How to manage a large colony


Last summer one of our colonies grew quite large to an extent that we provided it with a second brood box. Whilst this gave extra space for the queen to lay the second box was predominately used by the colony for stores. This was useful over the winter as it provided a good supply of food.

The colony is now (in April) expanding rapidly but we are concerned that the queen does not have much room to lay as both boxes still have a high percentage of stores and her laying is spread out over both boxes.

So we are wondering if it might be prudent to remove a number of frames that are mainly made up of stores and replace them with new frames and foundation.

We are also wondering that if we did this whether there would also be some merit in temporarily restricting the queen to one brood box. We are also giving some consideration to acquiring another queen and using some of the brood from the existing hive to establish a new colony whilst easing the crowding in the existing hive.


Sounds like a good question. You don’t mention supers. I would be tempted to:

  1. Take out half the brood frames that only have nectar & honey and place them in another brood box that goes on top of an empty box above the crown board. Hopefully they will think this is outside their nest, rob it and store it elsewhere leaving you with drawn brood comb – a valuable asset.
  2. Immediately below the crown board I’d have space for honey. SBs with foundation or drawn comb and of course the Qx below that.
  3. Now for the brood boxes. I’d keep this as a double BB for now. There will be vacant spaces where the brood frames containing honey came out. Assuming the colony is large I would place new foundation every third or even every other brood frame. A strong colony will quickly draw this out giving the q somewhere to lay. I wouldn’t worry about breaking up the brood nest.

In summary then and this time from the bottom up:

  • Floor
  • Double BB with some new foundation
  • Qx
  • Super(s) with room for nectar
  • Crown board (with holes left open)
  • Empty BB or SB (to create a gap)
  • BB with brood frames containing honey & nectar

How to Perform a Shook Swarm

How to perform a shook swarm to replace old, possibly diseased comb with nice, fresh comb. The shook swarm is much quicker than the Bailey comb change, but it’s much more stressful for the bees.

This should be done in the early spring, but late enough for the bees to build up strength.

In the case of EFB, the shook swarm should be done under the supervision of a bee inspector.

It’s not recommended to perform a shook swarm when bees have nosema, as it’s too stressful for the colony.

Thanks to Bronwen White for the following demonstration:

How to perform a shook swarm:

  • Move the entire hive to one side and take the roof and crown board off of the hive.
  • In its place, position a new hive with a clean floor.
  • Put a queen excluder on the floor underneath the brood box (to stop the bees from swarming during this process.)
  • Take about four frames out of the center of the clean hive and set to the side.
  • Take one dirty frame at a time and shake the bees into the clean hive, and brush in any remaining bees.
  • It’s best to have a spare box to put the dirty, bee-free frames in while you work through the frames.
  • Gently place the four clean frames back into the clean hive.
  • Place clean crown board on top of the clean hive.
  • Feed bees using a contact feeder.
  • Place a super and roof on top.


How to Perform a Bailey Comb Change

How to do a Bailey comb change to replace old, dirty comb with nice clean comb in the Spring.

The purpose of a Bailey comb Change is to get your bees onto nice, clean comb. This should only be done on a strong colony early in the spring.

If you think you have diseased comb, you can learn more about replacing your comb with a shook swarm here.

Thanks to Bronwen White for the demonstration:

How to perform a Bailey comb change:

  • Place a brood box of clean frames straight on top of the original brood box with dirty frames.
  • Place crown board on top
  • Feed with a strong sugar syrup with a contact feeder (as the weather could be cold.)
  • Put a super on the hive with some insulation
  • Then place the roof back on

After one week:

The queen should have moved up into the clean frames (in the top box) to lay, so we need to:

  • Inspect the top box to check that this has happened (and make sure the queen is in the top box.)
  • Place a queen excluder between the boxes (to keep her in the top box.)
  • Put an eke with a small entrance on top of the QE.
  • Put clean box on top.
  • Close up the bottom entrance completely.
  • Place crown board, feeder, super, and roof back on. Continue feeding until the foundation is built out.

After another three weeks:

All of the brood in the bottom box should have emerged, so we need to dispose of the bottom box:

  • Remove roof, feeder, + super.
  • Move the entire hive to one side.
  • Put a clean floor in place
  • Lift our nice clean brood box with our queen and new brood onto the clean floor.
  • At this stage, the brood should be drawn out and we don’t need a feeder anymore so we can put our roof back on.


Bad temper


I’ve just had a worrying experience with my hive (started as a nuc this year) – a big cloud of bees around my head and essentially attacking my head as soon as I took the (two full) supers off. I didn’t even begin the inspection – just closed it up and most of the cloud stayed around my head and followed me back to the back door of the house. This colony tend to be quite tetchy (the odd sting and follower) but never like this before. Any ideas about what I may have done? Weather etc. seems ok. I’m beginning to think I may not be cut out for this!


Your colony sounds as if it might be queenless but don’t panic yet (there’s nothing you can do at this time of year if they are queenless except to try and buy a new queen from somewhere.) The bad temper may be for other reasons so it might an idea to give it another go.

Light your smoker, use it liberally and make sure you are well suited up – and look for eggs and small larvae.

Deformed wings, dead bees, and crystallised honey in March inspection (March 2018)

March 26, 2018


I carried out a quick inspection of my colony yesterday when it was warm and noted a number of bees with deformed wing virus (though I treated with api-guard x 2 in autumn and oxalic acid in January). There were also some dead bees part-emerged from cells, which I think could also be an indicator of viruses related to varroa? There is quite a bit of crystallised honey in the brood frames. I saw the queen and a few larvae so she seems to have started laying again, and otherwise there was quite a bit of activity going on/pollen collecting etc.

I was wondering if I should change the brood frames to help with disease control and get rid of the crystallised honey? Possibly as a shook swarm around mid/end of April? Does that sound vaguely sensible? And/or should I be undertaking any more varroa treatment at this stage? I’m currently feeding with fondant.

Answer 1:

Viruses can’t replicate outside their host and don’t even survive for long so comb replacement is of limited value for DWV (but still good to do to counter fungal & bacterial diseases). You don’t mention the size of your colony. Something like a shook swarm is quite a stressful experience for a colony and I wouldn’t consider it for a small ailing one. They also need good weather so I wouldn’t consider a shook swarm until mid-end-April (perhaps even May considering our weather prospects this year!)

Deformed wing and dead emerging bees with their tongues hanging out are signs of parasitic mite syndrome – essentially virus overload. Varroa treatment for PMS is a bit like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. The damage has been done and the bees are suffering from viruses. Nevertheless if the Q is laying then there is a possibility that the new bees might develop free of viruses so it is sensible to carry out a varroa count and treat again if necessary. A new product on the UK market claims to be 95-99% effective and can be used in early Spring/late summer – the chemical is Amitraz and proprietary products are Apitraz and Apivar.

Keep feeding if they’re eating the fondant – I’ve found with some of the SBKA bees at WS that they prefer to go up to fresh fondant rather than sideways to granulated honey. There’s very little else to do at this time of year.

Answer 2:

I’d feed pollen supplement/substitute swell as/instead of fondant – depending on how much fondant mixed with pollen. Although the bees are bringing in pollen they are not getting out much at the moment and pollen needs are high.( to produce plenty of healthy young bees.) Also if you want to do a shook swarm in April building up the number of bees now will get hive ready for that. Shook swarm will not clear viruses – but will get rid of the 85% of the Varroa that are in the brood. Amtraz is quoted as being 95-99% effective – but the small print afterwards says – ‘when the brood quantity is low’ – not the case in April!! I also read recently that following a shook swarm if you sacrifice two brood frames after the Q has started to lay in the new chamber you can also dispose of most of the other 15% Varroa that were in the phoretic stage – i.e. on the adult bees when shook swarm done. That leaves a hive with really low Varroa count.