Shook swarm

A shook swarm is an method of replacing old, possibly diseased comb with clean foundation. If successful, it’s amazing how it invigorates the bees and how strongly they build-up.

It is performed by shaking the bees out of their original hive into a clean one. It’s much quicker than the Bailey method but is more stressful to the bees as it involves the destruction of brood and stores. It can only be performed on stronger colonies but is now the method of comb change recommended by the National Bee Unit.

A shook swarm is ideally performed in the early spring, but late enough for the bees to have recovered somewhat from winter and to have built-up their foraging force.

In the case of European Foul Brood, the shook swarm should be done under the supervision of the bee inspector and may be performed later in the season as necessary. Whole apiary shook swarm

Here is a very clear demonstration by Seasonal Bee Inspector Kevin Pope.

Before you start, you will need:

(i) a clean floor

(ii) a queen excluder

(ii) a clean brood box fitted with foundation. If you have some, one or two frames of sterilised drawn comb may be beneficial as it will immediately give the queen somewhere to lay.

(iii) a clean crownboard and roof

(iv) another brood box or container would be helpful. It will give you somewhere to put the dirty comb after you’ve shaken off the bees.

How to perform a shook swarm:
  • Move the hive to one side and take off the roof and crown board.
  • In its place, position a clean floor with a queen excluder on top.
  • Add a clean brood box with a full set of frames fitted with new foundation. The queen excluder (now between the floor and brood box) is to stop the bees absconding as a result of the manipulation.
  • Remove four or five frames from the centre of the clean brood box and set to one side.
  • Take one dirty frame at a time from the original hive and shake the bees into the clean box. Brush off any remaining bees.
  • Place the dirty frames (now free of bees) into the spare brood box or container as you work.
  • Gently replace the four or five clean frames into the clean hive. There will likely be a mound of bees at the bottom of the box so don’t force the frames into place. The bees will gradually crawl up on to the wax.
  • Place the clean crownboard on top of the clean brood box and replace the roof.
  • Feed the bees a strong syrup; ideally after 48 hours or so to prevent them storing possibly infected nectar from their old hive.

For further information, here is the downloadable factsheet from the National Bee Unit:

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