2 x 9 = Golz

Swarm control and re-queening in one

Many of us are excellent beekeepers for 11 months a year, but when swarming time comes our well-planned apiary management turns into improvisation when we are confronted with swarm fever in the colony.

We know Wolfgang Golz from the Golz hive, which he developed and strongly recommended, but there is more to be said about him. In the eighties of the previous century he was chief-editor of the Norddeutsche Imkerzeitung. He was a man of strong convictions, among others about the hives in which bees should be kept.

Golz did not practise migratory beekeeping. He had about 30 different apiaries all over northern Germany, which meant he had to burn quite some petrol to visit all his apiaries regularly. He did not think much of migratory beekeeping: ‘nicht wirtschaftlich’. Still, we should not forget that the forage opportunities in those days were very different from today.

The swarming season

When in spring the first colonies catch the swarm fever a few busy weeks are awaiting the beekeeper, during which he should keep his colonies in check in order not to lose any swarms. Apart from the loss in production of the colony, swarms in the wild only stand a very small chance of surviving the first winter.

A huge number of control measures has been described that either eliminate swarming altogether or at least channel it in a controlled manner. Sitting on a stool in front of the apiary, like the skep beekeepers used to do for weeks on end, is hardly feasible anymore. Most of us are not farmers rummaging around the homestead all day. And swarms are no longer socially acceptable, apart from the trouble a beekeeper sometimes has to capture the swarm if it is located in an inaccessible spot. Nowadays, people are frightened by a swarm of bees, whether this is rightly so or not. We have come a long way from rural society.

Some of us beekeepers prefer bees that hardly swarm anymore or not at all. I wonder whether this is not a dead-end street. Swarming is an expression of the vitality of a colony. It reminds me a bit of dogs that can only give birth by cesarean section or chickens that don’t become broody anymore, so that their eggs can only hatch in a machine or by pushing them under a chicken that still has a natural instinct.

Brother Adam has indicated (during his often cited presentation in Kassel in 1960) that the only truly reliable swarm control consists of the removal of the queen from the colony in swarm fever. The consequence is that the colony will raise a new queen itself (or that we have to introduce a new queen in the colony). It is a very rare phenomenon that a young queen will swarm in the year of her birth, so we can be at ease for the rest of the season once a young queen is in command.

The ‘2 × 9’ method

Golz elaborated upon this idea with a much tested method which he summarised under the catchy name ‘2 x 9’. He came across its appropriateness by coincidence. He had ordered a queen, but delivery was delayed. The colony which was to receive the new queen got into swarm fever and had closed queen cells which he broke away. He then gave a new frame containing open brood to avoid that the colony would feel queenless. When the ordered queen finally arrived he took out the frame which contained queen cells and introduced the new queen. Most of the brood had emerged in the meantime and the new queen started laying straightaway. This way of introducing queens works in many cases, since there is no more open brood present and the colony consequently feels queenless.

Key to the method is breaking queen cells twice. Golz has worked this method out and simplified it over the course of the years.

The simplification consisted in introducing a strip of comb containing eggs into the colony 9 days after breaking queen cells for the first time. Of course, these eggs were taken from an excellent colony. On this little piece of comb the bees were pulling up queen cells, of which he left just one. In this way, the young queen performs her nuptial flights from a strong colony and not from a small nucleus containing a handful of bees. A bridal swarm -a swarm that leaves the colony accompanying the young queen on her nuptial flight- does not have to be feared, since all brood is closed, and in such a case the colony does not swarm. An additional advantage of this method is that separate queen rearing -very time-consuming- is no longer required.

In short, the colony is re-queened without losing its foraging power.

The second period of 9 days is essential. If we skip this there is still open brood present in the colony and then there is the risk of a strong colony producing a bridal swarm.

Some people will object that a colony should preferably remain without a laying queen as briefly as possible. This remains to be seen. If bees don’t have brood to care for they will age only slowly. In addition, the period without brood leads to a big clean-up of the cells, thus eliminating germs to a large extent. This sanitation of the brood nest is comparable to what happens when a natural swarm leaves the hive.

The downside is that one has to search for the queen. This cannot be avoided. On the other hand, looking for the queen is taught in every beginners’ course on beekeeping. It is a basic tool for the beekeeper, almost an initiation rite, so to say.

Steps

  1. Remove the old queen and possible queen cells.
  2. After 9 days, or 9.5 at most, break all produced queen cells away. Shake off the bees from the frames in order not to overlook any cells, for otherwise a swarm would surely come off.
  3. Attach a strip of comb from a good colony containing eggs to a frame. For a great description see this German site.
  4. After 4 days remove the closed queen cells on the strip of comb, for these have been constructed on larvae that were too old to produce good queens. Only leave queen cells that are still open.
  5. Optionally inspect on the 16th or 17th day whether the queen has emerged. Not absolutely necessary, by the way, for why would we want to disturb the colony more than strictly necessary?
  6. About a month after introducing the strip of comb the young queen should be laying. Otherwise, something must have gone wrong, most probably during the nuptial flight.