Hiving a Swarm

This page is credited in full to Dave Cushman who created it. His voice is expressed in black colour text and any additions or comments in blue belong to myself. Credit: Dave Cushman’s website.



Once we have ‘collected’ our swarm we have to put it in a hive, in such a manner as it will not depart a further time (which would waste our effort in capturing it). We must make our hive as attractive as possible to the bees so that they have no desire to leave.

Time of day… Evening seems to be the most opportune time to hive a swarm as it then has at least an overnight stay on the combs or foundation that you are providing for them. The natural instincts of the younger bees to clean the comb or wax workers to build fresh or repair old comb will all help to knit the group into a new colony.

Time of year… In early spring and summer a swarm has the opportunity to develop and even gather a surplus. The later in the year a swarm occurs the less time is available for ‘natural’ build up and so drawn comb and feeding will help balance the equation.

Comb versus foundation… When I first started beekeeping I used foundation for hiving swarms, but as I built up stocks of comb I changed to using several drawn or part drawn combs flanked by frames with full sheets of foundation. With the advent of varroa, and the treatments for it, I have made a further change to starter strips just 20 mm wide (some recommend 25 mm, but I have a cutting jig for 20 mm). I also use frames with diagonal cut sheets of foundation.

Wild comb that the swarm has built whilst it has been clustering or if it has been ‘in the wild’ for some time, there may well be combs with brood. If either of these items are available they can be fitted into, so called,
‘swarm trapping frames’ that will enable the comb to be salvaged and provide a ‘magnet’ to help keep the swarm in one place whilst the new nest is established.

Feeding will keep the bees ‘busy’ at home and will aid any wax work that they may need to do. Some will say that a syrup with a high concentration of sugar should be used, but I use 1 kilo sugar + 1 Litre of water. The reason is simple… Many swarms occur in hot weather and a strong syrup loses some of its water by evaporation, thus causing crystallisation.
The makeup of the swarm receiving hive has some bearing on the effectiveness of the hiving operation.

The mechanical part of the operation is usually conducted by using one of two methods. The traditional and ‘pretty’ way of doing it and the straight forward ‘chucking them in’, both of these methods will work.

Whichever of the two methods we are going to use involves ‘throwing’ the bees out of the swarm box… This is illustrated at right and is not a violent action, but one that is a firm enough thump, using the heel of the palm, to dislodge the bees from their clustering in the box and disorient them sufficiently, so that they do not fly up in a cloud.

Throwing them straight into the top of a hive. This is the method that I have used most often. Although I have had a few failures, notably one that is written about on the page’Combs that smelled of PDB’, it is generally a reliable method.
Prepare your hive as shown in the diagram at right. Throw the bees into the gap in the middle of the box and put the loose combs gently on top of the pile of bees. Allow these combs or frames of foundation to sink as the bees disperse, then when they have dropped to their normal position brush any loose bees inwards, finally placing the roof in position.

This is the traditional way that it is done. The hive is prepared with combs or frames of foundation and a ramp is made using a board from the ground up to the hive entrance. The bottom portion of the board has a cloth spread over it encompassing an area of ground in front of the hive.

Finally the bees are thrown onto the cloth… They will crawl up the board and start fanning at the entrance, whereupon all the bees then scuttle up the ramp and into the hive. You may be lucky and spot the queen who will probably run a little faster than the workers and maybe run over the worker’s backs rather than the board.

The cloth is used to present a continuous surface otherwise many bees get lost in the grass or cluster under the ramp, which slows down the hiving process.

Disease risk… You have to be aware that your swarm may be diseased. I have collected many hundreds if not thousands of swarms during my beekeeping career, but I have not had an occurrence of any major disease. Nosema and Acarine have been present on occasions but, a fresh start on new foundation has almost always ‘done the trick’ having said that any colonies that did not appear to be ‘normal’ and vigorous after a few days were closed up and dispatched with a half pint of petrol. Since those days we now have to cope with varroa and some late swarms can carry a considerable mite load.

Disease treatment… I was taught as a beginner to feed syrup that had been laced with Fumidil “B”, which I did for a few years until I began to question whether such treatment caused the disease to be masked and thus propagated further rather than being reduced. With the added stress that varroa now causes I am thinking of returning to the original idea of treatment of swarms with Fumidil “B” but, I am still concerned that it is a mask rather than a cure. That dilemma resolved itself when I decided that it was not worthwhile to treat for nosema and that losing such colonies was a ‘purification’ of stock rather than a loss.

The equipment in the illustrations is of the non standard type that I use… Most British beekeepers use “standard” National equipment and thus will use a crown board and a telescoping roof instead of the one piece insulated ‘Rational’ type that I have illustrated.