Here’s a suggestion about what you can do.
If you judge that a colony is making preparations to swarm try to pip them at the post and split them before they can get away. A favourite method is to make a queen-right nucleus (nuc) because it is versatile and quite close to the kind of split bees might have performed themselves. You end up with a small colony of mostly young bees and the old queen, similar in profile to a swarm.
You will need a five frame nuc box or a brood box and dummy board on a floor with a crown board and roof.
- Find the frame with the queen and place it in the middle of the nuc box.
- Put in another frame with as much open brood (exposed larvae) on it as possible plus adhering bees. Make sure there are no queen cells on either of these two frames of brood.
- Add two frames of food (including pollen) and one of foundation. The frames of food can be taken from the parent colony or another.
- If frames taken from the parent colony, replace with frames of foundation.
- Shake in young bees using the double shake method. From the parent colony select a brood frame with plenty of bees on it; lift it from the brood box and give is a bit of a shake. The older bees will fall or fly off, leaving younger, nurse bees still on the frame. Now move the frame to the nuc box and partially insert it. Give the frame a very firm shake and most of the young bees will drop into the nuc. Do this a second time to ensure plenty of nurse bees are in the nuc. Return the frames to the parent hive.
- Go through the parent colony and choose a good open queen cell to leave; mark this frame. Do not use the frames you have just shaken bees from – you could have damaged and queen cells on those frames.
- Cut out all other queen cells. All of them!
- In a weeks’ time go through the parent colony again and remove all new queen cells that have been made.
- Leave alone for without opening for at least three weeks.
If you don’t have a nuc box, you can use a brood box (and floor etc) and put a dummy board against the last of the five frames.
The nuc (or brood box, floor etc), can be placed next to the swarm colony but with the entrance facing in the opposite direction.
Open brood is chosen because this will be covered in younger bees – nurse bees which will be reluctant to abandon any larvae and so won’t return to the parent colony as foragers will.
Adapted from ‘Beginners in the apiary’ by Clare Densley in BeeCraft May 2020.