Honey Bee Swarm Prevention – Like A Boss
When Spring approaches after a cold winter, beekeepers begin to think about honey bee swarm prevention. You see, the life’s goal of the honey bee colony is not to produce honey for me and you. Not by a long shot!
A honey bee colony works to make enough honey for next winter’s survival and to reproduce. Because that’s what swarming is for honey bees, swarming is reproduction on the colony level. This is where the goals of the beekeeper and the goals of the honey bees often clash. The goal of the beekeeper is swarm prevention.
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What Is a Honey Bee Swarm?
First, lets discuss what is a honey bee swarm? On a warm Spring day, the queen (and about half of the work force) leaves the colony in a mass. It looks like a bee tornado. The mass of bees whirls around in the air for a few minutes before alighting on a nearby tree or bush. This honey bee swarm will hang here for several hours and perhaps until the next day. Then with no obvious trigger to my human eyes, the swarm of bees will take flight and leave for their new home. Where ever that may be. A lucky beekeeper will be able to catch the honey bee swarm while it is in the transition location. Often they will regroup high in a tree top. But, sometimes I get lucky and the swarm of bees will sit down in an easily accessible location. A successful program for honey bee swarm prevention can help us not lose those “out of reach”colonies by keeping them in the hive.
Are you handy with a saw? Some beekeepers enjoy building their own beehives. If you enjoy working with wood, this might be something for you to consider. You really need some good instructions in order to build a hive to the proper dimensions. A hive built to the wrong size will only cause problems later on.
Even if you do not care to build a complete hive, it can be alot of fun to build “bait hives” or swarm catchers. These can often be built with scraps pieces of wood or parts of old beehives. We cant always stop swarming – sometimes we just have to play the game.
Honey Bee Swarm Prevention – Control Swarming Triggers
Congestion or Perceived Congestion
The most common condition that triggers swarming in honey bees is congestion. (or perceived congestion.) As Spring continues and more baby bees are produced, the inside of the colony can get rather crowded. This congestion in the nesting area of the hive, triggers a signal urging the colony to divide.
One method for how to keep honey bees from swarming is to attempt to remove this congestion trigger. Well before the colony becomes over-populous, a beekeeper can add more boxes. This extra space gives more “elbow room” for the bees. Thereby giving the queen more room to lay and spreading the population out.
A more advanced method is to manipulate frames within the existing colony. The beekeeper spreads out the frames containing young – making the “nursery area” larger. A beekeeper using this method should be experienced to prevent causing bigger problems. This method requires proper timing and enough nurse bees to keep all the young warm and fed.Can you keep your honey bees from swarming? Can you just sit on them? Not for long !Click To Tweet
Older Queens Increase Honey Bee Swarms
Queen honey bees can live for several years. However, all beekeepers know that it is unusual to see a queen in a production colony that is over 2 years old. Research studies have shown that a colony with a queen 2 years old is much more likely to swarm– than a colony with a young queen.
For this reason, many beekeepers re-queen their colonies each Spring. We have realized how to keep honey bees from swarming as much by keeping a young queen in charge. Why? Most likely this is due to the diminishing pheromone (chemical messenger) levels in old queens and reduced egg laying.
Using The Delay Tactic For Honey Bee Swarm Prevention
A couple of weeks before a honey bee colony swarms, they will begin the process of making a new queen bee. This new queen will develop inside an easily recognized peanut shaped cell. Before it is time for the new queen to emerge. The swarm will leave the hive. It is a popular tactic among some beekeepers to remove these queen cells.
The queen cells are moved to another hive (that needs a queen) or put with other bees into a new box. Or the beekeeper can simply cut out the queen cells and discard them. This is only a delay tactic.
The honeybee colony will often select more young larva and begin the process again. The beekeeper has not changed the mind of the colony. Just slowed down the process. This tactic may keep a colony from swarming until their reproduction urge subsides. You must get every queen cell, if you miss one your colony will still swarm.
How to Keep Honey Bees From Swarming/Swarm Prevention
In my area, honeybee swarms are most prevalent in Spring. This is the natural tendency of the bees. Sometimes you can wrestle nature but you can never beat her. Many volumes of books have been written on how to keep honey bees from swarming. The numerous strategies are well beyond the scope of this post.
It is important to remember that sometimes… just sometimes.. you can not keep honey bees from swarming. Devise a management plan to reduce swarming, work your plan and then accept the fact that honey bees are wild animals (ok insects). You can not completely control them.
How To Keep Honey Bees From Swarming Guidelines
1. Provide your honey bee colony with sufficient space – add boxes before bees feel crowded
2. Keep young well mated honey bee queens in your colony. Colonies with young queens are less likely to swarm. Mark your queens so you will be able to determine their age.
3. You may delay the swarming urge until it passes by cutting queen cells. This will not always work.
4. There are numerous books on how to keep your honey bees from swarming. Some of these strategies work sometimes and sometimes none of them work
Would you like to watch a video of me doing a spring beehive inspection?
Swarm Prevention Is Something All Beekeepers Desire
The honey bees have other plans though and sometimes you can not stop the natural process. Final advice: Set up a bait hive or swarm trap near your colonies. If a swarm does emerge, maybe you will catch the bees in your own box.
UPDATE – It doesnt always work !!!
When swarm prevention does not work and you are unable to keep the honey bees from swarming. What can you do ? Catch’em.
Keep on Buzzin Beekeeper Charlotte