The Pagden method is the most commonly used method by new beekeepers and, to many, will simply be known as “artificial swarming”. Like all methods of artificially swarming bees, the Pagden method has numerous variations in use. However, the details below set out the basic principles of Pagden.
The Pagden Method
This method involves the complete separation of the queen and flying bees from the eggs, brood and nurse bees in two separate hives. New beekeepers will typically use this method to make increase and Pagden allows this to happen in a relatively straight forward way.
This method requires an additional complete hive (i.e. floor, brood box, crown board and roof, complete with frames of foundation and/or drawn comb).
Keys to Success
The keys to the success of the Pagden method are:
- Preparedness (having the necessary extra equipment ready in advance)
- Regular (7 day) inspections from April onwards to find queen cells before the bees swarm
- Having a marked queen to aid the finding and isolation of her
- Timing – acting once the bees have begun to raise queen cells but before they swarm
Step 1 Remove the roof, supers and queen excluder and place the [old] hive (with floor and crown board) more than 1m to one side.
Step 2 Place a new floor and brood box (with frames of foundation and/or drawn comb) on the original site and remove 2 frames from the centre to create a gap.
Step 3 Inspect the old brood box and find the queen. Place her on a frame with unsealed brood in the gap in the new box. Ensure there are no queen cells on this frame. Take care not to allow the queen to fall off during the transfer (use a marking cage to keep her in place if necessary). Close up the gap and add a spare frame to one end. Replace the queen excluder, supers, crown board and roof.
Note: if the queen is on the only frame with queen cells or the best queen cells, move the queen to a different frame so these queen cells can be retained.
Step 4 Return to the old colony with the eggs, brood and nurse bees and inspect the colony for queen cells. Select a nice, large queen cell and leave in place in the centre of the brood. Carefully close up the gap and place 2 spare frames at the outer edges. Replace the crown board and roof.
At this stage the original colony has been artificially swarmed. That is, the old queen and flying bees (in the new box) have been separated from the brood and nurse bees (in the old box). Any flying bees from the old box, will return to the old site and rejoin the queen.
Step 5 After around 6 or 7 days, relocate the old [brood-containing] hive more than 1m to the other side of the new [queen containing] hive. Newly flying foraging bees trying to return to the old hive will drift to the new hive, thus adding to the numbers of the artificial swarm.
How many queen cells to leave ?
When it comes to leaving queen cells in the old brood box, this is down to a matter of opinion as to how many to leave. Some advocate leaving two behind to provide more assurance of at least one remaining viable (e.g. if one is damaged during the closing up of the hive, there is a second to ensure a queen survives). If two queens emerge together, then it is assumed that one will kill the other. In some cases this may work, yet in others it may not. Practical experience has shown that sometimes when such a colony is particularly large (despite losing the artificial swarm), then it is possible to lose a secondary swarm. Also, if two queens are left to “fight it out”, both may be damaged in the process, reducing the viability of the winner (e.g. may not be able to fly properly). Others leave several queen cells in place believing that the bees will reduce the number to suit their colony size. This is potentially disastrous as it will probably lead to secondary swarming if there are too many bees remaining. The simplest route is to leave one cell whilst taking extra care not to damage it.
Sealed or unsealed?
Another question hangs over whether or not any queen cells that are left in the “old” brood box should be sealed or unsealed. The argument for leaving the best unsealed cell is to ensure that there is a larva in it. It would however be highly unlikely that the bees will have drawn a nice, long queen cell with no occupant present, so a sealed queen cell should be as reliable. You might find that all you available queen cells are already sealed, in which case you will have no choice but to select one of these. For the Pagden method, it doesn’t really matter whether or not a sealed or unsealed queen cell is selected.
Drawn or undrawn frames?
Conventional practice suggests that drawn comb should be used as mush as possible in the “new” brood box (the one into which the queen is transferred and which remains on the old site for the flying bees to return to). The idea is that the queen is able to start laying in these straight away. Experienced beekeepers will use brood boxes as supers to ensure they have enough drawn comb for the purpose.
However, is the necessary? Probably not. It is only of use for those wishing to maximise honey production, by maintaining the queen egg laying rate and meaning the flying bees won’t have to revert to comb building, thus using up valuable nectar in doing so. However, for those who haven’t got sufficient drawn comb available, their bees will simply have to revert to comb building (as a natural swarm would do). In the longer term, this is likely to be beneficial to the bees because they will have largely fresh wax comb on which they can raise brood. Wax is a magnet for pollutants so making the bees build up new comb will reduce their exposure to these pollutants.
Some modern practice even goes as far as transferring the queen onto fresh foundation only (i.e. without the transferal of frames of brood). This mimics the natural swarm to a greater extents in that it reduces the transfer of pest and diseases such as varroa and European foul brood. If using the latter technique, it may be advisable to site the new brood box on a queen excluder until the queen starts laying. This is just in case the artificially swarmed bees try to abscond.
This method is given as guidance only. After trying one or more key methods of swarm control, the beekeeper should go on to experiment and develop their own variations to suit their own preferences.
Here is a YouTube video that explains the process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCReKLV6CB4