Swarm cells and split timing
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  1. #1
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    Default Swarm cells and split timing

    I've been conversing with AR Beekeeper about splitting my one hive this spring . His advice is to wait until I see swarm cells before we do it . I understand the reasoning behind this and agree that is sound advice ...but . What are the potential problems with doing it before I see swarm cells ? I plan on waiting unless it looks like it will cause problems with the second split I have planned , I must have frames of food/brood available for when my ordered queen becomes available . I doubt it'll be a problem , I was in the upper box this morning and my queen is a layin' machine , dozens if not hundreds of eggs laid in every available cell and they're drawing like mad - the bottom box is full of capped/uncapped brood and tons of pollen and some syrup/honey . A couple of half-frame sections are big cells , obviously for drone brood .
    Hey , depending on how many queen cells they make and how strong the hive is I might be able to split off 2 at the first split- I have 2 each 4 frame and 5 frame nucs ready to go . This will put me at my projected maximum if all 4 make it thru the winter and I do straight even splits next year ... I need to balance the increase with the need to sell some honey this year to finance further expansion . The wife thinks this project should be showing some signs of being self-supporting by this summer , I'm more focused on a longer-range plan . I figger I have another 30 years considering my current health unless I do something stupid like another motorcycle wreck or death-by-jealous-husband .
    Retired wannabee Hillbilly Farmer in backwoods Arkansas
    Our biggest crop is rocks ...

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    The problem my is that about 75% of the time your going to miss a swarm cell and then after you split they will still swarm which will ensure the loss of bees and no honey production. This would not bother me much because I'd rather sell bees than honey

    I make two splits from every strong hive in mid to late March with about 90% success using the following simple method. Start feeding 1:1 sugar water in late January. By mid March the hives should be booming. I go in and make up two NUCS from each hive by pulling 3 frames of brood larva and eggs, 1 frame of honey and one empty frame then replace 10 frames of fresh foundation in the mother hive. Go in about 8 or 9 days later and check both NUCS and the mother hive to ensure two have queen cells and one has a laying queen. If one doesn't I'll grab another frame of eggs from somewhere and add them. If a week after that there is still no queen cells I'll give up on those bees and find a home for them.

    I then have laying NUCS the first of May that can be sold or hived and Even after pulling half the frames from the mother hive it will build completely back up and sometimes still give me a full medium super during the May and June flow.

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    Quote Originally Posted by Bsummitkeeper View Post
    The problem my is that about 75% of the time your going to miss a swarm cell and then after you split they will still swarm which will ensure the loss of bees and no honey production. This would not bother me much because I'd rather sell bees than honey

    I make two splits from every strong hive in mid to late March with about 90% success using the following simple method. Start feeding 1:1 sugar water in late January. By mid March the hives should be booming. I go in and make up two NUCS from each hive by pulling 3 frames of brood larva and eggs, 1 frame of honey and one empty frame then replace 10 frames of fresh foundation in the mother hive. Go in about 8 or 9 days later and check both NUCS and the mother hive to ensure two have queen cells and one has a laying queen. If one doesn't I'll grab another frame of eggs from somewhere and add them. If a week after that there is still no queen cells I'll give up on those bees and find a home for them.
    .
    How is this any different from what I was saying ? Or are you saying that it could be a problem if I wait for swarm cells ? As I understand AR Beekeeper , I will pull two or three frames of brood/eggs and a couple of honey , being sure I got the queen and use them to start the new split . The rest will stay with the original hive - being sure they have eggs/larvae (or in this case swarm cells) so they can make a new queen - which will be moved to a new location . The "new" hive will remain at the original location with the queen so that foragers that are out while splitting will stay with the queen . This way it won't matter if I miss a swarm cell (in the "new" hive) will it ? A further bonus is that I can go ahead and make a nuc too if the resources are there , or make 2 nucs and hive them in a week or 3 when they've built up some .
    Retired wannabee Hillbilly Farmer in backwoods Arkansas
    Our biggest crop is rocks ...

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    I don't understand your question, how is that different than what I was saying? Read your first post and my reply and you should see that what I said was quite a bit different than what you said. You also asked for potential issues and I attempted to tell you the big issue.

    I'll say it another way. Many people wait for swarm cells to make splits and many make a business out of creating and selling swarm cells but those people are very experienced keepers and they still miss some. You said you have one hive so I would assume you are a little less experienced than people that use the method you described.

    Another way to look at it: you have described a booming hive which is great. If you weaken it by making splits today your queens will be started today and you will most likely keep the donor hive from swarming. If you wait two weeks for swarm cells to appear your not only two weeks behind on queen rearing but you will probably still miss swarm cells and still probably end up with a swarm. I don't see the upside.

    Long story short, I've made a lot of splits and there's several ways to do it and they all work to one degree or another but The only see advantage I see to waiting for swarm cells to appear is if you can't identify eggs or very young larva.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    To answer your last question about leaving swarm cells in the donor hive and putting the new queen in the NUC.

    If you have swarm cells this would be the best method to use. Problem is once a hive decides to swarm it usually takes more than removing 4 or 5 frames to stop it. If there are 4 or 5 swarm cells left there's still a good chance for two or more queens to emerge and for a swarm or multiple swarms to occur.

    That being said, I do what I described and it works well for me. If you prefer a different method I wish you luck.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    Actually, both methods seem to be the same to me reading them.
    The only difference is one waited for the qc while the other split on the strongest
    hive position.
    Waiting for the qc will have much of a swarming chance than splitting at their strongest hive number.
    Someone here mentioned that on occasion the hive already swarmed at the capping of the q-cells.
    So are you willing to split at their strongest or wait to take a chance to swarm with the capped qc?
    Of course, as mentioned that if you missed a qc then a swarm is certain or multiple swarms are possible.
    Looks like a case of risk and reward to me here.
    Don't mix foreign bees into a virgin hive. She might get balled 100% of the time! When will you ever learn, huh?

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    Risk and reward indeed ! Yes I am very new to beekeeping , and still learning . I want to do this in a way that minimizes the risk of losing my queen to a swarm , she's a keeper . I've been watching and waiting to catch them at just the right time ... but it looks like there's a "window" of opportunity rather than a particular moment . This discussion has given me things to think about and consider ... and right now I'm thinking that I'll be watching for signs of a good strong nectar flow to begin . I don't think they've got quite enough resources yet as far as drawn comb in the upper box and stored honey and I consider that critical for this to succeed . I've been doing some frame manipulations to get them to move into the new deep , and it appears to be working . That said , at the rate they're working it looks like they'll be ready in a week or so ... they're not likely to swarm as long as there's room for expansion are they ?
    Retired wannabee Hillbilly Farmer in backwoods Arkansas
    Our biggest crop is rocks ...

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    I have split when the hive when I "felt" like they were getting to swarm. There were no swarms cells or caped drone brood at the bottom of the frames. I pulled the queen with 3 to four frames of bees out and a week later all kinds of swarms cells appeared and it did cast off 3 additional swarms out of those swarm cells. That was last year, and I think the same was going to happen this year but I got more pro active and did more slpits with the hive. What I'm saying is even if you pull the queen before they start build swarm cells they may have decided to swarm already. You just need to keep on top of it.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    Watch and wait seems to be the best option for right now . I'm starting to lean towards going ahead and splitting as soon as they have half of the comb in the new deep drawn . We're right on the cusp of a good strong spring nectar flow here , it might go from "not quite there" to "Oh crap I waited too long" in a matter of a few days . I assume that seeing a lot of drone cells right now is a good thing , and I'll be watching for them to emerge . Needless to say I'll be checking every couple of days right now .
    It doesn't help that I'm involved in a "discussion" with the wife about when to plant all those seedlings I have ready ... I jumped the gun by one day last year and lost a lot of tomato seedlings and she won't let me forget it . The 10 day forecast looks really good but ...
    Retired wannabee Hillbilly Farmer in backwoods Arkansas
    Our biggest crop is rocks ...

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    The 10 day forecast looks really good but….

    Last night was frosty and cold. It has never happened for the last 30 years or so in the valley here. It is Spring time already. But all the good grape vines about to bloom, the thumb size plums and peaches, apple and thornless blackberry flowering now, strawberry setting off 3-4 leaves with flowers now, all waiting to goto their underground. Don't set out the tomato seeds yet.
    I'm still holding all the bee plant seeds I bought over this winter. Maybe I'll just get a greenhouse instead for my seedlings and put the bees inside it.

    During this chaotic weather pattern, it is better to wait a bit before splitting the bees up. Right now is the time to monitor at every 2 week interval to further decide. Every 2 day is too much intrusion I think. Once you find that
    the brood nest about to be fill in and plenty of pollen it is about the right time when no queen cells yet. If the hive is really strong then they will swarm no matter if more room or not because reproduction based on the hive population and available resources out there is what they are looking for. On a 2nd year queen it is sure enough. I think I will split mine in May when there are more bees in the top brood box. The hive population have not
    build up to the level that I like to see yet.
    Don't mix foreign bees into a virgin hive. She might get balled 100% of the time! When will you ever learn, huh?

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    I feel like I don't have the whole story and I don't want to give bad advise based on my perception. In post #1 you said the hive was booming and she was laying in both boxes which certainly describes a hive In danger of swarming since there's a long ways to go before the nectar shuts off. In post #9 you said you were looking to split after they've drawn half the comb in the new deep which describes a much different hive than I pictured in post #1.

    If post #9 is the most accurate description, you should no immediate worries about swarming when they have yet to draw half a box of comb and you should not split and weaken a hive that is still trying to build up. That being said, when the main flow hits they can build a half box of comb in a week so at that point things happen fast.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    The advantage of waiting until there are swarm cells is there will be less delay in having new queens in the splits, plus you know the hive is going to swarm anyway.

    To some extent this depends on what you want to do. If you want to make increase and your hive is strong (brood in two deeps or equivalent space), you can split the hive into 3 or 4 parts and turn them into nucs with queen cells. If something goes wrong with one of the new queens, you can do a combine of that part with another one. In my experience, when you split up a hive this significantly, the swarm plans get called off. Move a section with the old queen to a new location and give her some empty comb to lay in if you have it. You will be unlikely to get any honey production off of any of the hives if you split 3 or 4 ways.

    If you want to try to get some honey production, then pull the queen out of the hive with some brood to turn that into a nuc and add a mated queen or queen cell if you have access to any. You will lose some foragers in the source hive, due to a break in brood rearing and removing some brood. However, if you time this to overlap with the nectar flow, the bees that are left will feed less nectar to brood for a week or two, resulting in more stored nectar. If you do this, you end up with a new hive (which contains the old queen) and the old hive keeps going with a new, young queen and still makes some honey.

    The way to make the most honey is to have a hive that is big and does not swarm and is not split. To accomplish that, you will need to either checkerboard, reverse hive bodies and/or otherwise keep the brood area open and expanding. You may want to wait and see whether this hive is really going to swarm if your goal is maximum honey production. Try adding empty comb just above or in the brood area if you have any.

    I've got a big strong hive right now that seems to really want to shift into swarm mode. It has a bad disposition, and I don't want to rear any queens from it, so I just want it to make a honey crop and stay put. As a result, I keep doing everything I can to give the queen room to lay, including adding empty comb to the brood area.

    There are all sorts of considerations that come into play on this sort of decision.

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    Quote Originally Posted by Bsummitkeeper View Post
    I feel like I don't have the whole story and I don't want to give bad advise based on my perception. In post #1 you said the hive was booming and she was laying in both boxes which certainly describes a hive In danger of swarming since there's a long ways to go before the nectar shuts off. In post #9 you said you were looking to split after they've drawn half the comb in the new deep which describes a much different hive than I pictured in post #1.

    If post #9 is the most accurate description, you should no immediate worries about swarming when they have yet to draw half a box of comb and you should not split and weaken a hive that is still trying to build up. That being said, when the main flow hits they can build a half box of comb in a week so at that point things happen fast.
    OK , to clarify : I have 2 deeps on , one was added with new frames a month or so ago . I have pulled a couple or three frames up from the bottom and put new frames in their place - being careful not to split the brood nest . Those new frames are completely drawn or nearly so and are full of capped brood and pollen and probably syrup . There are several frames partly drawn in the upper box and the queen is apparently laying in the cells as soon as they're ready . The 3 frames from below are fully drawn and have stores - I've kept those kind of off to the sides . Of the remaining frames the ones farthest from the center are less drawn than the ones closer to the center where she's laying but they're working on all of them at least a little . Things haven't yet kicked into high gear here , but I think it's only a few days away ... and I don't want to get caught off guard when they explode . I had a phone conversation with AR Beekeeper this morning , he'll be coming over early next week and weather permitting I suspect we'll be splitting the hive then . I'll be checking later this week and will discuss with him what changes I see and what I need to do about it . I really think that I should split just as the flow starts so I can head off any chance of a swarm . This is a very good queen by all indications and I'd hate to lose her to a swarm . I also think I could do that split tomorrow and have it come out well but ... this is one of those things that it seems can have even experienced beekeepers wondering and worrying about . Mother Nature can throw an unexpected curve ball at any time .
    Retired wannabee Hillbilly Farmer in backwoods Arkansas
    Our biggest crop is rocks ...

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    Wow, this is all very confusing to me. To split or not to split. So many different opinions.
    I too am a new beekeeper with one hive from last year and was considering splitting to prevent swarming and give me another hive.. But as I read it, if you split you are unlikely to have a honey harvest. If you dont , they are likely to swarm. How in the world is any honey ever collected?
    My hive seems to be doing very well so far this spring. I've done a couple of inspections and rotated my boxes twice, 4 weeks apart. I don't know if I did this too early or not. I did the first rotation on the first warm day of the year. Wich was followed by 4 weeks of cold often freezing weather. We still have pretty cool weather here , but it doesn't seem to be bothering the bees. They're bringing in lots of pollen every day.
    Most of the frames are covered with bees. Theres a decent brood pattern and plenty of room for the queen to lay as of yesterday. But I am afraid that they will swarm if I don't split them at some point, but I also want the honey. After all, that' is the reason I got into this!

    So what is one to do? My long term plan is to have 6-10 hives, but how do we ,as new beekeepers, get a honey harvest , expand a little, and prevent swarming at the same time.?

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    Quote Originally Posted by giarc18 View Post
    Wow, this is all very confusing to me. To split or not to split. So many different opinions.
    I too am a new beekeeper with one hive from last year and was considering splitting to prevent swarming and give me another hive.. But as I read it, if you split you are unlikely to have a honey harvest. If you don't , they are likely to swarm. How in the world is any honey ever collected?
    As I understand it , the hive that makes it's own queen becomes a honey-making machine while the new queen is being made . Apparently they store a lot more honey while there is no brood being raised . That is another reason I want to split right at the beginning of the flow .
    Retired wannabee Hillbilly Farmer in backwoods Arkansas
    Our biggest crop is rocks ...

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    As I understand it, you take the old queen with 2-3 frames of bees and 1 honey, 1
    pollen frame into a 5 frame nuc hive. This is the split.
    The original hive will raise their own queen and she will take her mating flight. This will take
    a month if all things go well. Continue to add super to collect honey because the nest will soon
    not have any broods to feed. A strong overwintered colony will enable you to do this.
    Now you have your splits and the honey too. There are other methods to prevent swarming and at the same time
    to harvest some honey too.
    Don't mix foreign bees into a virgin hive. She might get balled 100% of the time! When will you ever learn, huh?

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    Here's the deal: a particular hive has only a certain amount of resources, and they can use those resources to make more bees or make lots of honey, or somewhere in between.

    To make the most honey, you take measures to keep a strong hive from swarming and you don't split it. There are various ways to do this. Checkerboarding, reversing hive boxes, and other ways to keep and brood area expanding, and using young queens all reduces swarming. The downside is that you don't get any extra hives (unless you split after the honey flow, which has some risk involved). The other downside is that it is hard on a hive to get great big and make a lot of honey, and Varroa mites tend to be an issue when a monster hive scales back brood rearing. So you have to babysit these hives or they can crash on you in August-September.

    If your goal is to make honey, you try to prevent swarming, and they still want to swarm, then you can go to plan B. That involves some type of a split typically. That can reduce the honey production for the hive. However, having two hives and somewhat less honey beats having one hive with even less honey production and another hive in a treetop that flies away to parts unknown (or, even worse, into a neighbor's house).

    If you are not concerned with making honey and want more bees, then one way to do that is let or even encourage a hive to go into swarm mode and then divide it up into 3 or 4 parts and use the swarm cells to make some of your very own, more local queens. Basically, its making homemade nucs.

    You can also try to split the original hive less severely and get a reduced honey crop, but still get a honey crop. In my experience, doing a spilt results in less honey every time, but it results in more honey than an outright swarm.

    Also, if you want to make honey and have more hives, then you should try to keep the strong hives in honey production mode (prevent swarms and let them get as big as possible) and use your scrawny hives for splits. The term for this is Palmerizing a hive, named after Mike Palmer who encourages people to bust down the unproductive hives into nucs and make honey off the strong ones.

    All of this also goes back to the basic fact that one strong hive will make more honey than four weak hives. In fact, four weak hives may not make any honey at all. If you are a hobby beekeeper, all you really need to have is 3 or 4 strong hives (and no droughts) to make very satisfactory honey crop.

    If you piddle around with beehives long enough and are willing to experiment, you'll eventually do all of these things. In fact, you'll realize that to keep a self-sustaining apiary, you have to do a little bit of everything -- some hives for honey, some hives for split, and catch some swarms. You'll also eventually have a hive swarm and fly away. However, you'll live and learn from all of these scenarios.

    Another thing that you might look up is the Demaree Method of swarm control. However, that is a separate technique that I've never done myself, so I'll leave that to somebody else. Michael Bush probably covers it on his website or in his books, and I'm sure there's other information on the net.

    Finally, probably the best information I can give the original poster is that you are lucky to have ARBeekeeper as a mentor. He knows beekeeping, and you'd be wise to utilize that resource.

  19. #18
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    Default Re: Swarm cells and split timing

    Quote Originally Posted by NeilV View Post
    Here's the deal: a particular hive has only a certain amount of resources, and they can use those resources to make more bees or make lots of honey, or somewhere in between.

    To make the most honey, you take measures to keep a strong hive from swarming and you don't split it. There are various ways to do this. Checkerboarding, reversing hive boxes, and other ways to keep and brood area expanding, and using young queens all reduces swarming. The downside is that you don't get any extra hives (unless you split after the honey flow, which has some risk involved). The other downside is that it is hard on a hive to get great big and make a lot of honey, and Varroa mites tend to be an issue when a monster hive scales back brood rearing. So you have to babysit these hives or they can crash on you in August-September.

    If your goal is to make honey, you try to prevent swarming, and they still want to swarm, then you can go to plan B. That involves some type of a split typically. That can reduce the honey production for the hive. However, having two hives and somewhat less honey beats having one hive with even less honey production and another hive in a treetop that flies away to parts unknown (or, even worse, into a neighbor's house).

    If you are not concerned with making honey and want more bees, then one way to do that is let or even encourage a hive to go into swarm mode and then divide it up into 3 or 4 parts and use the swarm cells to make some of your very own, more local queens. Basically, its making homemade nucs.

    You can also try to split the original hive less severely and get a reduced honey crop, but still get a honey crop. In my experience, doing a spilt results in less honey every time, but it results in more honey than an outright swarm.

    Also, if you want to make honey and have more hives, then you should try to keep the strong hives in honey production mode (prevent swarms and let them get as big as possible) and use your scrawny hives for splits. The term for this is Palmerizing a hive, named after Mike Palmer who encourages people to bust down the unproductive hives into nucs and make honey off the strong ones.

    All of this also goes back to the basic fact that one strong hive will make more honey than four weak hives. In fact, four weak hives may not make any honey at all. If you are a hobby beekeeper, all you really need to have is 3 or 4 strong hives (and no droughts) to make very satisfactory honey crop.

    If you piddle around with beehives long enough and are willing to experiment, you'll eventually do all of these things. In fact, you'll realize that to keep a self-sustaining apiary, you have to do a little bit of everything -- some hives for honey, some hives for split, and catch some swarms. You'll also eventually have a hive swarm and fly away. However, you'll live and learn from all of these scenarios.

    Another thing that you might look up is the Demaree Method of swarm control. However, that is a separate technique that I've never done myself, so I'll leave that to somebody else. Michael Bush probably covers it on his website or in his books, and I'm sure there's other information on the net.

    Finally, probably the best information I can give the original poster is that you are lucky to have ARBeekeeper as a mentor. He knows beekeeping, and you'd be wise to utilize that resource.
    Great post!!!!!!

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