Roe Valley Beekeepers Association

Beekeeping Advice

Swarm control

Description of the actions involved in (a) swarm prevention & (b) swarm control

(a) Swarm prevention

Swarm prevention actions include everything that a beekeeper does to observe the behaviour of his colony anticipating their actions and providing the conditions in which swarming instincts are suppressed.

This includes choosing a queen whose characteristic genetic line is of little swarming behaviour, changing a queen so that during the season when swarming is likely (May & Jun) that a fresh queen is leading the colony; providing adequate space for both brood development and honey production which includes early supering and anticipating brood expansion and the associated space requirements, and providing adequate ventilation. These factors will assist in the distribution of queen pheramones which act to suppress queen cell production. The beekeeper will also undertake regular weekly inspections of his hives so that he can asses his hive against the five key questions (Presence of a laying queen, presence of adequate space, adequacy of food reserve, pattern of lying, presence of signs of disease and presence of queen cells). The progression in potential swarming is from queen cups to polished cups to  those in which eggs have been deposited to cups charged with royal jelly. This final sign is the first reliable sign that the colony intends to swarm, and is followed by elongation of the queen cup to a queen cell, and its closure. At this stage swarming is inevitable. Actions to avert swarming should already be in place.

(b) Swarm Control

Swarm Control includes all the actions a beekeeper takes to avert swarming when there are signs of imminent swarming. These actions provide the beekeeper with a number of opportunities including the establishment of a new queen, the introduction of a new queen strain with better characteristics, the production of nucs for expansion or sale and the increase in his colony numbers. Inspections should occur weekly unless the original queen was clipped, allowing for this to be extended to 10 days. Upon seeing the signs of queen cups containing larvae and royal jelly the beekeeper should act immediately as follows:

Artificial swarming separates the queen and flying bees from brood providing conditions similar to those encountered by a colony which has swarmed. This is achieved by moving the hive to one side and placing a new brood chamber with foundation or drawn comb on the original site. The frames of the existing colony are inspected and the frame upon which the old queen is found is moved with the queen into the new box (on the old site) ensuring that there are no queen cells on this frame. If any are found they should be destroyed. This box is then closed with a feeder provided that evening. The brood in the old box is left to the side of the original site with open queen cells (destroying any closed cells which may not contain a suitable queen larva) and the supers if any are left with this box. The brood will continue to hatch and the new queen will emerge , mate and begin laying after approximately 3 weeks. The artificially swarmed old queen and flying bees will build brood and all flying bees will return to this hive. The number of bees in this box can be equalised by again swapping positions of the hives after more brood has emerged from the brood chamber of the old box. When both boxes contain brood the beekeeper can decide to merge them retaining one of the queens (probably the younger), and placing the other in a nuc as an insurance. Alternatively he may retain the two separate colonies.

An alternative  process would be to remove queen cells which have been charged, and splitting the brood chamber, inspection every three days and removing any further ones which appear in the half which has been provided with the queen and additional space. The other half can be used to produce queen cells for the production of nucs providing the bee strain is suitable to breed from.


Alan McKinney