You have just been through your bees and have found lots of queen cells. Most of them are probably along the bottom of the frames. These will be swarm cells and if you have been doing weekly inspections they should not yet be sealed and the original queen should still be in the hive and you should still have eggs. If however you have delayed checking your bees and its been longer than 9 days since you last inspected them you may well find you have sealed queen cells and no eggs and your queen has probably gone already with half the bees from the colony. If this is the case then you are too late to perform an artificial swarm. All you can do now is remove all but 1 queen cell, we would normally leave the best one we can find, we would normally leave an unsealed one if possible. By removing the other queen cells your colony is less likely to throw off any casts, (or anymore casts as it may well have thrown some already!) Now close the hive back up and leave the bees to it. All being well the new queen will emerge and go on her mating flights and start to lay. This can take a few weeks and you do not want to disturb them during this time. I always leave mine for a good 3 weeks but I do keep an eye on the entrance. If the bees are bringing in pollen this is a good indicator that all is well. Check them in around 3 weeks time and you should see some eggs. If you don’t see eggs look for polished cells as this means the queen is imminently going to start laying.
If you have been doing weekly checks then the queen should still be there and you can perform an artificial swarm, also known as the pagden method however this is simplified version. You will need an additional hive with stand and brood frames. Feeder and syrup.
What you are aiming for is to create the situation whereby your bees think they have swarmed but without them actually swarming. The main different between what you are about to do and what actually happens when the bees swarm is that you will be separating the queen and the flying bees from the main colony and the brood and you will leave all the none flying bees in the original hive, on a new location, with one queen cell and the brood.
When bees swarm naturally the swarm will consist of bees of all ages not just the flying bees. In a swarm the bees also fill their honey stomachs with honey just before they leave, this is ensure they have food to start off their new colony. In this procedure your bees won’t do this so you will also need to feed the bees.
So, you are checking your bees and you have lots of queen cells but the queen is still there and you may or may not have eggs. Gather all the equipment you need before you start and then move the existing colony to one side but over 3 feet away. Now set up your new hive in the exact spot where you have just moved the colony from. You should already see flying bees returning to this new hive. Remove 1 brood frame from this new hive and take it with you to the colony you have moved.
Go through the colony you have moved and find the queen, she should be on a frame of brood. Take the queen and the frame with open brood and put these into the center of new hive which is located where this colony was before you moved it. Check the frame to ensure there are no queen cells on it, remove any you see. If the original colony had super with honey you can move these over to the new hive as well. If you don’t have supers with honey in them instead you will need to feed the new hive. Use a rapid feeder or something similar with syrup. All the flying bees will be returning to this hive and thus you have created an artificial swarm.
Now go back to the original colony and go through each frame of brood thoroughly and remove all but one good queen cell. It is best to find your good cell first before you destroy all the others, to help with this you could mark the top of the frame with the good cell on as you go through then you know which one has the good cell on it. Once you have left only 1 queen cell close this hive up too. Once that has been done you can leave the bees get on with it. All being well the new queen will emerge and go on her mating flights and start to lay. 3 weeks is a good measure from the time you took the nucleus. Keep an eye on the entrance to see when the bees start to bring in pollen. Bringing in pollen this is a good indicator that all is well. When you do check them, you should see eggs. If you don’t see eggs look for polished cells as this means the queen is imminently going to start laying.
In pagans method a week after you have created the artificial swarm you move the original colony to the other side of the new hive. This is so that the flying bees return and their hive is not there, they will most likely enter the closest hive which will be the new one with the old queen. The flying bees will boost this colony but also deplete the original colony, which had all the brood, of more bees. The theory of this is that this colony may throw a cast and by depleting it of bees this is less likely to happen.
You now you have 2 colonies, if you intended on increasing your numbers then you have achieved this. If however you already had a number of colonies and you really didn’t want to expand you could unite the two colonies back together. This can be done more or less at anytime in the season. To unite them remove the old queen so that your united colony will be headed by your new young queen. Use the newspaper method to unite the bees, more can be read about this on our How to Unite Two Colonies page.
2 thoughts on “How do I do an Artificial Swarm?”
Great article about how to manage queen cells in a bee colony – thank you!
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Thank you, hopefully it will help.