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A Winter's Swarming Read

a swarm in May is worth a load of hay;

a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon;

but a swarm in July is not worth a fly"

Proverbial bee-keepers' saying, mid 17th century; meaning that the later in the year it is, the less time there will be for bees to collect pollen from flowers in blossom


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A swarm of bees in my Rose of Sharon.

Demaree? Pagden? Heddon? or Snelgrove? Are these the new house names for a Harry Potter spinoff? No, no, these terms are related to beekeeping, specifically pertaining to methods of swarm prevention and control. These terms are covered in great depth in the latest book, "Swarm Control" by Richard Ball and published by Northern Bee Books.


It is a simple format booklet that is easy to read and the author has extensive beekeeping knowledge. Ball has been keeping bees since 1983 and currently serves as chairman of the Devon Apicultural Research Group. He has given lectures all throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. He is currently studying the effects of climate change on the cycles of honeybees in SW England. This is definitely another topic I'd be eager to read more about.

The book begins with an introduction to what swarms are, how to find the queen, and marking queens. From there Ball dives right into the management techniques to control swarming. The first technique is one most beekeepers in North America, especially in the United States would be familiar with, the Demaree method. This was a swarm prevention method developed by George Demaree of which he wrote about in an article for an 1892 edition of the America Bee Journal.


Pagden, Heddon and Snelgrove are artificial swarm methods that are commonly employed across the pond in the U.K. and other parts of Europe. Here in the North America you'd likely be hard-pressed to find the average backyard beekeeper with much, if any knowledge, of the actual terms, Pagden, Heddon Snelgrove. However, many of our swarm management practices are similar. North America uses the term "making splits" much more frequently. Splits are used for many of the same reasons the Padgen, Heddon, and Snelgrove methods are; creating more colonies, producing nucs, raising queens, preventing swarms, and part of a pest management protocol to control varroa mites.



To some degree our concepts for splits are in a way similar to these methods (and even deriving from them). Let's be honest though, the likelihood of a backyard beekeeper in North America being knowledgeable in all of these terms will be dictated by the amount of study they've put into their beekeeping practices.


If they have undergone a more formal education with their local beekeeping association, taken extension classes at local colleges (in person or online), are working towards their master beekeeping certification, or have done extensive reading, they will have some understanding and awareness of these methods. Otherwise, what they know and understand surrounding swarm control revolves around "making splits." There is nothing wrong with this, though maybe what I have written, will stir a desire deep within some beekeepers to want to learn more about the methods mentioned in, Ball's "Swarm Control."


I am most familiar with the Pagden method because it is often used interchangeably with the term "artificial swarm" here in America. Pagden is also one of the oldest methods with its foundations linked to a time when beekeepers were skeppists. James Pagden wrote about this method in 1868 in his book, "How I Make It By My Bees." Pagden is frequently discussed as a potential method for dealing with varroa mites in various natural beekeeping circles and other beekeeping resources. Ball, even goes on to discuss this very thing towards the end of his book. Heddon and Snelgrove were terms that I have little knowledge on but have come across them often in my reading. So, in a sense, I am vaguely familiar with these terms, more so Heddon than Snelgrove. Ball describes the Heddon method as being more of a refinement of the Pagden method with the result being a more balanced split. I have noticed that here in America, we often refer to the Pagden method and the Heddon method as being the same thing. Ball's explanation of both these methods show that while they are similar, there are slight differences.


A quick look at the book, "Swarm Control" by Richard Ball.

The Snelgrove method is a more recent one that was coined by Leonard E. Snelgrove in his 1943 book, "Swarming- It's Control and Prevention." Where the Pagden and Heddon methods are more similar to how we make splits in America, the Snelgrove is based upon a piece of equipment, a Snelgrove board. It makes use of entrances above and below the board to "bleed" bees from one box to another. The Snelgrove method personally reminds me a bit of how the two-queen colony management system evolved.


Ball goes into great detail about these methods with illustrations and images accompanying them. He also touches upon the utilization of artificial swarm methods for varroa mite control, specifically how to adapt the Pagden method for this purpose.


In closing, I only touched lightly and very basically upon the methods Ball discusses in his book, "Swarm Control." There are a lot to these methods and one could find themselves writing what looks like a doctoral dissertation on swarm control. If you are interested in learning more and doing a more thorough investigation into these methods, this book is a great place to start. Easy to read and straight to the point and would make a great winter read as you prepare for managing your spring 2021 colonies. Any bookstore in the US can obtain Ball's "Swarm Control" book. It is also available from Amazon as well as directly from Northern Bee Books. In addition, there are many scientific studies accessible online through Google searches about these methods and swarm control in general.

Big thanks to Louisa at Northern Bee Books for the opportunity to write a review of this book!

Northern Bee Books also publishes the Natural Bee Husbandry Magazine, a source for bee-centered beekeepers and The Beekeepers Quarterly a source dedicated to beekeeping topics of local and global importance. Earlier this year, I was honored when they asked to publish my written poetic piece about the winter bee. There has been expressed interest from followers that I publish that piece here on my blog, and that is on the list of things to do!



Swarm Control by Richard Ball



Sources & Additional Reading:

Swarm Control by Richard Ball

Northern Bee Books

The Snelgrove Method by Barnsly Beekeeper Association

Pagden's Artifical Swarm

Pagden/Heddon Swarm Method

Artificial Swarming of Honeybee Colonies



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