&   SEARCH
David A. Cushman logo
Artificial Swarm - Method 1

The standard method

This page should be read in conjunction with the "Artificial Swarm" page that can be accessed by the button top left.

The method described below is what has become the "standard" version of the artificial swarm. There are others, all based on the same principle, but with slight variations. What happens in an artificial swarm is the colony is split into two, by removing the parent colony to a different spot in the apiary and replacing it with a fresh empty hive. The queen and one frame, without queen cells, is taken from the parent colony and placed in the new brood box, which is filled up with frames of comb or foundation. The parent colony has queen cells that need reducing to one and a one frame gap that is closed up by moving the existing combs, the resulting gap being filled with comb or foundation.

This is supposed to replicate a swarming colony because:-

  1. The new colony (swarm) has a fertile queen, little or no brood and worker bees.
  2. The parent colony (swarmed colony) has no queen, brood in all stages, queen cells and a reduced worker force.

As you can see, this is a rather poor interpretation of a swarmed situation, due to both colonies being out of balance, but if the beekeeper is careful it works.

As with all things in beekeeping, I advise understanding what is happening in the operation before attempting it. To just do something "by numbers", without understanding what you are trying to achieve will probably end in failure. I set out how to do it in stages below.

On finding swarm Q/Cs in a colony......

  1. Move parent hive to one side. Distance doesn't matter. If you have heavy supers on, then remove those first.
  2. Replace with a floor facing the same direction and an empty brood box.
  3. Remove one frame of brood and bees from parent colony. It is important there are no Q/Cs, otherwise there may be a swarm.
  4. Place the queen on this frame.
  5. Fill up new box with drawn comb or foundation. Comb is preferable, as very often the colony will swarm again if foundation is used.
  6. Cut out all Q/Cs bar one from the parent colony. If it is unsealed it allows longer time before returning to remove any emergency cells. It is best to shake bees off the other combs to make sure that no Q/Cs are left, otherwise the colony may swarm.
  7. Fill the gap created by the removed frame in the parent colony by closing the existing frames up, then fill the gap with drawn comb or foundation.
  8. If the parent colony had supers, you need to distribute them to suit the situation. If the parent colony is short of food in the brood box it won't be able to collect nectar for several days, because it has lost the foragers, so give it a super with honey in. If it has plenty of food, then give the supers to the new colony.
  9. After satisfying yourself both colonies have enough food, then close them down.
  10. Check both colonies for emergency/swarm cells after a few days. The timing will depend on the state of the Q/Cs at the last operation.

If there is a heavy nectar flow, the new colony may store nectar very quickly, because it has little brood to feed for about 4 days. If you have given drawn comb in the brood box, they may fill this with nectar, so crowding the queen out. It is advisable to give supers of empty comb.

I have never used an artificial swarm myself for swarm control purposes, although I have used them for different reasons. I have helped other beekeepers on many occasions for controlling swarms.

Roger Patterson.