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Colony Increase (Method 6)

Increase from several colonies

This is a sort of artificial swarm that isn't quite. As with other methods of increase, this is one that has as many variations as your knowledge and imagination will allow.

This method is essentially an artificial swarm manipulation, with the increase made up from combs from two or more colonies and the flying bees from one other. Although the operation can be done anywhen, it is best done on a good flying day, when there is a good nectar flow on and with a couple of hours of flying left in the day.

This is what you do:-

  1. Set up a full hive with floor, brood box, crown board and roof. You also need spare frames, drawn comb in preference to foundation.
  2. Put combs of brood and food complete with adhering bees (minus queen(s)!) from one or more colonies in the empty box. If the frames come from more than one colony then alternate them to reduce the chance of fighting. An alternative is to place the frames in the spare brood box spread apart to expose them to light, then after 10 minutes or so close them up as normal. The number of combs you take from each colony depends on what it can afford and what their own needs are. If it is a strong honey producing colony it can certainly afford a comb or two. If it is a smaller, but still relatively strong colony, such as an earlier nuc, it may afford to lose 2-3 combs. The number of combs in the new colony can vary from 1 to 11, this is very flexible.
  3. Replace the removed combs with drawn comb.
  4. Move the colony that is supplying the flying bees to a different stand. This could conveniently be a colony that is building swarm cells, but this is not important.
  5. In its place put the newly made up colony. This is the "new" colony.
  6. Fill the new colony up with drawn comb.
  7. Give the new colony a queen or queen cell when appropriate.
  8. Because you may have been alternating combs from different colonies in the new colony they may not be organised in the best way, so inspect later the same day when the confusion has died down, or the following day and rearrange them.

The colonies that have donated the combs should need no more treatment than if the combs had not been removed. If they are honey producing colonies there should be no setback at all. If the combs came from smaller colonies they may need to be checked.

The colony that has donated the flying bees will be setback a little, but in my experience they recover quite quickly and in a couple of days they are usually flying strongly again. If they had built swarm cells you have the choice of giving the queen to the new colony, but caged for 24 hours, or leaving where she is. Either way the queen cells need dealing with. Don't be fooled into thinking the colony will remove the queen cells because it has lost the flying bees. They don't always and yes, they can swarm!

In manipulations like this you are often advised to feed, but there is usually no need to. I dislike feeding in the summer. Remember, this is likely be done in a nectar flow.

In slightly different forms I have used this method regularly. I have made up one full colony from several that have been preparing to swarm that I have put a super on straight away. I have also made up several nucs, such as 2 frame nucs and put in the positions of existing nucs that have been getting too strong for my purpose.

The number of combs in the new colony will determine if a super is required or not. If you are unable to get much food into the brood box it might be worth putting a super on with some food in from another colony. There is no need to shake the bees out if it is put on when the new colony is made up.

Roger Patterson.