Swarm keep watch over – it isn’t rocket science

Synopsis : A success swarm keep watch over comes to common, accurately timed, colony inspections and a few easy colony manipulations. Perceive the foundations and also you’ll realise it’s no longer rocket science.


The vast majority of guests (~85%) to this web site are from the Northern hemisphere – the United Kingdom, USA, Canada and Eire. Everyone seems to be welcome in fact, however the fact is that the topical posts that seem are in sync with the season within the Northern hemisphere, so they generally tend to get learn extra. Nowhere is that this extra obvious than all the way through the duration when our bees are swarming – or making an attempt to swarm.

I wrote Queen cells … don’t panic! again in June 2018. It described what queen cells gave the look of and what to do when you to find them (Don’t panic!). It wasn’t learn a lot that yr however has step by step received ‘traction’ and closing yr accounted for ~4% of all visits .

Seasonal studying about queen cells

The web page perspectives display distinct seasonality, with peaks in Might coinciding with beekeepers panicking once they to find queen cells our swarm season within the Northern hemisphere.

This yr, swarming in the United Kingdom made the scoop with an editorial at the BBC about Midlands beekeepers working out of kit. It was once an stress-free learn – I used to stay bees there and know the beekeepers – no longer least on account of all of the mistakes made through the reporter. I counted about part a dozen clangers in below 300 phrases.

I mentioned swarm keep watch over and clipped queens closing week and feature been which means to supply a moderately easy evaluate of the foundations and follow of swarm keep watch over. The aim is that that is moderately ‘prime stage’, linking to earlier related posts. As well as, I used to be again in my Fife apiaries on Tuesday and there are a few related observations to incorporate within the put up lately.

Inspection frequency

It’s value remembering that lots of the issues we do on the subject of colony control – specifically all the way through swarm keep watch over and queen rearing – are made up our minds through the construction cycle of the queen.

Inspections and determination making

From egg to emergence this takes 16 days. From the egg being laid till the cellular is sealed (when pupation begins) takes 8 days.

Swarming is honey bee replica. The purpose is to generate (a minimum of) one new colony.

Swarming comes to the queen and a big percentage (as much as 75%) of the employees leaving to arrange a brand new nest. It’s a dangerous procedure and maximum swarms don’t live to tell the tale. Thomas Seeley’s observations within the Arnott Wooded area counsel that ~75% perish.

Subsequently, for the reason that swarm would possibly not live to tell the tale it will be important that the swarm does no longer depart earlier than the survival of the unique colony is sort of confident.

And that happens as soon as the creating cellular is sealed.

Which is why a colony will normally swarm on or in a while after the day that the primary queen cells are sealed, i.e. 8 days after the chosen egg was once laid.

All of which, in a reasonably convoluted means, explains why a 7 day inspection frequency is important.

Should you moderately investigate cross-check the colony each and every 7 days they’re not possible to swarm earlier than your subsequent inspection if there have been no queen cells while you closing inspected.

In the event that they do swarm it method both a) you overlooked a queen cellular, or b) they swarmed early.

She’s long gone …

After I ask, many beekeepers of swarmed colonies guarantee me that they ‘went early’.

Since a couple of million years of evolution have resulted within the swarming behaviour of honey bees I stay moderately sceptical that the beekeeper didn’t forget a cellular tucked away someplace below a writhing mass of bees 😉 .


Since we’re speaking about bees, all of the standard caveats practice.

Swarming can be behind schedule through awful climate … why prompt into the nice unknown if it’s chilly and rainy? They normally swarm at the day the cellular is sealed, but when it rains for every week they’ll wait.

However when you then get a wonderful, heat, dry day after a duration of deficient climate the entirety can move a little loopy.

Clipped queens

The opposite factor that delays swarming is the clipping of 1 wing of the queen. This will provide you with a couple of days leeway (however in all probability no longer 12 as I described closing week) and Ted Hooper (in Information to Bees and Honey) explains that – mathematically – a ten day inspection cycle of colonies with clipped queens method you must by no means lose a swarm.

The essential assumption made within the closing observation is that your inspection is thorough sufficient to seek out any queen cells which can be provide.

I you omit one, then all bets are off … and so could be the swarm 🙁 .

However the swarm headed through the clipped queen can’t in fact move any place and normally returns to the hive, so giving the beekeeper a couple of further days grace.

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In the case of longevity and fecundity there is not any proof I’m conscious about that clipped queens are compromised whatsoever. Subsequently queen clipping is helping me steer clear of shedding swarms, nearly all of that have a reasonably unsure long term:

  • some voluntarily occupy a bait hive
  • others are re-hived through a beekeeper when bivouacked, or
  • re-hived through a beekeeper after doing a ‘cutout’ from a development
  • some get established in a brand new nest web site no longer controlled through a beekeeper, however
  • a percentage fail to discover a appropriate nest web site

Of those, the primary 3 contain expanding quantities of effort through the beekeeper (in all probability related to lowering chance of survival?), however the closing two are not likely to lead to long-term survival.

Natural comb

A colony settled right here and therefore perished

I’d be very to understand the chances of swarms for each and every of those 5 classes … have any readers an concept?

My wager … 5%, 20%, 5% respectively, with the rest 70% last ‘at massive’.

The swarm below the shed

A short lived apart since I’m speaking about clipped queens.

I did arrange to trap (the place ‘trap’ method smoke to the purpose the place she had no longer selection however to transport) the clipped queen from below the shed right into a nuc field. I checked the field on Tuesday. The bees had drawn out the root and constructed employee comb below the tremendous body I’d incorporated within the field.

Keep in mind that in a complete sized hive bees ceaselessly upload brace drone comb below an added tremendous body. Then again, relating to a swarm in a nuc the concern is to extend temporarily, so that they construct employee comb as a substitute. Drones are little need to them.

The queen had laid up a minimum of two whole frames and two others had been nearly stuffed with nectar … the go with the flow has been impressive for the closing 10 days or so.

I took an endoscope digicam and had a glance below the shed. There have been tiny bits of comb simply began suggesting that the bees hadn’t been there lengthy.

Swarm wax remnants on underside of shed flooring

You’ll ceaselessly see little crescent formed bits of wax the place a swarm has resided – as an example, on a department you’ve recovered a bivouacked swarm from, and even within a skep.

The foundations of swarm keep watch over

When looking to perceive swarm keep watch over it’s value pondering of the bees on the subject of ‘doable viability’ the place viability method long run survival.

As an example, is a queen – on her personal – doubtlessly viable?


She wishes the beef up of staff to feed her and to rear the brood from the eggs she lays.

What in regards to the ‘flying’ bees (i.e. the foragers)? Those are the bees that experience oriented to the hive’s location and go back after a foraging flight, by contrast to the nurse (hive) bees that have by no means left the hive .

No once more, they can not normally lay eggs and the eggs they do (hardly ever) lay are unfertilised and grow to be drones .

The foundations of swarm keep watch over

There are most effective two subdivisions of the colony which retain doable viability:

  • the queen plus the flying bees
  • the nurse (hive) bees plus the brood (with the caveat that the brood should come with eggs and/or very younger larvae)

The vast majority of swarm keep watch over strategies contain the separation of the whole colony into those two subdivisions, in conjunction with control of queen cellular numbers.

The queen supported through the flying bees can construct comb, forage, lay eggs and rear brood. In the event that they do sufficient of most of these actions the colony must be viable.

In a similar fashion, even supposing the nurse bees and brood don’t have any queen, they’ve eggs and younger larvae from which they may be able to rear a brand new queen and so also are doubtlessly viable.

Swarm keep watch over in follow

With one notable (not unusual) exception, swarm keep watch over comes to setting apart the nurse bees and brood from the queen and flying bees.

Let’s in brief point out the exception first, which I’ll go back to later. The exception is the nucleus manner of swarm keep watch over. This comes to getting rid of the queen and a body or two of bees and brood from a colony containing queen cells. The latter rears any other queen while the nuc with the queen builds up into a brand new colony .

OK, how do you merely separate the queen plus flying bees from the brood plus nurse bees?

There was once a touch previous after I discussed the truth that the flying bees know the place the hive is, while the nurse bees – having by no means left the hive – don’t.

Subsequently, when you transfer the soon-to-swarm hive clear of it’s authentic location and put a brand new field instead, the flying bees – over a couple of hours – will go back to the brand new field. It would even take an afternoon or so … the foragers will prompt from the moved hive (and many most effective make rare foraging journeys) however go back to the brand new field at the authentic web site.

As a result, the unique hive will get depleted of flying bees. This is helping scale back the drive to swarm.

The flying bees transfer themselves if the beekeeper strikes the hive … what in regards to the queen?

It’s a must to transfer her.

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Reasonably than dealing with the queen without delay that is normally accomplished through transferring the body containing the queen (however no queen cells) into the brand new field within the authentic location.

Swarm keep watch over strategies

I’ve described a handful of swarm keep watch over strategies, 3 of which contain manipulation of the hive to separate the colony into the 2 subdivisions (queen plus flying bees and nurse bees plus brood) described above.

I’ll write a couple of phrases about each and every of those strategies, however you must learn the unique connected posts for all of the gory main points.

Pagden’s synthetic swarm

As taught in draughty church halls each and every iciness through maximum beekeeping associations. This comes to the horizontal separation of the unique hive and the brand new hive. It calls for a whole replica hive – flooring, brood field, crownboard and roof – and a little of area on all sides of the unique location.

Pagdens' artificial swarm ...

Pagdens’ synthetic swarm …

The downside in my opinion is the gap required and the extra apparatus wanted. You would possibly not have sufficient of both.

The vertical break up

This achieves the similar factor however does so the use of much less apparatus and area. The ‘moved’ field is reversed, supplied with a brand new front and stacked on best of the unique hive. As a result the foragers fly out of the again of the hive, however go back to the entrance, getting into a brood field into which the queen has been positioned.

Split board

Cut up board …

The merit in decreased apparatus (you most effective want a spare brood field and a ‘break up board’ … which may well be so simple as a sheet of polythene) and area are fairly outweighed through the quantity of lifting concerned when running with a hive containing a number of supers. This can be influenced through how robust you are feeling. I used to favour this technique however now use the nucleus manner.

The Demaree manner

This can be a bit like a vertical break up with out the break up board and higher front. As in the beginning described it additionally differs in that it does no longer consequence within the manufacturing of a brand new queen. The queen is within the backside field and the higher brood field (containing brood and nurse bees) is separated through queen excluders and a few supers. The queen cells within the higher field are knocked again and, over the years, the brood emerges and strikes down during the stack to sign up for the queen. Once more there are area and gear benefits, however the best brood field can get backfilled with nectar all the way through a robust go with the flow and drones get trapped above the queen excluder and perish.

Demaree swarm control

Demaree swarm keep watch over

This appears to be a Marmite manner of swarm keep watch over … some beekeepers find it irresistible and use it at all times, others dislike it (tall stacks of heavy apparatus, overlooked queens rising within the best field and useless drones) and steer clear of it just like the plague. I’ve used it effectively, however no longer enthusiastically.

The nucleus manner

In contrast to the former strategies defined above, this technique makes no try to separate the queen plus flying bees from the remainder of the hive. As a substitute it comes to removing of the queen plus enough bees to ascertain a brand new colony – 2-3 frames below standard stipulations, none of which should have any queen cells – coupled with culling of all however one or two queen cells within the authentic hive. Preferably that is accomplished with two visits ~7 days aside; at the first seek advice from the nuc with the queen is made up and on the second one all however one or two queen cells are got rid of. The lengthen guarantees there aren’t any eggs or larvae younger sufficient to rear a brand new queen from, so combating the colony generating solid swarms.

Here's one I prepared earlier

Right here’s one I ready previous

This technique has an a variety of benefits in my opinion; it calls for minimum further apparatus and nearly no further lifting (a large plus!). With care it’s successfully foolproof. The queen is secure and also you keep watch over the manufacturing of queens within the authentic hive. The one main downside (specifically in comparison with the strategies above) is that it is helping so that you can transfer the nuc to apiary, so combating lack of bees again to the unique hive. Then again, that is moderately simple to unravel.

Hanging the ‘synthetic’ in synthetic swarm

As a last apart on this rambling discourse, it’s value noting that not one of the 3 swarm keep watch over strategies that separate the queen plus flying bees from the brood plus nurse bees recapitulate a herbal swarm.

Through including colored spots to other cohorts of rising staff – crimson for the 25th of Might, blue for the 26th, red for the 27th and so on. – you’ll resolve the typical age of bees in a colony. If that colony swarms (and also you seize the swarm) you’ll additionally resolve the typical age of bees within the swarm.

It’s no longer the similar.

Age distribution of bees in swarms

Age distribution of bees in swarms (click on for legend)

A herbal swarm does no longer comprise 50-75% of the employees decided on randomly. If it did it will have the similar moderate age (and distribution) as the unique colony.

Possibly strangely a herbal swarm does no longer predominantly come with the older flying bees from the colony. As a substitute it’s biased against the more youthful bees with the typical age of bees within the swarm 7-12 days much less than the ones within the hive.

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This raises some fascinating questions:

  • what quantity of bees within the swarm have no longer been on prior orientation flights?
  • if this is the case, is the amnesia of swarms (they may be able to be moved any place when bivouacked) associated with this ‘more youthful’ age distribution?
  • however how do those bees to find their manner again to the hive if a clipped queen crashes into the grass and is misplaced?

Against this, an synthetic swarm predominantly comprises older flying bees. Fortunately bees show ‘plasticity in temporal polyethism’ (!) which means older foragers revert to being nurse bees for brood rearing and comb development, so our synthetic swarms can behave like herbal swarms.

However I will’t to find the queen 🙁

The entire synthetic swarm strategies defined above contain discovering the queen and manually transferring her (on her body) to a brand new field .

What occurs if you can not to find the queen?

Usually, colonies which can be making swarm arrangements are robust colonies. Discovering an unmarked queen in a 40 litre field containing in all probability 25-30,000 bees isn’t simple. Even though the queen is marked it may be difficult.

Pagden’s synthetic swarm with an undetectable queen

I did not discover a marked queen in an excessively robust colony on Tuesday.

I did to find charged queen cells and loads of eggs (and a massive selection of staff) so I used to be positive the colony had no longer swarmed.

Beneath those stipulations you’ll nonetheless carry out a man-made swarm albeit with one minor amendment.

I’ve described the method intimately in Swarm keep watch over and elusive queens. Necessarily you do a Pagden synthetic swarm however you make sure that the brand new field at the authentic web site is provisioned with a body or two of eggs and younger larvae however (as standard and importantly) no queen cells.

The flying bees go back to the brand new field, the remaining stay (with the queen cells) within the moved field.

The queen is much more likely to be within the moved field (because you most effective got rid of one or two frames), however the depletion of flying bees must imply they tear down the queen cells and don’t swarm. The eggs and younger larvae you equipped within the new field are used to rear a brand new queen.

Then again, if the (undetectable) queen was once moved to the brand new field it’s precisely the similar as doing a Pagden synthetic swarm.

New field at the authentic web site (swarm keep watch over when you can not to find the queen)

I’m nearly sure my undetectable queen remained within the moved field because the returning staff had been much less enthusiastic to go into the brand new field at the authentic web site.

I’ll to find out subsequent week 🙂 .

In idea it’s essential to do that vertically however, with 4 supers and an already wobbly hive stand, it will be tempting destiny.

Swarm keep watch over isn’t rocket science

Common inspections at an acceptable frequency, coupled with advised and decisive motion must you to find queen cells, are all which can be had to keep watch over swarming.

The inspection cycle is made up our minds by the point takes a brand new queen to expand. This is invariant. Since you can not affect it your most effective selection is whether or not to investigate cross-check each and every 7 or 10 days, relying whether or not you clip the queen or no longer. This frequency would possibly seem arduous however is most effective wanted all the way through the duration colonies are prone to swarm. Through overdue June I’m normally examining each and every fortnight or so.

Impressive hawthorn blossom this spring

The swarm keep watch over manner you use is primarily based upon quite simple rules. Perceive those and all the ‘new field at the left, rotate the doorway, stand on one leg and align frames with ley traces’ directions must make sense.

If you know the foundations it is possible for you to to prepare the bins appropriately despite the fact that you can not keep in mind the fitting order of the directions out of your coaching … does the brand new field move at the left or proper? Which leg? What’s a ley line?

4 ultimate ‘best guidelines’ :

  • knocking again queen cells isn’t swarm keep watch over. They will swarm as you will omit a cellular, or they’ll therefore ‘swarm early’ on an open cellular. Don’t … simply don’t.
  • and associated with the above … don’t knock again any queen cells till you understand whether or not the colony is queenright or if there are eggs and younger larvae provide from which a brand new queen may well be reared. This can be a vintage mistake and will depart the colony in a terminal state most effective recoverable through buying a brand new queen or scrounging a body of eggs from any other hive (or beekeeper).
  • be told one manner of swarm keep watch over in order that it invariantly works for you. Through all method then take a look at one thing new. You want a technique you’ve self belief in while you hit upon queen cells.
  • don’t mix ‘n match portions of various swarm keep watch over strategies. It would paintings … however it could no longer 🙁 .

Those are essential.

How do I do know?

I’ve overlooked all of them at one time or any other previously and suffered the effects 😉 .


The Oxford English Dictionary defines rocket science (within the context I’ve used it) as …

colloquial one thing requiring a prime stage of intelligence or experience; steadily in unfavourable structures, implying that one thing is moderately easy”.

… however then, disappointingly, fail to offer a quotation. The affiliation between rocket scientists and intelligence most probably dates again to the early 1950’s when German rocket scientists labored in the US (and Russia). When Eisenhower requested “How did the Russians get there first?”, regarding the release of Sputnik, he was once supposedly informed “Their Germans are higher than our Germans”. Then again, it most probably took any other 30 years earlier than the unfavourable assemble “It’s no longer rocket science” was once used, within the context of American soccer.

“Training soccer isn’t rocket science and it’s no longer mind surgical operation. It’s a sport, not anything extra.”

Curiously, “It’s no longer mind surgical operation” seems to have first been used within the 1970’s. Simply to be totally transparent … swarm keep watch over isn’t mind surgical operation both 😉 .


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