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How to Set Up a Swarm Trap for Bees

Swarm traps, also called, bait hives are structures that beekeepers use to catch honey bee swarms. The beauty of this method is that you can catch bees even while you are away. Beekeepers who learn how to set up a swarm trap in a good location may be rewarded with free bees. Swarming is a seasonal event that occurs most often in Spring. We want to get those traps set up well before Spring arrives.

picture of a swarm trap for bees in a tree

Getting Swarm Traps Ready for Spring

Most beekeepers try their hand with a catching bees at some time in their beekeeping experience. Maybe they will catch a swarm that issues from one of their own hives.  This prevents the bees from getting away.

For some new beekeepers, catching bees in a swarm trap might be the only way they can get started in beekeeping. Buying honey bee colonies and equipment can get rather expensive.

What is a Honey Bee Swarm Trap?

The terms : swarm trap, bee trap, and bait hive all mean the same thing. They can be made from many different materials or you can purchase commercial versions from beekeeping suppliers.

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picture of a beekeeper with swarm trap in tree, how to set up a bee swarm trap

Do Bee Traps Work?

Yes, they do. Honey bee traps can be very successful at catching swarms. And sometimes, you can catch more than 1 swarm in the same box during the warm season.

However, no bait hive will catch every swarm of bees. You will still some some bees that decide to go out on their own instead of using the free apartment you have fixed for them.

If the scout bees find a location better than what you are offering – the swarm will go there instead. You never can tell with bees. Sometimes, a swarm will even down on the outside of other beehives.

A bee swarm on outside of a hive image.

When to Set Up Your Swarm Trap

Set up your swarm trap or bait hive in late Winter – very early Spring.  Once colony populations begin to grow, scout bees will begin to search out new homes.

A good swarm of bees caught early in the year, may build to be a strong colony before Winter arrives. It will take a while for the scout bees to find your trap so get it out there.

Of course you can place bait hives out at any time during the warm season. You never know when a swarm may move in.

Best Location for a Swarm Trap

Much research has been completed on the ideal placement of bee swarm traps. If you are looking for data, you will find a wealth of ideas to help you choose a perfect spot. These suggestions include:

  • elevate the trap off the ground 6-13 feet minimum
  • face entrance towards southeast if possible
  • have a small entrance 1″
  • ideal space inside equivalent to a deep hive body

What should your bait hive be made of?  How large should the inside dimensions be?  Different sizes are suggested as being the best to entice a bee swarm.

Do not hesitate to set up a bee trap because you don’t have the perfect location or perfect materials. You just never know what can happen.

Most resources advise setting them up higher (around 13 feet or more) off the ground. However, that is too high for me to get down by myself! Do what works for you!

Choose a shady location at that is what bees seem to prefer. Also, you want the opening to the trap to be small – no more and 1-1 1/2″ in diameter. Give your trap a solid bottom so the bees feel safe.

A beekeeper making a solid bottom for a honeybee bait hive image.

Honey Bee Trap Setup Quick Guide

  1. Place your trap out 3-4 weeks before the Spring Nectar Flow
  2. Use a large container/old hive body with solid floor and top
  3. Drill a 1″ opening for an entrance
  4. An old piece of honeycomb inside attracts scout bees
  5. Use a commercial swarm lure if desired
  6. Check your traps often
  7. When bees moves in – relocate to a permanent location

How to Make Your Own Bee Swarm Trap

A common type of bee swarm trap is made using an old hive body. This would be a box that has contained bees in the past.

Preferably, a scuffed old box with traces of comb, propolis and wonderful bee colony smells. If you have been keeping bees for a few years, you probably have one of these laying around. 

If not, ask around and you should be able to find an experienced beekeeper who would give you an old hive body or sell it really cheap.

A used empty hive body an ideal candidate for making a swarm trap image.

Swarm Lures or Bait

Before a swarm can move into your trap, they have to find it. Luckily bees have an extraordinary sense of smell.

A big part of attracting bee swarms is making the bees feel at home. This involves not only the size of the bait hive but the smell too.

If you have it , throw a piece of old comb in the bait hive. Yes, wax moth larvae may destroy the comb but that’s okay – it does not represent a significant loss.

An old dark brood comb for honey bee swarm trap lure image.

And of course, you can purchase commercial swarm lure. I find that their quality varies greatly. One of my favorites is Swarm Commander. These lures last for several months.

How Many Frames to Put in Your Bait Hive?

Some beekeepers choose to fill the bait hive with the correct number of frames. A 10 frame box would get 10 frames – at least 1 with old comb (or a lure). The remainder could be frames with new foundation.

I have found that sometimes my traps are more successful if I leave more open space. In these cases, I place a frame or two of old comb in the hive and gently nail it to one side. This is so the frames do not move around when I take the trap down.

If you choose this strategy, it is even more important to check the trap weekly. We do not want the swarm to waste a lot of energy building comb in that empty space – and they will!

Bee bait box with frames of old comb to lure in scouts image.

Other Types of Bait Hives

Bait hives do come in all sizes and styles. The deep hive body is common but do not limit your to that option.

You may choose a more “earthy” type of trap made of wood pulp. Or some beekeepers prefer to use a small nuc box or plastic/cardboard one.

Nucs made of wood last for years. But, special cardboard nucs are great to have as well. They can be a bit flimsy but some duck tape firms them up good.

How Many Traps Should You Have?

How many swarm traps you need depends on your space, time and budget. Only have as many traps as you can check often – ideally weekly.

Most are only designed to hold the swarm for a brief time. The new colony will outgrow it quickly.

It is good to have several swarm traps spaced out in different locations or directions from your bee yard. We never know for sure which one the bees will like best.

Scout honey bee inspecting a bait hive image.

Getting the Bees Down !

 It is rare to get out to this box without being accompanied by some of the farm animals- goats, donkeys or barn cats.  Who would have guessed that they knew so much about setting up a swarm trap ?!

Goats watching a swarm box being set in place image.

A bait hive can get very heavy in a hurry. When you are choosing a place for it, think about how you are going to get it down with bees and some honey inside.

I have this box connected to a rope that allows me to raise and lower it with ease. The use of a pulley system is a great idea. Don’t under-estimate how quickly a trap can become too heavy to lift .

Why a Swarm Trap is Unsuccessful

There are several possible reasons for a trap’s lack of success.  Perhaps there were fewer swarms in the area that year. 

Or, maybe the bees found  better accommodations elsewhere – in hollow trees, other traps or the boxing of people’s homes?

Or just maybe, there was something about that trap that the early visiting scout bees just didn’t like. 

Swarm Trapping May Prevent Lost Bees

Honey bee swarms don’t always choose to go into provided boxes. Often, a beekeeper will find a swarm of bees hanging on a low limb of a tree. These are easily gathered.

But, the swarm can also be hanging in the highest branches of the tallest tree around. This is why I always have a bee swarm trap near my bee yard.

A Final Word on How to Set Up A Swarm Trap

At around $100 per bee family, learning to set up a swarm trap is not effort wasted. If you catch only 1 swarm your investment was worthwhile. Try several different types and put them in different locations – who knows what may happen?

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