Tips for Attracting Honey Bee Swarms
Seeing a swarm of honey bees in flight is one of the most exciting aspects of beekeeping. This is especially true for new beekeepers. But, many beekeepers strive to minimize swarming of our honey bee colonies. This is because swarms reduce honey production.However, the bees have a different agenda. Swarms will happen. Giving some thought to attracting honey bee swarms is part of a good beekeeping plan.
Most bee colonies swarm during good weather when a lot of forage is available. For my region, I see the most swarms during late March, April and through the month of May.
However, honey bee swarming can happen at any time during the “reproductive season”. The reproductive season in South Carolina is from March thru September or October.
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These are the months when brood is being produced and drones (male bees) are available to mate with queen bees. Do I ever see honey bee swarms in February or late October? You bet! Never attempt to say what bees will or will not do, they will prove you wrong.
Warmer than normal weather in early Spring can speed up swarming. Fall swarms are not uncommon either.
Scout Bees Are the Realtors of The Bee Swarm World
Scout bees are given the task of searching out a new home for the swarm. If your goal is attracting honey bee swarms, your target is to attract the scout bees first. Weeks before the old colony swarms, the scouts begin to investigate possible new homes.
Some of the scout bees may even spend the night in a potential nest site. It’s rather like a sleep-over! When you see an increasing number of scout bees near swarm trap. That is a good sign and may indicate a swarm arrival soon.
My Solution to Attracting Honey Bee Swarms
This is a good read for any beekeeper. But, regardless of what studies show, the bees will often surprise us and “do their own thing”.
We can find bee swarms residing in many different locations. From the expected, prepared swarm trap to the unused gas grill on your neighbor’s porch. You just never know.
My favorite type of swarm trap or bait hive is an old hive body. A used hive body has the smell of bees! Old wax and propolis scent remains in the wood. A bee has a much stronger sense of smell than us. They can smell wax from far away.
I like to use a solid bottom. Unlike a normal solid bottom board, I actually nail a flat piece of wood to the bottom of the hive body. Bees like darkness inside their hive.
I add a tight-fitting top that can be easily removed (with screws-not nails) and a small 1-inch hole drilled in the hive body about 2 inches up from the bottom.
Pulp bait hives can be useful for attracting honey bee swarms too. Some beekeepers like to use the commercially available beehive traps made out of a pulp-like material. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It is not a long lasting solution but they are lightweight and easy to handle.
Best Location to Catch Swarms
Many people get overly-concerned about the height of a trap to catch swarms. As I mentioned before, bees tend to do what they want. I have had great success in catching swarm in traps less than 10 feet off the ground. Be safe.
Getting the swarm trap up in the tree is one thing. Will you be able to get it down with 10-20 pounds of weight inside?
You will have a better chance of attracting honey bee swarms if your trap is in a shaded location. A tree at the edge of the forest line is a good choice. If you catch a swarm, replace the trap. I have caught several swarms with the same trap over a season.
The Best Lure to Attract A Honey Bee Swarm
One of the most reliable methods of catching a swarm of bees is to lure them with scent. Do you have an old frame of used honeycomb? The smell of wax will encourage scout bees to check out the location.
In my experience, I have had better luck using just 1 old frame with comb in my hive body trap. When I fill the box with frames, I caught fewer swarms. So, I put one frame in the box and lightly tack it to the side (this is so it won’t move and squeeze bees when I am getting it down).
This method requires you to monitor the swarm trap often. When the bees move in, they will begin to build honeycomb from the top of the box. I don’t expect them to use the old frame, it is just there for scent.
Other beekeepers like to use 1 frame with old comb and fill the rest of the space with empty frames. The empty frames contain a small 1-inch strip of beeswax foundation in the top wedge. This method preserves the feeling of space while encouraging the bees to build within the frames.
Any of these methods can be successful, find out what works for you in your area.
Catching A Bee Swarm with a Commercial Lure
Many beekeepers chose to use a commercial swarm lure to attract honey bee swarms. This is especially helpful if you do not have an old hive box or used honeycomb.
Honestly, I use both old comb and lure. My current favorite is one called Swarm Commander. I use the liquid form and dabble a few drops at the trap entrance. Repeated every 2-3 weeks.
Steps for Attracting Honey Bee Swarms
- Place your swarm trap out 3-4 weeks before the Spring Nectar Flow
- Use a large container/old hive body with solid floor and top
- Drill a 1″ opening for an entrance
- An old piece of honeycomb inside attracts scout bees
- Use a commercial swarm lure if desired
- Check your swarm trap often
- When a swarm moves in – relocate to a permanent location
Why Do Beekeepers Want to Attract Swarms?
Beekeepers enjoy setting up bait hives or swarm traps. Why? Because the effort of trying to catch bee swarms is small compared to the value of a new colony.
If one of my hives swarms, I would like to catch them before they leave my property. And if a wayward swarm passes through from somewhere else, I would like to catch it too! A swarm that did not come out of my hive. Free Bees!
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