Basic Tips to Prevent Bee Swarming

Dr. Jef Boeke presently serves New York University’s (NYU) Langone Medical Center as a professor and director in the Institute for Systems Genetics (ISG). Beyond his work at NYU, Dr. Jef Boeke enjoys beekeeping.

One of the first things every beginning beekeeper must learn is how to prevent bees from swarming. In the wild, swarming is a completely natural part of a bee’s life cycle. As a single colony grows in size, up to half of the hive may leave in unison to find a new home. This process is known as swarming. For bees in an apiary, swarming equates to lower-than-expected honey collections. The departing bees gorge on honey before leaving, while the remaining, considerably smaller hive takes time to resume normal production levels.

Dealing with the two primary motivations for swarming–overcrowding and poor ventilation–represents a beekeeper’s best chance at preventing a swarming issue. To efficiently address congestion in the hive, beekeepers should anticipate the requirements of their growing hive by creating more space in advance of a swarming situation.

Although opinions on these techniques vary, methods of enlarging a hive include reversing the hive body (which entails switching the top and bottom boxes) in the spring or otherwise decongesting the brood nest. A more drastic measure is to split the brood nest between two hives the original one and a new one. One will inherit the new queen and the other will need to raise a new queen.

Some think that another method, namely use of a barrier known as queen excluder prior to the first nectar flow of the season. However this has no impact on the brood nest size and is really intended to keep the honey and brood nest segregated, engineering an orderly hive for the benefit of the beekeeper! Indeed it could be argued that use of a queen excluder actually encourages swarming by constraining potential growth of the brood nest.

A few techniques for improved ventilation, meanwhile, include ensuring that the inner cover’s ventilation hole is fully open and drilling small holes in the upper deep region of each honey super. The latter method also provides more hive entrances for the bees.

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