Preventing Swarming in your beehive Should be your top priority during Spring and into early summer, when done correctly you will be rewarded with massive honey yields and Productive healthy beehives that will thrive throughout the year and go into winter with massive populations. When swarming is mismanaged it will always lead to missed critical honey flows and potentially losing your beehive altogether.
Why stop swarming in your beehive?
When a beehive colony is swarming you will lose between 40% – 60% of your current colonies population as well as your current queen. Without taking into consideration the massive population loss within your beehive the loss of your queen can cause huge problems for your hive.
- No fresh brood to support your beehives continued increase in population
- Brood frames backfilled with Pollen (Pollen Bound) that would have otherwise been fed to new brood
- Brood frames backfilled with Honey (Honey Bound) that would have otherwise been fed to new brood
- Incorrectly mated replacement queen producing infertile eggs (Drone Layer) killing your beehive without direct intervention by the beekeeper
- Replacement queen injured after hatching by other competitor queen leaving no new brood to produce a new queen effectively killing your beehive without direct intervention by the beekeeper
- Replacement queen killed during mating flight by one of many potential dangers (birds, ants, unpredictable weather, returning to the wrong hive or simply getting lost on the flight back.
- New queen mates with poor quality Drones and displays poor genetic traits (bad hygienic behaviour, excessive aggression, poor laying pattern and increased robbing tendencies)
Disease risk due to swarms
The massive reduction in population makes your colony particularly vulnerable to sudden changes in weather, this can result in outbreaks of Chalk Brood, Sac Brood, European Foulbrood and Chill Brood that would have otherwise been prevented easily by your colony prior to swarming. As mentioned above poor genetics in your new queen assuming she has even mated successfully can also enflame brood diseases. Disease within a beehive will generally spiral out of control without intervention from the beekeeper and can lead to the loss of your beehive.
Pest risk due to swarming
The risk of pests damaging your beehive after swarming is significantly increased after swarming because the colony no longer has the population required to guard the entire beehive leaving pests to destroy what the like with no reduced risk of death or removal from the hive.
Small Hive Beetle is the greatest threat to your hive after swarming with large areas of your beehive left unguarded the risk of Slime outs increases significantly. If you have had your beehive swarm it is recommended you remove honey supers and reduce the space the hive must maintain until the bees have a laying queen and a population large enough to fill the supers above.
Ants are another pest that can easily overwhelm your weakened, while your colony could have easily prevented any ants from entering your hive before now they are going to be struggling to prevent many other pests from overwhelming the colony. If a beehive has swarmed it is recommended you reduce the space the bees must maintain, this will assist in preventing pests from claiming a foothold in your beehive.
While wax moth generally only destroy empty hives, the wax moth larvae can still damage brood comb capping’s in weak hives killing the larvae inside and creating more pressure within the hive that can lead to colony loss. reducing space within the hive is again recommended to manage potential damage from wax moth larvae due to swarming.
Honey production lost due to swarming
Swarming results in loss of honey production, the simple equation is Bees = Honey and less bees = less honey. While this may not be your primary goal as a beekeeper the impact of swarming on your beehive and the potential for harm should make preventing swarming your #1 priority.
Recognizing Swarming behaviour
Hives beginning their swarming cycle show changes in behaviour that can easily be recognized during inspections, the key to preventing swarming is learning to recognize these behaviours and knowing what to do once you see them.
- Queen cells uncapped (good chance your hive has not swarmed yet)
- queen cups containing eggs (very early swarm preperation)
- increased drone brood
- overly full brood nest (honey, pollen and bees)
- Large volume of idle bees
- capped queen cells (your beehive has either swarmed already or is going to swarm soon)
If you see any of the changes in behaviour above your should act immediately to prevent the potential loss of your colony. Here are three methods I use to effectively prevent swarming within my beehives.
Splitting your hive is a simple and effective method of preventing swarming, While it comes with its own disadvantages the obvious benefit is that you have a new colony of bees if done correctly. The disadvantage of splitting your hive is that you remove a large portion of your colony generally during your primary spring honey flow, resulting in a significant drop in honey production. Below is my method for splitting bees.
- Find the queen, while not critical it is more effective to remove the queen from the original hive moving her into a significantly smaller box with a greatly reduced number of bees will almost certainly kill any swarming behaviour.
- Destroy all queen cells within the beehive and the split
- Remove 3 frames of brood and a frame of resources (pollen/honey) and place them into your Nucleus Box
- Shake an extra frame of bees into your box and seal it ensuring there is plenty of ventilation, the LYSON 6 FRAME NUC BOX is perfect for this as it has a huge amount of ventilation options.
- Move the Nucleus beehive at least 5km from the original hive and open it.
- After four days inspect both the nucleus hive and the full beehive for queen cells, the hive with queen cells is queen less, Destroy all the queen cells and introduce a mated queen from a reputable breeder.
Moving Brood Frames up
The simplest method to prevent swarming, increasing honey production and encourage your hive to move into the honey super.
- Find and destroy any queen cells
- Find the queen and put her to one side, if you cannot find her shake all the bees from each brood frame you move up into the honey super
- Replace the removed brood frames with new frames
- 4 days later inspect the brood frames for any queen cells you may have missed and destroy them
Kill the queen
This is the single most effective method of preventing swarming, Killing the queen and introducing a newly mated queen is the most effective way to prevent swarming and increase the hives productivity. Young queens once mated and working will produce significantly more brood than older queens while also having a lower swarm drive.
- Find the queen
- kill her
- destroy any queen cells
- 4 days later destroy anymore queen cells
- 1 day later introduce your mated queen
Typical commercial operations will maintain young queens in their beehives to reduce swarming and increase honey production, moving frames up from the brood box is an effective method of preventing swarming while queens are unavailable.
This brief guide to swarming prevention offers all the knowledge required to understand the importance of swarm management, giving you the skills and methods used to prevent swarming before it becomes a problem.