Swarm control to prevent the Beehaus residents from leaving

It was inevitable. All beekeepers I had spoken to about my colony agreed that I had to carry out swarm control. That in itself is pretty unique as beekeepers often don't agree on anything! There is an old adage that goes something along the lines of 'ask six beekeepers one question and you get seven different answers'. It makes it rather frustrating as a new-ish beekeeper. And, as you probably guessed, although they all agreed that I had to carry out swarm control they all differed as to how I should go about it (arrrggghhh).

As well as asking fellow beekeepers and reading the manuals, I also attended a Swarm Control talk at my local Warwick & Leamington Spa Beekeepers branch last night. It was a fascinating talk by our chief 'swarm liaison officer' (yes, that is a real job title) Clive Joyce. What I learnt in a nutshell is that swarming is inevitable as it's a natural way for the bees to reproduce and as a beekeeper you have to work with them to help them believe they've swarmed when they haven't actually left the hive. Although Clive reckons a mass of bees swarming around in the air is one of the most exciting parts of beekeeping, for me, at this stage in my beekeeping career, it's not so much.

So, I hatched a plan as to how to carry out swarm control on the Beehaus. Essentially there are three elements to the colony - queen, brood and flying bees - and all swarm control methods are based on separating one of these from the other two. The one I decided to go with, which is based on Method 2 of the Omlet Beehaus manual on page 43, is separating the queen and brood from the flying bees. Below is a rough sketch of what I did.

This morning wasn't ideal in terms of the weather but I knew that I couldn't delay it any longer (and you'll see why this was a good decision later on). I was also extremely nervous. I'm not scared of the bees, I just wanted to make sure I did the right thing for both parties - human and insect. Also, my queen has a very faint mark on her back and I knew it would be very difficult to spot her amongst the 20,000 other bees in the hive.

I started off with smoking the hive. There wasn't much activity at the entrance but it was overcast. I started on the left and worked my way through the frames looking for the queen. I spotted LOADS of sealed queen cells. How can this be? In theory they should have swarmed with the queen by now. It has been raining the past few days so perhaps that deterred them. On about the sixth frame in, I spotted her. It wasn't her faint mark that I saw but the way she moves. She moves differently to the other bees. I'm not sure how to describe it other than saying she sort of scuttles. Anyway, huge relief.

I put the frame with her on it on the left hand side with six other frames making sure that I broke off all queen cells on these frames. I also put a feeder on this side. 

Then on the right hand side I broke off all the queen cells apart from one (this one above). I also inserted four new frames and left one of the frames with the honey stores (the manual didn't say to do this but I figured that as there is nothing in the super, they may need food). I then closed everything up.

What the left hand side looks like inside (the Queen side). I didn't manage to photograph the right side in all the excitement.

I placed a feeder on the left hand side because there are no flying bees this side to forage for food.

So, in summary - on the left hand side we have the queen with her brood. Any of the older bees (foraging bees) that leave this side should in theory go back to the entrance on the right side where the flying bees are with the queen cell. Hence, we've successfully separated one of the elements from the other two.

My bait hive in a tree.

As I put the roof back on I couldn't quite believe I'd done it all in just half an hour. I felt like I needed a drink! 

However, before going back inside I remembered something Clive said at the meeting last night about putting a bait hive nearby in case your bees do swarm. When bees swarm they cluster before looking for a new home, obviously a hive is an ideal home so if you have an empty one nearby the scout bees that fly out from the swarm may consider it an ideal location. I have a nucleus box so I put an old frame inside (to make it smell likes bees) and propped it in the tree. 

So, now we get to why I think I carried out the swarm control in the nick of time. At about 4pm this afternoon I was in my home office, which looks out onto the garden, feeling all smug in my beekeeping achievement today when I noticed a huge amount of bees flying in the air. I looked at the Beehaus and there were loads of bees on the outside of it. I thought 'oh god, here we go - they're swarming after all.' But as I donned my bee suit I realised that they can't be swarming because the flying bees on the right hand side have no queen to fly away with. Also, the bees on the left can't swarm because they are young bees and the queen that's there has her wings clipped.

The bees did, however, settle down pretty quickly. Thank goodness as I didn't fancy going over to my neighbour to tell her not to come outside. What was interesting was that at the entrance on the right side there were at least a couple of bees with their bums in the air fanning their wings. The photo above shows this, although not very well. It's the bee on the very right. What she is doing is using her Nasonov gland at the end of her abdomen to send out a scent and then fanning this scent with her wings to distribute it. This 'home' scent is detected by bees in the air who come to join their colony mates. Aren't bees fascinating!

I think I may have a few days reprieve because, in theory, the queen cell on the right should hatch in eight days time. What should I do to prevent that virgin queen from swarming with the flying bees? That is what happened to me last year and I don't want a repeat performance as I'd like some honey this year. When should I inspect next? What should I do if I spot queen cells in the left hand side where the queen is? So many questions which I expect each beekeeper will have at least one different answer to ;)


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