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Feeding a swarm

I don't normally advise it

The usual advice is to feed a swarm on hiving "to give it a good start". I have even seen it advised "to stop it absconding"! Apart from my very early years, I haven't fed a swarm, unless it was on the handful of occasions during poor weather or a nectar dearth. Swarms take several days supply of food with them. Even if the queen starts to lay soon after the swarm occupies the new home, it is going to be about 4 days before the brood needs feeding. Brood is very hungry and is probably the greatest burden on the new colony, but it will take a little time to ramp up, by which time enough food should have come in for it to be self-sustaining. This is how swarms work naturally.

There is one good reason for not feeding a swarm and that is one of disease. If the swarm has come from a colony that is infected with foul brood, the food they bring with them may also be infected. Although this is very unlikely and I have only ever known of one swarm that had foul brood, it is always worth reducing the chances, if only to concentrate the mind.

If the food a swarm brought with them is infected and they take over existing comb, then some of the food may be stored, so keeping the infection going. It therefore probably doesn't matter if the swarm is fed or not, although they will need less food than if they have to build their own comb. If they are hived on foundation, it is reasonable to assume the wax for comb building uses up much of the food, so if it is infected, it won't be stored.

It is up to the beekeeper what they do, but I will continue not feeding a swarm unless absolutely necessary. I find that healthy swarms are usually well capable of establishing themselves without help.

Roger Patterson.

Page created 30/08/2022

Page updated 04/09/2022