For the ambitious beekeeper, catching swarms in swarm traps is a great way to get started keeping bees. You are not always guaranteed to catch a swarm this way. The chances of tricking a swarm of bees to pick your bait hive instead of a hollow tree, or any other cavity, is a bit of an art. There is more to trapping bees than nailing a box to a tree and waiting. Trapping bees takes time and patience, and even then you don’t catch anything. The wonderful thing about swarm traps is, once the trap is up, you don’t really need to do anything. The only thing you have to do is check it from time to time, and take the hive down if a swarm finds it. This is a great way to get free bees with very little effort, and should be a part of every beekeepers growth strategy.
Swarm Traps/Bait Hives
As with anything in beekeeping there are a thousand ways that people go about trapping bees. 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. I would stay away from anything plastic, the bees don’t seem to like it. Here are the kinds of swarm traps that I have used.
10 Frame Standard Hive/Top Bar Hive – I have had the best luck using old 10 frame hives. The bees really seem to love them especially when they have been used and smell like a beehive. According to a cornell university publication, 40 litres is the suggested cavity size. I really like using regular equipment because once the bees are in the hive all I have to do is take them down. Assuming the bees attach the comb correctly, there is no need to cut the combs.
Peat Pots – I really don’t like using peat pots for swarm trapping. I haven’t had any luck with them. The biggest reason is that the squirrels get at them first. There are a lot of people that use them and swear by them. I’m sure they work fine if you can keep an eye on them. This is a really cheap alternative if you don’t want to invest in any additional equipment and don’t want to hang your best hive boxes 15 feet up a tree. The other reason I don’t like them is that the combs have to be individually cut out and installed into a permanent hive.
Cardboard Box – I have used apple boxes as swarm traps with no luck. Again, the squirrels love them and easily chew through the boxes. The only other issue with the cardboard box is that they are susceptible to water damage. This could be bad if you catch a swarm and don’t know it for a week or two. Taking the box down could be a disaster for you and the bees. I could just see myself climbing down the ladder as the box falls apart in my hands. Not a good scenario to be in so I avoid it. If you don’t want to buy peat pots or langstroth boxes you could do this. Just remember to check it often and keep it out of the rain as much as possible. Unless you find a way to incorporate frames or top bars in the box, you will have to cut the comb out and transfer the bees to a permanent hive.
Baiting Swarm Traps
Bees Wax/Used Beehives – There are a couple of things you can do to entice the bees to your swarm trap. The best way is to take a beehive that has already been used. The box will have propolis, beeswax, and all kinds of smells in it that let the scout bees know that your box is a suitable home. If you don’t have an old beehive the next best thing you can do is take some beeswax, buy some if you have to, and rub it all over the interior of your hive.
Lemongrass Oil – A lot of people, including myself, use lemongrass oil as a lure. This works really well when added to old beehives. Basically you take a little plastic baggie with a few pin holes in it, put a drop or two in the bag and seal it up. Place this at the bottom of the hive. I usually put some on my finger and apply it on the outside of the beehive near the entrance. The hives that I put lemongrass oil in seem to always have scout bees flying around them. I find that it works really well.
Queen Juice - Queen Juice is made by taking all your old and or unused virgin queens and placing them in alcohol. The reason this works is because of the Queen Mandibular Pheromone. Most people use a combination of Queen Juice and lemongrass oil. Those who use this method claim it does wonders. I have not tried it yet but plan on trying it in the future. There is also a commercial version available that you can buy.
Commercial Lure – These are lures that you can buy from most bee supply companies. You can buy Queen Mandibular Pheromone(Queen Juice) in little tubes that you place inside the hive. You can also buy Swarm Lure which is Nasonov pheromone. Most people use both Queen Juice and either Swarm lure or Lemongrass oil together. Swarm Lure and Lemongrass oil are chemically similar but lemongrass oil is much cheaper to buy.
Finding a Location for a Swarm Trap
The biggest part of swarm trapping is finding a good spot to put the hive. This is something you will have to determine yourself and requires a bit of trial and error. Obviously placing the hive where there is known bee activity is important. The best way to get a swarm is to place your swarm traps in an area where you know that bees aren’t being managed. This could be near a lazy beekeepers yard or feral hive of bees.
Once you find a spot you like, you will want to place the hive at least 10-15 feet off the ground. Basically you want the hive at the flying height of the scout bees. I don’t know what the flying height is so I place them as high as I can while still being able to take it down safely. Experimenting and learning from failures is the key to successful swarm trapping.
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, so get as many traps out as possible. If you have a hive box laying around put some frames in it, bait it with lemongrass oil and set it out during swarm season. This is better than letting it sit in your garage.
Swarm trapping is a great way to get started in beekeeping. It isn’t the easiest way to get bees but the knowledge attained while doing it is worth the extra effort. Besides, who doesn’t like free bees? .