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Advice and Information
Article 2 - The Shook Swarm Technique

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It is now a generally accepted fact that regular changing of brood frames (and combs) helps to inhibit brood diseases, such as Nosema & EFB.    Colonies treated to wholesale frame changeout often become the most productive in the colony.   

Until recently, frame replacement has been advocated on the basis of one third of the frames every year - ie. a full replacement every three years.   However a recent technique, called "Shook Swarm", aims to replace all brood frames in a single operation, thus removing all potentially diseased equipment at a stroke and minimising disease transfer (a perceived disadvantage of the "Bailey Comb Change", which is the alternative method of complete brood frame replacement).

Timing and Suitability

This technique should only be carried out on strong colonies capable of enduring the stress it undoubtedly creates.   It should be carried out as early as possible in the season, but certainly not later than July.    Ideally, a good nectar flow should have started, but feeding will undoubtedly be needed to help the bees rapidly draw out  the new comb. 

The Method

You will need the following equipment :-

A clean brood chamber, containing new frames of foundation
A queen excluder, crown board and floor ( all clean).
Contact feeder with heavy syrup. (See note below)

  • Move the existing hive to one side and assemble the new hive in its place, with the queen excluder between the floor and the brood box.
  • Take out the centre 4 frames from the new hive and place to one side.
  • Find and catch the queen in the old hive and confine her temporarily to a queen cage or other suitable receptacle.
  • You must now transfer the bees from the old hive to the new one.   This is done by taking each frame in turn and shaking it into the space left by the 4 missing frames  in the centre of the new hive.   Any reluctant bees can be gently brushed off.  Once all the old frames have been cleared of bees, shake or brush all the bees remaining in the brood box into the new hive.
  • Remove the queen from the container and place her in the centre of the new hive.
  • Carefully replace the 4 missing new frames in the new hive.
  • Fit the crown board
  • Feed with heavy sugar syrup - ideally using a contact feeder on the crown board

Apart from regular feeding, do not disturb for about one week, at which point, brood should be present.  Once there is brood on the comb, the queen excluder can be removed.  Continue to feed, unless there is a good nectar flow, until all combs are drawn out.

Note: Some beekeepers prefer to feed with a medium strength syrup of 50% that the bees can immediately metabolise.

Possible Disadvantages of Shook Swarm Technique

If queen is lost, or damaged in the process, then, because there are is no brood present, the colony will be lost.  The queen excluder must initially be used below the brood box to prevent the queen absconding.

References :- Fact Sheet 16, National Bee Unit, South West Region by Richard Ball

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