A successful shook swarming

Yesterday I shook-swarmed my hive at the apiary, with the help of Alan Gibbs, one of the very experienced beekeepers down there. It’s a spring clean for the bees, removing all their old comb with larvae cocoons/faeces, varroa and possibly diseases and giving them fresh new foundation to build on.

I was very glad to have Alan helping me as I’ve only done a shook-swarm once before two years ago. First, you put a ‘new’ hive and foundation frames in the location of your old one, with a queen excluder on top of the floor (between the floor and the brood box). Once the new hive is where your old one used to be, any returning foragers should arrive there.  You then remove four frames from the centre of the new hive and place them to one side.

Removing the frames creates a gap to shake your bees into. I must admit my shaking technique is rubbish, it took me at least three or four shakes to get all the bees off each frame whereas Alan could remove them all in one shake. I was also brushing stragglers off with a bee brush. My queen was unmarked as I hadn’t been able to find her last summer, again Alan’s help came in handy as he marked her for me with a smart blue dot, last year’s colour.

Before the queen was found we had been going through the frames quite slowly, trying to find her. Afterwards we speeded up with the shaking as we didn’t have to worry about damaging her. Alan encouraged me to get every last bee in, saying “during a shook-swarm, every bee is precious”. We waited as a fuzzy new young bee emerged, biting her way out and emerging into what must have been an unusual welcome – no workers on the frame, only human smiling faces. We shook her in too.

My colony was bigger and healthier than I expected, spread over the two brood boxes and having several frames of stores and a few of brood. The queen had even been laying drone brood as well as worker, which is not usually the colony’s priority at this time of year. It was sad to burn up the frames of brood afterwards, I had to keep reminding myself that it’s for their own good in the long run. Even before the shook-swarm no varroa were on the monitoring board this week; hopefully the vast majority of the mites will have been feeding on the relatively small amount of spring brood and will have been burnt up in the old frames.

See the FERA Beebase website for a free downloadable shook-swarm factsheet which is worth following step-by-step if you’re shook-swarming for the first time.

I have been kicking myself today as I popped back to top up their sugar syrup and found this:

The bees you can see inside the feeder are dead, I forgot to put anything covering over the other crown board hole and they’ve all got up into the hive roof. Then some must have climbed into the feeder through the lid, before falling in and drowning. I stupidly didn’t bring a smoker or beesuit today as it’s a hassle to drag all my equipment on the two buses I take down to the apiary. So I think I’ll have to go back sometime this week and try and smoke them all down so I can cover over the hole and stop them getting in the feeder. For now I’ve put a brick on top of the feeder to weigh down its lid and try to get the gap too small for them to get in.

See also:

Going for a walk along part of the Grand Union Canal in Hanwell today lots of blossom was out and I spotted this worker diving into the white flowers:

An enormous bumble was also foraging on the blossom, she was so heavy the flowers were breaking under her weight. Good to see that some food is out there for them and spring is on the way at last. It was even warm enough for a drink outside in The Fox pub afterwards 🙂

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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7 Responses to A successful shook swarming

  1. willowbatel says:

    I’ve never heard of shook-swarming before. So you just shake all the bees out into a different hive and then burn the brood to get rid of the mites?

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Thats’s it. It sounds harsh but it’s recommended for getting rid of the mites and any other diseases that might be lurking on the old combs. The apiary used to get a case of EFB every so often but haven’t for a while since starting shook swarming each spring.

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      • willowbatel says:

        But the adult mites are on the adult bees, so isn’t that less effective? I guess if the goal is just to keep the population low that makes sense though. And depending on the live expectancy of an adult mite, the time it takes to lay new eggs might be long enough for the mites to die off (?).
        If the mite population comes back I’ll try this. Once the bee population is high enough to handle it of course.

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        • Emily Heath says:

          The mites are mainly only on the adult bees over winter while there’s no brood. As soon as there’s brood about 80% of them are on the brood reproducing. We shook-swarm in early spring when there’s brood in the hive.

          Don’t do the shook-swarm at any other time of the year than early spring. At this time of the year you can do drone removal, after removing your honey crop in early Autumn Apiguard, and in December when there’s no brood Oxalic acid. See https://adventuresinbeeland.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/john-chapples-talk/ for more info. Don’t know if Apiguard is used in the US though, it might have a different brand name.

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          • willowbatel says:

            I know this might sound stupid, but do you think shook-swarming helps prevent swarming? I was thinking about it today and the idea/understanding of the name hit me. The only draw back is that they lose all that brood. And you have to keep buying new frames for the hive.
            Thanks so much for the help! I only have one other beekeeper to talk to and I feel like I’m pestering him whenever I have a question. So I try not to bother him unless it’s an absolute emergency.

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            • Emily Heath says:

              I don’t know for sure, but I think it might be called that because when they swarm they have to start from fresh and build up their comb all over again, which is what they do in the shook-swarm too. At the time of year we do it here it’s a bit too early for them to be thinking about swarming.

              You do have to keep buying new frames, but a new frame here costs about 80p to make up. So under £10 if you have a single brood box, compared to about £100 or even more to buy a new colony of bees if you lose yours to Varroa or some other disease.

              That’s a shame that you only have one beekeeper near you. I don’t know how I would have coped on my own! Is there no local association in Washington?

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              • willowbatel says:

                If I still have mites next year I might try the shook-swarm method. If they still swarm after then oh well. There aren’t many bees in my area so it’ll be good to have a wild colony out there.
                I could probably just make a frame too if I needed. All they need is a rectangle really. The place I got my hive from sells the frames 10 at a time, and I don’t really need that many just lying around extra.
                There is a state association, but I think they’re based in Seattle, which is about a 45 minute drive away. That’s where my bee contact lives anyway.

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