty space in the rim you provided for the sugar. i'm guessing that photo was take earlier in the season and before i would be expecting to see swarms. perhaps the sugar provided the extra resources needed for them to draw that wax.

    as to the signs, i think what is happening in the broodnest, expansion vs. contraction, is the best internal sign and one i will be paying a little closer attention to going forward.

    another internal sign would be if the bees fail to move up into the next box and start capping honey at the tops of the frames in highest box they are working, especially if the next box up is empty comb and they appear to be ignoring it.

    walt also does a good job describing external signs in terms of noting that peak swarming is related to the timing of certain blooms. my experience was virtually the same as his in that regard which is not surprising since our locations are close. since bloom times are more tied into weather patterns they may be more reliable than calendar time. i began more careful journaling of first blooms and swarm issues last year, and this could be recommended as something for beginners to do.
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Dewey View Post
    It is sounding like some are adding precautionary supers of drawn comb (and excluders?) before it is consistently warm enough to do invasive inspections. Do I have that right? What is the effect of placing supers with undrawn foundation (and no excluder)? Here we go from winter to summer with maybe a week long spring in between. Generally the shift in seasons happens just as Dandelions bloom locally - perhaps two/three weeks before Apple bloom.
    sounds like it is much different here than what you experience in maine andrew. the juniper (red cedar) is already producing pollen here. i don't think the bees use it, but it means that the maples and elms are not too far behind. on the nice weather days in february, the bees are gathering lots of tree pollen and using that along with their overwintered honey stores to build their numbers back up. in march there is both pollen and nectar coming in and the colonies can get strong enough to swarm anywhere from late march to early april depending on the weather. that's why we have to add our supers, checkerboard, ect. by late february or so. there are some days here at that time are suitable for inspection, although it usually isn't necessary to do much more than to make sure the colony is queenright.

    undrawn foundation in the supers is useless here in the early season. typically the bees will not start drawing new comb until after they swarm, (or have been prevented from swarming), which coincides with the beginning of our main flow. the exception is they will draw a foundationless frame if it is put into the broodnest.

    somehow the bees have figured out that the flow is transient here and tend not to swarm once the main flow is underway. walt believes this strategy is to prevent a swarm from issuing too late only to find itself unable to establish before the onset of our summer dearth.
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
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    Vancouver, BC, Canada
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    Thank you to those who started,and contributed, to this thread. For a new bee keeper it is great information...the next step will be applying it in the spring
    Janne....first hives April 2013, 19 hives, treat, plant zone 8b, at sea level, latitude 49.13, longitude 123.06

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Gillmore View Post
    My experience has been a little different than what you described above. I've found that swarm preparation begins "after" a massive build up and expansion of the brood nest. Near the peak of brood build up is when I've noticed the initiation of backfilling of brood cells and brood nest contraction. That seems to be the beginning of the final stages of swarm preparation, and is when I like to start some type of intervention to stop the process. If not, a couple weeks later I will be looking at capped swarm cells.
    So, you have good luck intervening just two weeks before you would expect to find cells?
    since '09-25H-T-Z6b

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    Square peg - they do sometimes build some brace comb in the feed shim, but it is only that white when a flow of some kind is on - in my experience. That picture actually was a maple flow during the winter that wasn't a winter a couple back. They capped most of a super on it - very clear honey, very white wax. That comb was a pretty sure sign that it was time to take off the feed. Lots of early swarming that year - my first one issued on April fools day. Pretty appropriate all in all.
    since '09-25H-T-Z6b

  14. #14
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    Apr 2012
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    Gainesboro, Tennessee, USA.
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    That was a crazy year for sure David! Having to look and mash cells in March.

    once a hive hits 2 deeps worth of bees I take 2 excess frames of honey or pollen and replace with foundation or starter strips. This gets me new comb and helps give laying space in the new combs which (in my opinion) queens love to lay in. Then I place the honey supers on top.

    I then check every week during swarm season for cells by tilting the brood chamber up and looking at the bottom of the combs. Takes just a minute.

    Still have perfecting to do on it. It works for me though.

  15. #15
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    Elkton, Giles, Tennessee, USA
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    One of the fringe benefits of checkerboarding (CB) is not having to go down to the broadnest to verify no intent to swarm. No swarm intent can be seen at the top of the hive. The key to swarm prevention w/CB is the overhead storing of nectar. Pop the top and verify nectar being stored at the top. If you have too many hives to remember where the top of nectar storage was last week, mark that spot on the outside of the super with a permanent felt marker. This week, just look for increase, and add another super of drawn comb. If they are storing nectar at the top, they have no intent to swarm, and brood volume continues expand upward.

    That's what CB is all about - diverting incoming nectar overhead and avoiding the swarm prep action of backfilling.

    Walt

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    So, you have good luck intervening just two weeks before you would expect to find cells?
    That's a good time for me to stat inserting empty comb in the brood nest area, adding supers, or remove the queen in a small split. Three weeks is probably best, so it's done before any brood nest contraction starts up. For me that is usually sometime in mid April, depending on the start of spring blooms.
    To everything there is a season....

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    Quote Originally Posted by wcubed View Post
    That's what CB is all about - diverting incoming nectar overhead and avoiding the swarm prep action of backfilling.

    Walt
    When have you seen the bees put it below? They always put it above and work their way down. It is a pretty simple concept. Once a hive becomes strong enough you need space above to store honey and space below so they don't swarm. If you are all about honey production then you under super. Harder to do and harder to keep up with what is going on and a lot more work.
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    Congratulations, Ace
    You went from beginner to consultant in record time. And I didn't even get an invitation to the commencement ceremonies.
    You must have cut a class or two in your haste. The 'always' statement above is incorrect.
    Walt

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    Quote Originally Posted by wcubed View Post
    The 'always' statement above is incorrect.
    Walt
    It might be. You got any video?
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Signs of swarm preparation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Dewey View Post
    It is sounding like some are adding precautionary supers of drawn comb (and excluders?) before it is consistently warm enough to do invasive inspections. Do I have that right? What is the effect of placing supers with undrawn foundation (and no excluder)? Here we go from winter to summer with maybe a week long spring in between. Generally the shift in seasons happens just as Dandelions bloom locally - perhaps two/three weeks before Apple bloom.
    Keep in mind we had a protracted spring this past year. it started in early February and ended late April early may. My bees had swarm cells on April 14th. I estimate this was around one to two weeks before the actual Repro cut off date Walt describes. So close but it was a very long battle to prevent swarming. Swarming in this area was on a scale I have never seen it before. We captured 14 swarms in an area i have only seen two in 30 years. It looks like it is gearing up to be another year just like that again.

    Okay so I started adding supers in late February early March at the first sing they where building up. At that point the queen was already pretty much at a full size brood nest. Due to limited boxes I was only able to build the hive up to two deeps with three mediums on top. The equivalent of 4 deeps. The queen continued to move up laying brood in any available cells as they where drawn. In the end she actually went all the way p through all 4 boxes. but you could also tell she had exceeded her limit on how many eggs she could lay in a day. The nest also narrowed and by the time she was in the 4th box it spanned only about 4 frames in width and she did not come close to filling frames. She only remained up top for a couple of days and then no sign of her in the upper boxes was sen again. it is as if she returned to the original brood nest and remained there. In 20 20 hind sight I think this is the first indication that things had changed and they where making that turn toward choosing to swarm. As I recall it was till about 2 weeks before the appearance of queen cells though. I cannot say this behavior is consistent but if it is I would say that the queen returning to the bottom of the hive is a sing that further intervention is necessary. that swarm prevention is not working and that they will in fact swarm in the next week to two weeks. I will make more observations keepign this in mind and see if anything reliable comes of it. But it could be a nice indicator of progress if it holds true.

    As this same period approached I also noticed a lot of bees just lounging in the top of the hive. comb building had slowed or completely stopped. I recall this standing out to me very clearly. there where a lot of bees and not much going on in the way of work in the hive. they even crowded in above the inner cover. Expansion was clearly trailing off. I believe at this time that had i had drawn comb I could have kept that queen in the top of the hive longer and fewer bees woudl have been lounging as a result. Could I have delayed swarming for yet another two weeks? I do not know. I believe I had been preventing it for about 6 weeks up to this point. Swarming conditions where so good last year that some swarms I captured built up and attempted to cast swarms of their own. At one point I was actually capturing two swarms at the same time. Not from my apiary.

    Okay that is my bit about what i noticed in my hive as I attempted to prevent swarming but watched as the bees made that turn anyway. Prior to swarming this colony had a population that I had ever expectation they could produce 300 lbs of honey. I managed to catch the swarm they did cast and it filled a double deep hive. between it and the parent colony I still got around 200 lbs of honey.

    So hey it wasn't pretty but I still salvaged most of my apiary.
    Stand for what you believe, even if you stand alone.

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