19 June 2013

Taranov Split

The idea behind any form of swarm control is to mimic what happens in nature, but it's the beekeeper who makes the decisions, not the workers.

Almost all new beekeepers will be shown how to do one method of swarm control, in Britain it's the Pagden - usually known as an artificial swarm. It's easy enough once you get your head round it, but done properly it involves moving large boxes of bees several times - and the beekeeper has to be able to isolate the queen.

The thing is that I'm absolutely rubbish at finding queens. I can do it, but it's time consuming and disruptive to the colony to either go through the brood box several times looking for her or to split and separate the combs into two boxes so the queen is isolated between two frames. I decided I needed a way of controlling swarming behaviour that would be quick and relatively simple, and that didn't involved a lot of heavy lifting. I settled on using a method designed by G.F. Taranov, which is outlined on Dave Cushman's site. I then got cold feet, mainly because some more experienced beekeepers told me it was far too disruptive.

I recently read more about this Taranov method on Honey Bee Suite, including a guest post, and decided that if it worked for them it should work for me. I also thought I should make up my own mind up about the disruption, and how quickly they settled afterwards.

What is a Taranov Swarm Board?
It's basically a ramp - that's all - with a rough batten underneath. The upper end of the ramp is placed close to, but not touching, the hive entrance, then covered with a cloth. All the bees from this hive - the original colony - are shaken, or brushed, off the combs onto the cloth. The flying bees head straight home, the non-flying bees and the queen walk up the ramp but find a gap, so stroll beneath the board and cluster on and around the batten where it's dark and safe.

That's the theory anyway.

I used a couple of small correx estate agents boards, nailing them double thickness onto some quite substantial timber offcuts. I nailed a thin batten of rough wood to the underside, just between the 'legs'. It looked right, although nowhere near as professional as the other pictures I'd seen.

I got a new (clean) hive ready, and put it on a new stand to one side of the original colony. I popped some newly made frames into a spare nuc box so they'd be to hand when needed.

One thing I didn't organise was a photographer, and only remembered to get my camera out near the end.

The action
When I placed the Taranov board in front of the hive I realised I had made a small mistake, either the legs were too long or the board was too short because the gap between the board and the hive entrance was greater than Taranov's 'required' 10cm (4 inches). I decided it probably didn't matter too much, and the worst I would have to do was start again another day. If it had been too close there would have been a risk of the bees festooning across the gap, and no split happening.

I moved it as close as I could, and to stop bees getting lost in the grass put some fabric beneath the board as well as a larger, piece on top**. I was as ready as I could be.
The two brood boxes, showing distance
I gently smoked the bees and opened up the 'old' box - no point in using too much smoke, because I actually wanted them to move, not cling to the comb - then got started, and gradually worked through the frames, carefully brushing bees off each one in turn. I brushed the bees off the frames rather than shaking them because it isn't a good idea to shake frames containing queen cells. Leaving all the brood unshaken was a sort of belt and braces approach, in case they decided to start afresh.

As I cleared each frame I put it into the new box set to one side. When all the frames had been emptied there were still quite a few bees milling around on the inner walls of the box and the floor - those were deftly brushed or shaken onto the cloth. Not one bee remained inside. I quickly swapped the boxes over, giving the flying bees the new box containing all but one of the old frames, and put the hive back together.

So far, so good.

The bees didn't seem to notice they had to fly further than Taranov suggested, but the non-flying bees didn't do exactly what they were meant to do. They completely ignored the little wooden batten and collected just behind one of the supporting legs. They seemed very calm and quiet, and soon made a good-sized cluster.

It was all done remarkably quickly, it seemed much quicker than the first 'shook swarm' I'd done - maybe because I'm more confident around bees than I was then.

New home
The instructions say that once the 'split' bees have clustered beneath the board they should be shaken into their new brood box - which is a second disruption. It made more sense to let them do what bees do, and walk quietly into their new home, so I propped a new box (containing frames of foundation and the single frame of brood removed from the parent colony) above the end of the board and waited to see what would happen. As I'd hoped they moved upwards into the dark space where they quickly found, and covered, the frame of brood.
Bees moving from beneath the Taranov Board into new brood box

Within half an hour they were all indoors, and I moved the box back onto its' stand adjacent to the original one. No need to put it more than 3ft away because these bees would think this had always been their home, and it will be close enough to combine later if that's what I decide to do.

The new colony was given some 1:1 syrup to draw new comb, the other box contained plenty of stores and fewer bees.

In the last two pictures you can just about see the small batten they ignored, and see how they carefully clustered around the very sturdy supporting leg of my correx Taranov swarm board. A lot of the bees had already moved upwards when these pictures were taken.

I'd guess that about a third of the original colony stayed with the queen and moved into the new box, two thirds flew back to their old home where they were to continue looking after the existing brood as well as raising a new queen.

I checked the 'new' colony four days later and was pleased to see newly laid eggs, so the queen had resumed laying. The 'old' box was checked too, to make sure the original queen cells had survived - one of these has since hatched, the other was 'taken down'. Provided she has successfully mated the new queen should be laying within the next few days.

All in all I found this easier than I expected, and thought it was only slightly more disruptive to the bees than a lengthy inspection.

I wonder what would happen if, instead of a pair of legs as the front of the ramp, the board could be propped on top of, and over the opening of, a brood box. Would the non-flyers and the queen go straight inside? Would all the bees go inside rather than flying back home? I think I might try it some time, to find out.

Thanks must go to Rusty at Honey Bee Suite, and her guest Dave Vernon, whose careful descriptions and clear photographs gave me the confidence to give it a try.

** Looking at the pictures I realise that the top cloth covers the end of the board, which is not what Taranov suggests. I don't think it made any difference to the 'process' - but it might have done had the end of the board been closer to the brood box.



  1. I just now saw this article. Nicely done. I love your idea of having the split walk into its new home. That's an improvement and something I will definitely try next time. And thanks for the link; it's most appreciated.

    1. Thanks for your comment Rusty. The information on your site helped a lot.

      Next time, next year, I'll try with a box of frames beneath the board. The worst that can happen will be that all the bees decide move downwards rather than flying to their old home, at best it will make the transfer even easier.