Demaree swarm control

I’ve covered three swarm control methods in previous posts. These are the classic Pagden artificial swarm, the vertical split that is directly comparable but requires less equipment and more lifting, and the nucleus method.

As described on this site, if successful, all achieve the same two things:

  • They prevent a swarm being lost. Don’t underestimate how important this is in terms of not irritating your neighbours, in helping your honey production and in giving you a quiet sense of satisfaction 🙂
  • They result in the generation of a second colony headed by a newly mated queen.

This doubling in colony number, or – more generally – the managed reproduction of colony numbers, is termed making increase.

Managed reproduction

Making increase is of fundamental importance in beekeeping.

Without deliberately splitting colonies, unless you buy in nucs every year (kerrching!), collect swarms or steal hives 1 your colony numbers would never increase.

Making increase is therefore critical if you want more colonies. However, it’s just as important (and a darn sight less expensive than buying nucs) if you want to make up any overwintering colony losses, thereby keeping the same number of colonies overall 2.

Not making increase

Once you’ve got bees, with good management, you can always have bees. However, at some point you reach that sweet spot where you have enough bees and don’t want more colonies.

The Goldilocks Principle is the concept of having just the right amount. Not so few colonies that a really harsh winter causes problems, and not so many that you cannot enjoy your beekeeping at the peak of the season.

When you reach that point you no longer need to make increase, you just want to keep the same number of colonies.

Which means that the swarm control methods that essentially reproduce the colony may not be ideal.

Of course, you can unite colonies having removed the unwanted queen from one of them, but this is additional work. Not a huge amount of work admittedly, but work nevertheless 3.

This is where the Demaree method of swarm control comes in useful. As practised, Demaree swarm control prevents the loss of the swarm without increasing colony numbers.

It has the additional significant advantages of keeping the entire foraging force of the colony together (even better for honey production than not losing a swarm) and needing no specialised equipment.

Demaree swarm control – in principle

George Demaree

George Demaree

The principle of the method is very straightforward.

When queen cells are found during an inspection you conduct a form of a vertical split, separating the original queen and flying bees from the nurse bees and sealed brood. You place the latter above a queen excluder.

A few days later you return and remove any new queen cells from the top box, so preventing swarming. Finally you leave all the brood to emerge from the top box.

Demaree swarm control – in practice

A cartoon diagram of the process is shown below. The only additional equipment required is a brood box with 11 frames of drawn comb or foundation and a queen excluder.

That’s it.

Demaree swarm control

Demaree swarm control

Here’s a bit more detail:

  1. If you find queen cells during an inspection gently remove the brood box and place it on an upturned roof off to one side 4.
  2. Place the new brood box on the original floor. Add 9 frames of drawn comb or foundation, leaving a gap in the middle of the box.
  3. Using minimal smoke, go through the original box and find the queen.
  4. Place the frame with the queen in the middle of the new brood box on the original floor. This frame must contain no queen cells.
  5. Push the frames in the new brood box together and add in the eleventh frame.
  6. Add a queen excluder.
  7. Add the supers above the queen excluder. If there were no supers on the original hive then it’s worth adding a couple of supers now. It will provide better separation of the new and old brood boxes and it will encourage the bees to store nectar in supers rather than the top brood box.
  8. Add a second queen excluder.
  9. Place the original brood box on top of the queen excluder.
  10. Go through the upper brood box and remove every queen cell. Shake the bees off the frames to do this. Push the frames together and add one additional frame. Add the crownboard and roof.

Leave the colony for one week. At the next inspection you should only need to check the top brood box (i.e. the original one).

  1. Carefully inspect every frame and remove every queen cell. Again, you should shake the bees off the frames to do this. If you miss any queen cells there’s a good chance the colony will swarm.
  2. Close up the hive and leave the brood in the top box to emerge.
  3. About 25 days after conducting the first inspection (1 above, where you first found QC’s) you can remove the upper brood box from which all brood will have now emerged.

Explanatory notes

If you have a reasonable understanding of the development cycle of queen and worker bees you will understand how the Demaree Method simultaneously prevents swarming and keeps the entire colony together.

Honey bee development

Honey bee development

  • By splitting the colony you separate the queen and the flying bees from the nurse bees and the brood. The queen in the new (now bottom) box has ample space to lay, particularly if you provide her with some drawn comb to use.
  • The bottom box will now be less crowded and the swarming urge will therefore be much reduced.
  • You destroy all of the queen cells in the original (now top) box when you rearrange the hive. This is to stop any new queens emerging in this box in the following week.
  • However, this top box still contains eggs and young larvae. Since it is now located a long way from the queenright box the level of queen pheromone is very low. Consequently, in the week following the hive rearrangement, the bees will create new emergency queen cells in the top box.
  • When you return a week later all the eggs in the top box will have hatched and the youngest larvae left will be about four days old i.e. too old to be reared as new queens. Therefore, when you destroy all the new queen cells in the top box, you prevent the colony swarming.
  • You can remove the top brood box as soon as all the brood has emerged i.e. 25 days after first rearranging the hive 5.

Demaree pros and cons

Pros

  • An effective method of swarm control
  • Relatively simple procedure to implement and understand
  • Only requires a single brood box, frames and a queen excluder
  • Generates big, strong colonies and keeps the entire foraging force together
  • Modifications of the process can be used for queen rearing 6

Cons

  • Necessary to find the queen
  • Critical to remove all queen cells at the start and after one week
  • Generates tall stacked boxes, so some heavy lifting may be involved
  • Drones in the top box get trapped by the queen excluder 7
  • In a strong flow the bees can backfill the top box with nectar. Add sufficient supers when you first rearrange the hive
Framed wire QE ...

Framed wire QE …

Historical notes

George Whitfield Demaree (1832–1915) was a lawyer in Kentucky, USA, and a pioneer in swarm control methods. His eponymous method was published in the American Bee Journal in 1892. The original method was subtly different from that described above:

Demaree method

Demaree method

In his description he emphasises the need to keep the colony together to maximise honey production.

I suspect Demaree used a single sized box (as broods and supers) as he describes placing brood frames above the queen excluder in the centre of the super flanked by empty frames. As described, he doesn’t mention returning after one week to destroy queen cells above the queen excluder. Don’t forget to do this!

I particularly like Demaree’s comment that any swarm prevention method that “require a divided condition of the colony, using two or more hives, is not worthy of a thought”.


 

Footnotes

  1. Don’t do this at home, or anywhere else for that matter.
  2. Remember that it’s probably less trouble to improve your disease management and winter colony preparation to reduce losses, rather than losing colonies and then making increase the following year.
  3. Usually you’ll keep the younger queen if she performs well. Don’t forget that swarm control methods that make increase have the additional benefit of enabling requeening, so reducing future swarming.
  4. I’m assuming that the queen cells are unsealed. If there are sealed queen cells in the box it’s likely that the colony has swarmed, in which case it’s too late to use the Demaree swarm control method.
  5. 25 days because that’s one day more than the development time for a drone.
  6. These are outside the scope of this brief account and will be dealt with sometime in the future.
  7. This is certainly distressing for the drones (and probably for the beekeeper). I usually try and release them every few days by lifting the lid off for a couple of minutes.

22 thoughts on “Demaree swarm control

  1. Karl Lawless

    Hi David. Thanks for that very clear description. I will now preposition the correct equipment at my stronger hives and try not to be taken by surprise like every other year !! Can you say why the second excluder is needed (point 8) ?
    Thanks
    Karl

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Karl
      I suspect that this is a hangover from the early description of the process by Demaree. In his description he interspersed the original brood frames with those in the supers. There would therefore be just a single QE between the new brood box containing the queen and the emerging brood and new queen cells. If there is drone brood in the upper brood box upon rearranging the hive the QE stops the drones getting into the supers. This isn’t a major issue, but when you finally take the upper brood box away it means the supers remain free of trapped drones.
      Cheers
      David

      Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Calum
      Yes, that’s one of the problems with the Demaree. No brood break or opportunity for miticide treatment if needed. Usually this isn’t a problem here as mite numbers are pretty low until much later in the season. In contrast, the swarm control methods that involve splits should result in brood breaks. Even without chemical intervention these help restrict Varroa levels.
      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  2. chris

    Can you do this at any time in the season or is this best seen as a pre-emptive strike against swarming ?

    I did this on two hives this season for the first time .. and think I like it as its easy for newbies that can’t find the queen (cheat and shake all the bees into the bottom box)

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Chris

      You should only really need to do this before or during the swarming season. There’s little point in doing it at other times. Some people do it more than once on a single colony … a sort of rolling Demaree, keeping the bees together and the foraging force strong, but letting the queen always have ample space to lay.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  3. James

    Hi David,

    I am half way through a demaree swarm control.
    The bees are replacing the brood cells with stores. How can I get the bees to take these stores back down into the hive after the 25 day process? Seems a lot of stores/hard work by the bees for these stores to go to waste.

    Also, wanted to say thank you for your shared writings. They are very helpful.

    Best wishes,
    James

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi James
      You could always extract them if your extractor takes brood frames. Alternatively, I usually ‘bruise’ the cappings and place the brood box at the bottom of the stack. The bees should then move it up. I usually add a couple of supers between the upper and lower brood boxes during a Demaree in the hope that they fill these in preference.
      They do … sometimes 😉
      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  4. Sam

    Hi David, I have used this method this year with some success (a few hives continued to make queen cells in the bottom box and a couple still swarmed). I also used it to grow a new queen in the top box to eventually replace older queens in the bottom box. At what point would you kill the old queen and when you do is it ok just to move the new queen down into the bottom box (or run as double brood for a time) or are the bees in the bottom box likely to kill her?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Sam

      Is the queen in the top box mated? If so, how? In a Demaree there should be a couple of queen excluders between her and the entrance.

      With a Demaree the bees won’t fight as the workers already have free access throughout the hive. If I do splits (with a solid board in between) and provide an upper entrance which the new queen flies from and mates I do a standard newspaper unite after I’m sure the new queen in a good ‘un. I bump off the old queen at the same time, before uniting.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  5. Sam

    Hi again, yes she is mated & laying well. I had put an eke with a hole in between the top queen excluder and brood box so she could get out and mate.
    So I could now kill off the old queen and combine the two brood boxes on the bottom with new queen in it (or run as double brood if there’s too much brood to combine) without fear of them killing her?
    Also,will the bees that are accessing the hive via the hole in the eke find their way down to the normal entrance once I have done this?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Sam
      Should be OK to just take out the old queen. The bees in the top box will reorientate to the new entrance over a few days. It always causes some confusion, but they manage in the end.
      Cheers
      David

      Reply
    1. David Post author

      I can’t guarantee answers … it depends upon workload and where I am in the country … or if I’m doing something else … which today, I am 😉

      Loch Sunart

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  6. Eric

    If you want to create a nuc whether to sell or create a new hive, would you not just use the nucleus method rather than Demaree method to achieve both swarm prevention and increase?

    I like both methods but not sure which one I should use.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Eric

      The great thing about beekeeping is that you can achieve the same endpoint in a variety of different ways. A Demaree is largely preventative. The bees will probably make QC’s in the top box and this can then be split amongst one or several nucs. However, if this is the goal it might be even better to use either a vertical split or Cloake board. Both of these have the advantage of concentrating large numbers of nurse bees with the developing queen cells, so maximising the changes that they will be top quality.

      Finally, in the nucleus method of swarm control I discuss it’s the queen that’s removed, leaving the original hive to make a new queen. The nuc you end up with has the old queen … not what you probably want to sell!

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. Eric

        “Finally, in the nucleus method of swarm control I discuss it’s the queen that’s removed, leaving the original hive to make a new queen. The nuc you end up with has the old queen … not what you probably want to sell!”

        Thank you for your reply. I was wondering about that :-).

        I will read your suggestions. I am based in melbourne, australia and working with a 8 frame full depth brood box, queen excluder then ideal super (this stays for overwintering) , then flow super. Looking to start a second hive without buying a new nuc. So looking at different methods that hopefully allows me to do this but not affect the honey production too much if possible. Then once i have 2 hives established (that is the max I can have in my backyard), then will look to create a couple of nucs to sell each season or just maintain existing.

        I think for me being new beekeeper, is information overload 🙂 cos everything is so interesting to read

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Eric

          You have the advantage of being able to read about things a few months before you need to implement them … or the disadvantage of reading about them six months too late 😉

          I’m not familiar with the climate in Melbourne (did I mention I do invited talks?!) but it’s worth remembering that the weather has a very significant influence on our bees. Here on the East coast of Scotland the season is at least a month shorter than it is 300 miles South where I started my beekeeping.

          Good luck with your plans … it’s so much more rewarding rearing your own stock rather than buying it in.

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
          1. Eric

            Thank you David. Last question, how would you tackle the vertical split once completed with the new colony whether keeping or to be sold as a Nuc can’t be located the required distance away? In my case with a suburban backyard, it will be located about a metre away.

          2. David Post author

            Hi Eric

            After the split the two colonies will be orientated to entrances on opposite ‘faces’ of the hive. I’d probably move the top colony off to one side, initially on top of an empty brood box. Then, once they’d coped with that, I’d remove the brood box, then – in stages – I’d turn the hive around (assuming that’s what you want). There are other ways of achieving the same thing. Don’t rush things and it’ll be fine.

            Cheers
            David

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