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Swarm Box Cell Starter

A temporary way of starting queen cells

Queenright colonies ("finishers") will build good queen cells, but because they are building them under the supersedure impulse they won't build very many. Another method is needed to start the Q/Cs ("starters"), so the queenright colony will finish them.

Swarm boxes are one way of achieving this.

The principle.

A beeproof box has some young queenless bees put in it. These are well provisioned with stores and pollen, imprisoned in a well ventilated box and placed in the cool. After an hour or two they realise they are hopelessly queenless, when larvae are introduced. They are removed after 24 hours when the Q/Cs have been started, then transferred to a queenright colony for finishing. The bees and frames are returned to the donor, or given to another colony.

The Swarm Box.

It is probably only the more serious beekeeper who will have a purpose made swarm box, but I have found that a ventilated nuc box is adequate. I think the term "swarm box" is wrong, but that is standard beekeeping terminology, so I will continue to use it.

If you have materials and are reasonably handy at woodwork, it is a good winter job making a dedicated swarm box for the purpose of starting Q/Cs. The design isn't fussy, providing the critical sizes and beespaces are maintained. I can explain fairly easy what is needed without drawings. Imagine a 5 frame nuc box and my design works well. Cut holes in the floor and sides and cover with mesh to provide ventilation. If these holes are round, with a reasonable space between, the box won't lose strength as it would if a square or rectangle were cut out. Some beekeepers make their swarm boxes an inch or two deeper than a standard box, so there is room for bees in the bottom below the frames. Although not essential, I think this extra space has benefits and is worth incorporating if you have the materials. I would make it top bee space so the crown board can be flat. A roof is not needed as anything that is waterproof can be used.

The crownboard can be used if you start Q/Cs on a frame, otherwise divise your own lid if you don't use a cell frame, but wish to start them above the bees. Some ideas may be found here. I have seen some with a sliding section in the crownboard so you can lower or remove a frame, but I have never bothered with these.

Although the swarm box will only be used for short times it will need to be strong, as it will be bumped on the ground to dislodge bees. I have seen some that are made from thin plywood and hardboard, but they are too flimsy. Two strips of wood nailed underneath will allow air to circulate.

How to Use the Swarm Box.

The following is how I have done it, but I admit I have used a lot of other people's ideas. This suits me but I'm happy to change if I see benefits. As with other aspects of beekeeping there are many ways of achieving the same thing. I have included some options below based on what others do, so you can work out your own way. Providing you understand what is happening and it works, then do it.

Peter Edwards, an experienced beekeeper from Stratford - upon - Avon, does a lot of queen rearing and uses a similar method, but adds a frame of sealed brood, making sure there are no eggs or larvae. He grafts and uses a lid that takes 50 larvae. He puts the cell starting bees in the cell finishing colony and thinks it probably best to make up a fresh box with each batch. I wouldn't disagree with any of this.

Roger Patterson.