It’s a Buzz – Catching a Swarm of Honey Bees
A loud roar of honey bees fills the air. Any beekeeper who hears this sound experiences a feeling of glee. Catching a honey bee swarm is the highlight of any beekeeper’s day.
It is natural for honey bee colonies to swarm during the warm season. Spring is the most common time to see swarming. Spring swarms have the best chance of surviving due to abundant nectar and pollen.
On a warm afternoon, the queen bee and about half the workers leave their colony. They will make a new colony somewhere else. The remaining bees have queen cells – one of which will become the new queen of the colony.
2 Ways of Catching a Honey Bee Swarm
We have 10,000 to 30,000 honey bees on the lose. How can you catch a swarm of wild bees? Do you need a honey bee trap?
Yes, sometimes you do need a swarm trap or bait hive-but not always. Sometimes, you will get lucky and find a ball of bees hanging peacefully in a tree.
When a honey bee swarm leaves the mother colony, they will gather somewhere nearby. They stay in this transition location for a few hours or maybe overnight.
This is the beekeeper’s moment of opportunity to catch the bees easily. And, often it is done without any type of honey bee trap.
Opportunities to Catch Swarms
- catch the honey bee swarm in it’s transition spot (tree)
- catch the swarm in a swarm trap or bait hive
How to Catch A Swarm Bees In A Tree.
Retrieving a bee swarm from a tree sounds like a good idea. You can do it, I have many times. Success depends on timing, patience and a bit of luck. Yes, pure dumb luck plays a part.
But realistically, if you have beehives , you should walk out around your bee yard (or apiary) every afternoon.Look up into the surrounding bushes and trees.
Most honey bee swarms issue from the hive between 10 AM and 2 PM. They usually stay in the transition spot for a few hours at least. Perhaps they are still there!
This type of swarm harvest can be an easy job if the swarm is on a low limb of a tree or in a bush. However, my bee swarms sometimes go way up in a tree.
I can not always get them. Please don’t risk your life trying to reach bees that are dangerously high up.
For some of you, it will be as simple as shaking the ball of bees into a new hive box or even a cardboard box for transport.
Swarm Catching When You Can Reach the Bees
If you have a bee swarm hanging on a low tree branch, you need to “get a move on”! In a few hours – or much less, the swarm leaves to journey to their new home.
Sometimes, the swarm will spend the night in the tree and go to their new home the next day. But, if we did not see them come out of the mother hive, we don’t know how long they have been hanging there.
Honey Bee Swarms are Not Aggressive
A swarm is generally not aggressive. If you leave them alone, they leave you alone. They may even be quietly hanging in a tree nearby without you knowing it.
In the process of manipulating the swarm, the bees will sting. They do not know your intentions. And, may take being shook out of a tree personally. Wear your hat and veil!
Prepare Your Equipment Ahead of Swarm Season!
You need to always be ready during swarm season. I can’t tell you how many beekeepers that I know who have lost swarms simply due to lack of equipment!
Yes, sometimes a swarm takes us by surprise but gather your supplies before bee swarm season! Always have an extra deep hive body, bottom board and top with frames and foundation prepared.
If you want something portable to keep on hand, consider one of the cardboard nuc boxes. They fold flat and can be stored in the car or behind a truck seat. For years, I carried a nuc box, small smoker and veil in my car.
The smart beekeeper knows time is of the essence and we must hurry. You would think I would be calm after all these years when catching a swarm of bees. I am not !
But how will we catch this bee swarm made up of thousands of individuals? We have a couple of options & a secret. (You only have to catch 1 bee.)
Shake It Out – Catch A Bee Swarm In A Tree
The lucky beekeeper will have a swarm land at a low height – in a nearby tree or bush. My honey bee swarms tend to go to the top of a Sweet Gum tree- about 40 feet off the ground. But sometimes a swarm will be just 6 or 8 feet off the ground.
Low hanging swarms are the delight of any beekeeper. You can place an empty hive under the swarm-with the top removed.
Give the limb a sharp shake and the bees will fall in or near the box. If the queen bee falls in the box, the other bees will join her. ( Yes, that is the 1 bee you need to catch.)
If the rest of the swarm does not go in the box within 15-20 minutes, you missed her. You may need to shake the tree again!
Bees Just Out of Reach
When I have a swarm that is just beyond reach, I am often able to get them with some help. A swarm retrieval aid helps me reach a swarm located just a bit too high up.
I use a long telescoping pole and attach a bucket/pail to the end. I attached a hinge to the end of the pole and then a plastic kitty litter bucket.
This allows the bucket to swing and I can bump the swarm inside – then quickly lower the bucket to retrieve the swarm.
Using Swarm Traps
Bee traps, swarm traps, bait hives – call them what you will. They are a fun way to catch honey bee swarms. They can be there to catch the bees while you are away at work!
I have had a simple swarm trap in a tree for years. It is located over the hill (it’s all hills here folks) from my apiary (bee yard). It catches swarms most years.
If you look closely, you will see a little wooden box located near the trunk of this tree. It is about 6 feet off the ground and supported by a wooden arm.
A swarm trap can be made of different materials but my favorite is an old beehive box. You can also construct a box (at least the size of a deep super box) or purchase a commercial swarm trap.
Swarm Lures Increase Swarm Catching Success
Honey bees are very sensitive to scent. We want to entice the scout bees to inspect our box. Place a few drops of Lemon Grass essential oil inside your swarm trap or purchase a commercial swarm lure.
I include some Swarm Commander lure in my bait hives. If the majority of the scouts like my bait hive, the swarm might decide to move in! How cool is that!
So here I go – to check the swarm trap. Oh, I think I see Scout bees! Will the scouts pick this box or will they choose to move on?
Only time will tell, catching a swarm of honey bees can be nerve wracking. Sometimes the scouts will not agree that my box is the best location – but sometimes they do!
After Catching the Honey Bees
Guess what lovelies, that bait hive did catch a swarm! I see a steady stream of foragers going in and out of the hive entrance. Now, I need to complete the capture by moving the bee swarm to a permanent beehive.
The box is gently lowered to the ground and the top removed. WOW! Look at that swarm of bees! Now I must get them out of the temporary bait hive and into the standard hive.
If I can get the queen in there the others will follow but how can you find the queen in this mess of bees? Often you can’t – you just shake them into the new box and hope!
Moving the Captured Swarm
I like to move the swarm into a permanent beehive during the afternoon. I leave the hive sitting beside the tree until after dark. Once it is dark (and all foragers inside), I transport the new swarm hive back to the apiary.
I place some obstructions in front of the hive entrance. This may be something as simple as some tree limbs with leaves. (Anything, a desperate beekeeper comes up with.) I do not block the entrance completely.
My reasoning is that as the bees leave the hive the next morning, they will stop and investigate. Hopefully, this triggers some reorientation and helps them return to the proper location.
Catching A Bee Swarm – Without Even Trying too Hard
Sometimes you will have new tenants ( a honey bee swarm) move into a bait hive unnoticed. It is important to move the bee swarm to a permanent location as soon as possible.
They will build honeycomb very fast. Enjoy this video I made of one of my bait hives that was successful.
Why Catch Swarms
Catching a swarm of honey bees from your hive is a way to save the harvest or reduce the loss. Perhaps the colony can be recombined in a larger hive or at least the new swarm adds another hive to your apiary.
From a personal point of view, I know these new swarm colonies will most likely perish without the help of a beekeeper. Most feral “wild” colonies will succumb to mites, disease or starvation within 2 years.
Swarm capture also prevents the beekeeper from having to buy honeybees to go in a new hive. Face it, you will not catch every swarm. Try to be a good sport and wish them well as they fly away.