Hiving a swarm  & Keeping it happy

(from: Dave Cushman) Once we have collected a swarm we have to put it in a hive in such a manner that it won’t abscond, otherwise it would waste our effort in capturing it and someone else may have a chimney full of bees they don’t want. If the swarm is local it has already decided where it wants to make it’s new nest and the chances are it won’t be your hive. Don’t forget that bees seem to set a few criteria when selecting their own site. They prefer to go where other bees have been before, so may not like a brand new or disinfected hive. They choose somewhere they can easily defend, so close the entrance down and don’t use anOMF as they presumably think it’s fully open. I’m also convinced bees like their nest to be on a point where two or more ley lines cross. This is dismissed by many people, but I suspect that being placed in a position with no ley lines is a major reason for swarms absconding.

The absconding of swarms occurs often enough it would pay to take steps to prevent it. The clipping of a queens wing is the obvious first step, but make sure she isn’t a virgin queen. A queen excluder placed between the floor and the brood box, known as a queen includer is another option. A common question is how long do you leave a queen excluder in place, but it depends on the situation. If the queen is fertile she should start laying in a day or so and once there are eggs you should be O.K. to remove it. If the queen is a virgin she will need to get out to mate. Unless the weather was poor and the issuing of the swarm was delayed, swarms with virgin queens often issue soon after her (or their) emergence. She will take about 5 days to sexually mature, so I would remove the queen excluder 3-4 days after hiving the swarm.

It is normally advised to hive a swarm in the evening so it has time to settle in overnight, but in my experience they are just as likely to abscond the following day. If the above precautions are taken a swarm can be hived at any time. They don’t naturally wait until the evening, so why should we?

If you don’t know the colony the swarm came from, it is not a bad idea to assume it may be infected with foul brood. This will be in the honey the bees bring with them. In 50 years of beekeeping I have only known a swarm to have brought foul brood with it on one occasion, but it is much better to be safe than sorry. I advise hiving on foundation and not feeding. This way any honey the bees bring with them is used to produce wax and not stored. Only feed after a week and only then if it is absolutely necessary. Hiving some distance from other bees would be a sensible precaution, or if you are short of space have the hive entrance facing the opposite direction. Check for foul brood when the brood is sealed.

In recent years there have been problems with queens and it is quite possible a swarm may not be the result of a normal swarming situation. This can lead to a prime swarm being headed by a fertile queen that is failing or a virgin queen. Keep regular checks for several weeks.

Keep feeding a caught swarm until they are well established and there’s a steady supply of food. You might want to feed even a bit longer, just in case. It’s good insurance to keep them healthy and happy.

Most swarms will supercede the queen that left with them. After all, she’s at least two years old and beginning to wear out. You can let the bees do it, and it’s the right time of year for the new queen to find lots of drones to mate with. Or you can requeen with known stock.

Swarms are much more likely to stay in a hive if they are given some comb containing unsealed brood. if established hives are available, it is easy to remove such a comb from the colony, brush the bees off with loose grass or leaves, and give the comb to the swarm. (Do not transfer adult bees with the comb as they will fight with the bees in the swarm.) Comb containing eggs or young larvae gives the swarm a chance to rear a new queen in case the old queen is killed in the hiving process.

hivingThis is the traditional way that it is done. The hive is prepared with frames in place. If there are any gaps the bees are likely to build wild comb. A ramp is made using a board from the ground sloping up to the hive entrance. The bottom portion of the board can have a cloth spread over it, encompassing an area of ground in front of the hive to stop the bees from going under the board.Finally the bees are thrown onto the board, which they will crawl up and start fanning at the entrance, whereupon all the bees then scuttle up the ramp and into the hive. If you throw the swarm on the bottom of the board it gives a longer distance for the queen to run up, making it easier to catch her, so you can clip and mark her. Queens are usually quite easy to spot. Fertile queens move quite sedately, but virgin queens flit about more and may run over the other bees.

Disease risk… In general swarms are quite healthy, the biggest risk possibly being foul brood, but if you hive on foundation and don’t feed you are likely to be safe. If you think about it a colony that is diseased isn’t going to be strong enough to swarm anyway. Some people are paranoid about disease and oppose swarms being taken in by beekeepers, but it is better for any problems to be managed, rather than them taking up residence in a wild place and being a source of infection for some time.

There are several things that can be done with swarms including putting two together and letting the queens fight it out, or adding to a small colony that has a failing queen, but remove her first.