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Shook Swarming

This page is credited in full to Dave Cushman who created it. His voice is expressed in black colour text and any additions or comments in blue belong to myself. Credit: Dave Cushman’s website.



The Shook Swarm or Shakedown Method
for Honey Bee Comb Renewal

The shook swarm or Shakedown method is a simple and effective process that has the benefit of invigorating the bees that are shaken. It can be used to switch a colony of bees on to a fresh set of combs or foundation in order to separate the bees from any pathogens, disease spores or residues of treatment chemicals, that may lurk in the combs. It can also be employed during the process of re-training the bees on to foundation of different cellsize to that which they are conditioned (either upsizing or downsizing). Where you may consider that the bees or the beekeeper may benefit from such re-sizing.

The manipulation itself is incredibly easy, for disease control purposes you will require a completely new or freshly sterilised hive and a full complement of frames each with foundation. If cellsize regression is your aim you may well use some starter strips or the special frames detailed in the link at top left of this page.

Timing of the operation, in the case of disease will be unlikely to enter into the calculations, but for best survival in UK conditions it is wise to limit the time frame for performing this operation to the range April through to the end of July. Late shaking is thought to explain a few of the failures that have occurred in the CSL. trials.

In order to control European Foul Brood without chemicals, many trials of this technique have been carried out by the National Bee Unit at the Central Science Laboratory, whose address is Sand Hutton, York, YO41 1LZ. They have a website… their page on the topic can be read here.

Called ‘shakedowns’ or ‘shaking down’ by our American cousins, the shook swarm is really an artificial swarm made by shaking the adult bees from a set of frames into a new hive. Originally, shaking the bees on to fresh foundation was used as a method of swarm control, however today shook swarming is used as a method of replacing brood comb in one operation for reduction of disease (or reduced risk of disease), but has also gained popularity recently as a means to aid the modification of the size that the bees use for the cells of the brood comb.

In keeping with the vigour that is often observed when a natural swarm is hived shook swarms usually build up rapidly and produce a good honey crop. In any case, unlike a normal swarm a shook swarm consists of all the bees in the colony rather than about half of them.
Equipment that you will need
Fresh brood chamber?? ? ?? ?Full set of frames
Floor with entrance block?? ??? ?Spare queen excluder
Crown board (inner cover)?? ??? ?Rapid or hive top feeder
Sugar syrup feed?? ??? ?Dustbin (trash can) with lid

In addition an assistant is useful (to control the dustbin lid).

If the equipment is not new, it is recommended that all items should be sterilised or scorched to reduce disease risk.
How to do the job

Shift hive to be shaken to one side, about one metre is enough
Put the clean floor fitted and entrance block on the original stand
place a queen excluder on the floor (this acts as a queen includer)
The fresh brood box with full compliment of frames with foundation sits on the queen excluder
Temporarily remove a few of the frames from the centre of the brood box thus creating a space that is slightly darker than it’s surroundings into which you can throw the bees.
Dismantle the original hive
If possible, find the queen and cage her temporarily (this saves ‘pussy footing’ around so that she is not lost or damaged)
Remove each brood frame in turn with adhering bees, lower it approximately halfway into the ‘well’ between the new frames in the clean brood box. Then shake or jolt the frame sharply to deposit the bees on the queen excluder surface
Place the old frame, now free of bees, into the dustbin, these will be burnt if diseased or melted to extract wax
Continue the process for all the remaining frames
Place the spare frames gently in the central space in the new brood box
Release the queen into the new brood chamber if she had been previously caged

But my colony has supers on!

If there were any supers on the original hive, the method of dealing with them depends on the reason that you were shaking down the bees in the first place…

If you are shaking down for reasons of cellsize alteration, the supers may be returned to the colony once the new brood combs are fully drawn out.

If however you are conducting the process for disease reduction, then super comb should be extracted then rendered in a solar or steam wax extractor, then boiled in a Sodium Hydroxide solution (Lye or Caustic Soda), finally being sterilised after they are dry, using 80% acetic acid (taking appropriate safety precautions). Such frames should be allowed to air or weather thoroughly before they are used again.

It helps if the colony has a satisfactory, laying queen of young age.

A sufficient supply of nectar or sugar syrup must be available until all the foundation has been drawn (or at least well started on).

It may be necessary to use an empty super above the crown board to accommodate a contact feeder if that type of feeder is used.

Inserting a queen excluder between the brood box and floor will prevent the colony from absconding. This should be removed once the colony has started to build comb. Alternatively, the queen may be left in the cage and released using marshmallow or queen candy to delay her release until foundation is being drawn.

European Foulbrood (EFB) EFB is a ‘notifiable disease’ under the Bee Diseases Control Order 1982. If you do suspect your bees may have EFB, or American Foulbrood (AFB), you should contact your local Regional or Seasonal Bee Inspector or the National Bee Unit at York. (While the service is still available.)

This is now being strongly pushed by BDI as a way of reducing background issues in colonies. Some report noticeable improvements, and others that it is detrimental.


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