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The Pagden Method of Swarm Control

(aka the Artificial Swarm)

James Pagden (1776 – 1845) was the architect behind the most famous and widely used method of swarm control that is practiced by beekeepers today.  He identified that separating the queen and the flying bees from the brood and the nurse bees, created an artificial swarm state that suppressed the urge of the colony to swarm.


All beekeepers learn how to create an artificial swarm from a colony of bees and the Pagden method of management is commonly used to either increase their stock of bees or to prevent the loss of bees from a colony showing positive signs of swarming.  Whilst there are several variations of this management method, the basic principle of splitting the colony is detailed below.


For the Pagden method to be successful, the manipulations must be performed immediately there is evidence of unsealed queen cells in the hive.  Queen cells often start out as “play cups” and are usually located down the edges or along the bottom of a brood frame.  Such cells can often be found on several brood frames within a hive and sometimes hidden from view.  Prior to swarming, these cells will often be seen as “charged” cells that may have started as a play cup.  A positive indication is the presence of Royal Jelly in an open cup and this has the appearance of “white snot” in the bottom of the cup.  A cup in such a state is said to be “charged” and is a sure sign that the swarming process has begun.  This is the ideal time to begin the artificial swarm process and only regular inspections will reveal this state of affairs with the colony.

The following images will help you to identify the "tell tale" signs and the progress of any swarming instinct the colony may have -

Queen Play Cup

A "play cup".  This is a potential queen cell in the making but not a positive indication of swarming.

Charged Queen Cell

A "charged" play cup now a queen cell and a positive indication of swarming.  Note the plumper larvae in the right-side cell.

Sealed queen cells.  If you find cells like this in your hive, your bees have probably already swarmed.

Having identified that the colony is preparing to swarm, we can now proceed with the Pagden manipulation for management of the colony.  For this manipulation you will need -

1.   Hive Floor

2.  Brood Box (filled with frames of foundation or frames of drawn comb)

3.  Crown Board

4.  Roof


Remove the Roof, Crown Board, any Supers and the Queen Excluder from the hive.


Move the original brood box and floor approximately 1 meter to one side and place the new brood box and floor in the original position.  Any flying bees will return to the new brood box.


Remove 2 frames to make a space in the centre of the new brood box and place a frame of unsealed brood from the original box into the centre of the new brood box.  Ensure there are NO queen cells on this brood frame.


Locate the queen in the original brood box and carefully place her onto the frame of brood in the new brood box.  Carefully close the frames together and add a single frame to make up the number of frames in the brood box.

NOTE:  If using this manipulation to make colony increase, removing the queen from the original brood box will cause the bees to raise emergency queen cells.  See Pagden Variations and Uses


Add the Queen Excluder, Super, Crown Board and Roof to the new brood box.  The new brood box has now been artificially swarmed.  The Super is added to ensure some provision of stores.  This is now the artificial swarm.  If drawn comb was used in the artificial swarm box, the old queen will resume laying immediately.


In the original brood box, select the best two open queen cells with the plumpest larvae and carefully locate and remove all other queen cells.  Mark the frames with the two selected cells to make subsequent checking easier.  Close up the frames in the original brood box and add a frame at the end to replace the brood frame.  Add a Crown Board and Roof to the original brood box.  Any flying bees left in the original brood box will return to the new brood box (artificial swarm) when they take to flight.


After 5 days, check the progress of the two queen cells on the marked frames and then thoroughly check once again for new queen cells the bees may have made and remove any new cells found.  The two queen cells marked for retention should by now have been sealed by the bees.  Some beekeepers like to leave two viable queen cells in case of emergency.  The risk is the bees may issue a cast swarm when the first queen emerges.  Otherwise, some beekeepers will leave just the biggest and best viable queen cell and remove the other.  Either way, the original brood box will be headed up by a virgin queen who will soon become mated and start to lay.

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