Congestion. A topic I repeatedly misunderstand. And, in all likelihood I remain confused. Congestion, which leads to swarm behavior.
I used to think congestion was not enough room within the hive to comfortably house all of the bees. Kinda like when your cousin comes to town with his 6 kids and stays for a week. Apparently this is in error. Adding an empty box with foundation may help a little because the wax producing aged bees may go up and draw some wax but that’s not it, really. I mean your cousin’s kids are still holed up in your bathroom even if you make them sleep on the back porch. With my cousin’s kids it’s not congestion in the house, it’s congestion in my bathroom. With the bees it’s not congestion in the hive, it’s congestion in the brood nest.
So, I’ve read about opening up the brood nest with an empty frame. I tried this a few years ago (2015) only I couldn’t bear to place an empty frame in there so I placed a frame with foundation. Mistake again. Placing a frame of foundation only split the brood nest up causing more problems rather than helping.
So a couple years ago (2016) I thought maybe it’s time for me to switch to nine frames since I have drawn comb now. That has to be more “open” right? Turns out I got it wrong again. What this would do is reduce the number of frames for bees to hang out making them more likely to be crowded on each frame.
Okay, so what I understand now, I think, is (how can I really know anything when it comes to bees?) that it is nurse bee congestion in the brood area, not bee congestion. And it is not simply too many nurse bees. I mean it IS too many nurse bees, but more importantly it is unemployed nurse bees in the brood nest. The nurse bees are getting in each other’s way. There is an overabundance of out-of-work nurse bees for the amount of work available. It’s like ladies night and there are only 4 guys in the bar.
So, what does a colony do when it has too many nurse bees, which also happen to be coming into wax creating age? Swarm, that’s what.
So how do we reduce their unemployment and keep them in the hive? Give them work. 1) Add drawn comb in the brood area for the queen to lay in, producing more work space and more employment opportunities for nurse bees as well as spreading them out (reducing congestion). 2) Also add drawn comb above the brood nest for the bees to store nectar in thereby reducing the tendency to backfill the brood nest with nectar.
All this adding of drawn comb into critical areas promotes more work space, egg laying, and work opportunities also creates some disruption in the hive, something I consider beneficial during the period the bees are contemplating swarming. It may also allow for Queen pheromone to be more equally distributed amongst the workers which satisfies another swarm theory.
This worked for me last year so I’m going to confirm by trying it again this year. Good luck with your bees!