Nordic bees exhibit swarming behavior and when they begin to swarm, it is very hard to stop. The most common way to handle a swarming colony, is the so-called controlled swarming method. This means that the bees will be able to perform their natural swarming behavior, but the beekeeper will be able to control the swarm’s location. The most common way to do this is to split the swarming colony so that the old queen from the swarming hive is placed into a new nucleus. The swarming hive will grow a new queen from either existing swarm queen cells or a newly bred queen cell.
If all the new queens are continuously produced from swarm queen cells, this selection will lead to a high swarming tendency in all bee colonies in the course of a few years. As such, it is recommended that the new swarm cell queen should be changed to a bred queen later in summer.
The first stimulus in the year for swarming is the lack of space for egg laying; when for example the egg laying area is blocked by extra winter feed or spring honey.
During late May and June, the brood area usually expands very quickly. During that period, one of the most essential things to do for management is, again, to follow the bee colony’s swarming tendency. Eggs or half built queen cells can be detected by inspecting the brood area frame by frame. A faster, less precise way to detect the cells is to tilt the brood area box on the lower box and then control the lower edges of the brood frames.
How to detect and prevent swarming
- Follow the scale-hives online. When their weight begins to rise, the swarming tendency usually decreases.
- A laid queen cell cup is always an indication of swarming behavior.
- A. m. mellifera seldom hang out from the flight entrance when preparing to swarm, so don't wait for that.
- Follow the disposition of building new wax combs. The colony prepares to swarm, when building new combs stops.
- If swarming behavior has clearly begun, split the swarming hives so that the new hive will be formed with the queen from the old hive:
- Take the old queen and a couple brood combs without queen cells with workers aside in its own bee hive (the unmarked queen might be very hard to find). The original colony that no longer has a queen will raise the new queen from a swarm cell. This queen will later be changed to a reared queen at the end of the season, usually during feeding!
- Put one drone frame in every new, added hive body, The A. m. mellifera queen lays often eggs in every hive body.
How to handle a caught swarm
Swarms, as whole colonies, can be calmed down with water spray. The process of catching a swarm into a swarm box can vary considerably depending on the location of the swarm. The caught swarm is usually kept in a cool and shady place overnight and placed into a new hive body the following evening. See here for more information and pictures.