Midnite Bee-Beekeeper's: Tips TIPS  
Swarming & It's Control


Swarming is the natural reproductive behavior of honeybee colonies. Honeybee colonies are unable to reproduce via individual queens such as wasp and bumblebee colonies. Rather, reproduction occurs on a colony basis where one-half or more of the population leaves with the queen in search of a new home.

In Maine, the swarming season usually begins after the apple and dandelion bloom and throughout the blackberry, raspberry, clover honey flow. These plants bloom in late May through early July in the central part of Maine. Swarming is usually more intense in years in which the bees are confined due to rain during the rapid buildup period. Swarming, of course, usually will often alight in the vicinity of the parent hive and remain there for as little as an hour or for several days.

Occasionally, the swarm will decide to stay right there and begin to construct comb within the branches of the tree, eaves of a building, etc.

Several factors are thought to contribute to swarming. Most commonly, congestion within the brood nest or a "honey bound" situation will stimulate swarming. A colony is honey bound when the queen is unable to lay eggs because combs within the brood nest are full of honey and pollen.

The age of the queen also influences swarming due to the reduced secretion of "queen substances." Queen substances are the chemicals secreted from the mandibular gland and abdomen which are circulated throughout the hive by way of food exchange among the workers. Functions of these queen substances include the prevention of ovarian development in the workers and inhibition of queen rearing. It is thought that when the titer of these chemicals are reduced due to the sharing by a large population or decreased level of secretion by the queen, preparations for swarming or supersedure will begin.

Symptoms of a hive preparing to swarm include the presence of a large number of drones and queen cells at the bottom or on the edges of the comb. Also, before swarming, the colony is inactive compared to other colonies within the apiary. If capped queen cell are present, then the colony should be split.

The cutting of queen cells is rarely an effective means of swarm management since the hive mist be examined every ten days. There is no margin for error if a queen cell is missed. Swarming can be prevented or substantially reduced in a variety of ways. During routine spring management, hive bodies should be reversed so the queen can expand the brood nest upward.

Colonies should be equalized by bolstering weak ones with frames of capped brood and adhering bees and by switching the position of strong and weak colonies. Populous colonies should be given supers or hive bodies with three or five frames of foundation. The addition of foundation is very effective in minimizing swarms. Individuals who wish to increase their colony numbers can virtually eliminate swarming by making splits or nucs.

Requeening also aids in swarm reduction. One of the best ways to eliminate swarming is by the way of the Demaree Method. This series of manipulation has the advantage of increasing honey yield without an increase in colony numbers. The timing of hive manipulation with the major honey flow are crucial for success with the Demaree Method.

The Demaree Method involves separating the queen from the brood and splitting or "decongesting" the population of bees within the colony. By doing this, the hive remains populous and is able to maximize on the honey flow.

Following is the procedure in Maine. The dates will vary depending on the season and rate of buildup and bloom in your area.

Step 1. Reverse the brood chambers at the "normal" time during spring manipulation. Usually this is right before apple and dandelion bloom (early-mid May)

Step 2. When both brood chambers are full of bees, examine them for the presence of "primed" queen cells. Destroy any queen cells that are present. Place the queen and one or two frames of capped brood in the bottom brood chamber with either empty frames or foundation and put a queen excluder over this bottom brood chamber. Put a deep or several supers above the first hive body (drawn comb preferred). Above the empty boxes place the hive body with "open" and remaining "capped" brood. Step 2 usually takes place about three weeks after Step 1. (June 5)

Step 3. The procedure of separating most of the brood from the queen is repeated in 10-14 days. Remember to place the "uncapped" brood upstairs as it draws the nurse bees with it, thus, decongesting the brood nest. If the honey flow from blackberry, clover, and raspberry is terrific, add additional supers. Often, beekeepers will return the hive to a double brood chamber at this point by placing an empty deep above the first hive body with the queen excluder above the second hive body. This manipulation should take place at peak flow around June 15-20. Often, the bees will attempt to raise a queen from the open brood. The beekeeper may cut these cells or provide an upper entrance to manage a "two-queen" colony. This is an excellent way of requeening since the queen excluder is "pulled" at the end of the flow. Usually, the young queen will go downstairs and the destroy the older queen or the queen mother can be removed or pinched by the beekeeper.