As a rule I have several strategies for swarm control beyond giving the bees space. The most extreme is splitting or breaking down strong colonies into smaller colonies. This is great if you want to produce bees, but this isn’t the best way to maximize the honey crop. Therefore your strategy depends on what your goals are for your hives. More bees make more bees which make more honey. If you want to maximize honey production, you would want your colonies at their maximum strength during the honey flow. The second is using a double screen board or Snelgrove board. This is a handy piece of equipment which I’ll get to at a later date. Yet another strategy is caging the queen.
Ever get into your colony and there’s a ton of swarm cells and you are sure your queen is gone, but luckily you find eggs? Look harder for the queen. This is a strong case for marking queens! Most people will just break down those swarm cells and put the colony back together. This does not work for me because realistically I probably won’t get back into that hive for another week or so. There is the possibility that I will miss a cell especially those partially developed cells. If bees tend to swarm about the time the swarm cells are capped if you miss one of those partially developed cells your bees will still swarm. Remember queen cells are capped at about 8 days which means you have less than a week to look again.
But they are not likely to swarm if the old queen is in a queen cage because she can’t fly! This buys a little time for those swarm cells to finish developing so they become a bit more evident and you can find them and break them down. The hive will be fine and will feed that old queen through the queen cage. If I come back in a week and there are more swarm cells I break them down and leave her royal highness in jail. Come back in another week and she should be ok to release.
By caging the queen you only interrupted the brood cycle for at most two weeks instead of the good month or even longer it can take to let them rear a queen. You also get to keep all those field bees that didn’t swarm on you. An added bonus for those of you with “out” apiaires - the only equipment I needed was a queen cage!
Some notes on this situation
#1. I have found hives with no eggs, capped queen cells and was able to still find the queen and cage her.
#2. I have found hives with eggs that were laying on their side, capped queen cells and no queen. They had already swarmed and I suspect if I was out there a day earlier I could have prevented this!
#3. When you release the queen place your hand over top of her so she is less likely to fly. I’ve released them and had the bugger fly off, with witnesses! Not funny! (Although they thought this was hilarious).
#4. Give this colony room for the queen to lay and keep an eye on them. You are not out of the woods yet. Consider extracting any capped honey and replace in the broods nest for added room for the queen to lay.
#5. This is only one strategy which is determined by what your goals are for the hive and if you timed your inspection just right.
Here’s a handy chart found on Michael Bush’s website. http://www.bushfarms.com/beesmath.htm.
I’m considering a tattoo on my forearm since I can’t seem to memorize it.
Caste Hatch Cap Emerge
Queen 3½ days 8 days +-1 16 days +-2 Laying 28 days +-5
Worker 3½ days 9 days +-1 20 days +-1 Foraging 42 days +-7
Drone 3½ days 1 0 days +-1 24 days +-1 Flying to DCA 38 days +-5