How to Set Up a Swarm Trap for Bees

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Swarm Trap Preparations for Spring

Beekeepers who learn how to set up a swarm trap in a good location may be rewarded with free bees. Swarm traps, also called, bait hives are structures that beekeepers use to catch honey bee swarms. Swarming is a seasonal event that occurs most often in Spring. However, we want to get those swarm traps set up well before Spring arrives and scout bees are looking for new sites.

picture of a swarm trap for bees in a tree

Most beekeepers try their hand with a swarm trap 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.

Sometimes we get really lucky and catch a swarm of wild bees! Didn’t know you could catch wild bees? Yes you can and it’s a hoot. Because, who doesn’t love free bees, right ?

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, swarm trap and bait hive all mean the same thing. These words are used to describe any man-made structure that is intended to catch a honey bee swarm.

Swarm traps are made of many different materials or you can purchase commercial examples from beekeeping suppliers.

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

Do Bee Traps Work?

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

However, no trap will catch every swarm of bees. I still have swarms that decide to go out on their own instead of using the free apartment I 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. I have had swarms sit down on the outside of other beehives.

picture of bee swarm on outside of a hive

How Many Swarm Traps Should You Have?

How many swarm traps should you have on your property? Well, that depends on your space, time and budget.

Only have as many traps as you can check often – ideally weekly. Most swarm traps are only designed to hold the swarm for a brief time. The bees will outgrow it quickly.

It is good to have several swarm traps spaced out in different locations and maybe even made of different materials. We never know for sure which one the bees will like best.

picture of scout honey bee inspecting a bait hive

When to Set Up Your Swarm Trap

Setting up a swarm trap or bait hive is a good project for early Spring.  A good swarm of bees caught early in the year, may build to be a strong colony before Winter arrives.

Of course you can place bait hives out at any time during the warm season. You never know when a swarm may move in. It will take a while for the scout bees to find your trap so get it out there.

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.

Some general suggestions on using swarm traps:

  • elevate the swarm 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 swarm trap 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 swarm trap because you don’t have the perfect location or perfect materials. You just never know what can happen.

Most resources advise setting up a swarm trap 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.

picture of beekeeper making a solid bottom for a honeybee bait hive

A couple of hive traps placed around your area will increase your opportunity to catch a swarm of honey bees.  I like to put them in different directions from my bee yard.

Swarm Traps Get Heavy

 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 ?!

picture of goats watching a swarm box being set in place.
It helps to have proper supervision when preparing bait hives for honey bee swarms.

A swarm trap (or bait hive) can get very heavy in a hurry. When you are choosing a place for your swarm trap, 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 .

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.

picture of used empty hive body an ideal candidate for making a bait hive

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.

Luring In the Scout Bees

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

picture of old dark brood comb for honey bee swarm trap lure

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.

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.

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

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 rest could be 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!

picture of bee bait box with frames of old comb
Old comb is attractive to swarms.

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.

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 honey bee swarm 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.

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

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 of swarm traps and put them in different locations – who knows what may happen?

Now where to you have room to add a few swarm traps near your apiary?

Beekeeper Charlotte

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