The first sign of a colony preparing to swarm is often the appearance of queen cells in the hive. By the time that these appear, the colony is about a month into preparations for swarming. Once the swarming process is started, it is difficult to stop. A number of techniques for reducing swarming have been developed. Some of the methods that we find to be effective are based upon measures to prevent the brood nest from becoming so filled that the queen does not have enough cells available for her to lay eggs. At Peace Bee Farm our swarm prevention methods involve carefully examining every hive in the spring and rearranging the hive bodies to move the brood nest low in the hive. This usually means moving the lowest brood box to the top. If the brood is high in the brood area, the bees seldom move down to use available space for brood production. Adding extra hive bodies for the brood nest and honey supers also helps insure that the hive is not crowded.
Honey bee colonies do not swarm until they have capped a queen cell, and thus provided a new queen to leave behind as a mother for the existing hive. Some beekeepers attempt to stop swarming by removing the queen cells. However, this is usually not effective. They may not find all of the cells, and removing them only delays the swarming by about four days, the time it takes for the bees to create and cap a new queen cell. Expanding the brood nest to free-up empty cells for the queen to use for laying eggs may help. Making a colony division, an artificial swarming process, is the most effective method of preventing swarming. The division can be made by moving a cell to a new hive body along with enough bees, brood, pollen, and nectar to support the new queen. Unlike worker and drone cells, which are oriented horizontally, peanut-shaped queen cells hang vertically.