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Getting the right bees for the artificial swarm

As Vita’s guest beekeeping blogger, I’m always on the lookout for foolproof swarm control techniques. But that’s like looking for the holy grail!

I’ve practised several swarm control techniques over the years — often they work, but uncomfortably often they don’t quite go to plan! I could blame the bees (or myself) for not reading the books, but perhaps the relatively high failure rate is because when I create an artificial swarm I inevitably do it with the wrong group of bees!

Swarm catcher. Photo courtesy of Hampshire Beekeepers Association

I’ve yet to see a precise breakdown of the ages and roles of bees that comprise a naturally created swarm, but it must include a lot of wax builders, many young bees and maybe not as many foragers as you’d expect. Artificial swarms because of the way they are created usually contain a preponderance of foraging bees, many of which are approaching the end of their lives and many of them past their best home-making days.

So I suppose it’s little wonder that my swarm control sometimes doesn’t quite work out one way or another. Often the old queen wants to swarm again, or the queen-making colonies are keen to create caste or secondary swarms despite my best efforts to cull queen cells and reduce the colony size

The challenge is to create an artificial swarm that closely resembles the demographics of a natural swarm. I know of an older beekeeper whose swarm control technique is to sit by the colony on likely swarming days and catch them as they come out.  I don’t really have the free time to do that, but for sure the demographics of his caught swarms will be as perfect as they can be!

Vita’s new swarm lures and the recent research seem to offer me hope if I can check my apiaries daily. By pinning a lure to a suitable and accessible branch, a large proportion of the primary swarms should gather there. So instead of searching for the old queen to be able to start to create an artificial swarm, the first stage in swarm control might be a daily stroll around the apiary. I like the sound of that!

Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

 

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