Swarm control

This is the main challenge in beekeeping. We all know that swarms mean a loss of production. And sitting and waiting in the apiary, sometimes for weeks on end, until the natural swarm finally leaves, is hardly a feasible option anymore these days. And another thing: a swarm that escapes into nature will in all likelihood not survive the first winter. All in all not very caring towards animals.

Breaking queen cells

In the course of the years I have tested many swarm control methods. Breaking away queen cells at regular intervals at least every nine days until the swarm fever disappears seems at first sight to be the simplest way. But there are some drawbacks. If you overlook one single cell you will lose the swarm. In addition, bees are clever: after a few breaking sessions they will tend to hide the cells in small corners of the frames. As Guido Eich puts it: “The beekeeper keeps breaking cells until he breaks”. And there is more. My experience -but I admit I work with bees that have a marked tendency for swarming- is that I have to continue breaking queen cells for weeks at weekly intervals. In addition, it would seem that colonies that are in a swarm fever are less industrious during the whole period.

Splits

Producing queenless splits with open brood is a frequently used way of taking the swarm fever out of the colony. It may, however, go somewhat to the cost of colony strength, and, hence, production, but regularly and carefully removing bees and brood in spring and early summer works well to keep the bees in an ‘upward spirit’. Removing one or, at most, two frames with the adhering bees, containing closed brood and some open brood, starts approximately when the cherries bloom. It will continue until at least the end of June, once every two to three weeks. The brood frames can be used to make small nuclei that can develop at their own pace into colonies that can hibernate. Alternatively, if there are enough colonies to tap from, it is an option to make a queenless split with frames from various colonies, which can be used in queen breeding. In this way we hardly weaken the production colonies and avoid the upcoming of swarm fever.

Temporary splits

Another way of swarm control is producing temporary splits, during which the colony is split into two parts, one with the old queen and the young worker bees and one containing open brood and foraging bees. See the link. This method works well but requires a number of interventions and may, ultimately, also cost some honey. The temporary separation of brood and foraging bees creates a situation in which there is disorder in both parts for some time. The foraging bees, now queenless, are forced to raise a new queen urgently. The young bees are without guarding bees to protect their hive and have to turn into foraging bees at an accelerated rate. If we rejoin the two parts later on, when the swarm fever has diminished in the two parts, tere is always the risk of newly emerging swarm fever. Alternatively, we may lastingly separate the two parts, but then we have to count with a reduced honey crop.

2×9 = Golz

A method that works well for me is the ‘2×9’ method developed by Wolfgang Golz. In this method, the old queen is removed from the colony which eliminates all swarming plans of the colony for the rest of the season. The colony raises a new queen while in full strength. Queen cells are broken twice -which is the essence of the method- and as a result a young queen appears in the colony at a time when all swarm fever has disappeared from the colony. See the detailed description.