Walt Wright Swarm Control
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  1. #1
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    Default Walt Wright Swarm Control

    I've been re-reading Walt's writings on swarms and swarm control. I know one of the luminaries here at Beesource was a neighbor to Walt and worked with him on this stuff. I'd appreciate the name of that person.

    Walt's focus was in stopping the swarming before it was triggered, he used several techniques- early addition of space in the form of supers, breaking up the feed band by checkerboarding, and, if they don't move into the supers during an early flow, breaking up that honey dome even further.

    My immediate question is this- I'm feeding MC sugar and the bees are up in the shim, have been for well over a month. It seems the feed band is broken as the bees move freely into the shim and back down into the frames to cluster. My plan is to put supers on very early, just before the first flow here, and to put those supers on the day I clean out the MC sugar and shim. My thinking is that because I put honey supers away wet there will be honey up there and the bees are already looking up there for feed. If I time it well the honey in the wet supers will keep the bees up there, and the flow will keep them using the space and eliminate the need for checkerboarding.

    I'm also planning on early splits of any strong colonies re-queening mine if I don't like the queen in there or just selling the new queens in the nucs.

    I live in Montana and early flows are end of March, first half of April.

    I have 5 production colonies and one SBS nuc for support, this ain't a big operation, LOL.

    I'd appreciate feedback, especially from the guy that worked with Walt in Tennessee.

    Lee
    5 Production colonies, 1 side by side 5 frame nuc for support- 7 working queens is all I want.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    hi grins. i'm not sure if i am the person that you are referring to, but walt and i become good friends in the years before his passing. he made several trips to my place down here in alabama and helped me to learn his methods.

    walt also helped a neighbor by the name of harold with his bees. harold made a couple of you tube videos showing the checkerboarding manipulations but does not post here on the forum.

    if you happen to not have walt's original manuscript on nectar management it is now available here:

    https://www.beesource.com/forums/sho...t-s-manuscript

    i'll be back tomorrow, but how are your production hives currently set up?

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    hi grins. i'm not sure if i am the person that you are referring to, but walt and i become good friends in the years before his passing. he made several trips to my place down here in alabama and helped me to learn his methods.

    walt also helped a neighbor by the name of harold with his bees. harold made a couple of you tube videos showing the checkerboarding manipulations but does not post here on the forum.

    if you happen to not have walt's original manuscript on nectar management it is now available here:

    https://www.beesource.com/forums/sho...t-s-manuscript

    i'll be back tomorrow, but how are your production hives currently set up?
    Production hives are two ten frame deeps. All went into winter at least 125 lbs. I'm certain there is honey still in the outside frames. They are hitting the sugar pretty hard and our winter has been very mild so for with lots of flight days and loose clusters.

    And yes, you jarred my memory, it was you I spoke with previously about this, thanks for being here.

    Lee
    5 Production colonies, 1 side by side 5 frame nuc for support- 7 working queens is all I want.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Quote Originally Posted by Grins View Post
    I've been re-reading Walt's writings on swarms and swarm control. I know one of the luminaries here at Beesource was a neighbor to Walt and worked with him on this stuff. I'd appreciate the name of that person.

    Walt's focus was in stopping the swarming before it was triggered, he used several techniques- early addition of space in the form of supers, breaking up the feed band by checkerboarding, and, if they don't move into the supers during an early flow, breaking up that honey dome even further.


    Lee
    First off, download and read this

    https://www.beesource.com/forums/sho...t-s-manuscript

    You probably should read it several times, you won't get the full import of what he is saying on a quick one-time read-through, at least I did not.

    Walt's revelation (at least to me) was the definitions of 'reproductive' vs 'overcrowding' swarms, and how to prevent the former by making overhead space available early-on

    This is what he called 'checkerboarding', which in his 9-frame scheme was pulling frames 2 and 8 and replacing with drawn comb to give the bees the idea that they had lots of space yet to 'backfill', both those empty combs and the 'pathway' they gave to 'upstairs' (empty supers)... according to him they back-fill the brood nest in the spring in anticipation of casting a reproductive swarm before starting swarm cells for the 'reproductive' swarm.

    If they don't get that space filled by a certain date (he called it the 'repro cut-off' date) they abandon all efforts at doing a reproductive swarm, use any previously-started swarm cells for supersedure, and get to work fill all overhead space ( = more honey production).

    At least that's what I got out of it.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Sour, I think I may have obscured my question since you missed it.

    Checkerboarding, as I understand it, is used to break the food band so the bees will recognize and use the overhead space supers add to the colony. Since the bees in my boxes are already freely travelling into the feeding shim through what used to be the feed band it seems to me adding supers just as our spring flow begins will not allow the bees time to rebuild the honey dome above the brood nest and I won't need to checkerboard.

    Lee
    5 Production colonies, 1 side by side 5 frame nuc for support- 7 working queens is all I want.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    This is for Square Peg as well, in years past I have removed the shim and MC sugar and left the two brood boxes that way until flows are well underway. Well, my bees right now freely move up to find food and it seems I can exploit that 'training' by keeping the MC sugar there until just as a flow begins. As I said earlier, I put my supers away wet so bees will find food up there and I would hope the traffic flow into the supers would continue as the bees transition from eating my sugar to storing nectar overhead, in the supers.

    I know Square Peg has continued work with checkerboarding and am looking forward to his input.

    Lee
    5 Production colonies, 1 side by side 5 frame nuc for support- 7 working queens is all I want.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    My experience last year was that the bees will not always work their way up into the supers, even if you clear a path with empty drawn comb. It was swarmaplouza last year during and after the maple flows. The flows were so strong that adding/checkerboarding 3 or 4 frames of drawn comb would not slow down the backfilling and the bees would never move up into the supers that were all drawn comb. The empty comb checkerboarded in would be filled with nectar in 2-3 days and I was manipulating the hives twice a week to try to stop the swarming impulse. My best guess as to why the bees would not go into the supers (Walt does discuss this), is that they did not go on soon enough and the bees did not have time to recognize that the space was available, clean them and prepare them for use. This year, they will go on a month before the maple flow begins.

    How I finally put a halt to the swarming was by putting a full box of drawn comb at the bottom of the stack instead of on top. I happily admit that it was an act of desperation. My reasoning behind that was if the bees were clogging all the cells at the top of the hive with nectar and the queen was being forced downward in the hive, I was going to give her extra comb in the direction she was being forced to go. Surprisingly, it worked perfectly. Every hive that created swarm cells was split several times over and no swarms were lost. Every hive that got a full box of empty comb inserted at the bottom of the stack built swarm cells but never charged them and never swarmed.

    It is a long story but the point of the story is if you are going to put supers on and expect the bees to use them, they need to go on well before the flow begins. Even if there is a break in the honey dome, the bees still need to have the time to prepare the comb in the supers and recognize that the space is available for use. My feeling is that just because the bees are currently taking sugar from above the top bars, does not mean that they will use the supers when you put them on. They may be looking for food there now but once the nectar starts coming in, they will be looking for food outside of the hive. All winter long, they have been taking that sugar and consuming it and storing the sugar in the brood nest. They may continue to do that with the incoming nectar even though you added the supers.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Quote Originally Posted by dudelt View Post
    My experience last year was that the bees will not always work their way up into the supers, even if you clear a path with empty drawn comb. It was swarmaplouza last year during and after the maple flows. The flows were so strong that adding/checkerboarding 3 or 4 frames of drawn comb would not slow down the backfilling and the bees would never move up into the supers that were all drawn comb. The empty comb checkerboarded in would be filled with nectar in 2-3 days and I was manipulating the hives twice a week to try to stop the swarming impulse. My best guess as to why the bees would not go into the supers (Walt does discuss this), is that they did not go on soon enough and the bees did not have time to recognize that the space was available, clean them and prepare them for use. This year, they will go on a month before the maple flow begins.

    How I finally put a halt to the swarming was by putting a full box of drawn comb at the bottom of the stack instead of on top. I happily admit that it was an act of desperation. My reasoning behind that was if the bees were clogging all the cells at the top of the hive with nectar and the queen was being forced downward in the hive, I was going to give her extra comb in the direction she was being forced to go. Surprisingly, it worked perfectly. Every hive that created swarm cells was split several times over and no swarms were lost. Every hive that got a full box of empty comb inserted at the bottom of the stack built swarm cells but never charged them and never swarmed.

    It is a long story but the point of the story is if you are going to put supers on and expect the bees to use them, they need to go on well before the flow begins. Even if there is a break in the honey dome, the bees still need to have the time to prepare the comb in the supers and recognize that the space is available for use. My feeling is that just because the bees are currently taking sugar from above the top bars, does not mean that they will use the supers when you put them on. They may be looking for food there now but once the nectar starts coming in, they will be looking for food outside of the hive. All winter long, they have been taking that sugar and consuming it and storing the sugar in the brood nest. They may continue to do that with the incoming nectar even though you added the supers.
    You know, that empty brood box below strikes me as a very good way to exploit bee's natural tendency to build a nest from the top downwards. I hope putting wet supers on will make them more attractive to the bees and that comb repair can be done as they take the small amounts of honey left from last year. You make me think getting those supers on at least a week or two before first flow is important.

    Thanks Dudelt,

    Lee
    5 Production colonies, 1 side by side 5 frame nuc for support- 7 working queens is all I want.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Quote Originally Posted by Grins View Post
    Sour, I think I may have obscured my question since you missed it.

    Checkerboarding, as I understand it, is used to break the food band so the bees will recognize and use the overhead space supers add to the colony. Since the bees in my boxes are already freely travelling into the feeding shim through what used to be the feed band it seems to me adding supers just as our spring flow begins will not allow the bees time to rebuild the honey dome above the brood nest and I won't need to checkerboard.

    Lee
    Well, you do it how you think best and good luck.

    If it were me, I'd pull two almost-outer frames and replace with empty combs.

    That would be a LOT of space for them to fill and almost certainly would ward off swarming.

    But as I said, it's your game.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    @Grins'

    I use some of Walt's ideas for my anti-swarm efforts. Although I think later on he was characterizing his plan more as a nectar management practice, than just for anti-swarming.

    I winter in three 10- (or 9-) frame deeps with a medium pollen box underneath. (The pollen box stays in place all year, unless I get desperate for supers, in which case I will re-purpose it temporarily.)

    Anyway, here's how I use Walt's ideas: As early as I can do so, which can be (earliest) last week in March, but generally in the first or second week of April, on my first "serious" inspection visit, I find the brood area which is invariably in the upper most box. because I use deeps, that means it is wholly contained in just one box. If I have goofed up and left a medium as the top box, then the brood area will be bleeding down into the deep below. Anyway, I lift off the box (or boxes) with brood and set them on a base and cover them up.

    Then I rummage down into the two deep boxes below and make a up a set of frames from the contents of those two boxes. This set is half frames with honey resources (and maybe some pollen) and half empty drawn frames. These are the best ones I can find among the two boxes. The bees have generally left behind outside frames with useful resources as they moved up through the winter into the top boxes which are always completely fulled with stores. (I see to that by close-out time.)

    I assemble the chosen frames in one box in an alternating pattern stores/empty drawn/stores ... etc, with a frame of honey in the outside of both sides, fudging one of the middle frames if necessary on 10-frame sets with an extra empty drawn one or one with just a bit of honey. These are the best frames of the two-box lot.

    Then I put the remaining frames in the other box, if things are going well, I'll get another usable set which I assemble in the same alternating fashion at that time to make things easy for the next go-round of Walt's plan. But usually there are on or two that look ready for culling. That's OK, because by the time I do another round of Walt's technique, I am usually ALSO employing MattDavey's technique of slotting in partial foundation frames on the sides of the brood, which frees up a few frames that can take the place of the ones I want to cull.

    Then I reassemble my stack this way: medium pollen box remains in the lowest position. Next up is the deep box with the "remainder" of the frames from the selection process. Then I place the box (or boxes) with brood in them in the middle position. Finally the newly assembled box with the best combs, alternated as Walt describes, is placed on top.

    The new top box is a functional "reversal" in that it has moved the active brood box downwards in the stack order, and added a box with both empty drawn combs and resources to fuel the expansion on top. I have found that the bees invariably expand upwards into this new space, eventually moving/expanding their brood area into it. At that point it is ripe for a repeat with the bottom brood box, being raised up and put on top. One could repeat this yet another time if needed, but in my northern NY climate by that time we are bordering on the start of our first significant flow and the bees are ready to shift gears to honey making and I have already also supered them with drawn-comb supers (I only use drawn comb supers, on the first round. Later I will start giving them bare foundation ones, but at first i find the need the comb to get started in on the honey storage as opposed to swarm follow-through.

    Note that I mentioned above that I also add in a couple of rounds of MattDavey's "Opening the sides of the brood nest" technique as an added swarm dampener.

    Also note that I am using three brood boxes, and not supers as you are proposing. And I don't use Qu ex's either. So I am adding brood space overhead, not just super-space.

    I think this would be less effective with only two brood boxes, partly because if you reversed you would be moving the brood area down into the coldest position of the hive. In my stacks, recall that I have a pollen box underneath the lowest (not-occupied at the time) brood box, the box with active brood in it is in the middle position, with new, reversed "brood expansion" box in the the warmest position on top.

    These techniques, in the aggregate, have so-far reduced swarming to nearly nil in my yard. But I keep enough Snelgrove, or double screen boards on hand to deploy as rescue devices should I find evidence of imminent swarm activity, anyway. Most years I don't need to use them, however. I also start doing swarm-cell checks on the bottom of every brood box every 5 -7 days around the middle of May, and keep on doing them until I see that they have completely passed into the stage of honey collection, as demonstrated by actively using the supers, and making a lot of white wax (usually that is Mid-June here). Once they will easily drawn out new new foundation, as long as I keep giving it to them, (which I do as long as they will draw it) they are settled in for the year.

    I don't normally have winter losses I need to make up, nor do I want to increase the size of my apiary, so it's imperative to suppress swarming without relying primarily on splitting. This is how I do it. I have had a swarm in my yard, except for a friend's colony that had only been moved there for a couple of days before, so it hadn't had my season-long attention to prevention.

    My advice for you is to do a brood box reversal, along Walt's lines, first. And I wouldn't count on simple application of supers, even "wet" ones, to have the same effect. You might look into MattDavey's ideas, too, as I think they would help you manage with just two boxes.

    I am surprised to read that your first "flows" happen as early as late March. At that time, here in northern NY, we may have foraging opportunities from time to time, but they are barely more than maintenance ones, meaning they are the bee-equivalent of a paycheck-to-paycheck budget. They consume pretty much everything they can gather to feed themselves and raise their brood. My goal in the WW-style reversal is to augment that with resources they have may already have within the hive, but place those resources so they are readily available to them even in iffy weather where they need to stay clustered on brood. This seems to keep the expansion on a steady pace, no matter what erratic weather is dished up by Mother Nature.

    These ideas are just my interpretation of Walt's writings. I was working them through on my own and now I deeply regret that I was too shy to have written to Walt about them for his review and comments. I thought about emailing him, but postponed it for another year. And then he passed away suddenly before I could follow through. I know that he would have been helpful and thought-provoking ( in a kind and generous way) so it is a double regret for me. I am very grateful that Square-Peg has posted his manuscript here. I was just re-reading it again recently. His writing can seem opaque on the first pass, but that just allows for new insights to be gleaned if you tackle it again.

    Good luck. New beekeepers often think the ultimate test of a beekeeper's skill is a cold northern winter survival, but I think it's successfully managing a strong hive's passage through the swarm season without needing to take the hit that splitting exacts on your honey production.

    Nancy

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    thank you for chiming in nancy, i was hoping you would, because your location and and hive configuration are much more like grins' that walt's or mine.

    grins, nancy's reply is going to help you more than mine, but i will post a more complete response to your follow up posts this evening.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    thank you for chiming in nancy, i was hoping you would, because your location and and hive configuration are much more like grins' that walt's or mine.

    grins, nancy's reply is going to help you more than mine, but i will post a more complete response to your follow up posts this evening.
    Thanks Squarepeg, whenever you get to it.
    5 Production colonies, 1 side by side 5 frame nuc for support- 7 working queens is all I want.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Nancy, thank you for the time you take with these thorough responses, I appreciate it. I have a couple of thoughts.

    As Walt observed the notion of empty overhead space is not native to bees. When they move into a cavity they start building at the uppermost point and work down. Like you, my brood nests will be in the upper box come spring and as you point out a reversal would expose the nest to colder temps. I guess part of me feels the bees would move the brood nest downwards as the season rolls on and that they would recognize an empty brood box below as one sign swarming isn't desirable. Bees are certainly adaptable enough to head upstairs if that's where the space is but downward is a more native direction for them. Every fall I weigh hives and will take a deep frame or three from the center of a heavy colony as part of my harvest putting those empty frames back in at the sides so there is a column of honey in the center. I take them from the center to be certain it's this year's honey. It would seem with your 3 box arrangement you'd have a lot of honey you could take from your deeps, do you harvest from your brood boxes?

    If I do checkerboard I'd pretty much have to reverse boxes since the nest is high and I don't want to disturb it. I do need to learn more about Matt Davey's techniques, I'll look into that.

    My first challenge as a new beekeeper was getting them through the winter, I've had 100% survival so far going into my 4th season. Controlling varroa, wraps, quilt boxes, and feed, has made that pretty routine so now it's preventing the swarms, had at least 2 last summer. It was really cool since we were here for them but it did slow a couple colonies down a bit. And, I'd like to nip the swarming bug in the bud before triggers are found.

    Thanks again, Nancy,

    Lee
    Last edited by Grins; 01-17-2019 at 11:07 AM.
    5 Production colonies, 1 side by side 5 frame nuc for support- 7 working queens is all I want.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Lee if you can now "TRAIN" bees where to go to eat. you need to write a book.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Quote Originally Posted by Vance G View Post
    Lee if you can now "TRAIN" bees where to go to eat. you need to write a book.
    LOL, Vance, I'm going to train them to type too. They're trained in the same sense I'm trained to eat at the table when the dinner bell rings, we all just go where the food is.

    Lee
    5 Production colonies, 1 side by side 5 frame nuc for support- 7 working queens is all I want.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Quote Originally Posted by enjambres View Post
    In my stacks, recall that I have a pollen box underneath the lowest (not-occupied at the time) brood box, the box with active brood in it is in the middle position, with new, reversed "brood expansion" box in the the warmest position on top.
    Nancy:

    Just wanted to comment that I am always impressed with how much time and detail you invest in your replies. You are a real wealth of knowledge and generous with it too- thank you for that.

    I am also intrigued by your use of the pollen box- your description above of the relative temperature benefit of such an approach adds another layer to the 'pros' of this management technique.

    Thanks again for all your help and good advice.

    Russ

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Quote Originally Posted by Sour Kraut View Post
    This is what he called 'checkerboarding', which in his 9-frame scheme was pulling frames 2 and 8 and replacing with drawn comb to give the bees the idea that they had lots of space yet to 'backfill'...
    not sure where you got this, but this is not what walt called 'checkerboarding'.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Quote Originally Posted by dudelt View Post
    My experience last year was that the bees will not always work their way up into the supers, even if you clear a path with empty drawn comb. It was swarmaplouza last year during and after the maple flows. The flows were so strong that adding/checkerboarding 3 or 4 frames of drawn comb would not slow down the backfilling and the bees would never move up into the supers that were all drawn comb. The empty comb checkerboarded in would be filled with nectar in 2-3 days and I was manipulating the hives twice a week to try to stop the swarming impulse. My best guess as to why the bees would not go into the supers (Walt does discuss this), is that they did not go on soon enough and the bees did not have time to recognize that the space was available, clean them and prepare them for use. This year, they will go on a month before the maple flow begins.

    prior to walt helping me out i was experiencing 100% swarming. to some degree this is because i was just starting out and all i had was foundation supers to add early in the season.

    when walt first came down i had enough drawn comb to properly checkerboard exactly like walt had been doing. this cut my swarm rate down to 50%. we weren't sure why the big difference in my result vs. his, but we guessed it may have had something to do with my supers being medium sized compared to his shallows, or perhaps my strain of bee had a higher propensity toward swarming.

    dudelt, i saw exactly the same thing happening in the swarmed colonies, i.e. the empty comb in the checkerboarded supers got filled with nectar instead of brood, and completely empty supers over the checkerboarded supers got completely ignored. this happened even though the checkerboarding and empty supers above were placed very early, just as the colonies were coming out of winter and starting their build up.

    i noticed that the colonies that did not swarm expanded their broodnests up through the checkerboarded supers. that caused me to modify my approach to include opening the broodnest with empty comb and pyramiding brood up to the next unused super.

    adding these manipulations decreased my swarm rate to about 15%. i've since added pushing the queen down to what becomes an empty deep by the time the broodnest reaches the top of 3 or 4 supers, and this has cut my swarm rate to almost zero. it's interesting that you found adding drawn comb at the bottom is helpful.

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    it's interesting that you found adding drawn comb at the bottom is helpful.
    Dudelt:

    I also found this observation interesting- I am still deliberating, but I am considering adding an empty drawn box to the bottom of a colony stack this Spring and observe the result. Thanks for sharing your experience with this.

    Russ

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    Default Re: Walt Wright Swarm Control

    azaleahill and litsinger, i took the liberty to move your posts to this thread as the comments are more on the topic of walt wright's methods.

    i'll return to share the back and forth walt and i had about the so called 'honey reserve'.

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