Swarm management is one of the pillars of a successful apiary. If you fail at this, your honey flow will be lower, and you will lose a sizable number of your bees, including your queen.
This article will not provide any research on this subject but rather offer practical steps you can make as a beekeeper to improve your swarm control. This article will focus on proactive management, not reactive.
It is essential to note that swarming is a biological component for honey bees – they want to swarm. From the honey bee’s perspective, they have done their job when a swarm happens. It’s a win for them. Just know that like a cell’s job is to split, a successful colony is moving toward swarming or splitting to increase genetic survivability and contribute to the ecosystem.
Even though this is the case, a sustainable apiary cannot be maintained by letting your colonies and queen fly away. So how can you manage this?
Successful beekeeping is proactive, not reactive. You have to think weeks, if not months, ahead and make decisions that will positively impact your honey bees and your apiary. You have to know when the main nectar flow starts – to the week -and help the colonies build up strength and peak at the start of the honey flow – with supers on and ready to explode.
Some beekeepers wait until they see swarm cells near the bottom of the frames (they do this by lifting the brood box to inspect the lower frames for swarm cells). At this point, though, the colony has already started swarm preparation; you want to implement swarm control before these cells appear. Proactive, not reactive.
There are two things you can do.
The first thing you can do is super a colony or add another brood box (depending on your management style); the point here is to give them more room to expand. If you look at the spreadsheet, a single 10-frame colony with six brood frames can grow to over 50,000 strong, which is over the space of a single 10-frame, which is why you need to add supers to expand their area.
A warning, if you super too soon, this can be a liability to the honey bees and increase pest infestation. If you are supering too late, you now will be reactive because the hive will be preparing to swarm soon (or they already have).
You have to study the frames. How many frames are the honey bees using currently? How many frames of emerging brood are there? There will be new honey bees joining the colony soon. How many frames of open brood are there? These will be honey bees emerging and joining the colony in the next two to three weeks. You have to use this information to make choices regarding your apiary.
The second thing you can do is take some frames out of this colony. A word of caution here, if you are approaching a honey flow, this may not be the best option because you want your colony to be robust going into a honey flow. However, if you are weeks or months off, this can be a great option to create a new colony or boost weaker colonies.
I attached an excel spreadsheet that will help beekeepers see the growth of their colonies. It’s essential to read the frames well and understand when honey bees will hatch and what the growth potential is. This spreadsheet will also help you see when a colony will want to swarm – when the attrition is speeding up, and growth is halting – this is a solid biological indicator that the honey bees will decide to swarm.
The spreadsheet is not perfect, but use it to understand how many weeks ahead will swarm problems start appearing, and use that information and what you see in the hive to make better decisions with your colonies.
I hope this article will help in providing more insight into a proactive approach to swarm control. This part of beekeeping is more of an art than science.