How to prevent swarming with a Taranov board
The Taranov board is an ingenious system used to separate bees that are going to swarm from bees that will stay in the parent hive. Once separated, the swarming bees and old queen can be placed in a new hive while the old colony is left to raise a new queen.
The system was invented in 1947 by G. F. Taranov, a Russian beekeeper who recognized that swarms are composed primarily of very young nurse bees that haven’t yet secreted brood food or wax. All their energy is conserved for the task of starting a new colony from scratch. These young nurses have never taken orientation flights either, so they don’t know their way around the outside world. Taranov used this inexperience to separate the swarmers from the non-swarmers.
I don’t have a picture of a Taranov board so this description will test my writing skills and your patience, so bear with me here.
Although there are different ways of building a Taranov board, it is basically a ramp that slopes from the ground in front of the hive up to the hive entrance. Because hives vary in their distance from the ground, a Taranov board varies in length, but the slope is about 45 degrees. But here is the important point: the ramp does not meet with the hive entrance but falls short about 4 inches (10 cm).
The high side of the ramp is supported by two legs and the low side is supported by the ground. You build your ramp such that the high side is exactly the height and width of the entrance, then you pull it away from the entrance by four inches. The underside of the ramp is an empty space except for a piece of wood, burlap, or carpet affixed 2 to 3 inches (5-8 cm) below the top edge of the board—more on that later.
For now, look at this ramp from the point of view of the bee. You are foraging on white clover in the lawn. You are tired and have a heavy load. You decide you can walk up the ramp and get home easily. You walk up the ramp. Ugh! Steep! When you get to the top of the ramp you stop in amazement and look down into the crevasse in front of you. “Some idiot,” you say in bee, “forgot to finish the darn ramp!” Being a bee, however, you just fly over the four-inch opening and you’re home. Annoyed, perhaps, but home.
Okay, as a human, you now have a picture of what the ramp looks like. Now, here’s how to use it.
- You have a colony that you know is going to swarm. Queen cells are being capped, the queen has ceased laying, the natives are restless. You decide to split the hive to avoid losing the swarm.
- You set up your Taranov board on the ground in front of the hive. Over the top of the board you lay a large piece of fabric or a sheet. The sheet covers the ramp about two-thirds of the way up and extends to both sides and behind the ramp.
- You open the hive and, one-by-one, shake all the frames such that the bees land on the sheet. The only exception is that frames with ripe queen cells should be brushed free of bees, not shaken. The sheet prevents the bees from getting lost in the grass.
- Return the empty frames to the hive and close it up.
- Now you wait. The whole process will take 1 or 2 hours.
- This is what happens: The foragers will walk up the ramp, mutter, then fly across the 4-inch opening and enter the hive. The ready-to-swarm bees and the queen (none of which are used to flying) will walk up the ramp, peer over the precipice, then turn around and take cover in the shadows under the Taranov board.
- Remember that piece of wood, burlap, or carpet you attached to the underside of the Taranov board? The young bees—along with the queen—will form a cluster and hang from that easy-to-grasp object.
- After all the bees have sorted themselves into two groups, you remove the Taranov board and install the cluster in a new hive—preferably far enough away that the queen scent is not detected by the old colony.
The Taranov method is more commonly used in Europe than in the United States, but many beekeepers find it to be a reliable and easy way to split a hive and prevent a swarm. It can be used with many types of hives, including Langstroths, top-bars, and Warrés.
Note: The original Taranov board was built with two boards that were hinged at one end. One board was placed flat on the ground and the other was raised to form the ramp. Two posts held it open like a lean-to. This original system works fine if all your hives are an equal distance above ground, but a single board works better for variable heights.
Note #2: Photos now available at The Great Divide: a Taranov split.