Do you manage for swarm control? I want to be chem-free and close to natural possible. How do you keep them from swarming and if you don't does that affect your honey yield?
Keeping the brood chamber open is the best way I know, but is only one of several things that have to be done at the same time to be successful in reducing swarming. Also of note is that one of the trade off towards more hygenic bees is a greater swarming tendency, something to be aware of, the two seem to go hand in hand.
1. Keep the brood chamber open, bees building comb in the brood chamber seldom swarm as the hive isn't "complete" until that happens and with a few exceptions (Russians, Casucasians, and crowding) bees are reluctant to swarm until the hive is "complete." Complete is a brood nest not a storage comb condition. Storage comb has no bearing on swarming tendency other than providing expansion space. The process of keeping the brood nest open is that in every box that has brood present the outer frames of brood must be moved outward and empty frames placed between the 2 outer frames of brood on each side of the brood chamber. This is done by moving up the outside (storage) frame into a super. So if the hive has 2 deeps with 6 frames of brood in each box Frames 1 & 10 are removed to the super (or harvested) frames 2 & 3 and 8 & 9 are moved to the outside and empty frames are place in the empty 3 & 7 slots. Moving the frames up helps with drawing the bees up into the supers by baiting it. If desired an excluder then can beplaced to separate the harvestable honey supers from the brood box because the placement of the storage frames has already baited the bees with motivation to move up into that box. This system works better in an all medium or all deep approach over a mixed super size system.
2. Timely supering is also essential to provide space for emerging bees as they hatch. One sure way to force a hive to swarm, and an excemption the rule #1 above, is to crowd the bees. Once there's more bees than the interior space of the hive can accomidate a switch to swarm mode is made. The first visible sign of this to the beekeeper is often Bearding but by the time the beekeeper notices it, it may already be too late. Use the 70/30 or 80/20 rule of supering, which is when 70-80 percent of the frames in a super are covered in bees (not drawn comb) super it immediately. Waiting even a few days, with brood hatch and comb building can mean the hive is suddenly over populated. If a flow exists, even a minor one, don't hesitate to place more than one super on at a time, particularly if you're using drawn comb. Bees can fill 2 frames of drawn comb with curing nectar in a week, which means the hive is now short of forage space and must be supered again. Look at it this way: 3 supers of curing nectar makes 1 super of capped honey.
3. Nutrition: Healthy bees will be more prone to work and enlarge the hive if ample space is provided. Bees swarm or abscond for several reasons: 1. reporduction of the species, 2. corwded or congested conditions in the parent hive, 3. lack of forage (dearth or Drought) and 4. uninhabitable home (too much disruption, flood, fire, etc). Healthy bees make more honey, more healthy bees make even more honey.
4. Pollen collection: MOst people don't consider pollen traps to be a part of swarm management but consider: When the ammount of pollen being brought into the hive by foragers is reduced by trapping, that means that the size or turn over rate of the brood chamber must be reduced. So, trapping pollen slows the brood production down, delaying the crowding/congestion within the hive, but this is only a short term solution as trapping should be limited to 2 week intervals. That is 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off, repeat.
5. Don't destroy queen cells: Removing queen cells is the absolute worse form of swarm management I have ever encountered. More often than not the mere act of removing the cells will render the hive queenless. Why? Consider: When the hive switches to swarm move it produces a number of queen cells usually, but not limited to, the lower half of the frame. Once those cells are capped the old queen, who has begun being denied food and laying space by the attendent bees after the queen cells were established, is already slimming down prior to swarming. That means that once the queen reaches an adequate weight reduction she can swarm at any time. That swarm time can vary from the day the other queen cells are capped to a few moments after the 1st virgin queen hatches and begins to pipe inside the hive. That is a space of about 7-8 days. If the beekeeper enters the hive and removes those cells it might be after the mother queen has already departed. Result, a queenless hive. Best bet, make some nucs via splits using the mother queen, if still there, as one of the nucs. This gives the beekeeper the resources imitate a natrual swarm, killing the swarm tendency, and provide a queen back if the new queen hatched in the parent hives should fail, or for requeening other hives experiencing queen problems.
6. CAUTION: There is mounting evidence that feral or survivor colonies are using a self-imposed brood dearth after the main honey flow as a varroa control. That is the queen suddenly quits laying post flow and the beekeeper thinks the hive has gone queenless, when in fact, all the bees are doing isdisrupting brood production to put a stop on varroa population. After a short period of 10days to 2 weeks the brood cycle is resumed. This is actually a good thing as it not only does a number on the varroa but it helps the hive develop and maintain a larger number of late fall bees that are going to see it through the winter.
I hope this helps your IPM for swarm control.
Thank you Brian! Printing and putting in my bee journal.