Native Irish Honey Bee Society – Apis mellifera mellifera

Native Irish Honey Bee Society
Apis mellifera mellifera

Modified Version of the Artificial Swarm – Jim Donohue (summer 2008)

The classic method of artificial swarm (Pagden ) advocates that the Queen and the frame she is found on should be placed in the new brood box and filled with foundation and placed on the original site with the original supers placed on top.

This is an excellent form of swarm control but is very severe in our climatic conditions and severely reduces the honey yield from both colonies.

I have modified this manipulation so as to rebuild a strong colony and rear two nucleus colonies.


A: To stop the original colony from swarming and losing the flying foraging force that collects honey.

B: To return the original colony to maximum strength after the swarming impulse has passed.

C:  To get new foundation drawn and used in the original colony.

D:  To create nucs for sale, over-wintering or to increase colony numbers.

E: To rear queens and replace the original queen when desired.

Equipment needed.

A new brood box that allows a division board to be inserted (at later stage) and a divided open mesh floor with two entrances, a crown board and insulated roof. Two nuc boxes are needed if a divided box is not used to rear the nucs.

Three “dummy” boxes (to fill the size of 3 frames) and spare frames of foundation and frames of capped stores if available.


When a colony inspection in May shows multiple Queen cells with Larvae floating in brood food, we can assume that swarming is intended. We can delay this for a few days by removing the larvae from these cells but the colony is most likely to replace them again and then we must act.


I remove the frames from this colony and place them one at a time in this “Divided” brood box until I find the frame with the queen.  The frame with the Queen is returned to the original brood box with a frame of fully sealed brood and with no queen cells left on either frame. Add a frame of sealed stores and place a “dummy box” next to the hive wall, and then fill the space with frames of foundation. The supers are replaced above the queen excluder.

The remainder of the 8 frames with all the queen cells in the other “divided” hive are moved to a different hive stand. A “dummy box” is added to fill the hive. The division board is not fitted at this time but both small entrances are open. The crown board and roof are replaced.

After a delay of four or five days the following manipulations are carried out. The “Divided” hive is reorganised as separate nucs each with two or more queen cells with the division board now inserted (You can also use two “Nuc Boxes” instead). Each unit will comprise 4 frames, 2 frames of brood complete with 2 or more queen cells plus a frame of stores and a frame of foundation (or drawn comb if available) and a dummy board. The remaining two frames of (now) sealed brood are removed and the bees from them are shaken back into the nucs.

We now open the original hive and the ‘dummy box’ is removed to create the space to receive these frames. We insert these two frames of capped brood (without bees or queen cells) and add a frame of foundation to fully fill the brood box with frames. This is now composed of 5 frames of brood and stores and 6 frames of foundation with the old queen. (11 +dummy). This is now a stronger colony than the classic method and with ample stores should the weather deteriorate.

The two nucs are left alone for three weeks to allow the queens to get mated and to start laying eggs at their full rate. By this time all the original brood will have emerged and these young bees are in prime condition to nurse the larvae.  We now add a frame of sealed brood (without bees) from another colony to each nuc to bring it up to a five-frame unit.

Comments :Original Colony

Normally only uncapped queen cells are present when we want to apply this particular system, the queen is still being fed and is in full lay.

If there are sealed queen cells the swarm has been delayed by bad weather or have already tried and lost a clipped queen and the bees have returned.

The logic of leaving the second frame of (sealed) brood when this “artificial swarm” is created is to leave a supply emerging bees to rear the larvae as the queen continues to lay eggs on the frame she is found on. With the removal of the vast majority of nurse bees from all but these two brood frames, the older foragers would otherwise have to revert to nursing duties.

The return of 2 more frames of sealed brood after four or five days gives a major boost of emerging nurse bees to this colony. This delay does eliminate all swarming fever. They will require only the warmth of the hive for them to emerge and cannot re-trigger the swarming impulse. These young bees naturally generate wax and rapidly draw out the frames of foundation supplied. The fact that the queen continues to lay during this sequence of manipulations returns the colony almost full strength for the main honey flow. This gives almost the same surplus as any other colony does with the added benefit of two nucs.

Comments: Nucleus Colonies

With the 4/5 day interval before dividing the frames into nucs and returning 2 frames to the original hive, all queen cells and most of the brood will have been fed and capped. The nucs will easily nurse the cells and brood by keeping them warm, helped by the heat from the moulting of the developing larvae. Only young bees remain when the flying bees return to their original location. By the time that the queen has mated and started to lay, all brood has emerged, and the empty brood frames and are polished in readiness for her. The foraging force has developed ready to collect pollen to feed the larvae. The addition of a frame of sealed brood when this newly mated queen is in full lay gives thousands of emerging nurse bees to raise this new brood. These nucs will build up to five frames in a month from the start of the division and will be a completely balanced nucleus i.e. all stages of brood with a vigorous laying young queen.


By the removal of the old queen one of these nucs can be united to the original colony if desired, my preference is to introduce the newly mated queen only and unite the two nucs together by using paper between them. These two nucs can be put in a brood box a few days later and will be a full strength colony before autumn.

Dummy Box is a wooden box filled with insulation to fill the space of 3 frames (100 mm wide aprox.) made the same width and depth as the frames of the hive with lugs fitted to hang to sit on the frame runners.

Divided Brood Box is easily modified from standard equipment and will used every year. This can be achieved by cutting a groove in opposite sides of the brood box and make a thin 2 – 4 mm plywood or Perspex division board to be insert. Without modification a dividing board of 18mm plywood can be made to fit tightly in the hive to reach the floor to completely separate the two nucs. Vaseline on the sides will make it easier to fit and remove. Fill the gaps at the frame ends and runners with soft foam to make this unit “Bee-tight”.

Divided Floor A standard floor can be adopted placing a runner across the middle to the same depth as the sides of the floor. such that it leaves no gaps when the “division “board is inserted. The entrance is reduced to a two bees space size and a similar sized cut is made on the other side of the now divided floor. Full open mesh is recommended and the small entrances are easily defended.






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