Swarming

The broodnest is backfilled. They have drones and a queen cell. This hive is preparing to swarm.

Any organism that has enough vigor, resources and motivation remakes. Bees are no exception.

Bees raise drones before swarming. It indicates a colony is vigorous and has enough resources to reproduce.

Later, after the first drones hatch, queen cups are built. Then bees fill the broodnest with nectar or diluted honey. A back filled broodnest:

  • restricts brood rearing
  • reduces colony activity
  • enhances the swarming impulse
  • reduces the young brood needing care after the swarm departs
  • prepares a queen for flight
  • is a ready fuel source for a departing swarm

Two weeks later, the colony splits into two parts:

  • the queen and half the bees take off for a new home
  • a virgin queen hatches, mates and heads the colony

Work with the Bees

It’s time to work with the bees before they swarm. Use the bee’s vigor, and spring’s abundance, to make your beekeeping easier. When queen cells are capped, it’s time to make splits or requeen hives:

  • to replace winter losses
  • to increase hive numbers
  • as a gift to another beekeeper

Splits

There are bees, cells, brood, the food, and the mood. If hive dimensions and the design permits, set up a split behind a follower board, at the other end of the top bar hive. This is an easy way to control swarming and replace queens. It’s also provides a backup should a queen fail.

Do want or can’t use another split? Give one to a beekeeper in need.

Requeening

Requeening? Seems like an un-natural act. And it is. But it’s a necessary one, if a beekeeper wants equipment full of bees.

All colonies perish in 3 to 5 years. In that time, they will swarm a few times. And supersede the queen as well. But in the end, like all living things, the colony dies. Then the comb and cavity are scavenged. And it’s prepared for new occupation. That’s nature’s cleansing way.

Without intervention, naturally managed colonies follow the same path. It’s better to track queens, and replace them before they fail.

Follow the bees. They want to swarm in the spring. So, let them help solve your queen problems. Split a swarming hive. And let them raise a new queen.

Want a more proactive process? Split your worst colonies each spring. And requeen them with swarm cells from the best stock.

Let Them Swarm

Or just let them swarm. It’s a colony’s natural propensity. After a swarm leaves, a colony vigorously focuses on survival. That vigor makes a swarm prevented hive look lazy.

I’ve let colonies swarm. Those that successfully mate the virgin queen don’t produce less honey, or overwinter worse.

Swarm Prevention

Most methods that prevent swarming, also stress a colony. Checker boarding, the most natural swarm preventative, isn’t possible on a horizontal top bar hive. So, preventing swarms is often counter productive.

For a beekeeper with a single hive and no way to make a split, swarm prevention reduces the risk of loosing a hive if a virgin queen fails to mate.

Close attention is needed now. Additional space is provided by removing comb. And swarm cells are pinched or cut out.

Unlike standard equipment, queen cells are easy found in top bar hive comb. They are all located along a few comb margins and communication holes in the core area.

A week later, return and cut swarm cells again. Usually, that’s the end of swarming.  Check and cut one more time for good measure.

-bW