Making a Split with a Swarm Cell
By Michele Horsefield
The swarm season arrived. We try to stop them from swarming. The bees have ample room with brood and a half box with supers above them. The bees are not honey bound. They have drawn comb and foundation interspersed. And yet they build swarm cells! Swarming is natural. But we beekeepers want to keep the bees in place.
Swarming is more intense when there is a strong nectar flow. The tendency increases when that strong flow is accompanied by sunny days interspersed with a few days of rain: just what the weather has been like lately. It is a perfect swarm combination: a lot of food coming in, then, suddenly, the rain brings everyone inside and crowds the hive. Food and crowds: signals to swarm.
Of course, there must be queen cells in the making for the swarm, and the after swarms, to emerge. It seems that the bees constantly build and destroy queen cells. Something could happen to the queen at any time, an injury, death, or failure. It is a form of insurance by the colony against such a catastrophe. Or there could just be a lot of food and a crowded hive, thus the need to swarm.
Swarm cells appear. Sun, rain, and food: that’s pretty standard here in North Norfolk in the spring. This year we made a split from a very crowded hive, Glebe Hive 1, a double brood box with good swarm cells we found during our inspections. We also created a nuc from the same parent colony: Quite a prolific colony.
A sealed or nearly sealed swarm cell means that we’ve a queen ready to emerge in 10 days or less. If she’s good, and if she mates well, that means we can have a laying queen at least a week sooner than if we give a nuc eggs with which to build a queen. A frame with a good swarm cell is placed in a nuc with two/three frames of bees, brood, honey and pollen.
(These other frames can be taken from the same hive or a combination of hives)
You could cut also swarm cells out of the comb and pin them onto the comb in a nuc or queenless hive, but we are always worried that it will harm the developing queen. So we put the entire frame with the new queen cell into the nuc. The other swarm cells we destroyed.