What Is a Swarm?
A swarm is a group of honey bees that recently separated from a mother colony to start a new hive elsewhere. Swarming is the natural method honey bee colonies use to reproduce and remain healthy.
Swarming begins by the mother colony replacing the old queen and her subsequently leaving with half of the worker bees and as much honey as they can take with them. The swarm then lands on some type of stable structure near the mother colony’s location. There, they cluster themselves while scout bees leave in search of a new, ideal nesting location.
This is the ideal stage to attract and capture swarms, to then transfer them to a new and empty hive. Once transferred to their new hive, they immediately begin building their comb and populating their new home.
Keep in mind that swarms are local to the areas they’re captured from. That means they’re strong enough to survive the winter in that climate. This method of obtaining bees helps promote strong genetics for the local honey bee population in your area. Yes, it might be easier to simply purchase bees and have them shipped to you, but they may not be able to survive in your area’s climate.
When Does Swarming Occur?
Swarm season usually takes place when the weather begins to warm up. This is usually during spring. That should be when you begin your swarm-catching activities. This depends on the duration and severity of the winter season. Sometimes, winter ends earlier, allowing bees to swarm at the very beginning of the spring season.
When you begin to notice swarm cells in your hive, this is a good indicator of the beginning of the swarming season. This means it’s time to put out your bait hives and swarm traps.
Bait Hives/Swarm Traps Specifications
A bait hive is simply an empty hive — usually, a wooden or plywood box — that’s set up to attract a swarm. The most important bees to attract are scout bees as they’re the ones who go out and search for the ideal nesting location.
In a new home, the scout bees usually look for:
- Places where bees have resided in before
- Large cavity to store food through the winter
- Space that’s easily defendable
- Shady and dry location
These are the main criteria that scout bees use to assess the suitability of a new home.
Open Mesh Flooring
Use a solid floor instead of an open mesh floor. Bees are more likely to stay away from open mesh flooring (OMF) because they don’t think they can defend it. There are some beekeepers who think that bait hives should be placed above head height. Yes, it does make things more difficult for the beekeeper. However, keep in mind that bees tend to fly overhead, not at ground level. A site that is 2–4 meters off the ground is ideal.
Old and Used Containers
Another good trick is to utilize an old brood box and crown board that haven’t been cleaned. The reason you don’t want to use cleaned ones is that swarms are more attracted to the wax and propolis that’s found on them.
The smell of wax encourages scout bees to check out the place. You can also use a commercial swarm lure to attract honeybee swarms if you don’t have used honeycomb.
Get the Sizing Right
Swarms like nesting cavities that are approximately 40 liters in size. In terms of the entrance, keep it small. It should be about 2 square inches and towards the bottom of one wall. This mimics the size of entrances commonly found in natural tree hollows.
Baiting for Success
Baiting your hives is critical for attracting a swarm. A good swarm trap is only part of the story.
The Power of Scents
You can use an old brood comb, or you can use lemongrass essential oil. There are a variety of scents that lure swarms. You can try mixing lemongrass with beeswax or utilizing a pheromone lure in a small vial.
You can even rub all of the interior surfaces with propolis — if the box wasn’t previously occupied by bees. This really helps lure them in.
Enticing Sugar Water
If you haven’t seen any bee activity, you may want to consider placing a sugar water feeding station nearby the swarm trap. This can help attract those foraging scout bees to your swarm trap.
Successfully attracting a honey bee swarm takes time, patience and experience; this is why most beekeepers prefer to just buy their bees. Proper baiting and trap placement are essential for luring in a swarm looking to relocate. The scent is one of the most important factors for attracting honey bees. Scent your swarm trap with propolis or lemongrass essential oil. These smells are highly attractive to swarms.
Apart from the scent, make sure the actual cavity is the ideal size and at the perfect height for swarms. Place them up high and keep them in the shade. It can be frustrating when your swarm trap remains empty throughout the season. Follow these simple criteria and you should have swarms populating your bait hives in no time.