Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Artificial Swarm

The Artificial Swarm.

Artificial Swarming has many uses and had been used for many years, as a way of managing bees for the purposes of swarm management and producing new colonies. It also could be said that it is a way of "supressing" or "dampening" down your bees for a few weeks until you really need the maximum amount of bees in your colonies. I will try and  explain what I mean in the following  senarios:

Senario 1

You have a colony of bees that has made it through the winter. The colony builds up very quickly in March and April, so you decide to take spring honey. The numbers of bees in the colony are high and there is a lot of bees in a standard size hive and they are getting very congested. You put on your honey supers, so that giving your bees more space, so they begin to forage well and  fill up the honey super quickly.

Hey presto, you have a super full of spring honey and you decide you need to extract this honey because if you don`t extract it soon the oil seed rape presence within the honey, will cause it  to crystalize in the honey super, making it virtually impossible to extract and use afterwards. You extract and then suddenly all the extra space you had for your bees has gone. You are now putting your bees under pressure and kind of inducing swarming. They have all they need, a good functioning queen , loads of brood constantly hatching and loads or workers all packed in to  your 10 framed hive. Its a sure thing that within the next 2 weeks they will swarm. So what do you do?  you perform an artificial swarm.

Senario 2

You have a good spring build up, but are not too bothered about spring honey and want to get some really good quality summer honey and could use another colony of bees.
You leave your bee numbers build up well and when you think they might be about to swarm ( see guidelines) you perform an artificial swarm. This will reduce the numbers  and create a new colony but also suppress your bees for a few weeks, lowering the numbers of the colony to avoid congestion and swarming.
Just when the numbers start to build up well, you add your summer honey supers and give the colony more space, thus avoiding congestion  and assisting in the prevention of swarming.
That`s not to say that they won`t swarm but generally if you have a few hives and follow this senario then most of them won`t swarm at the wrong time, leaving you with a few foragers in a heavy nectar flow.
Don`t forget you need the maximum amount of bees in the hive at the peak nectar flow, whether its spring or summer honey you are taking.

Senario 3

You can also perform an artificial swarm at the end of the summer nectar flow, but before the honey harvest.
Carry out all of the senario in 2 but just carry  out an artificial swarm at the end of the main nectar flow and move all your honey supers with the hive you have swarmed. Yes its darned hard work moving all that around! The remaining bees will finish curing and drying the honey but it won`t mean you lose your honey crop and also you will have some really good mated queens and above all feree colonies of  bees.
They summer queens are always said to be  the best queens as they have mated in the best weather with the widest selection of drones. In brittany carry out this last artificial swarm when the chestnut tree catkins turn dark brown. Thats the end of the main nectar flow here usually the second week in July.

(Shown by kind permission of Mr Charles Basset who narrates in the film.)

The principle of Performing an artificial swarm is this.

  1. Move your mother hive off the stand  and place it in front of its original position. about 1 meter forward is fine.
  2. Open up your mother hive after smoking well. and place an open nuc in the positon of the existing mother hive.
  3. Select 1 frame of eggs from the mother hive that are less than 3 days old.( or at least a good amount of eggs that are visibly there.)
  4. Select another of brood , pollen and stores ( on one other frame)
  5. Place these two frames in to the middle of the nuc and put in three other frames of un drawn up wax sheet around other 2 frames.
  6. Close the lid of the nuc, put on the roof.
  7. In the mother hive replace the missing 2 frames you have selected. I prefer to bunch up the brood to avoid separating the brood and I place the replacement frames in between the end of the brood and the start of the reserves. That way they will draw they will draw up the new frames quickly but not at the expense of losing some all important brood.
  8. Close up he mother hive and move it more that 10 meters away.
  9. All the flying bees will then, if not already , will return from the mother hive to the nuc and find the queen missing and start to initiate emergency queen cell production.

Before I explain any more, I know there is loads  of what I would term" very complicated" ways of performing an artificial swarms but this method does work well if you follow the basic guidelines and you carry it out at the right time.

Over The last 4 years I have carried out this method and it does work very well. I made some big mistakes when I first carried out this procedure but now realise my mistakes and this year after looking yesterday all my artificial swarms carried out in may have worked. I have good laying queens in all 5 I did.

Guidelines for successful artificial swarming.( refered to as AS)

Carryout AS on your bees when there is a minimum of 6 frames of brood, eggs and larvae and the other frames to each end of the colony are drawn out and full of reserves.

Put up a couple of swarm traps to help ascertain the optimum time to AS your bee hives. If you monitor your traps in the spring you will know what your bees are preparing to do!

If you find open swarm cells on the lower part of your hives carry out an AS immediately. If not, within the next few days. Those cells could be closed and the current queen gone within a week!

If you don`t think they are quite ready and the weather looks rainy and duff for the next week, leave it for now and look again in a few days time.

Always try and perform an AS when the bee numbers are at their maximum. The more flying bees back to the nuc the better the success rate.

I prefer the queen in the mother hive, that way she will continue to lay as normal as if nothing has happened.
If she goes in to the nuc then fine the bees from the mother hive will make a new queen but the chances of success are less, as most of your flying bees  are in the nuc. It may be too late if the queen is not missed for a couple of days and the best eggs most recently laid( that you selected) are in the Nuc.
Also you dont want to open your` nuc for 1 month in which time the queen has been laying and all the brood hatching in week 3 and 4 will initiate a swarm when you were not expecting it. This happened to me recently,fortunately I was there to see it happen and to catch the swarm, It may help to mark your queens to find her more easily. Yellow and white seem to last the longest don`t worry about the colours of paint matching the years , this is reality! and you are not a queen producer or supplier you only want to know where  the heck the queen is! Get a small queen holder or clip and put it in your pocket. If you see her and have that brief second to catch her, she will be safe until you have selected you frames and put her back in to the other hive. This also works well but it helps if you are experienced at finding the queen.

When selecting frames don`t brush  bees  in to the mother hive in an effort to keep the queen in the main mother hive. You need all the nurse bees you can get in the nuc to help run the hive in the abscence of the queen and organise the production of  a queen cell.

Don`t open the hive for at lease 1 month after you carried out an AS. If you must then use minimal smoke and be oh so careful you don`t break that one and only queen cell that is somewhere on the two middle frames (usually). Damaging the developing queen through your impatience  will cost you the colony.

Feed your developing colonies of bees  generously. It helps the other frames get drawn up very quickly and encourages a newly emerged virgin queen to mate well and start laying quickly when her colony is well stocked when she arrives on the scene after her 16 days of transformation.

AS is a great way to control your bees and is easy to do. you also learn an awful lot about your bees when carrying out this procedure.  Its  a great experince to create a new colony.
Have a go and enjoy .



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