The Artificial Swarm

The artificial swarm is a technique employed by the beekeeper to stop the loss of bees (and honey crop) due to the bees swarming. In this article we take a step by step approach on how to perform an artificial swarm to prevent swarming.

When should the artificial swarm be performed

In the UK the swarming season tends to be from May to July. During this period if the colony is reasonably strong then there will be a good chance that the bees will try and swarm. Weekly inspections of your hives should be carried out and the inspection should include looking for queen cells. When the bees create queen cells and they can be seen to contain larvae and / or royal jelly then it is most likely that they have decided to swarm.

Once you have assessed that the bees are going to try and swarm and if you have chosen the artificial swarm technique as a method of swarm control then you should perform the technique ASAP.

Equipment needed

For the artificial swarm you will need the following spare equipment for each hive that you want to perform an artificial swarm on.

  • Hive Stand (if swarming hive does not have space next to it on its stand)
  • Hive Floor
  • Brood box
  • Crown board
  • Hive roof
  • Enough frames fitted with new foundation to fill the brood box minus 1 frame

How to perform the artifical swarm

  1. Make sure you have all the spare equipment listed above within easy reach.
  2. Move the swarming hive (Hive A) off its original stand and put it about a foot to the side of the original site on the spare stand with the entrance facing the same direction as before.
  3. Assemble the spare floor and brood chamber (Hive B) on the original site of the swarming hive with the entrance facing the same direction as the swarming hive. If not done already then fill the new brood box with the frames of foundation leaving a gap for a frame in the middle
  4. Remove the supers and queen excluder from the hive that is to swarm (Hive A). Go through the brood box and find the Queen. If she is on a frame with unsealed brood on then simply transfer this frame with the queen on into the gap in the centre of new brood box. If she is on a frame with no unsealed brood then place her in a matchbox and then find a frame with unsealed brood and run the queen onto this frame before transferring it to the new brood box.
  5. Place the spare crown board on top of the new brood chamber and put the spare roof on.

    The artificial swarm has now been created. The queen is now in a 'new' hive (Hive B) and all the flying bees will return to the new hive as it is on the original site. This mimics what happens when the bees swarm naturally where the queen leaves the original hive along with all the flying bees.

    The original hive (hive A) is now left with a brood chamber full of brood, pollen and nectar/honey and is queenless but a number of queen cells are present that will shortly produce a queen. The non flying (house) bees remain to look after the brood just as when a natural swarm occurs.

  6. Push the brood frames together in the original hive to prevent a gap in the brood nest and drop a frame of foundation at the side of the brood nest to fill the gap left by the frame removed with the queen.
  7. As hive B has the supers replaced on and has a strong foraging force they should have plenty of stores to keep them going and to help them draw the foundation out into comb. They will draw the foundation very quickly as this comes with part of the bees swarming 'instinct'. Because there is unsealed brood to look after on the single frame that was transferred across the bees and queen will most likely not abscond from the new brood chamber and look elsewhere for a new home. However if you want to be doubly sure you can place a queen excluder below the brood chamber when assembling the new hive on the old site. After a week when you have checked that the queen is laying in the newly drawn foundation ok you can remove this queen excluder.
  8. Leave both hives for a week. There are now 2 options. If you want to strengthen the colony that has the supers and the queen to increase your honey crop then move the orignal hive (hive A) to the other side of the new hive on the original site. All bees from hive A that have learnt to fly in the last week will now try and return home to find that it is no longer there. They will then try and return to the nearest alternative which is hive B on the original site with the supers on.
  9. Hive A (the hive full of brood on the new site) will initially have very few foraging bees but has a lot of brood to feed. This means that Hive A may need feeding with sugar syrup to help it through the first few weeks. As the house bees mature and start to forage they will start to bring in stores as long as there is a reasonable nectar flow.
  10. The method listed above has the great advantages of:
    • Reducing the negative effect of swarming on your honey crop
    • Increasing the number of colonies you have

    However if you do not wish to increase the number of colonies you have by using the artifical swarm technique then after the risk of swarming has passed you can reunite the 2 colonies using the newspaper technique. This should provide you with a good strong colony which should help to get it through the winter

Variations on the technique to make up nucleus

If you would rather make increase in the number of your colonies rather than protect your honey crop then you instead of putting the original brood chamber on the new site with a number of queen cells then you could split the original brood into two large nucs or into three smaller nucs. Make sure each nuc has a good queen cell in it and has adequate pollen stores to help feed the brood.

Move the nucs to the desired location (this may be in the same apiary or a different apiary). If the new site for the nucs is within 3 miles of the original site then any flying bees in them will return to the colony on the original site. The house bees will remain with the brood in the nuc. Make sure you feed the nucs with sugar syrup to help them build up in strength as quickly as possible so they are sufficient in strength before winter sets in.

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