Beekeepers seeking to expand their apiaries need to get honey bee swarms for new beehive boxes. To do this, you may either purchase package bees or catch a swarm of bees yourself. In this article, we’ll discuss in detail how to attract and catch a swarm of bees. It also explores different ways to make sure the swarm you catch gets comfortable quickly in their new home.
Swarming of honey bees is normal behavior. It occurs only periodically and is influenced by a number of factors. Attracting a swarm of bees is easy, and beekeepers do it all the time.
Swarming honey bees have led to beekeepers coming up with ways to catch them. They use trap boxes and lures to get new to attract and catch these swarms. For your first honey bee colony, you might consider buying package bees. Waiting for a trap box to catch a swarm is not always an effective method of getting a starter colony for a beehive.
Catching a swarming colony of bees is great for any beekeeper. They get a fresh set of DNA for their apiary. A captured honey bee colony should be introduced to a new beehive quickly. This will help the colony settle down and take to the beehive fast. By winter, the colony will be ready and be likely to survive the cold months. Feeding a freshly caught swarm is allowed. You should also check on the beehive every now and then.
When is Swarm Season for Honey Bees?
Spring is a great time for honey bees to start new colonies. Usually, the colony is large and has a lot of stored food resources in late spring. Properly wintered honey bee colonies that started off well in spring can be large and strong enough to swarm in mid spring. There is also abundance of nectar and pollen in the environment. Honey bees are noted to mostly swarm in late spring. If the swarming honey bees find a new hive soon enough, they are able to settle down and build up enough honey stocks through autumn for wintering.
Honey bees make some preparation before the actual swarming event. One of the preparations is rearing of new queens. More than one supercedure cell is made in the beehive. If more than one queen is reared, there may be after-swarms from the same beehive. This is the new virgin queens leaving the beehive with some worker bees and drones. The after-swarms are often smaller than the main swarms.
Why do Bees Swarm in Late Summer?
Swarms of bees can be seen in many seasons. Beekeepers seeing swarming behavior outside swarming season may be alarmed. Late swarms in the year can happen. The number of swarms is not as many as those in the swarming season however. Swarming late in summer or outside the swarming season is mainly due to the beehive being crowded or insecure.
Outbreaks of disease and pests of honey bees in the beehive can also cause the colony to abscond. If some bees are left in the beehive after late swarms, they will be a weak colony. Take steps to help the colony recover its full strength and be ready for wintering. The colony may require help until it reaches the season that give its first nectar flow.
Luring Bees to a New Hive
Beekeepers can catch swarming bees and have them as a colony in their apiaries. Swarming bees can be found perched in various places in the wild. The swarm can be captured and then relocated to your apiary. You can also have swarm traps out to catch swarming bees. Swarm traps are are used along with lures to attract scout bees of their presence. The scouts will then in turn inform the rest of the colony. Swarm traps can be made of various materials.
Trap boxes can be bigger or smaller than beehives. Beekeepers using Langstroth beehives can even consider converting an existing beehive box into a swarm trap. Once the bees are in the trap box, they are easy to transfer to another Langstroth beehive in your apiary.
Scents that lure bees are used in the process of trapping swarming bees. The lures are placed inside the swarm trap box. Natural beehive scents can be achieved by placing some comb with small amounts of honey in the box. Lemongrass oil in some small quantities also attracts scout bees. The lures you use in a trap hive do not need changing every now and then. You should inspect the trap boxes frequently when you use lures in them. They catch swarming bees quickly and you do not want the bees to build too much comb in the trap box.
Swarm Trap Placement
Luring bees to a new hive helps you trap a swarming colony quickly. Different lures are used by beekeepers. The positioning of the swarm trap is also an important factor for luring honey bees. Place swarm traps in a shaded place where it is not too cold. It is great if there is a source of water near the swarm trap. Bees require water and often prefer to live near water sources.
Facing the entrance of your swarm trap to get sun early in the day and have it throughout most of the day is recommended. The trap box should not be too high and make accessing it difficult. It should be at a height you can easily reach using a simple ladder. A tree limb is a great location for a trap box.
When to Put Out Swarm Traps
Swarm traps are best put out when it is very likely to catch swarming honeybees. Traps that are put out too early remain without bees and may attract wax moths into them. Other insects may also make a home in the boxes. The best time to put out swarm traps is in spring. During the season, there are many swarms of bees flying around. A good quality trap that is placed well is sure to catch a swarm of honeybees in spring.
Beekeepers may keep swarm traps going all year round even when it is not swarm season. They aim to trap bees swarming late or too early in the season. This helps the beekeepers get new honeybee colonies for their apiaries. The beekeeper risks catching colonies migrating due to disease and parasites invading their beehive. They need to nurse such a colony back to health and full strength carefully.
How to Catch a Swarm of Bees
1. From a Natural Hive into a Trap Box
You should shake down or brush bees from a cluster into a trap box. The box is then quickly sealed and transported to your apiary. If the bees are already in the trap box, the work of the beekeeper is less. You only need to bring down the trap box from where you had placed it and take it to the apiary. If you find the bees are clustered too low or on the ground, make a slope on which they can crawl up into the trap box. In a few hours, they should all move into the box. Finding the queen in the cluster and putting her into the trap box speeds up the process.
2. From a Trap Box into a Beehive
Once you have the bees in a trap box and you move it to the apiary, you must empty them into a beehive box. The best way to go about this is to place the trap box directly inside an open beehive box. On top of the beehive box, add another deep beehive box with some frames. The frames may have honeycomb drawn out on them. Other frames should have some honey for the bees. You can also have a few beehive frames with foundation, if you use foundation in your beekeeping operation.
The top of the trap box should be opened to allow bees out. The honey bees will move out of the trap box and into the box with the frames and food resources. After a few hours or a day, they should all be in the upper box.
3. Sealing Entrances
Seal the entrances of the beehive box. You may leave a few openings to allow ventilation, but make sure that no bees can come in or go out of the hive. After all the honey bees have moved to the upper deep beehive box, you may remove the box with a trap box in it. The deep beehive box will become the first box of the beehive stack. You may add a second box with frames and other resources to help the bees settle into the beehive quickly.
It is recommended that you allow the bees to start moving in and out of the beehive to forage after 2-3 days. During this time, feed the bees with sugar syrup and honey when it is available.
4. Feeding the Bees
Starting new beehives when there is not much nectar available in the environment is difficult. You have to feed the honey bees until there is nectar available and they can fend for themselves. Summer and fall swarms need your feeding with pollen and sugar syrup. You will only stop feeding them when they start making honey using nectar from flowers in the area round them.
During winter, you should supply frames with honey to the colony. Honey is the primary food resource used by bees in winter. A suitably sized super box and frames of honey within the brood box, can be used to ensure the bees do not die over winter.
We’ll discuss more about feeding a captured swarm in the next section.
Feeding Honey Bees After Catching a Swarm
Dealing with honey bee swarming requires beekeepers to know about feeding bees. Captured swarms and the colonies left in beehives need feeding. Colonies that are in short supply of stored honey also need feeding. Little nectar flow is a common reason to feed bees. To prevent honey bees from swarming, splitting and combining hives, requires them to be fed too.
Honey is the best food for honey bees. Give them a frame or two of honey for their food stores, if they need feeding. You can also use sugar syrup to feed bees for some time. The sugar syrup must be properly constituted. You should not allow the sugar syrup to ferment.
Bee Feeding Equipment
When feeding bees, use appropriate bee feeders. Manufacturers and sellers of beekeeping equipment have many good quality honey bee feeders available to beekeepers. There are 3 types of feeders available: rapid feeders, contact feeders and frame feeders. In cool weather, use contact feeders. In emergencies, beekeepers use rapid feeders to quickly address the situation. They are great for feeding from spring to autumn. Frame feeders are best for supplementing available food resources.
Notes When Feeding
Do not spill syrups or leaving it out in the open. It can attract robber bees and other predatory insects. You should also avoid feeding if there is risk of spreading disease in a honey bee colony.
Avail water to honey bees. Use can use a feeder or other suitable equipment to give honey bees a watering point. The water can be place in the hive or outside it.
To ensure your honey bees have enough nectar and pollen, have some plants near the beehive or in your apiary. The plants should flower frequently and have plenty of pollen and nectar for your honeybee colonies. If honey bees do not have enough pollen available to them, feed them with pollen patties.
What to Feed Honey Bees
There are two types of sugar syrups you can feed bees after swarming. Thin sugar syrup is made by dissolving 1 kg of sugar in 1 liter of clean water. You can also use thick sugar syrup made by dissolving 1 kg of sugar in 630 ml of water. Thin sugar syrup is fed to bees when they have been hived such as after swarming. It is also great for bees that do not have much honey in spring. When bees have low honey stores in summer, they are fed thick sugar syrup.
Feeding honey bees with sugar is best done using white granulated sugar. Brown or raw sugar can have impurities which are not good for the bees. Feed enhancers added to the feed can help with control of some diseases of bees. You can also use feeding of honey bees to control mites.
Fondant can also be used to feed honey bees. It contains a lot of sugar so be sure to provide enough water for the bees as well. It is made by boiling 4 parts of sugar in 4 parts of water in which a teaspoon of white vinegar has been added. The vinegar helps with preventing quick fermentation of the fondant. Settling pans are used to divide and shape the fondant when it cools. You can store fondant in freezers and refrigerators in waterproof containers or bags.
Honey Bee Swarm Trap Boxes
Beekeepers use different types of swarm traps to catch swarming bees.
Swarm Trap Boxes
The easiest swarm trap to make and use is a beehive box with a lid. The beehive box should have an entrance hole made. Use a lid that is easy to remove. Handles for ease of working with the box should also be fitted on. Beekeepers should use a lure in their swarm trap boxes. If the box looks good to scout bees, they will bring in the swarm. The box you use should be at least 10 inches all round. It gives enough space to attract bees, while not making the box too big.
The best swarm traps have enough space for bees. They are also lightweight and durable. Beekeepers want their swarm traps to be weatherproof and economical. They should be easy to build and built to dimensions that make the box taller than it is wide. Sufficiently large bee swarm trap boxes do not need frequent inspection visits. They should last 2-3 weeks between inspections, with no risk of a swarm occupying the box and drawing comb onto the sides of the box. You may use extra-deep frames in a swarm trap box.
Using Deep Langstroth Boxes
Deep Langstroth boxes are great for use as swarm trap boxes. Their size requires a rack or supporting structure built to hold them off the ground. Their width makes them cumbersome to carry from too high up a tree. Using a deep Langstroth beehive box to catch swarming honey bee colonies makes it easy to set up the colony in a new beehive.
What not to use
Nuc boxes are too small for honey bee swarms. Wood pulp boxes sold as swarm traps are not very durable. They are also rather small and require frequent checking. Furthermore, a wood pulp swarm trap box does not work well with beehive frames, so captured swarms would build comb onto the sides of the trap box.
Using frames in the box helps move bees with ease later. This also allows the swarm to start drawing comb in the right place. If there are no frames, the swarm will attach comb to the lid of the swarm trap box. This makes the lid very difficult to remove when you need to move the bees to a new beehive in your apiary.
Do not use Foundation with Swarm Trap Boxes
When setting a trap box to catch swarming bees, do not use foundation. The box may appear to not have enough space to scout bees. Additionally, plastic foundation is not very attractive to bees that are swarming. You can use it later when the bees are settled into a new beehive. Starter strips of beeswax to act as foundation are enough to guide honey bees on where to build comb when caught in a swarm trap box.
Protect the Swarm Trap from Predators
For swarm trap boxes, a single entrance that is 1 inch all round is adequate. You could have a barrier at the entrance to keep birds out. Use a single nail to split the trap box entrance hole in half to keep birds out.
It’s possible to go for many months and even years without catching a swarm of bees in a trap box. Do not give up or remove your traps from their locations. Eventually, you will get something if you are persistent.
After bees get into your swarm trap box, give them a few days to settle in before moving them. You can put them in a brood box first and then add honey super boxes later.
Lures for a Swarm Trap Box
Trap boxes put out to catch swarming honey bees, can sometimes go for long without catching a swarm. There are various methods available to increase the chances of success. The most common is using lures to attract bees into the swarm trap box. Lures help attract scout bees to the trap box. You can either buy or make your own lures.
The lures bought from beekeeping equipment suppliers come ready to use. Perhaps the popular commercial lure is the Swarm Commander. Unfortunately, it does not list the ingredients used to make it. As such, beekeepers can thus not make similar lures to this popular commercial lure. Swarm Commander comes in liquid form. The most commonly used package of the lure is the 2-ounce bottle. Check out our list of the best swarm lures that you can use.
DIY Lure Recipes
Making your own lures to attract swarming bees requires ingredients such as lemongrass extracts, wax and olive oil. You can also use honey or sugar. There are two main recipes that most beekeepers use to make lures for honey bee swarm trap boxes.
The first one uses 14 cups of olive oil and 20 drops of lemongrass. It also needs half a sheet of foundation wax or beeswax. The ingredients are mixed together and heated until the wax melts. Beekeepers then smear the resulting paste onto frames and the inner surfaces of the swarm trap box.
The second recipe eliminates olive oil and uses only lemongrass and beeswax. The two are mixed and smeared on the insides of the swarm trap box. Every 2 weeks, be sure to check on your trap boxes and refresh the lemongrass oil.
Some beekeepers use apple and peach to entice scout bees to swarm traps. They rub peach and apple leaves lightly on the inner surfaces of their trap boxes.
Swarming of an Existing Hive
After swarming, the beehive is left with a reduced number of bees. As such, it is prone to being robbed. The colony might also have little left in its food resources. Beekeepers should help to ensure better chances of survival for the colony. Feeding the beehive is useful if swarming happens after nectar flow is over. This is especially important with late spring and early autumn swarming. The honey bee colony must be fed with sugar syrup. It helps the hive rear brood to build its numbers and prepare more honeycombs on frames.
Signs of a Beehive Swarming
Inspection of your beehives and regular observation of honey bee behavior can tell you when honeybees want to swarm away. By knowing when bees are preparing to swarm, you can prevent the swarming activity from happening. Worker bees may create queen cups or supercedure cells at any time in the year. However, the queen bee does not lay eggs in the supercedure cells. Just before swarming occurs, the queen will lay eggs in one or more supercedure cell and the worker bees will tend to the larvae in the cells.
Preparation for swarming will also see the bees reduce the amount of nectar they feed the queen bee. This is because laying queens are heavy and cannot fly well. Reducing the queen feeding or stopping it makes the queen get smaller and be able to fly. In addition, the queen stops laying eggs in the beehive. You will note no freshly laid eggs in the beehive yet on closer inspection you can see the queen bee. These are the bee swarming signs you should look out for.
What Time of Day do Bees Swarm?
Bees can swarm away during any time of the day, starting from mid morning to the late afternoon. It is not often that bees start swarming during the early morning or late evening. In the night, honey bees are usually in the beehive and clustered around brood and the queen bee. It helps keep the beehive warm.
Honey bee colonies that have still not found a new hive by night can spend the night clustered on a branch. They can stay for more than a day in one place. However, they leave the temporary resting point as soon as a suitable new hive or tree hollow is found.
How Long do Honey Bee Swarms Stay?
Swarming bees have two or more movements in the swarming process. The first mass movement is from the beehive to a nearby tree branch or other suitable shelter. This is usually within 20-30 meters form the parent beehive. Once the swarm is fully constituted, it moves away and can shelter on a tree limb or under a roof for some time. Scout bees sent out from this location alert he swarm to presence of a suitable shelter and then the swarm moves to colonize that shelter.
The swarming bees moving from the beehive take about an hour or two to form into a split-away swarm. It then moves to the first temporary stop-over where it stays for between 3 hours and 3 days. Most commonly, the swarm will have found a new place to stay within a day. 3 days is the most that a swarm can be out there looking for a place to start a fresh colony.
Bees on the move are rushing against time. They usually have a queen with them. This queen requires feeding and sometimes mating. Additionally, the bees have very little food with them. Before swarming, bees gorge themselves on honey. If the honey they have in their abdomens runs out, the entire swarm could be lost. They therefore seek out and colonize a new shelter quickly.
Using Trapped Honey Bee Swarms to Improve the Overall Genetics of the Apiary
Beginners start beekeeping by either catching swarms or buying package bees. Catching a swarm can take time and most would prefer to simply buy package bees. Later on in their beekeeping journey, they may then choose to catch swarming bees to add to their apiaries. Swarming bees are usually from very strong colonies, which loved by beekeepers. The caught swarms are used to increase the number of hives and to improve the genetics of the entire apiary.
You can use drones or queens to breed honey bees. Using drones, you ensure that the drones that mate with virgin queens are from a different swarm. It is not usually easy to achieve this since you do not know when mating will occur.
Using queen bees to improve colony genetics is easy. By bringing in a new queen bee, you change the entire swarm over time. As old bees die off, the new bees produced in the hive are from eggs laid by the new queen. This way, the genetic makeup of the entire hive is improved. The colony of bees you catch is encouraged to make supercedure cells. These produce new queen bees that can be caught and put into other beehives. The colony is best split before you encourage one to make supercedure cells. If you do not split it, the colony might split itself and have some bees swarm away with the old queen bee.
When you introduce a new queen to a beehive, put her in a queen cage at first. Spraying the bees with some sugar syrup helps with calming them. It also speeds up queen acceptance. The time you leave the queen in her cage allows her pheromones to spread throughout the beehive. A candy plug is left in the queen cage for the queen and bees to chew through. Requeening a beehive is a delicate process that you should carry out with care to make sure the queen bee is accepted.
Another method you can use to improve hive genetics with a captured swarm is the swapping of brood frames. Once the swarm you catch has settled into a new hive, take some brood frames from it and swap them with frames from your other beehives. Bees from these frames will be of a different genetic makeup and will persist in the beehive for some time. If you are lucky and know how to identify drone comb, use it when you see supercedure cells being made.
You can even kill off the old queen bee or sell her away. The honey bees will be triggered to rear a new queen who will then be mated by drones reared from the frames coming from the swarm you caught.
Preventing the Swarming of Honey Bees
Beekeepers are not always happy when swarming occurs. This is despite knowing that swarming helps honey bees to spread to other places. Swarming leaves a beehive with fewer bees for foraging and hive defense. The colony that is left behind can be vulnerable to robbing. If it is not large enough, it may even die off during winter.
Beekeepers use various practices to prevent honey bees from swarming. Among these methods are:
- The use of additional beehive boxes
- Splitting the hive
- Destroying supercedure cells
- Clipping queen bee wings
Checkerboarding in beehive management is the mixing of different types of frames depending on their use by bees. In the brood box, remove some brood frames and replace them with empty frames or frames with stored honey. In super boxes, remove some frames with stored honey and replace them with empty frames.
Why it Works
Honey bees that would swarm due to abundance of food resources and enough brood in the hive, are confused into staying. The queen bee sees empty space and wants to lay eggs in the empty frames in the brood box.
Checkerboarding in the super boxes make the bees want to be more active with foraging. Honey bees want to have a lot of honey stored in the beehive. Seeing empty frames in the super box reduces the urge to swarm and sets the bees foraging and making honey. You can also use frames from which you have removed wax so that bees get to drawing comb in the beehives.
Using Additional Beehive Boxes
The second method of preventing bees from swarming is using additional beehive boxes. Usually, one beehive box is enough. Add the box on top of the current Langstroth beehive stack. The additional space gives bees work to do. They will prefer to see about filling the space than swarming. In the empty beehive box, place some frames from the super boxes. Also, have some frames with no drawn honeycomb. You could also place in some frames from brood boxes, if there are enough bees to keep the brood warm at night.
In the brood area and super boxes, you may replace the frames you removed with empty frames. The queen does not have to access the newly added box. Brood in this box will be fed and taken care of by the worker bees in the colony. Once they leave the cells, the comb will be converted into honey storage.
Splitting the Beehive
Splitting beehives is also a method to prevent honey bees from swarming. The splits focus on foraging and rearing brood. Once the swarming urge has passed, the splits are combined. This process of splitting and then combining hives should be managed very carefully. The beekeeper should cause minimum loss of stored honey and brood frames for best colony strength after combining the splits.
Destroying Supercedure Cells
A honey bee colony that is preparing to swarm creates supercedure cells. These are large cells that are easily noticed in a beehive inspection. Larvae in these cells are groomed to be queen bees. Many supercedure cells can result in multiple swarms form a single beehive. Destroy supercedure cells when you find them to prevent swarming. Without a new queen bee to keep the beehive going, the honey bees remain in one colony.
Additionally, put in place one of the other methods of preventing swarming to make the bees busy with foraging and other beehive activities.
Clipping a Wing of the Queen Bee
A last method of keeping honeybee colonies from swarming is clipping one wing of the queen bee. When the colony splits to swarm away, the queen cannot fly. She will leave the beehive and fall to the ground under or near the beehive. Honey bees cluster around her and remain on the ground. You will find the cluster of honey bees on the ground and collect it easily.
Return the cluster to the original beehive and deploy one of the other detailed methods of preventing swarming.
Controlling Pests and Parasites
Pest and parasite control is important for beekeepers aiming to prevent swarming. It helps leave the conditions in the beehive favorable for bee habitation. Destructive parasites of honey bees such as wax moths can wreck havoc in a beehive and make honeybees abscond. Early identification and management of these pests and parasites of honeybees keeps them from causing destruction in the beehive and on the honey bee colony.
Improving Beehive Security to Prevent Swarming
Insecure beehives can cause honeybees to swarm away. If the bees feel that they are under threat, they may decide to relocate. This happens when there have been robbing or predator attacks. Sometimes, excessive opening of the beehive by the beekeeper can lead the bees to feeling insecure. Help honeybees defend their beehive by reducing entrances for small or weakened honeybee colonies. Smaller and fewer entrances are easier to guard than many large entrances.
To improve hive security, you should set traps for robber bees, wasps and hornets in the various seasons. The traps help you reduce the number of competing insects in the area near your honeybees. With honeybee colonies that are very weak, combining them can help. This results in fewer honeybee colonies that are much stronger. The beekeeper can then later split beehives or catch new swarms of bees to repopulate the empty beehives.
A Final Word
Catching a swarm of bees is a great event for any beekeeper. It is also very rewarding due to the potential benefits it has for your apiary. Both beginner and experienced beekeepers can catch a swarm of bees if they prepare for it well. Use this article on how to attract and catch a swarm of bees to expand your apiaries and beekeeping operations.
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