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Swarm Prevention

Updated: Apr 30

Operation keep the bees out of the trees usually starts when the first dandelions pop up. In this article, I will go through the steps of swarm prevention that we use. Swarm prevention is only as good as your vigilance; one little slip-up and it can all be for naught. But hey, chasing and catching swarms is all part of the fun, right?


First, a refresher


Swarming is a colony's way of reproducing itself when the population is healthy and resources are plentiful.The old queen leaves the hive with approx half of the workers, leaving behind a queen cell and enough bees to raise the new queen and continue the colony.


Queen Cup vs. Queen Cell


There is a very important distinction to make between two similar terms: a queen cup and a queen cell. Especially if you are talking to others (or me!) about what you are seeing, it's important to be clear about exactly what you are seeing.


A queen CUP is empty.


A queen CELL is loaded with an egg or larvae.



Clues: How to know your hive is preparing to swarm

By the time you see this, you're behind!


Start looking for queen cups on the bottom of frames (and along the bottom of the brood nest) as soon as the dandelions are blooming.


A swarm often departs within a day of the queen cell being capped.







Seeing cups like these (below) are usually the first clue that your is preparing to swarm.


So what do you do when you see swarm cups?


It will be very hard to avoid swarming in a healthy hive without making a split or removing some resources from the hive.


Here is the sequence of steps we take with a hive that is starting to produce queen cups:

  1. Find the queen! Before taking any action, you want to be 100% sure that she is still present.

  2. Remove ALL queen cups and cells. Shake all of the bees off each brood frame and look very carefully for every last queen cell. Carve them out with your hive tool. It is essential to find them all - it only takes one!

  3. Give the queen space to lay. Space to lay means built comb IN the brood nest. Adding a honey super is not enough. We usually take a frame from the edge of the box and stick it in the middle.

  4. Check back in a week. If you see cups/cells again, it's time to level up in the action that you take. It's very important not to let it go more than a week when you're on swarm watch because the bees leave on Day 8 after the egg is laid!

  5. If the bees persist in their swarm preparations, you will need to remove some resources. You can either remove some brood to donate to weak/small hives OR you can do a split.

Over and over and over again


You will usually have to repeat these steps multiple times, unless you do a full split. But it does eventually end, usually once there is a good strong nectar flow on and the bees can turn their attention to storing honey for the winter.


In a Hurry?


We often use a technique we call the Quick & Dirty to check for swarm preparations in the spring. You can learn more about the Q&D here.





Looking for more?


Looking for more beekeeping education? You can find my virtual, on-demand course Intermediate Beekeeping for Year 2 and Beyond at https://courses.rushingriverapiaries.com/courses/intermediate-beekeeping


Or if you'd prefer a more tailored experience, you can join my mentorship group at https://www.patreon.com/thehivementorship








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Hi Christine :) Is there a point where you wouldn't try to stop a swarm.. like when there is royal jelly and an egg in the cup is it still stoppable or you would go for a split at that point? It will be my third year beekeeping and every year i have a hard time with swarming and it decreases my honey!

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Thanks 😃

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