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Posted 21 Feb 06

The Anti – Swarm Hive

Eric McArthur

Last season I did some experiments with the pictured hive entrance design based on the ‘pollen trap’ principle, using a ‘surplus to requirements’ queen excluder, contoured over two blocks of wood, to form a basket like shape at the hive entrance.  The main difficulty I found was achieving a total bee-tight/queen tight seal at the edges of the entrance cage.  I did a stick up job using black industrial tape, which while effective was not a pretty sight.

Picture Caption Anti-Swarm Hive showing ‘queen excluder basket’ entrance, Varroa floor with opening for ‘monitoring’ insert and wood slat for closing floor opening
The Mark II model (left) is slightly less clumsy and completely bee tight at the edges so that there is no possibility of a queen getting out with a swarm.  Drones are another problem – but let me explain:

The idea of caging the queen in the hive to inhibit swarming is not a new one and a number of different methods have been tried, like placing a queen excluder under the brood box; the problem with this method is that the excluder can be restricted by dead bees, especially dead drones and go unnoticed by the beekeeper to the detriment of the colony.  The method of placing a strip of queen excluder over the hive entrance used by Kerr in Brazil in 1957 to inhibit his trial A.m scutellata African colonies from swarming also has its drawbacks, primarily due to congestion as the bees battle for ingress and egress through the limiting slots; to say nothing of the plight of the drones.  I decided last year to try what I considered a  better method than the two examples mentioned. To my astonishment the method worked well and the tested colonies  still produced excellent honey harvests. 

The hive as described is merely a tool, which can be used to good effect at particular times by the urban beekeeper, who quite understandably does not relish having to retrieve his swarms from his neighbour’s favourite cherry tree every summer.

The weather is the key factor in the timing of swarming; any time after the first week in May, occasionally as early as the last week in April, when the weather has settled fine over a period of around 8 to10 days with bees working on an abundant nectar source, they might just decide to seek pastures new.

Around the time that the beekeeper decides to ‘spring clean’ the hive, the late Bob Couston always advocated the time for such activities was when the flowering currant was blooming, like fit a new floorboard.  Instead of just fitting a new floorboard fit the ‘Anti-Swarm’ brood box and super the hive as usual. Leave this box in place until after the first major nectar flow is finished, in the West Central region this is around the first week in June. Such a procedure will give the beekeeper the reassurance that ‘come what may’ his bees will not desert, while there is still nectar to be collected. At the end of the nectar flow if the beekeeper managed his colonies well; good queen, right location, plenty of room for expansion; the colonies will be booming and chock full of young bees looking for work. If the beekeeper proceeds as discussed in the Petras column this month the he/she will be able to at a stroke breed new queens and produce colonies which will be virtually Varroa free by utilising the June Gap to apply the thymol and oxalic acid treatment method advocated by Klaus Klebs in the November 2004 issue of the “Scottish Beekeeper”, pages 291 – 292, or the formic acid procedures used by Balser Fried, reported in the October 2003 issue, pages 252 – 253. Varroa!! Just a cold in the head to the educated beekeeper!  Swarm prevention – piece of cake!!

The ‘Anti – Swarm’ device can of course be used at any time during the active season, especially in seasons where swarming has been delayed due to early summer inclement weather.  The device is fitted with a Varroa floor and the opening under the hive is where the insert is pushed in. The slat is then closed to keep out the weather.  There is another ‘hinged’ slat on the other side of the floor.  These slats can be opened during hive transportation and will go a long way to keeping the bees from overheating in transport to heather etc.

Regarding the drone situation in the ‘Anti-Swarm’ hive; beekeepers who are encouraged to try or adopt the method will, I am sure devise their own unique method/redesign of the cage to let the drones out under controlled conditions by making the cage ‘moveable’.  A modification such as a hinged front or a sideways sliding modification would be relatively easy for the gadget minded among us.  I have taken the easy way out for me; the cage is held fixed in position at the strategic, potential ‘leakage’ point by wood screws.  Once a week on a bright day I lever the first shallow super up and push three small wooden wedges, one either side and one middle (see picture) between the top edge of the brood box and the underside of the queen excluder.  Coupled to this as the first major nectar flow nears its end I do an internal examination to check the colony state – the drones don’t waste time asking permission to leave the room!


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