Simple Swarm Control (?)

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Overview

This process is to be followed upon finding unsealed and sealed queen cells in your colony when they are clearly swarm cells. Supercedure cells are few in number (1-4) and located centrally in the brood. Swarm cells are mostly around the edge of the brood. Some colonies make copious numbers (20+) – others few (2-6). Leave colonies with their supercedure cells (you can make up nuclei using spare sealed supercedure cells or queens emerged into cages).

This process should not be followed when queen cups are present with only eggs in.

Equipment:

Complete spare hive: floor, brood box, queen excluder, crown board, empty super, roof, full complement of brood frames with foundation and a small entrance bar.
Additional equipment recommended
2 feeders & feed, magnifying glass, thin sharp knife, waste bag, small plastic tub e.g. yoghurt tub, disinfectant, cloths, disposable gloves, water, queen catcher and marking/clipping kit, one or more clean drawn brood combs if possible. Box of coloured drawing pins, empty spare super, spare towels to cover hives during inspection, new record card.
Optional: simple digital Camera.

Introduction

During your inspections when you find unsealed queen cells (open queen cells with a good bed of royal jelly and young larvae or older larvae floating on top) or even freshly sealed queen cells, then follow the following process. At this stage you may have a frame out of the hive and have examined one or more frames with brood. You may already have seen the queen. If you have already collected her in a queen catcher the following process will be much easier! This is good practice especially in May and June. Once you find queen cells quickly look through the frames and mark on top those with open, unsealed cells. If you find the queen at this stage, collect her in the queen catcher and lay her on top of the frames. Note where there are frames with emerging brood and frames with lots of young larvae.

What you will be doing is to make up what we call an “artificial swarm” – we mimic as best we can a real swarm – the old queen and flying bees (plus a frame or two of brood to anchor the colony and provide new bees quickly) – and a second hive with most of the brood, young bees and all the queen cells, as if the swarm had left it. You will also be cutting out some queen cells and you must ensure you leave three or four of these on other frames.

Stage 1

1. Move the original hive approximately 2 to 3 metres away with the entrance at 180° to the original.

2. Immediately place the spare hive in the original position. Put in one frame of foundation or a clean drawn brood comb.

3. Find the queen in the original hive, place her in the queen catcher (if she is not marked and clipped, then do so) and place her securely in the spare hive (do not let her out yet). Move a frame of young brood from the original hive after cutting out and removing queen cells to the plastic tub. Take out another frame of brood and shake the bees into the spare hive where the queen is. Return the frame to the original hive. Cover the new hive with a towel/cloth. Alternatively place the frame with the queen on into the new box – make sure there are no queen cells on this frame (if there are, and there are many more cells in the hive, cut them out). If you cannot find the queen after trying all methods, you can hope for the best – then you will need to reinspect after three days! On this visit it will be the box with eggs in that has the queen! Swap the position or components around accordingly and double check for unwanted queen cells. Always try and leave the queen on the original.

4. In the original hive, find either one frame with plenty of brood ready to emerge so as to supply nurse bees for the queen. If you did not have a clean drawn frame, add a frame which has plenty of space for the queen to lay in immediately. Check each frame thoroughly for queen cups and open cells and safely remove these using the sharp knife and place them into the plastic tub. NOTE when doing this, be careful not to leave any Royal Jelly residue on the combs – instead place it in the tub. NOTE make sure you are leaving frames in the original hive with unsealed cells to mature into queens.

5. Place these frames of brood into the spare hive on the original site with the queen. If there are sufficient store combs in the original hive place one of these in the new hive next to an outer wall, fill the brood chamber up with frames of foundation and let the queen out. By this time there should be a good number of flying bees returned to the hive and already gathered around the queen. Place the queen excluder over the brood box and then the cover/crown board. Place the feeder over the feed hole in the crown board and fill with food.

6. Put the roof on – use the spare empty super if it is not deep enough. Note – if you had supers on the original hive you can place these above the feeder if required.

7. In the original hive find all queen cups with just eggs in and cut these out, also find any sealed queen cells and cut these out and destroy them. Then find the remaining open queen cells and leave three or four of these with the youngest larvae in. Mark each frame which has open queen cells on with a drawing pin, on the top bar with a pin directly over the position of the cell, and a pin on the side bar or by the queen cell to provide a level indicator. You may wish take a photo of each frame to remind you where the cells are! Close up the frames and add frames of foundation to fill the hive. Replace the queen excluder and crown board over the brood chamber. If there are insufficient stores then place the second feeder over the feeder hole. It is important not to expose combs with the chosen queen cells on to excessive drafts or wind or direct sunlight – shield combs from sun and wind using your body and or towels. Place the plastic tub with all queen cups, cells and royal jelly in on top of cover board to allow nurse bees to access the pot and recycle valuable food. Reduce the entrance down to about an inch or so.

8. Mark up the new record card for the new colony and your estimate of when the queen cells are due to emerge.

Note – if you leave open cells with young larvae (4 to 6 days from egg laying), on your next inspection the chosen cells should be sealed and will be approximately 10 to 12 days old.

Stage 2: approx 6 days later

Important: adjust time according to age of larvae in queen cells to allow for the queens life stage development.

Additional Equipment: queen cell protectors (enclosing queen when she emerges).

9. Re-inspect the original hive with the queen cells a maximum of 6 days later. Check the frames with the chosen queen cells carefully and check others for any emergency cells and remove and place them in the plastic tub, recheck the condition of your chosen queen cells. IMPORTANT: DO NOT SHAKE BEES OFF OR BANG FRAMES. This can damage the young queens in the cells. If these cells seem OK and there is a lot of activity around them you can assume you have viable queen cells. If any of the cells are sealed and the tips of them are being pared back or turning a bronze colour you already have a maturing virgin queen in and you will need to place a queen cell protector over. NB if you are not able to be around just before cells mature or you are unsure, consider placing queen cell protectors over ALL remaining chosen queen cells.

10. On the remaining brood combs check for any other emergency queen cells and remove these and reassemble hive. Check feeder and refill as required.

11. In the hive with the queen in, check on the numbers of bees and each of the brood combs for potential new queen cups with eggs in or emergency young queen cell larvae. DO NOT DESTROY any cells until you have found new eggs and or a laying queen, as there may have been damage caused to the queen on your last inspection. If there are none then it is reasonable to assume the swarming instinct has been subdued. If there are lots more then this may be an indicator of another underlying problem with the queen or a very swarmy colony. (Note that using this procedure when you remove sealed queen cells may leave them with the swarming instinct intact ready to swarm at the earliest opportunity! Once the colony is confirmed queenright, then destroy all the new queen cells immediately. Check to see how the bees have drawn comb and see how many frames have eggs in and larvae in. Check on stores, refill feeder if required (remember continuous feeding is needed to get them to draw out all combs) – if not necessary allow the bees full access to the supers.

Stage 3: 3 to 5 Days later

Again adjust according to stage 2 as this is dependent upon age of larvae in cells.

12. In the original hive, check on queen cells to confirm their condition and if any have emerged. If all virgins have emerged then choose the one which has the most interest and looks the best. If you do not need the others kill them or offer to a friend (give them as much notice as possible to prepare for them). Recheck the frames for any other last minute queen cells the bees may have tried to make or you missed: if you see sealed ones, open them up and destroy them.

13. Let the chosen virgin out of the queen protector cage and recheck food and close up the hive.

14. Do normal inspection on the hive with the original queen in again checking for queen cells etc.

Stage 4: 14 days later

15. Check the hive with the virgin in to see if she has mated. Once you find eggs and or larvae, refill the feeder, then close the hive up. And attend as per normal as with the original queen. Note: a queen can take up to three weeks to mate from emerging. This depends on weather. If you see no eggs after 30 days – usually the queen is not viable.

NOTE – Just because you have done a swarm control manipulation do not assume that the colonies will not try to swarm again!


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