Manipulations - Index
Cell Size Regression
Taranov Swarming
Bailey Comb Change
Clearing Stores from Combs
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The Shook Swarm Method (or Shakedown in US)
for Honey Bee Comb Renewal

The shook swarm (called Shakedown in US) is a simple and effective process that has the benefit of invigorating the bees that are shaken. It can be used for a number of reasons, including switching a colony of bees on to a fresh set of combs or foundation in order to separate the bees from any pathogens, disease spores or residues of treatment chemicals that may lurk in the combs, although a Bailey Comb Change may be a better option in some circumstances. It has become a useful manipulation where a colony is heavily infected with varroa and is now an accepted method of treating a colony that has been infected with EFB (See below. R.P.). It can also be employed during the process of re-training the bees on to foundation of different cellsize to that which they are conditioned (either upsizing or downsizing). Where you may consider that the bees or the beekeeper may benefit from such re-sizing.

The manipulation itself is incredibly easy. For disease control purposes, you will require a completely new or freshly sterilised hive and a full complement of frames, each with foundation, which should be fresh. If cell size regression is your aim, you may well use some starter strips.

Timing of the operation in the case of disease will be unlikely to enter into the calculations, but for best survival in UK conditions it is wise to limit the time frame for performing this operation to the range April through to the end of July. Late shaking is thought to explain a few of the failures that have occurred in the CSL trials (Information no longer available. R.P.).

In order to control European Foul Brood without chemicals or antibiotics, many trials of this technique have been carried out by the National Bee Unit at the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA), whose address is Sand Hutton, York, YO41 1LZ. They have a website and their page on the topic can be read here. EFB is a 'notifiable disease' under the Bee Diseases Control Order 1982. If you do suspect your bees may have EFB,  you must contact your local Regional or Seasonal Bee Inspector or the National Bee Unit at York. Under no circumstances should you attempt to treat the disease yourself, as it is illegal.

Called 'shakedowns' or 'shaking down' in the US, the shook swarm is really an artificial swarm made by shaking the adult bees from a set of frames into a new hive. Originally, shaking the bees on to fresh foundation was used as a method of swarm control, however, today shook swarming is used as a method of replacing brood comb in one operation for reduction of disease (or reduced risk of disease), but has also gained popularity recently as a means to aid the modification of the size that the bees use for the cells of the brood comb.

In keeping with the vigour that is often observed when a natural swarm is hived, shook swarms usually build up rapidly and produce a good honey crop. In any case, unlike a normal swarm, a shook swarm consists of all the bees in the colony rather than only some of them.

Equipment that you will need

Fresh brood chamber Full set of frames and foundation
Floor with entrance blockSpare queen excluder
Crown boardRapid or hive top feeder
Sugar syrup feedContainer to put combs in

If the equipment is not new, it is recommended that all items should be sterilised or scorched to reduce disease risk.

How to do the job

  1. Shift hive to be shaken to one side, about one metre is enough
  2. Put the clean floor fitted with entrance block on the original stand
  3. Place a queen excluder on the floor (this acts as a queen includer)
  4. The fresh brood box with full compliment of frames with foundation sits on the queen excluder
  5. Temporarily remove a few of the frames from the centre of the brood box, thus creating a space that is slightly darker than it's surroundings, into which you can throw the bees.
  6. Dismantle the original hive
  7. If possible, find the queen and place her between the frames of foundation or cage her temporarily (this saves 'pussy footing' around so that she is not lost or damaged)
  8. Remove each brood frame in turn with adhering bees and shake the frame, preferably diagonally across the new brood box. Lowering it approximately halfway into the 'well' between the new frames in the clean brood box and jolting as often advised, is likely to kill too many bees when performed by a beginner in my opinion. I have seen enough queens killed in this way to recommend another way.
  9. Place the old frames, now free of bees, into the container, these will be burnt if diseased, or melted to extract wax
  10. Continue the process for all the remaining frames
  11. Place the spare frames gently in the central space in the new brood box
  12. Release the queen into the new brood chamber if she had been previously caged

But my colony has supers on!

If there were any supers on the original hive, the method of dealing with them depends on the reason that you were shaking down the bees in the first place...

If you are shaking down for reasons of cellsize alteration, the supers may be returned to the colony once the new brood combs are fully drawn out.

If however you are conducting the process for disease reduction, then super comb should be extracted then rendered in a solar or steam wax extractor.


It helps if the colony has a satisfactory, laying queen of young age.

A shook swarm is not very suitable for small colonies.

Clipping the queen may be a better alternative than a queen excluder under the brood box. A queen excluder can trap drones and brush pollen off the legs of worker bees.

A sufficient supply of nectar or sugar syrup must be available until all the foundation has been drawn (or at least well started on). Don't feed for 2-3 days if the colony has been shook swarmed in the treatment of EFB, otherwise the bees may store the infected honey in their stomachs and continue the infection. Seek guidance from the Bee Inspector.

It may be necessary to use an empty super above the crown board to accommodate a contact feeder if that type of feeder is used.

Inserting a queen excluder between the brood box and floor will prevent the colony from absconding. This should be removed once the colony has started to build comb and the queen has laid eggs. Alternatively, the queen may be left in the cage and released using marshmallow or queen candy to delay her release until foundation is being drawn.

In Switzerland I have been told they keep shaken colonies in the cool for about 3 days before bringing them out and feeding them. This is very effective against EFB.

Dave Cushman.

In general, I don't like shook swarms. In my opinion they are very invasive on a colony and from what I see and hear, often seem to be done for the sake of it. If it's for comb change, then there are kinder ways of doing it. Apart from when I had foul brood many years ago, I have never done a shook swarm on my own bees. I don't consider I have had to. I have seen many beginners do a shook swarm because they were told to, or they heard about it in a talk. It sounds persuasive when told that a colony "roars away" after the manipulation. It may do if a strong colony, fed heavily and in the hands of an experienced beekeeper, but a beginner may not have the experience to know when is a good time and when is bad. I have seen many colonies that have been too small, but perhaps building up well and otherwise doing OK, be wrecked by being shook swarmed, when there was probably no need to. In addition, I dislike feeding sugar during the summer. I have no objection to a colony with EFB being shook swarmed and will encourage it if the colony is subsequently requeened, as that will be for a valid reason and done under the supervision of a Bee Inspector.

In writing the above, I am not telling anyone not to do a shook swarm if they wish, they can do what they like on their own bees, but I'm not doing it on mine unless absolutely necessary. I like them too much for that! R.P.

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