Questions on hive space and swarming
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2019
    Location
    South Australia
    Posts
    15

    Default Questions on hive space and swarming

    What happens to a hive when it's full of honey? Even if it's four supers deep, if it's completely full, will the bees seek to swarm so the queen can keep laying eggs? Do the bees not slow down in bringing in honey even if the hive is full and the queen doesn't have space to lay eggs? Is it risky for the survival of the colony to abandon the hive to swarm when their supers are full?

    If a beekeeper shows up to their apiary, and see their hives are full, will taking honey from the top supers be sufficient in providing them with space? Will the queen crawl up to the top super, even if it's four deep, to lay eggs up there? Or will this simply prevent the bees from filling up the brood chamber with honey, allowing the queen to lay eggs in the brood chamber?

    If a beekeeper notices that the hive is completely full and does a honey extraction on the top super, should the beekeeper ideally take frames from the brood chamber, and swap them with the empty, extracted frames up top?

    Would simply placing an empty super on top of a full hive, provide the bees with the space they need so they don't swarm?

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2017
    Location
    Plumas County, California, USA
    Posts
    241

    Default Re: Questions on hive space and swarming

    This is a complex topic and I'm sure you will get many different answers. If the queen has no place to lay because everything is filled with honey, then there's a problem. It's called being honeybound. It can certainly encourage a swarm. And ultimately, if there is no space for eggs the hive will suffer by losing population, workers, nurses, and everybody else.

    If there is no space in the brood area of the hive for eggs, you need to make space. If this is really the case, and the queen cannot lay, you need to take action. But is there any capped larvae or uncapped larvae? How much? If there is a lot of capped brood, they queen will lay in the empty cells when they are available and have been cleaned. All the varying factors have to be considered. The bees will slow down production of honey if there is no where to put it, or if they cannot produce more bees.

    If you have drawn empty comb, put some of that in the center of the brood boxes and maybe provide some frames with foundation so they queen can lay and the bees can get to work making comb.

    Unfortunately making room at the top of the hive in the top super will not help, if indeed there is no room for eggs or larvae. The problem at hand is that the queen will not cross frames of honey to get to the free space on top. The space in a super at the top of a hive can be used to store more nectar and honey, but it doesn't solve the problem as you have expressed it. They key is to open up the brood space. If you only have one brood box, you could add a second one to the bottom box, move some frames of brood up (if there are any)into the new brood box and let them increase their space and create more cells for the queen.

    If swarming is imminent, the quickest solution might be to make a split, leave each hive with half of any brood and half the supers. Both hives (or the queenless one if you can identify it) will need frames with eggs so that the queenless hive can make a new queen.

    It would help to know the organization of your hive--how many brood boxes and frames, how many supers, etc., to be able to give specific advice.
    Year 3
    Zone 7b 3500 ft.

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2015
    Location
    Butler Co, Missouri, USA
    Posts
    448

    Default Re: Questions on hive space and swarming

    Answers to all those questions should contain phrases like "it depends", "often times" and "usually". Lol.

    The answers above are generally correct, but often times if the brood nest is plugged, it is with nectar, which in the case of swarming, will be dried down by the time the new queen is ready to lay, which can be consolidated as its volume shrinks, leaving room. Feeding new brood then frees up more room.

    I have had queens climb thru 2 or more boxes of honey to lay drone brood in a frame of foundationless I was hoping to use as comb honey, and I have had them stay low.

    I had a hive this year that was split because of swarm cells just at the peak of the nectar flow that filled the entire hive with honey waiting for the new queen. Placed a super of foundation only on top, and within 7 days drew the entire super of comb and stuffed it with honey I presume moved out of the nest to make room for brood.

    Usually in the case you describe, the best course I would think would be to extract a box or 2, if practical, and put them back on the hive. Replacement whether on top or in the middle of the stack is also a subject that can be debated at length with varying results and tendencies.
    Hindsight is 20/10, not 20/20...
    After the fact, I always know what didn't work.

  5. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2019
    Location
    South Australia
    Posts
    15

    Default Re: Questions on hive space and swarming

    Recently, I needed to add a super to my hives, to give them extra space for the spring that's happening now in Australia. Each hive was a little different, but they were all quite overdue for an extra super and was running out of space. I thought they would swarm possibly, but there wasn't much actual bees in the hives and I couldn't find any queen cells.

    One hive was a single deep, it had a detachable base. Instead of adding a super on top, I decided to lift the whole thing off the base, and add a super underneath. I did this because the super was quite full of honey, and I figured I'd be creating more space for laying brood by placing the empty super where the queen prefers to lay, on the bottom super. Was this a mistake, or is this a good practice?

    Another hive I had didn't have a detachable base. It only had two deep supers together, which were both quite full, especially the super on top was full of honey. I only had a manley sized super to add, so I decided to put the empty manley super between the bottom, and top super. The practice seems to usually be add the manley on top, deeps to have as brood chambers down below, but if I was adding a super to expand the brood chamber, to keep the queen laying and mitigate chances of swaming, did I do the right thing?

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