Many very experienced beekeepers in the UK advocate using the Demaree Method of swarm prevention for people with a small number of hives. George Demaree (1832–1915) from Kentucky first published his approach in an article in the American Bee Journal in 1892. I love the fact that a method devised thousands of miles away and over a century ago is still relevant today.
Swarm prevention is generally thought of as a “good thing” amongst beekeepers because losing a swarm can mean losing a lot of honey. All those worker bees that leave a hive to set up house elsewhere are lost, probably to a neighbouring beekeeper. If they had stayed, they could have been collecting nectar and storing honey in our hive. Of course, to the bees, there is no problem at all; swarming is how they naturally reproduce.
Beekeepers wish to prevent swarming, but when their bees have ignored us and made preparations to do the deed anyway, we must attempt to control the situation. Today I’m considering “swarm prevention” as described by George Demaree and many others since. I wrote about this before and concentrated on the importance of queen genetics and the age of the queen. This article is more about getting down to one practical technique.
I am very familiar with doing vertical splits once I have found my bees making queen cells, but I have never actually tried a Demaree. The idea is to carry out the manipulation before any queen cells are present in the hive. The ideal time to do this is when the colony is strong enough for queen cells to be the next logical step. I have several descriptions of the method from old books. I’m grateful to Emyr Jenkins, a bee farmer in South Wales and proponent of the Demaree, for his detailed notes on the subject and a copy of the ABJ article.
I will come to the pros and cons of the Demaree later but suffice to say there must be many pros for the method to have continued to be used to this day. Wedmore was a big proponent, Manley was not a fan. Many subtle variations exist, but the general principle is the same in all of them.
How to do a Demaree
Here is the Demaree method that I’m going to try this year:
- When the hive is on seven or more frames of brood, has plenty of drones, a flow has started, and there are loads of bees – the odd play cup starting but not queen cells…this is the time to carry out a Demaree
- Find the queen and put her in a nuc on the frame she is found on so that she is safely out of the way (you could pop her into a cage and keep her in your pocket)
- Arrange the hive so that the bottom box is filled with frames of empty drawn comb and/or foundation, with just one containing open brood (eggs/larvae). It is on the same floor in the same place, with the entrance in the same direction.
- Put the queen on her frame in the middle of the bottom box then put a queen excluder on top.
- Add the supers above the excluder (ideally two or more)
- Put on another queen excluder then a 10mm eke with a 20mm entrance in it, so that drones are not trapped
- Add the brood box containing the other brood frames on top of this, followed by the cover board and roof.
We now have a single colony that has bee rearranged. The queen is in the bottom box with plenty of space to lay and the flying bees. The brood is at the top, far from the queen so that they will start to make queen cells. The honey is in the supers in the middle of the hive.
Return in 4 days to destroy queen cells made in the top box (Important!)
There is now a multitude of options:
You could return in another 4 days to destroy any more queen cells made, which would render the top box incapable of raising a queen. This top box then becomes a possible cell raiser for grafted larvae, if queen rearing is your thing. Alternatively, you could leave the queen cells until sealed, then remove them and place in mating nucs. You could leave just one cell and let them raise a new queen. Once she is mated and laying well, you now have a “two queen colony.” Such colonies can grow huge and produce abundant honey. Later, the older queen can be removed, and the hive can be rearranged back to a typical configuration.
If the top box is queenless, it is wise to rotate frames periodically between the lower and upper brood boxes. As bees emerge from frames in the top box, the empty combs can be moved to the bottom to be laid up again, and frames of sealed brood moved upstairs to replace them. It’s always possible when rotating frames that some eggs or young larvae find their way to the queenless top box, with queen cells being the inevitable result. Therefore regular inspections are needed, and it can be hard work as nectar piles in. Supers will need to be added as required.
Pros and Cons
The pros of the Demaree method are that (a) it usually stops swarming and keeps a large colony together so that it can make a good honey crop and (b) there are options to create new queens for increase or to replace the old queen towards the end of summer. Foundation frames can be drawn out nicely in the top box too. The cons are often sited as “heavy lifting” and taking up too much time in commercial beekeeping operations.
Manley found that the Demaree was not for him. In “Honey Farming” he said:
“I believe it works well as a swarm preventative if the weather continues favourable, which it rarely does in this country…I tried it extensively many years ago and found it a failure in my hands. Should the weather turn cold and unfavourable for honey soon after the demareeing, the bees ignore the comb, or if foundation is used they gnaw it to bits. This plan usually ruined the stocks when I tried it, though occasionally it was very successful.”
Snelgrove was more positive in his “Swarming” book:
“In the hands of a skilful beekeeper, it not only usually prevents swarming but often results in excellent yields of honey. Its principal defects are that it involves much labour in the frequent manipulation of large stocks and the breaking down of queen cells…”
I’m going to give it a try this year and see how I get on.