The Excitement of Catching a Swarm of Bees
Nothing is more exciting to a beekeeper than catching a swarm of bees. This is especially true if you are new to beekeeping. However, even those of us with years of experience must admit that a large honey bee swarm gets our heart beating – just a little bit faster.
A mass of thousands of stinging insects hanging in a tree. Sounds like fun right ? If you are a beekeeper, the answer to that is YES. We have to catch a swarm of bees whenever the opportunity presents itself – don’t we? Yes, of course we do.
But how can you catch a swarm of bees, do you need a honey bee trap? Yes, sometimes you do – but not always. Sometimes you will be lucky enough to see a ball of bees hanging peacefully in a tree.
What are those bees doing? After emerging from a hive, the swarm of honey bees will sit down in a nearby location. 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!
How to Catch A Swarm of Bees In A Tree.
Understanding how to catch a swarm of bees in a tree depends on timing, patience and a bit of luck. Yes, pure dumb luck plays a part. But realistically, if you have hives of bees, you should walk out around your bee yard every afternoon.
Look up into the surrounding bushes and trees. Most swarms issue from the hive between 10 AM and 2 PM. 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, the swarm usually 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.
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 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. 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!
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.
2 Methods – How to Catch Bee Swarms
1. Shake a swarm that is in transition from a tree or bush near the hive
2. Place Bait Hives near your bee yard & use a swarm lure inside
Why Catching A Bee Swarm May Be Protecting Your Honey Harvest
What is a Bee Swarm?
Swarming is reproduction on a colony level and results in more colonies of honey bees. When the population reaches a certain point, the colony will divide itself. Approximately, half the bees and the old queen leave the hive. The bees left behind will make a new queen.
Catching the 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.
Honey Bee Traps – Swarm Traps – Bait Hives to Catch Bee Swarms
My Bait Hive Bee Tree
Bee traps, swarm traps, bait hives- call them what you will. They are a fun way to catch a bee swarm.
This is a simple tree that sits on the edge of my pasture. It is located over the hill (it’s all hills here folks) from my bee yard. But it is a nice walk out to check the box.
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. This is my swarm trap (also called a bait hive)! A swarm trap can be made of different materials but my favorite is an old beehive box.
Use A Swarm Lure to Aid in Catching A Swarm of Bees
When a honey bee colony is getting ready to “swarm”, they will send some bees out to look for a new home. These bee scouts are attracted to the smells associated with a regular bee colony.
Swarm Lure / Swarm Commander Swarm Lure 2oz Bottle
I include some Swarm Commander lure in my swarm 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!
What to Do After Catching A Swarm of Bees
Guess what lovelies, that bait hive did catch a swarm! I did not see the swarm move in but 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!
What to Do After Catching a 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 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.
Set Up Your Own Swarm Trap
Why do beekeepers like me spend time catching a swarm of honey bees ? If the honeybee swarm came from my bee yard, I will be preventing them from leaving and probably dying. If the swarm came from somewhere else. YOO HOO – free bees. Now its time to set up a honey bee trap of your very own.
A shaded location using an old hive box and a small entrance is ideal. I like to face mine towards the East. Throw in some old comb or a swarm lure. Remember to check your swarm trap each year for maintenance needs.
Catching a swarm of bees is hard work but it is a lot of fun also! –
Bee Swarm Accessories – Just in case!
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