Swarm prevention and expansion – Season 7

It is late spring (May). Swarm prevention is a hot topic among beekeepers. Honey bees tend to swarm less than other species, although their swarming behavior vary among breeds… Here is a list of the three common reasons for swarming, which should apply to Apis mellifera:

  1. The bees swarm, when the colony gets crowded (too many bees in all stages of development).
  2. The bees swarm, when they run out of space for the queen to lay eggs (the space is occupied by honey and pollen stores, or they simply start building upward).
  3. The bees swarm, when the beehive is too hot and they can’t cool it down, therefore, they consider it a crowding issue.

Your bees may also abscond (leave completely). They abscond when the living conditions become too unfavorable or there is an eminent threat to the colony. In some cases the adults have been known to leave the colony and the young behind. We call it CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder).

In this post, I will talk about the swarming behavior and how to prevent it. I will leave the topic of dealing with the colony after it starts swarming for later.

Observation is the key:

Any beekeeper will tell you that once the bees made up their mind about it, there is nothing you can do to stop them. I think about swarming as something that can happen any time during the nectar gathering season. And it can happen not just in the early spring, but also late in the summer. There are two questions that you need to answer each time you inspect your colony:

  1. Is my brood chamber crowded with either brood or honey or both?
  2. Is it hot outside most of the day and the bees are bearding or venting at their entrance to cool the hive a lot (more than two hours a day)?

What to do about the crowding issue:

The crowding may happen early in the spring, when some productive colonies explode in growth, before the beekeeper had a chance to do the first inspection of the season. It is very important to take a look at the bees as the colony is growing. Do not feed the colony, if the beehive is heavy. Even if only 2 or 3 frames have brood but the rest of the frames are full of winter syrup and new nectar, the bees may swarm. They can not move their stores out as fast as they need the space for the brood. If 8 out of 10 bee spaces are full of bees, when you sneak a pick into the beehive, it is time to expand.

Expanding bee colony

I expand using medium size supers. I remove half or less frames from the bottom deep super and install them into the medium super. I, then, try to insert empty (prepared with foundation strips) frames in between the frames with the comb. The bees get their space divided and doubled.

Prepared frames

I do not simply install a new super or switch an empty super with a full super (setting it on the top). I have tried that method before. Sometimes, my bees did not like moving into the box above or below, and they eventually swarmed. My back was not very happy with me. Also, I use deep supers for overwintering. And I use medium frames in all my supers. Why? Well, because sooner or later, here, in Alabama, I will be dealing with the heat.

What to do about the heat:

Sooner or later, it gets really hot here. I learned that it is better to either keep only one honey super on the top of the two brood chamber supers. Eventually, I needed a better design.

For my honey making colonies, I use a modified hive design. A local furniture and beekeeping equipment craftsman made the four double deep supers for me.

Expanding to double deep supers

As you can see, I avoid the crowding issue still using the same equipment except for the double deep super and half covers on each side. At the end of May, I will be moving my larger colonies into these four double deep supers and installing a shallow super for honey on top. I can add up to three shallow supers for honey.

Rowe Apiaries

Another great reason for me to use this design is the ability to inspect and dust the colonies, at least partially, in the summer.

Also, I have a wire mesh on the bottom boards. It helps greatly with ventilation. My hives are all 18 inches above the ground. It helps the bees to keep the air circulating. The hive stands are made out of heaving wood and provide extra shade on the bottom of the hive. Yet, it is dry and airy.

Questions? Just post them in the comments and don’t forget that you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook.








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