Swarm Prevention. It’s all about your goals.
If your goal is to make more colonies and grow your apiary then split away. It’s quick and easy, increases your number of colonies, and can deter swarming.
But if your goal is making a crop of honey this year, splitting may not be your best first option. If you want to make a crop of honey save the splitting for Swarm Control rather than Swarm Prevention.
Swarm Prevention is about taking action before the colony develops queen cells and makes plans to reproduce. Swarm Control is what the beekeeper does to save the day AFTER the colony has started producing queen cells and has decided to go forward with colony reproduction.
So, as relates to swarming, the beekeeper has two opportunities to make splits – before or after the colony starts queen cells. Logically, if the beekeeper wants to make more colonies it doesn’t matter if they split prior to queen cell creation or after cells are started. However, if the beekeeper wishes to make a crop of honey, splitting will always greatly impact their honey crop. For the beekeeper wishing to make honey, splitting is probably left to situations where they have no choice such as after cells have started and the beekeeper finds themselves in corner to prevent colony loss due to impending swarming.
So, what’s the beekeeper wishing to produce a crop of honey to do to prevent swarming? There are multiple methods which may be used to discourage the bees from leaving. All must be started prior to the nectar flow and before the bees have decided to go forward with colony reproduction. Remember, the bees are doing what they do to reproduce NOT to make you a crop of honey.
Swarm prevention has been written about for as long as man has managed bees and more so after the Golden Age of Beekeeping as man developed methods of increasing the yield from bees. Even prior to this, swarming was capitalized on by beekeepers who developed methods of capturing swarms as a method of making increase. A few of the many methods of Swarm Prevention which might be used to retain the bees rather than splitting are: Demaree method, Walt Wright’s Checkerboarding, hive body rotation, shook swarm method, opening up the brood nest, supering early with multiple supers, use of a Snelgrove board, and other colony manipulations.
I’ll leave it to the reader to use Google to find reputable materials online to read if they wish to explore these methods. Most of these methods, and you can use more than one, disrupt the bees’ plans in one way or another. They add stress to the colony which interrupts their lengthy list of checkoffs towards swarming. Bees will not typically reproductively swarm if it jeopardizes the parent colony. The beekeeper, by making smart manipulations, timed appropriately to the colony’s buildup, and with an eye to seasonal cues such as temperatures and blooms, creates a disruption which discourages the colony from swarming or causes them to postpone the event until matters are right again within the parent hive. The beekeeper continues these interventions until the swarm urge lessens – usually within a few weeks after the nectar flow begins.
Swarm Prevention and Control is a fascinating subject to explore. One which beekeepers have been struggling to perfect for hundreds of years. That the bees still sometimes win makes it all the more interesting. But that’s okay too. If they swarm it’s good to know nature is still at the helm and the beekeeper is still left with the possibility of capturing the swarm and making splits with the frames of cells from the parent colony. Everyone wins.