The ever popular Demaree method revisited

Photo of GW Demaree
George Demaree

One of my most-read articles concerns a form of swarm prevention that first saw light 131 years ago in the American Bee Journal. I’m not convinced that mine is even a good article, but anything to do with preventing or controlling swarming ranks highly whenever I do polls on beekeeping. It appears that beekeepers are obsessed with keeping their bees – quelle surprise. Anyway, here goes: the ever popular Demaree method revisited.

What is the Demaree method?

A simple manipulation that, if carried out on a strong colony of bees before it has started to build queen cells, results in no swarming and a good honey crop. In his article, George Demaree states (and I’m paraphrasing here) that if you know what you are doing, your “surplus yield will be larger than by any other method hereto made known to the public.” He knew how to sell it!

The manipulation simply involves placing all bar one frame of brood into a new box, which is placed above the box containing the queen, separated by a queen excluder. The brood frames that were removed are replaced with empty drawn comb or foundation frames. The manipulation achieves two important things at once [1] the queen has loads of space to lay a new brood nest and [2] the colony has not been weakened in any way, just re-arranged.

The original article

ABJ article (provided by Emyr Jenkins)
ABJ article (provided by Emyr Jenkins)

Demaree Diagram

My very talented daughter Isla is a digital artist who has provided me with some of the best illustrations I have seen in any beekeeping book anywhere. Unfortunately, I can’t use them here because they are reserved for the new book (Maximise Your Honey Crop by Steve Donohoe & Paul Horton). Therefore, for this piece, you are going to have to make do with this:

Timing is critical

Timing is critical to so much of beekeeping, it really can be the difference between success and failure. In the UK, I’d also argue that luck plays a big role too; if the weather suddenly turns, you could be in trouble. Perfect timing and luck would look like this:

  • the colony is strong with 6 to 7 frames of brood (Langstroth) but no swarm cells
  • a good flow has just started, and the weather is set fair for the next week or two at least
  • after the Demaree manipulation, the bees soon draw out foundation because there is a strong nectar flow
  • bees continue to collect pollen and the queen quickly starts to lay copious amounts of brood on lovely newly drawn comb
  • the brood that emerges above the excluder moves down to look after the new brood nest, and the cells from which they came are now filled with nectar
  • more supers are added to provide ample space for nectar storage and processing

Manley found this method problematic because our weather is rarely ‘set fair for the next week to two.’ A cold or wet spell can scupper the whole plan, and we do get plenty of those, even in summer.

What about the drones?

Often when I see diagrams about the Demaree, they do not tally with the article in the ABJ. People put supers above the queen excluder but below the box of brood (between boxes A and B in my sketch). Demaree’s article does not suggest this. It seems to create more lifting work than is needed. People also put in an upper entrance, and sometimes even a board which divides the colonies into two. Without an upper entrance of some kind, the drones above the excluder are doomed. Frank Lindsay in NZ says. “No need for the eek with an entrance. Just slide back one corner of the top box a little to create an entrance for the drones to fly. Close off before the end of the flow to stop robbing.”

Why is Demaree so popular?

I think part of the reason for the long-standing interest in Demaree is that numerous manipulations get called “Demaree” even though they are not. Many people call a vertical artificial swarm by the name Demaree, for example. I guess the other main reasons are (a) it works (b) it’s simple to do and (c) it does not result in increase. This probably suits a lot of smaller scale beekeepers. It’s also a cheeky way to fit in a change of brood combs while still getting a good honey crop. The frames above the excluder, that used to be brood, can be removed for extraction then melted down. It’s a good way to rotate out dark comb which may harbour ‘bad things.’

Alternatives are endless

Beekeepers will find ways of working which suit them and their bees. So-called equalisation of colonies in spring is a big part of swarm control, as is making nucs (splits) by utilising excess brood frames from colonies that are too strong, too early. Being too strong is actually a bad thing in spring because those monsters invariably swarm. A smaller colony that doesn’t swarm makes more honey eventually. Removal of brood from strong colonies and replacement with frames of empty comb or foundation are common ways to keep a lid on the swarming impulse.

Making increase, in the form of nucs, is an excellent thing in my opinion. They can be promoted into full-sized hives to replace losses or to expand your operations, but they can also be sold. There is always a demand in spring for over-wintered nucleus colonies from eager new prospective beekeepers. Mike Palmer uses many nucs as ‘brood factories’. He removes brood from nucs to keep them from swarming, and puts it into his cell builder colonies as part of queen rearing.

The whole point of making nucs in late spring is that it reduces the strength of colonies and prevents swarming. By the time they are back up to strength, the honey flow has kicked in and, as long as they have space (supers), the bees will use their workforce to collect and store honey. Hopefully swarming has passed, although nothing is ever certain.

Good queens

Sure, it’s great to have a method that can help to reduce swarming. However, some bees are more cooperative than others. Some bees are determined to swarm because that urge is wired into them genetically. For this reason, reducing swarming is not just about an oddly named manipulation of brood boxes. It’s about making sure that we have good queens in our apiaries. Good queens, in my opinion, have a lower than average inclination to swarm. This is where raising queens from selected stock is so important. But that’s a different article.

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: