I had one of my bee buddies call me yesterday. He was headed out of town for a few days. He wanted to tell me how well his colonies were doing on the lower Congaree River. Booming! He had just come from inspecting them and said they were dripping out when he lifted the inner cover. He said he rotated boxes and placed a super.
My question to him was, “How much capped brood did you see?” He replied that there were multiple, multiple frames of deep frames with capped brood.
From my experience, if they have not yet started queen cells his efforts may work for a few days tops. By then they will probably start queen cells and swarm. Why? Because a deep frame of capped brood with clinging bees represents about 9000 bees (very close to a package worth). That’s 1000 of clinging bees on each side and ~3700 capped cells per side. Cappped on day 9 and emerged on day 21 means within the next 12 days all of those capped cells will emerge. That’s roughly 7000+ more bees in that brood nest per capped frame in a short period of time. One of the “events” leading to swarming is congestion of bees in the brood nest which can happen very fast this time of year. And my friend said he had multiple frames of capped brood.
Another way of thinking about this is simply that the queen is laying 1000- 1500 eggs a day. Therefore, every day 1000-1500 new bees will emerge. Probably a minimum of 7000 – 12000 per week – about a package worth of bees per week.
Why am I so concerned about all this? Well, it’s the bees end-game to swarm. Swarming = Success They started this effort back in the fall and upped their game in January. And about 4 weeks ago they started the spring buildup. Bees start final swarm preparations 2-4 weeks prior to actually leaving the parent hive. My friend’s efforts are appropriate if there were no swarm cells but his efforts will be short lived unless he takes measures to reduce congestion. And in case you were wondering, that super he placed above will do little to prevent congestion in the brood nest. Simply, nurse bees have a job to do and that job is in the brood nest which is where they want to be – not that super given to them way up above.
Those that have suffered through my presentation on swarm prevention know that swarm prevention can be divided into two phases – early and late swarm prevention. Early swarm prevention starts at the first signs of spring pollen production while night time temperatures still threaten freezing. These measures are low stress which take into account that the bees’ population is still low and unable to heat the brood if we are too aggressive and disrupt their nest too much. Low stress swarm prevention methods include hive body rotation and checkerboarding honey frames in the boxes above the brood nest.
Then there is the second phase of swarm prevention. These are interventions that we can do after the weather warms enough to allow us to disrupt the brood nest. We are able to disrupt the brood nest during this late swarm prevention period because 1) the night time temperatures are higher and 2) we now have many more bees to heat the colony and brood area. The bees can now handle the addition stressors. Manipulations which can now be done late phase to interrupt the swarm urge include opening the brood nest with drawn comb, or even foundationless frames. Another method is an early Demaree which involves moving open brood out of the brood nest and into a hive body and placing above the brood nest separated by an empty super. This will reduce brood nest congestion as the nurse bees will migrate upward to cover the open brood. Pretty disruptive but remember that congestion in the brood nest must be lessened to disrupt the urge to swarm. A final option is to simply make splits moving frames of open and closed larvae out of the brood nest and replacing those frames with drawn comb. A word of caution here, do not insert frames of foundation in the middle of the brood nest. By doing so you may create a wall further restricting the queen. The drawback of making splits instead of working within the parent hive is you are losing 9000 future foragers with every frame you take out. That’s like reducing your nectar gathering work force just before they are needed to make surplus honey.
Swarm prevention hopefully does what the name suggests – prevent swarms. So what happens if the bees beat us and start queen cells. Well, first realize they have more practice than we do at this so don’t despair. If they make queen cells they will be relentless in their efforts and more drastic measures must be used.
After queen cells are created, these measures are called Swarm Control. The easiest is to simply split them which, for the bees, seems like they swarmed. Sure you’ll lose out on a bountiful honey harvest from that colony but hey, they won the battle so make lemonade from the lemons – you get a new colony of bees anyway. Other ways of handling include the Demaree method, and several other methods all of which fool the bees into thinking they have swarmed. Google: Snelgrove, Padgen, or Taranov all of which fool the colony into thinking they have swarmed.