Back when my wife and I first started keeping bees, everything was fine and dandy until swarm season came along. Since we were only keeping bees for two years, our experience with swarms was not much at all.
During the first year of keeping bees, we only had two hives and never noticed if they had swarmed, since we both work regular jobs and are not home all the time. In our second year, we decided to add some additional hives and started spending more time working with the bees.
I believe we were up to six or seven hives by the second year and when swarm season arrived I was very busy catching swarms, almost one swarm every day for a week.
By our third year of beekeeping, our hive count grew to 13 hives and I just could not keep up with chasing after swarms. I actually took seven swarms over the course of the summer and fall from one little tree in our bee yard.
Frustrated with seeing our bees fly away, we began to talk to other beekeepers for some of their solutions to prevent swarms. The two methods we find work the best are 1) splitting your hive in late spring and 2) the 70% Rule.
Many articles have been written about splitting overflowing hives in late spring, so I won’t go into the mechanics of how to do it, but we do indeed split every one of our overwintered hives usually around the third week of May here in Pennsylvania.
I came up with what I call The 70% Rule after thinking why most hives swarm. After noticing that most of our hives swarm when their hive boxes are so full there is no longer any room for the queen to lay new eggs, I started adding the first honey super. Although there is no need to add the honey super for the bees to store honey in, the additional box gives the queen more room. With the addition of the honey super, the queen now has a whole new world available to her to lay new eggs and allows more room for the rest of the bees in the hive to move about.
I have noticed there sometimes is brood in a frame or two of the honey super, but I have no problem with that as the brood will eventually hatch and the bees will store honey in those cells at a later time. A little brood in a honey frame or two is better than half of the bees leaving. After applying the honey super for the last 5 years and splitting our hives, swarm activity in our bee yard is almost none.
I came up with the title The 70% Rule because the time to apply the first honey super on top of the hive supers is when 7 out of 10 frames in the top hive super are filled, either with brood, eggs, larva or honey. I have found that when there are three or fewer frames of open comb for the queen to work with, then adding the honey box to the hive should be done.
Although there are no guarantees with bees swarming, It is actually a simple method to help with swarm prevention and does not involve any other equipment other than what the beekeeper already has on hand.
Thanks for reading and until next time Keep Them Buzzing!