My last blog entry was about using swarm cells to create new hives. I mentioned some of the things I do to try to stop my hives from swarming, but, as noted, it doesn’t always work. Here’s a bit more detail on what I do to try to keep hives from swarming.
1) I split “early and often.” I will often make splits (create new, nucleus hives from parent hives) well before the drones are out. As these early splits grow, I constantly add a new frame of eggs and unsealed brood. This keeps the bees occupied, so that they do not become laying workers. Once the drones are out any queen they create can be mated and lay into a strong hive. Alternately, I use this strong, queenless hive as a starter for queen rearing.
Later, when drones are at the “purple eye stage” (opened capped drone cells show larvae with dark eyes) or flying. I split a strong hive anywhere from one to four times.
The downside of all this splitting is that you get less honey. The positive side is that it seems to reduce swarming and you get more hives.
2) I try to stay ahead of the bees. When 5 of the frames look to be full of bees in the middle of the day I add another brood box or super. I don’t pull out the frames to check. I just pop the top and look down. I choose mid-day so that the flying bees are out and about. Why? Hummm, I’ve always done it that way.
3) When I add another box, I always pull up 2 frames of eggs and larvae into the new box. I do not use queen excluders so these frame are usually available. I then add 2 new frames to the lower box, usually in positions 2 and 8 (in a 10 frame hive).
When I push the outlying frames to the center, I make sure they are not honey bound: that the frames now in the center have open cells, or have eggs and/or brood in them. Bees, so I’ve read, will not cross honey to go up. Honey appeantly means: “nothing up above, don’t go there” I never put anything between frames of brood, but if there is only honey to push to the center, I will insert drawn comb or foundation.
4) In my supers I alternate drawn comb with frames of foundation. I do this in hopes that the bees see work before them, so they get occupied with creating wax and building comb – putting their energy there instead of swarming.
5) I periodically make sure the hives are not honey bound. I do this by checking the center frames in each box, usually when I’m looking for swarm cells. I don’t do this often, because it rather disrupts the hive. However, if I’m looking for swarm cells, I’m creating havoc within the hives, so I figure “go for it”.
Does all this work? Sometimes. But every year I have hives swarm. In the books you can go over to the swarm, lower the branch into a box and take it away. I’ve hived some swarms. However, my girls often go up to the top of a tall cedar and thumb their collective noses at me.
It is said that most swarms do not survive in the wild. However our farm and my beeyards are in the land of tall trees – cedar, maple, alder – and lots of squirrls and woodpeckers, who make lots of cavities in the trees. I always hope the bees find a new, natural home and flourish.