How To Stop Bees From Swarming

Swarming is a natural biological impulse of bees and it is their way of making new colonies. Although a great way to start new hives, there are many reason why knowing how to stop bees from swarming is important as a beekeeper.

For example, if you live in a built up area your near neighbors may not like a swarm of bees landing in their yard. A swarm also means a reduced harvest as there will be less honey reserves available.

There are several methods you can try to reduce the likelihood of your bees swarming. However, keep in mind they are mostly temporary measures. More drastic action, such as dividing the colony of bees may be necessary.

Frame with capped brood, bees and a queen cell

Stop Bees From Swarming by Minimizing Congestion In The Hive

Reducing congestion in the hive, in both the brood box and the honey super is an important method to stop bees impulse to swarm. Here are some suggestions as to how to do this.

1. Adding A Super

Placing a super of frames with either drawn comb (if you have access to one) or with foundation on a hive will give the bees more space and will relieve congestion in the short term. 

However the colony will most likely continue to expand rapidly, especially if nectar flow is strong, and it will need to be eventually divided to control swarming.

2. Removing Excess Honey

Another method is to remove frames filled with capped honey from the honey super and replace them with frames of drawn comb or wax foundation to keep the worker bees busy. Do this if there is a good honey flow and the bees can keep filling the frames

A frame of honey taken from the strong hive can also be donated to a weaker hive too if they have few honey stores.

Just make sure if you are swapping the frames between hives they are free of disease.

3. Removing Capped Brood

Relieve congestion in the brood box by removing a frame or two of capped brood and giving it to a weaker colony in your apiary. Then replace the frames you have removed with frames of drawn comb or wax. 

Make sure that the capped brood is healthy as you don’t want to spread disease to your other hives.

The benefits of this method are that it will give the strong hive more room to grow, and you will balance out the number of bees in your hives.

Stop bees from swarming by Minimizing The Number Of Drones

In spring it is natural for a hive to raise a large number of drones in preparation for mating with a new queen. This is a sign of a healthy hive. 

However, an excess of drones in the hive can indicate that the hive may swarm, so by reducing the number of drones in the colony you can momentarily reduce the swarming impulse.

Drone comb is distinguishable from regular worker comb because the cells are larger and protrude distinctively above the surface of the comb.

Approximately 15% of the population of a hive should be drones. Frames that contain a large number of drones can be removed from the brood box and placed into the honey super above a queen excluder. This ensures the queen cannot lay in them.

Then, you can replace the removed frames with frames of drawn comb if you have access to them. Otherwise use frames with wax foundation.

Stop Bees From Swarming by Removing Queen Cells

Queen cells are very distinctive. They are longer, are shaped like a peanut, and usually hang from near the bottom of a frame. However, that is not always the case, sometimes they are higher up on the frame.

Close up of queen cell

Queen cups are smaller, shaped like a cup. They are built by the worker bees in readiness to be made into a full queen cell.

In spring the colony will build queen cells if they perceive the hive is becoming too congested or they need to replace a poorly performing queen. They will choose a healthy larva and feed it royal jelly until it’s cell is capped and metamorphosis takes place. After sixteen days the adult queen emerges.

Examine the hive weekly to find the queen cells, or queen cups, and remove them. Remove each frame from the hive and gently shake the bees back into the hive to ensure you can locate each queen cell.

Be sure you look at each frame that the queen has access to as sometimes the cells are almost hidden.

This method of removing the queen cells will not prevent swarming, only delay it as the bees will build new queen cells. More decisive action, such as splitting a colony, will need to be taken.

Stop Bees From Swarming by Re-queening Regularly

Young, healthy queens minimize swarming because they emit more pheromones than old or weak queens do. The pheromones help to impede the construction of queen cells.

Although early spring is the ideal time to re-queen a hive, at this time can be difficult to obtain a young queen. Instead, re-queening can be undertaken in Autumn when queens are more likely to be available from queen breeders.

After re-queening, make sure there is enough room for her to lay eggs and enough room for honey storage because a new queen will lay more eggs during her first year than any other time. Space will be needed for the rapidly growing colony.

Talk with other beekeepers if you decide to re-queen your hive to find out about their experiences when dealing with professional queen breeders. Queen breeders will raise queens with certain characteristics, one of these traits may be less of a tendency to swarm.

Obtaining a queen from a queen breeder ensures a young healthy queen for your hive. She is usually marked on her abdomen with a dot of special paint which makes her easier to spot during a hive inspection.

Summing up… how to stop bees from swarming

The methods outlined in this post will reduce the impulse to swarm, but each method is not a guarantee to prevent swarming altogether.

If you conduct regular and thorough hive inspections during spring you should be able to identify when your hive may swarm and take any necessary action before it occurs.

If you are relatively new to beekeeping, then ask for help from an experienced beekeeper in your area. Join your nearest beekeeping club to meet other beekeepers. Often the club will have guest speakers and some clubs conduct hands on beekeeping courses for the beginner. 

You will find experienced beekeepers helpful and ready and willing to give you advice based on their own experience.

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