Born to Swarm?
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Thread: Born to Swarm?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2016
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    Park County, Montana, USA
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    Default Born to Swarm?

    So, I have this hive, last year it swarmed twice. I did not go out after the first swarm last year to clear queen cells so subsequent swarms were my bad.
    I am working on swarm controls this year in earnest. Today that same hive swarmed. Sheesh. Double sheesh.

    I started it on pollen patties March 9 with a note it looked a bit weak. On May 4th I added supers for lots of headroom. The brood nest was in the upper of two 10 frame deeps, I did not reverse. We are really late with flows this year, first actual flow with decent flight days was only a week ago. Leading up to that there were few flight days and little blooming. I'm in Montana, you know. On May 30th I pulled 4 frames of brood for a split which had a few swarm cells. I thought I'd cleared all remaining swarm cells from the two brood frames I left. Yesterday I went through it again clearing swarm cells and *thought* I got them all. Now this hive had already put 25 pounds or so of nectar in their lower super with only a week of flow so far, no one else in my apiary has come close to that. So, tomorrow I'll go back in and look for queen cells to try to avoid another swarm.

    Am I howling at the moon trying to keep this colony in a box? Last year I'd decided to dump this blood line because of swarming but a fast buildup this spring and remarkable honey production made me decide to try to control the swarming. Any tips? I'm open to suggestions.

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

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
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    Aylett, Virginia
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    Default Re: Born to Swarm?

    Only suggestion I can make that I have done is to split out the queen early in the season and then split that nuc again as the population builds. Nancy uses the Snellgrove board to control her swarms. That may be another option but I have no experience with it.

    One of my hives likes to swarm in September, so monitoring for queen cells is important all season long.
    Thankfully, the bees are smarter than I am. They are doing well, in spite of my efforts to help them.

  4. #3
    Join Date
    May 2016
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    Park County, Montana, USA
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    Default Re: Born to Swarm?

    Quote Originally Posted by JWPalmer View Post
    Only suggestion I can make that I have done is to split out the queen early in the season and then split that nuc again as the population builds. Nancy uses the Snellgrove board to control her swarms. That may be another option but I have no experience with it.

    One of my hives likes to swarm in September, so monitoring for queen cells is important all season long.
    Thanks JW, at this point I'm about to put the frames from the split back in since they have very little brood, remove all queen cells and add a frame of brood/eggs from a more desirable and less swarmy blood line.
    5 Production colonies, 1 side by side 5 frame nuc for support- 7 working queens is all I want.

  5. #4
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    Sep 2012
    Location
    Stockholm, NJ, USA
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    310

    Default Re: Born to Swarm?

    Just make the first week of May your split time milestone. This gives the original hive time to recuperate for the June flow.

    I had a 3 tier deep with a medium super full of honey. I don't think it ever swarmed this season, because the each tier was packed with bees. Yesterday, I harvested the super, plus two deep frames full of honey and I split the hive 3 ways and put a medium super on each. So each tier became their own hive. I will inspect for emergency queen cells in a day of two.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Born to Swarm?

    Quote Originally Posted by roberto487 View Post
    Just make the first week of May your split time milestone. This gives the original hive time to recuperate for the June flow.

    I had a 3 tier deep with a medium super full of honey. I don't think it ever swarmed this season, because the each tier was packed with bees. Yesterday, I harvested the super, plus two deep frames full of honey and I split the hive 3 ways and put a medium super on each. So each tier became their own hive. I will inspect for emergency queen cells in a day of two.
    That idea looks great on paper, Roberto, but we had such crappy weather the first 3 weeks of May it would have been risky to open a hive up to do splits. In a normal year your idea is perfect, our last 2 years have been very different.
    5 Production colonies, 1 side by side 5 frame nuc for support- 7 working queens is all I want.

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2015
    Location
    Grant Co WV
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    53

    Default Re: Born to Swarm?

    Timing is everything in a swarm control split. Too early and the bees requeen only to swarm later. Too late and well we all know the outcome. when you see swarm cells being started in a hive that is the time to split Regardless of weather. If bad weather prevents the queen from breeding you can always combine later. As a rule a hive will not swarm unless there is a flow. So watching the hive when you notice major blooms it important. With the exception of extreme cold weather is not an excuse to omit swarm management. Yes it is not always pleasant to work with the bees in bad weather. But beekeeping sometimes requires that action be taken at precise times.

  8. #7
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    Aug 2015
    Location
    Richmond Illinois USA
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    Default Re: Born to Swarm?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grins View Post
    .... On May 30th I pulled 4 frames of brood for a split which had a few swarm cells. I thought I'd cleared all remaining swarm cells from the two brood frames I left. Yesterday I went through it again clearing swarm cells and *thought* I got them all. Now this hive had already put 25 pounds or so of nectar in their lower super with only a week of flow so far, no one else in my apiary has come close to that. So, tomorrow I'll go back in and look for queen cells to try to avoid another swarm.
    OK so my two cents: When you split for swarm prevention, you want the bees to think that they have, in fact, swarmed. You want the NEW box to get the OLD queen, along with frames of capped brood and bees. NO swarm cells - leave all the swarm cells in the old box. The parent hive expects to be raising another queen, so let them. (Or you can tear down the swarm cells and give them a queen, your choice)

    Splitting the way you did, you left the original hive with the old queen, and still in a swarming frame of mind. Sorry for the anthropomorphisms - it's hard to talk about bees without using words like "think", "plan", "intention", etc. Yes they're an insect with a microscopic brain; that's why I love them.

    Cheers,

    ETA: For another perspective on swarm management, check this out: Nectar Management by Walt Wright
    Last edited by Thomas Frazier; 06-21-2019 at 10:40 AM. Reason: clarity

  9. #8
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    Oct 2017
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    Swarthmore, Pennsylvania
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    Default

    Question about this.

    So I saw swarm cells late spring in a very good colony and moved the queen and a few frames of brood and stores to a nuc where they’ve done great. But, what I found is that back in the parent hive that had some queen cells they then backfilled all the empty brood cells w nectar. And then by time new queen was ready to lay there wasn’t much room. Really set that hive back.

    I get it that no matter what you want to interrupt that swarming mentality and leaving the queen in original hive increases chances of inevitable swarm.

    But what timing/techniques can be done to prevent all that backfilling? Anything? Perhaps I jumped the gun making the split with open queen cells, giving them too much time to backfill. But I didn’t want to wait and miss a swarm.

    I’m using a good nuc to draw foundation and now am banking those empty frames for next spring, but other than jjst feeding them empty frames I’m not sure what to do in that situation.

    Thoughts?

  10. #9
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    Oct 2017
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    Swarthmore, Pennsylvania
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by thisoldfish View Post
    Question about this.

    So I saw swarm cells late spring in a very good colony and moved the queen and a few frames of brood and stores to a nuc where they’ve done great. But, what I found is that back in the parent hive that had some queen cells they then backfilled all the empty brood cells w nectar. And then by time new queen was ready to lay there wasn’t much room. Really set that hive back.

    I get it that no matter what you want to interrupt that swarming mentality and leaving the queen in original hive increases chances of inevitable swarm.

    But what timing/techniques can be done to prevent all that backfilling? Anything? Perhaps I jumped the gun making the split with open queen cells, giving them too much time to backfill. But I didn’t want to wait and miss a swarm.

    I’m using a good nuc to draw foundation and now am banking those empty frames for next spring, but other than jjst feeding them empty frames I’m not sure what to do in that situation.

    Thoughts?
    Edit— I see above attachment that may address jjst this question— won’t open on my phone but maybe this is spelled out there

  11. #10
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    Apr 2017
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    Aylett, Virginia
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    Default Re: Born to Swarm?

    TOF, with no brood to raise, the bees all switch to nectar gathering mode. To keep from getting backfilled, you need to give them plenty of drawn comb and maybe a super of foundation too. Once you have a laying queen again, you can reconfigure the hive to get all the nectar above the brood nest. This where having extra drawn deep frames, or whatever size you use in the brood chambers, can be real handy. Even if you dont have extra drawn frames, on a heavy flow with a laying queen, it only takes the bees a few days to have a frame drawn out and the queen will start laying when the cells are only half way drawn. I have seen eggs in a 3" circle of newly drawn comb in my foundationless frames.
    Thankfully, the bees are smarter than I am. They are doing well, in spite of my efforts to help them.

  12. #11
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    Oct 2017
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    Swarthmore, Pennsylvania
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    Default

    Thanks JW.. yeah I saw that with that nuc.. a few days and she was laying in partially drawn comb.. was incredible. Now I have frames of 100% capped brood.. Ok— so I jjst need to bank as much deep comb as I can this year and next year I can just feed them empty comb.

    Steep learning curve to this bee stuff but they’re teaching me!

    Thanks

  13. #12
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
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    Geauga, Ohio
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    Default Re: Born to Swarm?

    I have heard from a beek who occasionally posts here that he has successfully bred for lower swarming bees. Sure, any bee will swarm if given a single or double deep, and the chance to fill it with bees on a nectar flow. There is essential management to keep the bees thinking they still have room to store honey.

    But.... last year, I had top bar hives. I was purposely putting empty brood comb into the brood nest, and removing the capped brood to the far end (think top) of the hive. And the bees chose to fill the brood nest rather than store honey.

    Then of course they swarmed.

    Except... two hives didn't do that. After they were split, they filled their given comb with brood, and then drew more comb for honey. Just like a top bar is rumored to behave. That's 2 of 8 hives. All sisters, from one queen mother.

    So this year I am only grafting from those 2 hives. So far they have not swarmed. We are past peak swarm pressure here. But last year, I split from 3 to 8 hives, and had 6 swarm anyways. Because bees.

    So it may be possible to select for less swarmy (and hence more honey-storing) bees. And it may be that some bees just won't stay in the box. It might not be your fault.... but if it is true that you can select over 5 or so years for low-swarm bees, then you have to avoid using swarm cells to propagate your hives. And you have to flood the area with your low-swarm drones... so, I have 8 hives with the equivalent of 2 solid frames of drones each. They are pretty loud when they take flight on a nice afternoon!!! I'm glad my neighbors are pretty far off.

    If I weren't breeding for low-swarm bees, I'd buy a new queen for a hive that swarmed, from a breeder who is selecting against swarming. Assuming the swarming wasn't poor management; we all get behind the ball sometimes.

  14. #13
    Join Date
    Aug 2015
    Location
    Richmond Illinois USA
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    Default Re: Born to Swarm?

    Quote Originally Posted by thisoldfish View Post
    Question about this.

    So I saw swarm cells late spring in a very good colony and moved the queen and a few frames of brood and stores to a nuc where they’ve done great. But, what I found is that back in the parent hive that had some queen cells they then backfilled all the empty brood cells w nectar. And then by time new queen was ready to lay there wasn’t much room. Really set that hive back.
    <snip>
    But what timing/techniques can be done to prevent all that backfilling?
    <snip>
    Thoughts?
    The bees manage the size of the broodnest to match the number of nurse bees available to cover the brood. The bees were responding to the sudden decrease in population. Their logic is similar to the backfilling they do prior to swarming, when they anticipate a decrease in population. You neither can, nor want to do anything to prevent it. As the population builds back up, the broodnest will expand.

    I understand that it "really set you back", but that's what happens when you do a split - your parent colony gets smaller / weaker. The same thing happens if they swarm, except that in your case, you get to catch the swarm before it leaves. Win!

    Cheers,

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