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Turning a 'returning' swarm into a split


Last year my bees swarmed on me, and I was determined this year to be on top of things. But this time, the buggers went a week earlier - seriously the very first warm day after winter; it was raining and cold almost every day prior to that…

Anyway, they took off mid morning, while I was contemplating which timeslot I’d fit them in to my busy schedule… Panic ensued… They ended up out of reach at the top of a large olive tree, but as extreme luck would have it, the weather then started to appear threatening, and the cluster returned to the outside of hive. I did consider the possibility that it was a ‘practice’ swarm, but I’m not sure.

Realizing this was my chance, I ducked inside for some quick research, then here’s the rest of the day:

  • Suited up
  • Grabbed a spare box, removed some frames and scooped them all in (looked like a fairly small swarm).
  • Confirmed queen was present by bees behavour
  • Went for main hive inspection. They’d run out of space again, and built come and honey in the roof cavity.
  • Flow frames appeared about 50% capped - but capping was missing from some of the middle of the frames, I guess indicating they had gorged on some.
  • Removed ‘Ideal’ box, for later processing (I’d had this on all winter, to give the bees more room, but it appears it just allowed them to grow a bigger colony). NB: Queen excluder is below the Idea box.
  • Inspected lower brood box. Looked ok… Checked for and destroyed ALL queencells (I’ll come back to this). I didn’t check for eggs or much else, but will do another inspection soon.
  • Removed 3 frames of brood (covered with bees), and placed into spare box with the swarm; added back 3 clean frames.
  • Rebuilt main hive (without Ideal box).
  • Cut and processed pure honeycomb from the ideal frame (Got at least 4kg of pure comb, and hand extracted (quite literally) about 1.5kg of runny honey. Messy stuff.
  • By now it was almost dark I was too stuffed to cook dinner, so pizza it was, before cleaning up the mess.

I think I was lucky… but any tips, did I stuff it up?

Even after the swarm, the hive was absolutely chockers with bees and honey. I removed all the queen cells, as I didn’t want bees casting in subsequent swarms (at least not straight away). I don’t know if this was good to do (perhaps a risk); but I assume that the bees will create more queen cells now; giving me a couple of weeks breathing room - the colony certainly appeared strong enough.

Is this ‘strategy’ likely to reduce the tendency of new queens to cast swarm, or will that make no difference?
I’m also kind of hoping bee numbers will also reduce a bit by then; I’ll do a Flow frame harvest, and they’ll be right for the rest of the season. Wishful thinking?


You may have broken down the parent colonies new virgin queen. Take a look in a weeks time to see if they are making emergency queen cells. The good news is: you’ll be able to use brood from the swarm if the parent colony has lost the ability to make a new queen.

I try to exercise preemptive swarm control measures. I’ve been doing this since late July here at Buderim. It’s been working really well for me so far.


What do you mean by ‘Broken down’ the new virgin queen? My understanding was that the bees will swarm once the swarm cells have been capped, so before any more queens emerge.

The initial swarm I captured wasn’t actually that big… and looking at it today, the swarm (new) colony had appeared to create some emergency queen cells. This isn’t good. Should I merge this back with the main parent hive? I guess only once I’ve confirmed a laying queen.

Another thing that has unfortunately happened, is that the hive did a major swarm yesterday - I found a very large swarm hanging near to the ground about 20m from the hive. So I must have missed some swarm cells anyway; damn it.

I captured this, and put it in a box (didn’t go very smoothly) with a single frame of brood, pretty much all I could spare…

I’ll post some pics of the brood frames from inspecting today. Obviously I’ve got a lot to learn, but would really appreciate some tips on my next course of action to keep my primary hive healthy, and perhaps what swarm, if any, I should be merging with what… if they stay, of course.


These pics are from my parent hive / with flow super.

Here’s a pic of a ‘fresh frame’ - it contains queen cups, and what looks like a little bit of honey. The frames are in the middle of the brood box…

This image shows a capped queen cell in the upper frame, and I’m not sure if they are drone cells, or queen cells on the bottom. There were very few of these capped queen cells, I counted only 2 or 3… certainly not 7-10 if they were building more swarm cells.

This is the same frame as above look at the bottom. One is capped; others are not (or already hatched).

Next is a closeup of the frame… With the ‘reflection’, I thought there were no eggs, but looking really close at the image, maybe there are eggs in there? …it’s hard for me to tell until I know exactly what I’m looking for.

I need to do some more learning of life cycle and exact swarming behavior, but perhaps some of you can shed some light on my situation to help out.

I need to know if I need to do any more intervention in the parent hive (or just check again in 7-10 days)… and next whether I should combine a large and small swarm, or indeed merge the small swarm back with the parent hive.


What I meant was that you probably broke down the next virgin queen when you broke all the queen cells down. As it turned out, you left more than one, so they swarmed again.

I wouldn’t merge any bees during spring. The bees are bullish (aggressively confident) on building up again, so be bullish with them.

You are doing the right thing by giving them frames of brood. As long as each colony has either a queen or the ability to make one, that’s all that matters. You can move frames of brood around to help the weaker colonies if needs be. Think of yourself as a bee farmer, as well as a beekeeper.

There IS a lot to learn, experience will be your best teacher.


Thanks heaps - a little update:

What I think has happened is the queen returned to the hive, and I didn’t capture her, but a mass of bees (which I took as a swarm). The primary/flow hive then swarmed ‘properly’ about a week later.

The reason I think this, is this larger swarm was placed in an ‘fresh’ empty box, with just one frame of brood. Now just two weeks later, the hive is chocked full of honey, brood in different stages and eggs. There’s no way a virgin queen could get going that fast…

So that hive is very healthy - and probably in need of a super very soon. Here’s a pic - let me know if you see anything of note:

The parent hive (that lost the primary swarm 14 days ago) doesn’t of course show signs of any larvae or eggs; yet I found a single remaining capped queen cell - near the middle of the top of the frame. This would indicate that the hive is still queenless (and no virgin queen), and I need to be patient to see if a queen emerges (probably soon).

I could take frames of brood from the new healthy hive to give back to the parent hive (to check if they build more Queencells) - but perhaps I should wait another 2 weeks to see if that final queen cell hatches, and eggs appear before intervening again?


With the raised capping that looks more like drone cells than worker cells to me.


Yes I agree with @skeggley, the only worker cells in that photo are in the top left hand side. That photo shows why I like using properly fitted wax foundation.


Yes - I can see why… My frames are a little mixed now, so I think get a few more spares.

On the drones cells @skeggley, I’ve looked through some other pics, where I could clearly see the difference (different hive / old frames); and I thought perhaps because of the wavy nature of the comb on the new frames, they just looked a bit more 3D. Can I try another pic of a different frame? Kind of looks similar - these aren’t all drone cells, are they?


They look more like worker cells to me. If you have drone cells elsewhere in your hives, you can compare more easily. It’s a bit harder to judge from a photo and the wonky comb doesn’t help.