The following is a transcript from the above video, Swarm Prevention and Control with Bruce White OAM
Intro To Swarm Prevention & Control
Today, i’m going to talk about how you can tell when your colonies are likely to swarm. Because it’s not desirable to have colonies swarming. And the steps you can take to prevent your colony swarming particularly in early spring when you need a big population of bees to take advantage of future nectar and pollen flows.
I’m at Illawarra beekeepers, a club of the new south wales amateur beekeepers association that fosters good beekeeping and education about bees.
Swarming Is Bees Natural Means Of Increasing In Numbers
Honey bees natural means of increasing is to swarm and when they swarm the colony prepares about 12 queen cells on the bottom edge of the frames. And about two days before the queen cells hatch which is 16 days after the queen laid the egg. The hive is likely to split in half and swarm.
External Signs That Bees Are Likely To Swarm
The external signs that bees are likely to swarm is indicated by the flight of the bee so if there’s a lot of flight of bees it’s an indication the colony is strong and particularly if the bees are going across the whole width of your entrance. So if you see that you need to look inside the hive to look for the presence that the bees may be swarming. The indication is about 12 queen cells on the bottom edge of the brood frame.
In this hive here there’s a lot of activity so the hive is likely to swarm the bees also will often hang up the front of the hive in great numbers because there’s insufficient room for them to all get inside the colony so that’s an indication your bees are swarming and they need to be checked.
Bees Returning Exhausted From The Field
The bees that we’re now observing are bees that have come back with food. They’ve flown a fair way, and they’re fairly exhausted. So because they’re exhausted they’ve landed at the front of the colony before walking into the colony. This is a sign of a honey flow or a pollen flow that’s really great in spring. And this often happens in spring where bees actually walk into the colony.
Indications Of Overcrowding
If we look inside a colony we can tell if it’s overcrowded by removing the lid and looking under the lid. And if we look under the lid in this colony we see quite a few bees that idle and they’re in the lid so that’s a sure indication that the population in this hive is fairly strong. An indication the colony may swarm in the spring.
Inspecting Inside A Strong Colony In Spring
If we look further and remove the lid and we look at the tops of the tops of the frames, we can see bees are on every frame in this super and also there’re bees above the frames. If I remove a frame, we can see what the condition of this super is like. This is now in early August (Spring) so we can see from this frame there are a fair number of bees up in the super and the super’s got a good supply of stored nectar and honey. Nectar is in the open cells, honey’s in the capped cells.
Inspecting The Brood Box
So now we’re going to look inside a colony in August that’s fairly strong and that potentially may swarm in about September. Colonies normally swarm once or twice a year if they’re not managed properly. So we take the lid off, puff under the lid, put the lid back on. Then take the lid off and we’ll notice there’re bees in the lid. It’s a reasonably strong colony we’ll lift off the super and then we can look in the brood box.
We puff again, lift the excluder off check there’s no queen on the queen excluder, which there isn’t. Put it upside down on the super. Then the second frame from the wall is usually the easiest one to take out with the hive tool. So we take this out to look at the brood nest to see what the strength of the colony is likely to be. We pull that out carefully like that and we notice that the second frame from the wall has already got drone cells in it. This is an indication that bees are prosperous this time of the year and may be going to swarm is the evidence of drone cells. So they are drone cells there, they’re worker cells. This indicates the colony is in excellent condition for this time of the year. We also note that this protein in the form of pollen stored in those cells. That’s a sign that the colony is in excellent condition this time of the year and potentially could swarm in the next three or four weeks.
Observing A Dummy Queen Cell (Also Known As A Play Cup)
We’ll now examine another frame, so I’ll place that frame out of the colony but not on the ground so we now pull this frame out and we look at this frame and we’ll notice just out of interest there’s what we call a dummy queen cell which is just there that’s not a swarm cell but if the colony was going to swarm the bees will make their own cells a queen cells along this bottom edge of the comb.
Emerging of a Newly Born Worker Bee
If we look further and remove the lid and we look at the tops of the tops of the frames we can see bees are on every frame in this super and also there’s bees above the frames if I remove a frame we can see what the condition of this super is like and this is now in early August. We can see from this frame there are a fair number of bees up in the super and the super’s got good supply of stored nectar and honey nectar’s in the open cells honey’s in the cap cells.
Now we’re going to look inside a colony in August that’s fairly strong that potentially may swarm in about September. Colonies normally swarm once or twice a year if they’re not managed properly.
We take the lid off puff under the lid put the lid back on take the lid off and we’ll notice there’s bees in the lid so it’s a reasonably strong colony. We’ll lift off the super and then we can look in the brood box. We puff again, lift the excluder off, check there’s no queen on the queen excluder which there isn’t. Put it upside down on the super. Then the second frame from the wall is usually the easiest one to take out with the hive tool. So we take this out to look at the brood nest to see what the strength of the colony is likely to be.
Presence of Drones in August (just before Spring time)
We pull that out carefully and we notice that the second frame from the wall has already got drone cells in it. so an indication that bees are prosperous this time of the year and maybe going to swarm is the evidence of drone cells so their drone cells there.They’re worker cells there.
This indicates the colony is in excellent condition for this time of the year we also note that this protein in the form of pollen stored in those cells there and that’s a sign that the colony is in excellent condition this time of the year and potentially could swarm in the next three or four weeks we’ll now examine another frame so i’ll place that frame out of the colony but not on the ground so we now pull this frame out and we look at this frame and we’ll notice just out of interest there’s what we call a dummy queen cell which is just there that’s not a swarm cell but if the colony was going to swarm the bees will make their own cells a queen cells along this bottom edge of the comb so they’re likely to put them there there maybe there and about 12 but in any frame in the brood box so you need to look at every frame in the brood box to see if your colony’s likely to swarm in this case here the bees have converted a worker cell into a queen cell that means that the bees replace their own queen or if the queen’s been killed and they build emergency cells they already use lava where they were going to replace the queen by feeding lava that were going to be workers supersede yourselves are built as queen cells but on the face of the comb like that and there’s usually only one two or three on that face like that so on this frame here which is the third one in from the wall we have good stored pollen we have seal brood we have unsealed brood and we have what we call a dummy queen cell so if the hive was going to swarm that shaped cell would be placed on the bottom of the edge of the comb along here and they might build two or three here two or three in another frame two or three in another frame until they get about 12 peanut-shaped cells that after maturing they hatch and the colony will swarm the swarm usually departs two or three days before the first queen cell hatches from the time the egg’s laid the colony will swarm two or three days before it emerges so it takes 16 days so the 14th day onward the colony may swarm but that queen cell will be on that lower edge there and there’ll be about 12 in the colony so here we have a worker bee about to emerge that egg was laid 21 days ago it’s capped brood here and here is stored pollen which is an indication that the colony has got a lot of protein in the hive because pollen is protein another sign that colonies may swarm is the presence of drones in august and that bee there is a drone a male bee they don’t sting so if you see a lot of male bees this time of the year it’s also a sign of prosperity and we saw a drone brood previously that hadn’t hatched but this one’s already hatched and that’s a male bee so you see a lot of them in your colony it’s an indication the colony may well want to swarm in the spring
Good Example Of A Colony That May Swarm With A Lot Of Capped Brood & A Young Queen
This is an excellent example of a colony that may swarm because of the full frame of brood. That’s all capped, and that’s about to hatch. We notice a good store of pollen in this area here and we notice here the queen and she’s only a young active queen. Note the way she walks on the frame like she’s walking there now. Her wings are smooth. Older queens are much slower moving around the frames and old queens are more likely to swarm with half the colony in the spring than a young queen like this one here is. Having old queens in your colonies you’re more likely to lose swarms. You can see this queen is moving around quite freely. She has smooth wings, an indication of a young queen that was probably put in this colony in the Autumn.
This is a queen bee that’s been marked with a thing called the posca pen. Posca pens are available from office works and various newspaper outlets . It’s a permanent mark for the queen and your mark her on a thorax like that and that makes it easier to find in a colony.
In this colony we’ve got unsealed brood here. Sealed brood there unsealed brood here and that’s an indication of prosperity and the colony expanding this time of the year. It may well swarm in the spring.
We’re in a position now where colonies have built up and they may swarm and it’s not desirable to have colony swarm because you lose half the workforce. And if that happens in early spring you’re going to miss out on the summer honey flows. If you’ve lost half your bees in a swarm.
There are a number of steps we can take so you can keep your bees and prevent them from swarming and we’ll go through a number of steps in this next segment to demonstrate that.
Bees swarm because they get overcrowded, that’s the main reason why they swarm except if the queen’s young she’s less likely to swarm. By expanding the size of the cavity we can prevent bees from swarming. Placing a super on the hive is a good method to give the bees a lot more room and space.
The super that I’ve just placed on the colony is one that’s been taken off and stored over winter. The combs in this super are all new combs that were drawn in late Autumn as indicated by that frame there so in this super. I have placed frame of foundation so if the bees have got something to do they’re less likely to swarm and they’ve got a lot more room in the cavity. To utilize this space the super can be placed where I’ve placed it now on the top. The bees will come up or the super here can be taken off put on the top and this super put above the queen excluder. That’s probably the best method because the bees don’t have as far to walk to utilize this increased cavity size.
So that’s one thing you can do to increase the cavity another method that can be used to give the colony space if you’ve only got say two boxes is to remove some of the brood combs you must check that the queen’s not on the queen excluder so the method i’m going to use now is we don’t have to actually find the queen so we can take out frames of brood and i’m going to take out of the brood box frames of capped brood it’s easier to not have to find the queen because we don’t want to put the queen away from the colony so the way to not have to find the queen is to pull out frames of sealed or brood and shake them at the front of the colony if the queen’s on the frame she will run up there and run into the brood box so I’ve got one frame of brood there because this is a strong colony I don’t want it to swarm I need to remove frames of sealed brood from the brood nest to remove the congestion so I just shake the bees out the front not looking for the queen check the frame no queen on it just work a bees and i’ll get another one so I’ve taken three frames of brood that’s sealed brood mainly out of this brood box I put them to one side I then get frames of comb that’s either drawn or foundation that’s got no brood in it because it’s springtime I can spread the brood out a bit so I put one frame there I get another frame here that’s already got brood in it like this one I shift it to there I get another frame that’s got no brood in it I place it in there I space the frames out again and I get another frame of foundation that I put in there now what that’s going to do is give the queen some work to do and that is an inhibit it may inhibit the chance of her swarming I then put the queen excluder back on the hive like so and I need to put them to one side I get and put the original super on the colony [Music] like so and I remove from this super frames of honey so frame of honey there I remove it I remove another frame of honey and I remove another frame of honey the frames of brood I now place above the queen excluder this brood is going to hatch so that will give the colony space if they collect any nectar to put in the top box there the frames I put in the super I put together like that whereas I spaced the frames in the bottom box there assuming I haven’t got another you know box to put on I can then put the lid on like so so because the colony was crowded I’ve given them more room in the brood box work to do three frames of foundation all frames with no brooding lifted sealed brood up here now it’s probably important to check that brood because sometimes they’ll start supersede yourselves above the excluder so after a couple of after say five days just check that there’s no queen cells started above the excluder if there is just break them down they start queen cells up here the colony can swarm but the hive will die because the virgins can’t get through the queen excluder so that’s you know one method I’ve demonstrated to give the bees more work to do to inhibit swarming so to help reduce swarming another method that can be used to remove bees from the strong colony and place the bees in a weaker colony a simple way to do that is to lift frames up above an excluder from the brood nest after you’ve shaken the bees off so there’s no risk of the queen being on the frames then you’re going to transfer the bees off so remove the lid from the hive and remove frames of brood that I’ve lifted up above the queen excluder now you’ll notice that these frames here are covered with a lot of bees the bees on these frames are what we call nurse bees because they’re looking after the brood and they haven’t orientated back to this strong hive so I can now transfer them to another hive and they will stay at that other hive so these are two frames that I’ve removed from a hive that’s likely to swarm that are brood frames I’ve left them for a few minutes so any bees that were unloading any food into this frame which are for your bees have flown off because I’ve left them sit for a few minutes and all the bees here are nurse bees that haven’t orientated from the parent colony that was strong I can now select a week hive and this is a week hive and I just simply shake these bees at the entrance just like that and just like that now because these bees are not going into rob they’re going in for shelter the bees in the colony are not alarmed so these young nurse bees won’t kill the queen in that colony they’ll walk in and as they mature they will become field bees so that’s a simple way of transferring young bees to a weaker hive the weak hive will benefit tremendously from the nurse bees and the strong hive is less likely to swarm because I’ve removed bees from that parent colony and that’s reduced the congestion of worker bees in that colony I’ve done this many times never ever lost a queen bee and if you’ve got two hives at home one strong one week that’s one way of doing it no fighting queen’s gonna be safe even though they are strangers to this hive so you’ll notice that when I shook the bees out the front they’re walking the entrance there’s no problem if I had this frame and didn’t shake it out the front covered with young nurse bees and I placed it in the brood nest of this weak hive they’d fight and the queen would probably be lost the bees that you put from another colony have to be young bees which you get off brood frames and if they walk through the front door there’s never any problems another method of preventing bee swarming is to artificially swarm the colony by dividing the bees by using equipment so you split the hive effectively in half which will prevent the parent colony from swarming the easiest method without spending a lot of money on equipment is to use a Demaree board that goes between the two boxes and it’s got entrances in it so the bees can access this which we’ll see in a little while the advantage for using this in your backyard is your neighbours still think you’ve got one hive because you’ve got one hive on top of another hive as opposed to having another separate stack of bees which may alarm your neighbours to implement this method it’s necessary to turn the colony around because we want to disorientate the bees in the brood box so we need to shift it and turn it around 180 degrees so we’ve now turned the colony completely round we then need to unstrap it and remove the super so we can see there’s quite a lot of bees in this super we can then in the bottom box where the original queen is place another super and then on top of that we place a board called the Demaree board so this is a Demaree board and we place the entrance that’s a butterfly entrance the direction the original hive was flying and you’ll notice now a lot of bees are accumulating at the front they’re the bees that have gone out in the field and they’re coming home so i’ll now place this box on top of the Demaree board like that so the queen bee is in the bottom box and remember before I lifted up some brood above a queen excluder after I shook the bees off the brood so that i’m not transferring the queen into the top box so here now we’ve got a frame of brood and some is unsealed some sealed I now place that back in there and I’ve put three frames of bees and brood in this top box I bought the queen bee and a queen bee comes in a bag like that and inside the bag I will find queen cage worker bees and a queen bee now it’s important the plug end doesn’t have a cork in it and in that plug-in there’s icing sugar and honey and the bees in this colony will chew through that icing sugar and honey and requiem this top box so half the bees are approximately half the bees a bit less are in this top box now because I’ve turned it round it’s weakened the population in the bottom box that was going to swarm so it’s now not going to swarm I get this queen and I place her between the frames of brood in this top box with the spout up so if case some of the bees die they’re in it the workers they’ll block that entrance up so it’s important that that’s up I place it between the frames like that shut it up like that put the lid on this lid is insulated so the queen’s not going to overheat if there’s risk of overheating you can put a shovel full of dirt on the lid to insulate it a bit I leave that 10 days it’s important to leave it 10 days the bees will chew through that icing sugar and honey release the queen ten days later if I look if I see young brood I don’t have to do anything this one has got the young queen in it this has got the old queen in it both are functioning colonies by turning it round the field bees are going to go into here bees in the bottom box will work for the need of the colony so bees that were nurse bees in the bottom box before it was turned around will become fuel bees so the bottom box will survive and the top box will be re-queened if you don’t want to own two hives because there’s two hives there now in the later in the year when bees stops warming you can kill the old queen in the bottom place a sheet of newspaper between the two boxes take the queen excluder out and the bees will chew through the paper and the new queen will become the mother of the colony below with the Demaree board it’s normal to only have one gate that’s cut at 45 degrees this board’s got two gates so that when this becomes established I can open both gates if need be to give them a bigger entrance area you can buy Demaree boards from some bee clubs you can make your own and some beekeeping supply places sell these boards they’re very easy to make you just need to sheet a tin a riser and you know cut the angle at 45 degrees so that the entrance will open and by opening like it is here you’ll see that the bees can land on it and go in and use it as a normal entrance you’ll notice here we’ve only done it five minutes ago these worker bees that were field bees have got their scent glands out which is the back of the abdomen calling all these bees around in the field to the new home that’s higher up than it was originally after about a day they’ll all get used to using this higher gate so the entrance that was originally at the bottom is now not there this is the back of the box and the entrance that was here is now the other end 180 degrees away and the bees that come out that haven’t been out before that were nurse bees will reorientate and become field bees because the need of the colony wants food and the bottom box and hive will survive it’s got the majority of the brood in it so it’s going to build up a population quicker than this top box and that’s why I put the super there instead of up here because there’s no checking the brood here because the queen is laying all the time we’re now looking at the original entrance which was 180 degrees the other way where this hive has been for over winter we’ve turned it round and you’ll notice that there’s not much flight activity here now because it’s only been done for five minutes there’s not bee going in so the bees here we’ll need to reorientate the field bees to come back to this entrance and tomorrow there’ll be a lot more flight at this entrance as well as at the new entrance that’s up higher in this box here so we’ve effectively split the hive in half without losing the swarm yeah this video has explained how you can manage your hives to reduce the risk of swarming if bees swarm you get far less honey in the honey season because you’ve lost half your population so it’s important to control swarming and also from the point of view of neighbours swarms usually only go 200 metres they land in your neighbor’s backyard that can be often problems so we really encourage people to have best management practices keep young queens and manage their hives properly it’s important that you know when you do any manipulation you check for brood diseases first because you don’t want to be spreading disease by transferring frames and bees to other colonies so really check the health of your bees and all ABA clubs got biosecurity officers that are familiar with pests and diseases of honeybees by managing your hives you’re going to keep your neighbours happier you’re going to learn a lot more about managing bees which is very rewarding and every year and every season is going to be different.