Swarm Trapping requires time and patience, but the nice thing is, swarm traps work around the clock. All the beekeeper needs to do is bait the trap, hang it up, and check it.
Swarm trapping is a great way to get free bees. Not only are swarms free, but they are also a source for good genetic stock. Any beekeeper who wishes to increase their hives should try swarm trapping.
Types of Swarm Traps
There are a lot of things you can use to catch a swarm. Some people use peat pots, some use nuc boxes, and some use standard 10 frame Langstroth boxes for swarm traps. You can literally use anything that you want for a bee trap. Below is a list of things I have used as swarm traps that actually work.
1. Regular Hives:
I have had the best luck using old 10 frame hives. But I also use 5 frame swarm traps with a lot of success. The bees readily accept this type of swarm trap. Especially, if the boxes have had bees in them before. Boxes that naturally smell like a beehive will outperform any swarm trap baited with artificial lure alone.
According to a Cornell university publication, European honey bees prefer to build their hives in a cavity that is 40 liters in volume. They will accept anything greater than 20 Liters. A ten frame hive is 42.75 liters.
Another advantage of using regular equipment is, once the bees are in the hive, all you need to do is take them down and place them on a hive stand. Using regular equipment allows you to use removable frames which is important. You don’t want to have to cut the combs out.
2. Flower Pot Swarm Traps
The bottom line is, flower pot swarm traps work and they are cheap. There are many individuals who use them and swear by them. Below is a video showing how effective flower pot swarm traps can be. Here is a link to Amazon where you can purchase your own. If you set out enough flower pot traps, it won’t take long before you have more bees than you know what to do with.
The only downside to flower pot swarm traps is that, if you neglect them, you may have to cut the combs out of them to extract the bees. This is only a problem if you don’t check your traps often enough. To avoid doing a cut out, make sure you check your swarm traps often, and you won’t have an issue.
3. Cardboard Box
In my early days of swarm trapping I would use cardboard boxes. I would use any box I could get my hands on. My favorite boxes were these Banker Boxes I found on Amazon.
Catchings swarms is a numbers game. The more hives you set out, the greater the chance you’ll get a swarm. Boxes are a very inexpensive way to increase your numbers.
Here is a video that I found of a guy putting some boxes together. One thing he doesn’t do, that I do with most of my boxes, is wrap them in plastic. Plastic will increase their life significantly.
How to Bait a Swarm Trap
1. Old Comb
There are a few things you can do attract bees to your swarm trap. The best way is to use a bee box that has already been used. The box will have propolis, beeswax, and other smells that let the scout bees know your box is a suitable home. If you don’t have an old beehive, use old frames of comb, or rub beeswax all over the interior of your swarm trap. Anything you do to make your box smell like a beehive, the better your chances of catching a swarm.
The best commercial lure one on the market right now is Swarm Commander. Where lemongrass mimics the Nasonov pheromone, Swarm commander uses the actual Nasonov pheromone to attract bees to your trap. Click here to buy on Amazon.
The awesome thing about swarm lure is that it is formulated to more closely match the Queens Pheromones. It is also easier to apply to the hive and seems to attract scout bees a lot quicker than lemongrass. There are several different brands available on the market and I am sure they work well, but I am most familiar with the Swarm Commander brand so it is the only one I can recommend.
Lemongrass oil is an awesome lure, and works extremely well when added to old beehives. I usually take a plastic bag, put a few small holes in it, and add a drop or two of oil. I then place this in the hive where it will attract bees for days. I also apply it on the outside of the beehive near the entrance.
A few drops of lemongrass oil in a swarm trap will have scout bees flying around them in hours. I have had best luck with the Young Living brand essential oils and have also tried the DoTERRA brand with similiar results.
Queen Juice is a homemade lure. It is made by taking old queens and placing them in alcohol. You need a lot of queens for this to be effective, so it isn’t ideal for the beginner. The reason this works is the Queen Mandibular Pheromone becomes concentrated in the alcohol solution. I have never tried this method, but it is worth considering if you have a lot of queens.
Setting Up Swarm Traps
The most important part of swarm trapping is finding the perfect spot to put the trap. It is important that you place your swarm trap where you know there are bees. Ideal places to put your swarm traps are near lazy beekeepers, or close to feral honey bee colony.
If you want to place your traps close to a wild honey bee colony, you will need to find one. In order to find one, you might want to consider learning about Beelining. Finding a wild hive can be a bit challenging but there are a lot of resources available that can get you started.
The book I have linked to on the left is a must read for anyone interested in beelining. If you have ever wanted to find and trap feral colonies to add survivor genetics to your Apiary you should check out this book. Here is a link to the book on Amazon.
I have also posted an article about beelining on this site in my How to Build a Beelining Box Post. I have linked to a video where I explain the basic concepts of beelining and how to build a beelining box.
Once you find the perfect spot, it is best to hang your swarm trap at least 10-15 feet off the ground. Ideally, you want the hive in the flight path and easily found by scout bees.
Height isn’t extremely important. I have personally witnessed a hive that was built underground. Most swarm trappers will agree, however, that the higher the trap the more enticing it is to the scout bees. A good rule is to place your swarm traps as high as you can while still being able to take them down safely.
You will soon find that there are places you always catch swarms and places you never catch swarms. Having several swarm traps out increases your odds of finding the best locations, so get as many traps out as possible.
Before I set traps out, I will drive around town and find locate beekeepers. Once I have found another beekeeper, I will place my swarm trap within a quarter mile of their hives.
Swarm Trapping Etiquette
- Be courteous of other beekeepers: Catching a swarm that came from another beekeepers yard is NOT stealing. Most beekeepers realize that once a swarm leaves their property it is no longer belongs to them and is fair game to other beekeepers.
However, even though it is perfectly legal to surround another beekeepers apiary with swarm traps, it could have a negative impact on your relationship with that beekeeper. Don’t be annoying, bees will travel quite a ways to find a new home.
- Never set a trap on private property without permission.
- Leave other beekeeper’s swarm traps alone.
- Mark your hives with contact information.
Increasing Your Odds
Bees almost always cast multiple swarms. The majority of the time, they will send the second swarm to the same location as the last one. Once you catch a swarm, put the bees into a new box and put the swarm trap back up. It is best to use the same trap that caught the bees. The trap will smell like a swarm and entice another swarm to enter.
Swarm trapping is a great way to get started in beekeeping. It is not a 100% guaranteed way to get bees, but catching one swarm is worth the extra effort.
Catching swarms provides beekeepers a way to add survivor genetics to their apiaries. Hives that swarm, swarm because they are healthy. They have managed to live through a winter, and have proven themselves able to survive their current climate. The benefits are obvious, and besides, who doesn’t like free bees?