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The "Wakeford Method" of Swarm Control

A simple but effective method of swarm control

This is a simple method of swarm control that I have used for well over 50 years. It was taught to me by an old beekeeper, George Wakeford, who had a great influence on my beekeeping handling and management techniques. This is an old method that won't be found in many modern books. There is no name attached to it, so for convenience purposes I name it the "Wakeford Method".

When inspecting a colony that has built swarm cells, it can be in several different conditions, e.g. the queen or swarm may have gone, or you have emerging queens. I can't deal with all situations here, so you will need to understand what needs to be done and the likely results of any actions you may take. As with all methods of swarm control, you must understand the swarming procedure of a colony and what the method is trying to achieve, otherwise you will probably fail.

To be successful at managing and reducing swarming, you need to understand the life cycle of the queen, what happens in a colony when the queen is removed and that if the colony and the weather are in the right condition, bees are likely to swarm on all types of queen cells, even supersedure and emergency. The latter is something that often catches beekeepers out, because it is widely taught and stated that it doesn't happen.

Swarm prevention and control is part of my management throughout the year, not as a panic measure when I see charged queen cells. All beekeepers should assume every colony will attempt to swarm every year, but I try to reduce the chances in several ways by preparing in advance.

Some measures to reduce the chances of a colony preparing to swarm:-

The above is as much as I can do to reduce swarming, so I continue with 14 day inspections until I see charged queen cells, then I do one of the following options, though of course there may be variations to suit the circumstances.

The Wakeford method.

With a clipped queen and doing 14 day inspections, it is possible there may be sealed queen cells at an inspection. If this is the case, the colony could have attempted to swarm, so the queen may be lost. She can't travel far, so look around or under the hive, where you may find a swarm, or a small cluster of bees about the size of a golf ball. Alternatively she may have returned to the hive, which is quite common.

I offer three options, depending on whether you find sealed queen cells in the colony or not and what stage they are at. By doing 14 day inspections you may be faced with any of the three options. If you do 7 day inspections, then you should only be faced with Option 1.

For ease of understanding, I will deal with the three situations separately. Just concentrate on one, don't try to mix them.

Option 1. There are only unsealed queen cells and the queen is still there.

Return in 7 days. If there are no charged queen cells, you have satisfied the bees, if only temporarily. Add more supers if needed and return to 14 day inspections. If there are queen cells, the bees have decided they are going to swarm, so there is no point trying to stop them. The cutting out of queen cells will be a waste of time and they will probably find a way of swarming, especially if one queen cell is missed. You need to take positive steps, so do the following:-

Return in a further 7 days. No queen cells should have emerged and there should be no worker larvae young enough for emergency cells to be built on, but this should be checked, as bees often "hold back" some larvae.

Option 2. If you find sealed and unsealed queen cells.

In my experience once the bees have sealed queen cells it is difficult to stop them building more, so I don't usually try to.

Return in 6-7 days

Option 3. If you find sealed and no unsealed queen cells.

The queen has been gone some time, perhaps 6-7 days. In this case, some of the queen cells may be close to emerging or may have already done so. There are unlikely to be any worker larvae that can be turned into queen cells, but don't rely on it.

As with all swarm control methods this may sound complicated, but only because there are so many possibilities you may be faced with when you open your colony. I have tried to address the more common ones. As already mentioned, it will be easier if you understand the swarming process and the life cycle of the queen. It is the simplest method I have come across.

This method has served me well for over 50 years and will suit the weekend beekeeper. If you don't clip your queens, just inspect every 7 days and Options 2. & 3. shouldn't apply, unless you are overdue. It may not suit those who want to make beekeeping complicated, but it doesn't need any spare equipment, it keeps a honey producing colony together and unlike other swarm control methods, it doesn't result in an increased number of colonies, although you can have increase if you wish.

As there is a brood break, there is a chance the honey crop will increase significantly because there is little brood to feed. There is also a chance to do some varroa control by inserting a comb of unsealed drone brood that has been prepared in another colony. When it is sealed it can be put in the freezer for about a week.

If the colony is a good one, queen cells can be put in small nuclei to raise queens for requeening poorer colonies, or if the colony is poor itself, a queen cell from a better colony can be substituted. This method opens up many similar opportunities the progressive beekeeper will be able to make use of.

To help use and understand this method there is a flowchart here. It can also be accessed by the button top left.

Roger Patterson.

Page created 24/05/2013

Page updated 29/04/2021