Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.

Shaken but not swarmed

I shook swarmed my colonies in to clean hives with new frames of foundation over the Easter weekend. This separates the adult bees from all the brood and comb. The latter are destroyed, and the hope is that any brood diseases die with them, while the adult bees build a new life for themselves. The temporary absence of all brood and stores should mean there is no reservoir where bacteria can incubate while the adult bees re-establish their colony on fresh comb.

I carried out this procedure on 4 of my 5 colonies, leaving only Queen Mab’s, who tested positive for EFB last year and will be shook swarmed by the Bee Inspector this coming week.

Fortunately for me, a recent issue of BBKA magazine carried an article about how to do a shook swarm, so I followed that. Part of the advice was to put a queen excluder under the new brood box so that if the bees decide to abscond from their new hive, they will be unable to take their queen with them and so will have to return. I was glad I followed that instruction, because it’s exactly what happened with at least 2 of the colonies the day after the shook swarm.

Here are Queen Romaine’s colony, looking for all the world like a swarm.

Queen Romaine’s bees the day after being shook swarmed.

They swarmed around for about 20 minutes, without settling, then gradually returned to their hive. [Yes, I know the roof of Queen Peony’s hive is wonky in the above video - I’d had to move it to shook swarm Queen Ottilie’s colony next door and forgot to re-straighten it.]

Queen Peony’s colony did exactly the same thing.

Queen Peony’s bees

I’ve removed the queen excluders now, since the bees have invested in their new hives by drawing comb and beginning to store nectar and pollen, so are unlikely to decide to up sticks again.

Having rather clumsily worked my way through four shook swarms, I’ll be interested to see it properly done by the Bee Inspector. A key improvement in my shook swarm method would have been to avoid having it followed by a weekend of icy gale force winds just when the bees were trying to establish their new colonies and needed to be out foraging…but it seems my luck was out. I just hope the bees can hang on in there.

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