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The Beekeeper’s Corner – Swarm Cells

By Mike Gebert –

Happy 4th of July everybody.  In this article we will continue talking about swarms and what happens in a bee colony prior to the bees swarming.

In the last article we talked about the swarms after they leave their colony and touched briefly on why. So this time lets talk about what happens inside the hive.

As you learned in the last article, one of the reasons for swarming is overcrowding.  The queen continues to lay eggs until all the cells are filled.  After a while there are too many bees and it gets crowded and they decide to swarm.

Once the decision has been made, the nurse bees begin feeding the new eggs large amounts of royal jelly.  The nurse bees normally try to give the eggs royal jelly on the bottom part of the bee frame; but the cells could be anywhere inside the colony. The worker bees then stop feeding the queen, in order to slim her down for flight.  When you do your inspection you will notice numerous elongated cells on the frame (pic 1).  This is a strong indication that the hive will swarm within in a day or so.

swarm cells

When you are doing your inspection and see this, there is not have much time to act.  You need to simulate a swarm and split your hive.   You do this by locating the queen and moving her into the new hive you will start.   By taking the queen, frames of brood and  uncapped honey and bee bread, you can trick the colony to believe they swarmed.  If you want to make several new colonies you can do the above but place her inside one small hive body called a nucleus colony or Nuc, with several frames of capped brood.  You can then take half of the new queen cells, remove them and place them inside another nuc hive body with a mix of opened and capped brood, then leave it till the new queen hatches.  By doing the above you could potentially have two new colonies.  Then you can decide do you want to keep the new colonies, give them to another beekeeper or even sell them for some extra cash.

The second reason bees swarm is due to environmental issues inside the hive or surrounding conditions.  Instead of the bees making queen cells they decide the hive is no longer safe or suitable to live and they all leave together.   The technical term for this type of swarm is called absconded and will leave you with little to no bees.  Best thing to do at this point is take down the hive, look for indicators on why the left (ie mold, bugs, mice exc…) and start your search for new bees.

About Mike Gebert

The resident Everything Country beekeeper, Mike turns this Nectar of the Gods into everything from organic honey, candles and other products and provides How-To articles and videos for aspiring beekeepers.