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Swarm Season

It's  H-E-R-E!!

Experienced beekeepers are well aware of the risk of a stray swarm and have the hives to overcome the loss when it occurs. However, sideliner and hobby beekeepers might not be so accepting.

Managing the space in a hive is an art. A dance really… Knowing when to add space, split or share resources can make the difference of a “hive gone” or expanding your apiary. Earlier in this issue, you may have read an article on making splits – but there are times we make split(s) and there are times we opt “not to split” yet but maintain or grow to a solid double deep box. Or, as another article in this issue instructs us, maintaining a single deep without swarming.

We should all know what a swarm is – it is the “divide and conquer” of our colonies. It is nature at its best. Not only is it required for the species to flourish, but it’s in their nature. As bee(keepers) we have a responsibility to manage our colonies to prevent our bees from swarming – even if we don’t want more bees.

Primarily swarm management is done by making splits. We set the guidelines for this event and typically successfully manage to expand our bee yards each year. But sometimes we need to simply manage the bee yard and not make a split, but instead manage the bees to prevent swarms.

Space being your key factor here, inspires us to add space to thwart off impending swarms.

Scenario 1

I want to maintain a double deep and it’s April. My goal is to keep it at a double and not split in order to maximize my honey production for an early nectar flow.


Solution #1:

Balance the bee yard

Taking frames of capped brood from the strongest colonies and sharing with your weaker ones can and will make a big difference in the population growth. Keeping in mind, a single deep frame fully capped (when emerged) will yield 7000 new bees. That is a lot of bees to pump into an already full double deep. Although too much for that hive, those bees could be a huge boost for another hive. What if you only have one hive… or your other hives don’t need more bees?

Solution #2: Offer these valuable bees to another beekeeper that might not be so fortunate.

Transferring bees to another bee yard frame(s) at a time has its challenges. You need that frame to stay at 93-95 degrees. This can be achieved by transporting it in a Nuc box (with adhering bees) and when at the new destination simply shake those bees at the entrance after smoking the entrance rather well. Or you can carry multiple frames in an ice chest – preheated with a light bulb or by heating a brick at a low temperature in the oven. This will ensure the frame(s) stay warm until installed in the new hive. Haste makes waste – don’t delay getting these frames transported and installed. They won’t survive very long without being inside a hive.

Scenario 2

Just like too many bees will cause a colony to swarm, it’s the same with resources. Depending on where your bees live or migrate from (for migratory beekeepers), an overabundance of pollen can “clog” a brood nest. If you’ve just come back from pollinating almonds and you are pollen packed, eliminate the clog! Some areas of the nation will experience a huge pollen flow early and cause the same issue in a non-migratory hive. Either way, too much pollen isn’t a good thing – it’s taking up valuable space. Bees can move honey from one location to another in a hive, but will rarely move pollen. If you have more than a couple of frames “full” of pollen, consider sharing it with another colony or simply remove them. Unfortunately, bees won’t rob these out in the bee yard. Once pollen is stored in a cell it’s no longer attractive to foraging bees.

Scenario 3

When a colony starts backfilling a brood nest it’s a sure sign a swarm is imminent. Nectar flow is the culprit here. When nectar starts coming in, bees will instinctively bring in as much as they can whether there is room or not – to the point there isn’t any! Often, just removing a few honey/nectar frames will alleviate the issue and allow the colony to continue on. When doing so, remove the outer honey frames and replace with the center frames that the bees are backfilling with nectar. Compress the balance of the brood box adding empty, undrawn foundation left and right of the brood nest (not the center.) This is a good opportunity to use your back-stock of drawn comb frames (if you have them) – ideal for jump-starting the queen into laying and


When a colony has started swarm preparations it can be challenging to change their minds. Thankfully, bees are very forgiving when it comes to our manipulation of their hives in spring. They are so focused on their projects at hand, they’ll pretty much accept just about anything we do to an extent. Think through your options and make the decision that best suits your needs at that time – and, be prepared, it could be different with each colony!

                                                                                                     By: Chari Elam

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