Making Honey Bee Swarm Trap Adjustments
Swarm traps, also called, bait hives are structures that beekeepers use to catch bee swarms. Honey bee swarming is a seasonal event that occurs most often in Spring. Over time, you learn which locations are most successful in your area. This recently happened to me and I was faced with making some honey bee swarm trap adjustments.
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 weekly. Most swarm traps are only designed to hold the swarm for a brief time. They will outgrow it quickly.
Finding the Best Location for Your Honey Bee 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.
Attracting honey bee swarms to a box is not a certain thing. You may have to try several different configurations before you are successful.
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.
How high up in the air the bait hive should be. And, how far away from your current hives is best?
While you can find some wonderful guidelines to follow, the bees will sometimes do what you don’t expect.
And yes, sometimes the bees will not even give you bait hive a second look. During those times, you may be catching the swarm from a tree.
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.
Reusing a Successful Bait Hive Location
One of my favorite swarm trap locations has been in use for more than 10 years. The old swarm trap was an unpainted deep hive body.
Many swarms have been caught in this spot including one massive bee swarm several years ago. That was an exciting day – let me tell you.
This trap has caught at least 1 swarm every season. Sometimes, the swarm obviously came from my hives.
Other times, it was obviously not from my bee yard. Can you say FREE BEES?
After years of hard work, my old hive body had finally reached a point of no return. It just could not be patched back together again.
So, last Spring – I replaced the old favorite swarm trap with another hive body. Same size and configuration – apparently no different.
Guess what – for the first time in years – no swarms caught.
Why a Swarm Trap is Unsuccessful
If you have been in beekeeping for any amount of time, you quickly learn that we can not always understand why bees do things – or not.
There are several possible reasons for this trap’s lack of success. Perhaps there were fewer swarms in the area last year.
Or, maybe the bees found better accommodations elsewhere – in hollow trees, other traps or the boxing of people’s homes?
Of just maybe, there was something about this honey bee swarm trap that the scout bees just didn’t like. It looked fine but did it smell funny?
Because this is the only factor I can control, I decided to replace the box with another older hive body.
Taking Down the Old Bait Box
My years of standing on the ATV while taking down a swarm trap full of bees are over.
So this trap is raised and lowered using a pulley. It was not hard to set up and does not need to be anything fancy.
Back at the shop, we removed the side bolts from the old box and attached them to my replacement.
It is important to make sure the bottom fits tightly on the trap. I nail on a solid box – even though I use screened bottom boards on my regular hives.
If you don’t have a piece of wood large enough to cover the bottom, that’s okay but nail the bottom cover boards tightly together.
Having an inner cover makes removing the swarm much easier. A few screws holds the inner cover in place.
Inside the Swarm Trap
This is where I do things a bit different than some beekeepers. I have better luck catching swarms in empty boxes – rather than those filled with frames or frames and foundation.
The risk here is that the bees will build comb to the bottom of the inner cover. And, yes they will.
However, I check my traps every other day during swarm season. This allows me to remove them to a temporary hive before they get too far along in building comb.
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.
If you have it , throw a piece of old comb in the bait hive. Yes, wax moths may destroy the comb but that’s okay – it does not represent a significant loss.
Don’t have any old comb? Even an empty frame that smells of beeswax and propolis can help.
And of course, you can purchase commercial swarm lure. I find that their quality varies greatly – when I use lure I buy Swarm Commander.
Final Set Up – Ready for Swarms
The replacement honey bee swarm trap is set up in place. I also tie mine down (it looks awful – me and the donkeys don’t care – neither will the bees).
The only thing to do now is wait and see if this box change will make a difference.
When a previous good catch zone becomes unsuccessful, think about any changes you have made.
Likewise, if you have a bait hive in a location and catch nothing after a couple of seasons – it may be time to try a new spot.
Even if you don’t want more beehives, catching swarms is tons of fun. I encourage you all to give it a try. It is a lot like fishing, you just don’t have to watch your pole.