Swarm Prevention – Cut down Splits

If you have looked into your hives in the last few days it is very likely that you have seen signs of swarm preparation – rows of queen cups on the bottom of frames, dense populations, nectar choked hives with little room for the queen to lay in – maybe even swarm cells.

If you have looked into your hives in the last few days it is very likely that you have seen signs of swarm preparation – rows of queen cups on the bottom of frames, dense populations, nectar choked hives with little room for the queen to lay in, lots of drones in all stages of development – maybe even swarm cells.

The next few weeks will make or break your beekeeping season, and if your bees take to the trees they won’t be working for you any more.   Swarm prevention is tough – especially if you don’t have drawn comb to work with.  A Cut Down Split does not require a stock of drawn comb.

Timing is critical – Now Is The Time to do a Cut Down Split – about 2 weeks before the likely beginning of our main flow.

When it comes to swarm prevention it is folly to claim a 100% guarantee on anything, but a cut down split – correctly done – is close, and does not sacrifice your honey crop.

In a cut down split you cut down all of the queen cells and then remove the queen and most of the open brood from the original hive to a new location.  Then (in theory) the Queenless hive in the original location doesn’t swarm because it doesn’t have a queen or swarm cells.  Because it also doesn’t have much open brood to feed the nurse bees and young bees which will soon emerge join the already large workforce of foragers and a large honey crop – and drawn comb – will be produced.  The hive will produce an emergency queen from eggs or open brood which are bound to be present on the capped brood frames you leave in the hive.  So, you get a good honey crop, and a new queen (produced at the ideal time) without any further swarm management after doing the split.

The queenright hive (which you place in a new location in the apiary) won’t swarm because it doesn’t have a workforce to swarm with – with one caveat, It must not have any swarm cells when you make the split, or it is likely to swarm anyway.

You have to find and eliminate all of the swarm cells from both halves of the split for this manipulation to work as planned and prevent them from swarming.  Tips – without using much smoke, unstack the hive all the way down to the bottom board, add an empty hive body, then examine and replace every frame one at a time after shaking almost all of the bees off.  If you use too much smoke on the uninspected boxes you will push the bees downward, and by the time you get to the bottom there will be masses of bees to deal with.

A few pointers for new beekeepers

If you see nectar being stored in brood comb during spring or summer you need to stop feeding or you will cause the hive to swarm. If it is natural nectar you need to take immediate action to prevent swarming.

Beekeeping isn’t rocket science, but an awful lot of beekeepers lose all or most of their bees every year.  You could read volumes about how to be a beekeeper, but if you commit to follow just a few suggestions you will increase your chances of success a great deal:

  • Do your weekly inspections – never let more than 2 weeks pass without one – make sure they stay queenright!  If this is the only thing you do it will increase your chances tremendously.
  • Keep them fed – but don’t overfeed and make them swarm.
  • Get at least one nucleus hive and split your hives  when they have at least 2 boxes full of bees and drawn comb.   I reccomend that you put robber screens on your nucs – or all hives for that matter if you have several hives of different sizes.
  • Treat them for mites (I reccomend Apiguard organic treatment for this one) sometime between July 15 – August 15.  Finishing treatments by August 15.
  • In mid-late September begin fast feeding heavy syrup until your hives have plenty of it stored for winter.
  • Treat again any time in December using a treatment which is appropriate for the temps at that time – MAQS, Apivar, Oxalic acid.
  • Don’t let them starve over winter – Properly applied Mt Camp sugar as insurance almost guarantees that your bees won’t starve to death during winter.

Do these things and you probably won’t be buying more bees next spring.  For more details check out the  Beekeeping Calendar. and the Beekeeping Schedule by Blooms.