What Does a Caught Swarm Need to Thrive?

Ask the Expert!

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Joel Poole (Montana) asks:

I just caught my first swarm by placing a deep hive body on top of a very active swarm on a low brush pile. When I got the deep back to the yard, I installed a frame feeder and a top feeder as well as a pollen patty. I inspected the hive yesterday afternoon, and it is packed out with bees (maybe 5-6 lbs ). As a new beekeeper, I have only new foundation with no stores. Inspection revealed one or two frames with some pollen and a little nectar. I was unable to find the queen and can’t check for eggs as there is not yet any comb. There is some indication that they are starting to draw out the frames. My concern is, given the sheer volume of bees, that they will leave and swarm elsewhere. I am thinking I should add another deep (with new foundation ) and maybe a queen excluder just to give them enough room.

Rusty Burlew replies:

Swarms are primed to build comb: that’s what they do best. In the wild, they don’t even have foundation to work with, so they are in tip-top shape to build comb quickly and efficiently. Usually, as soon as a few square inches are built, the queen will begin laying eggs in it. She will continue to lay eggs as soon as space becomes available because she has to establish brood quickly if the colony is to survive. Remember, the average worker lives only 4 or 5 weeks, so there’s not a lot of time to lose.

Because the workers are already racing against time, it is highly unlikely the swarm is going anywhere. Once you start seeing comb being built, odds are they will stay. I would not add any additional boxes until the first box is about 80% drawn out. Otherwise, you are likely to get a column of bees up the center instead of nice complete boxes filled out to the side. In experiments with natural swarms, researchers have found that the volume they prefer is about the size of a standard deep brood box. Let them get comfortable with that first before you overwhelm them with more space.

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