Swarms = Free Bees

2010
04.23

Preparing for Swarm Season

Want to catch a $100 bill blowing in the wind. This is how…

Swarms are nature’s way of increasing the honeybee’s numbers and replenishing the bee population that died off. About a quarter to half the hive leaves, and establishes itself elsewhere.

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As beekeepers, we want to prevent swarming in our own hives and catch swarms from other hives. Effectively, any swarm we catch is worth the same as a package of new bees. Catching swarms can be tricky, you need to be prepared for the season. Here is my advice for swarm catching:Best book on Swarm Traps and Bait Hives available

  1. Prepare a dozen swarm traps during winter. Have locations in your mind where you want to hang these. Make sure to order your Lemon Grass Oil for baiting the hives.
  2. Contact your local fire department in early Spring and volunteer for swarm removal
  3. Contact your local Agriculture agency that you do swarm removals
  4. Post on Craigslist that you remove swarms for free or up to about $50 depending on supply and demand in your area.
  5. Have hive bodies ready to go for swarm season, when it hits you could get 5 swarms in 5 days. Carry an extra hive body in the trunk of your car, you will need it. I’d recommend 2 – a deep and a nuc.

Swarm removal is fairly easy. You need a few things:

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  1. Beesuit – Don’t believe that swarms are passive and gentle and you can remove them without a veil and suit. The first swarm you run into that was caught in a few days of bad weather will teach you the meaning of pain when they open up a can of whoop-ass on your unprotected arms, face, and torso. Treat them like a drunk with a gun, gentle and usually harmless.
  2. Brush, Smoker, fuel, lighter – Normal gear.
  3. Blanket – Sometime you need to shake them off a branch and over tall grass. It is far better to put down a blanket, as they get lost in grass easily.
  4. Hive body, maybe two, bottom,  lid and frames – gotta put them in something.
  5. Squirt bottle of sugar syrup – bees don’t fly much when wet
  6. Strap and rags- Strap to keep the hive parts together during transport, rag to block the entrance.
  7. Bee Vac (optional) – For those I-gotta-do-this-fast days.

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How to Capture a Swarm

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Swarm capture can be fairly simple. It normally involves finding the swarm on a tree branch, squirting them with a little sugar water, then placing a hive body underneath it then striking/shaking the branch to dislodge the bees in one sharp shake.  The bees fall in the hive box, some take to flight, but usually the queen falls in and the rest follow in a few hours. When most are in the hive, put the lid on and wait for dusk. At dusk, when the remainder of foragers go into the hive, you seal it up with rags and take it home.

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Sometimes the bees don’t co-operate. If they are on a non-shakable object, like a car mirror, under a trailer, or bumper of a police car; you have to have a box (sometimes so low to the ground a hive won’t fit) under them and brush the cluster into the box. Sometimes, you have to brush and go and hope you have the queen. Personally, I hate having to wait for dusk, so I often brush and go. It is not a good practice, but when you take time off from work…

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For high swarms, there is one golden rule:

Don’t get hurt.

Bring a hive box, with a solid bottom board, put the hive together, put 5 drops of Lemon Grass Oil in it and leave it. Often, the bees will identify it as a superior location and move in. Or you could do the tall ladder/acrobatics/death defying removal, me, I’ll pass on that. Why put out so much effort when you could have them catch themselves?
When you get a swarm call, you need to go, and go NOW.  Swarms can be gone before you get there, or just after you arrive. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Respond quickly.  I tell folks that bees will stay on a tree for 12-72 hours, with 2 days being average.

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Swarm Trapping and Bait Hives

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I love swarm trapping. It is fun, simple, easy, and reminds me of fishing.  I’m so into swarm trapping I now have 30 traps and am making a DVD instructional video about it soon. Not to mention I wrote a book about swarm traps that you really should buy.

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Best book on Swarm Traps and Bait Hives available

All you need to do, is build a box that takes 6-10 frames, contains about 40 liters (10 gal.) in volume and has a single entrance hole of 15 cm^2 (1-2 inches). This box could double as a nuc, later in the year. Once built, the box is baited with a drop or two of lemon grass oil and about 8 drops on a napkin sealed in a zip lock bag. This holds the smell in for many months. The smell is needed to attract scout bees, who are biased towards lemon scent due to it’s similarity to the ‘come here’ Navasov pheromone.

 

You can cheat, too. Just buy a 8 frame hive body and screw a bard to the side with a hole at the top to hang it on a nail.

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Don’t use the paper conical style swarm traps. They cost >$20 after shipping and they are terrible if you don’t get the swarm out quickly. Swarms are comb building monsters, once they start they will build comb fast. You often have to cutout comb from the conical style traps. I have a video below that shows the power of using a frame based trap.

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There is a good website on hive trap boxes here:
Swarm Trapping Tech

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I have a video on
How Bee Swarm Trapping Works

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and another one on
How to Build a Bait Hive

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Swarm Captured and now being transfered

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Remember, the temperament of a captured swarm is a gamble. Normally they are sweet and you can scoop them up with your bare hands. But…Use gloves until you know what kind of attitude they have.

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12 Responses to “Swarms = Free Bees”

  1. Richard Noel says:

    Hi. In Britanny, Northern france we have been using 5 frame nucs for traps. They are baited with Swarm catch feromone (contains Nasanov). Each trap has standard Dadant frames of imprinted wax (sheets) and Ideally 2 of these frames are taken from either end of our main bee hives during the first inspection in March in order to give the scout bees something to fly home about. It goes without saying that an old trap that is well gummed up with propolis will out perform a brand new trap. The inner volume works out to be approx 22 litres and the front entrances is approx 20cm square.

    What do you think on volume sizes in relation to entrance holes and with regards tothe lemon grass oil you use, is there a better then most that you would reccomend and re the zip lock bag in the trap. How much oil, on to how bigger sized kitchen roll ,in to how bigger sized bag. Sorry to be a bit geeky but its really important I know what you have tried, I have ordered enough swasrm catch for 15 traps for next year but I want to try another 5 with lemon grsass oil.
    Thanks and looking forward to your reply,
    Richard

  2. mccartney says:

    22 liters is a bit small. I’d build larger traps in the 30-40 liter range. The amount of lemon grass oil per hive should stay the same at 8 drops on a cotton ball in a sandwich zip lock bag. 20cm sq is good for an entrance hole.

  3. Richard Noel says:

    Have you tried Nasanov feromone vs Lemon grassoil. Can you combine the two for greater effectiveness?

  4. CJ says:

    Greats article Mccartney. Really enjoyed watching the videos and readings this article. I have knocked up a bait hive last night based on your design. enough for 5 national frames. I like the idea/suggestion of hanging it in a tree. I will get some lemon grass oil to put inside or some used frames next year. I am new to beekeeping and only started in June but I got my second hive up and running when I put 2 empty supers to one side with a lid and floor in the apiary, when I came to the apiary one day there was a swarm trying to get in, so I helped them along and left them to it. They are doing very well now and should be ok through winter.

  5. Mac says:

    Can you use virgin top bars in your swarm box. And will there be a queen in that swarm? I assume at least an old queen??? Should these newly captured swarms have a new queen introduced, or will the swarm take care of that problem??

  6. Danny Lashus says:

    I got the bee bug, Im just starting to read and watch your videos. Thank You for passing on your vast knowledge of beekeeping. Im in NC. Starting to build some top bar hives for next spring. I watched the video on swarm trap building boxes with frames that go into square hives. I was wondering if its ok to build a box with sloped sides and 17″ top bars that would transfer into a 36″ or 48″ long top bar hive? Maybe five or top bars? Thanks

  7. mccartney says:

    Yes, you can just as easily build a TBH swarm trap. 17″ bars seem narrow. I’m on ~20″ bars. I’d recommend 7-10 bars, the trapezoid shape shrinks the apparent volume. Make sure you hit the 30 liter minimum. And don’t build just one, build several. It is just like fishing, but over a much longer timeframe. And the fish are biting!

  8. Jeff Da Ref says:

    McCartney,

    I don’t know if you are aware of it, but you don’t have to order lemongrass oil if you have a good herb shop in town. I picked up some for around $7.00.

    Good hunting, and you can buy me a cup of coffee it this helps. LOL

    Jeff

  9. unknown says:

    I wanted to know witch is better for a swarm trap- in a meadow, on a tree, or on a stand, beside a small grove of trees?

  10. david says:

    I want to go catch other people’s swarms – people who are not beekeepers. What is the best way to alert the public that I will remove their swarms for free?

  11. mccartney says:

    Post an add in Craigslist “WIll remove bee swarms free.” and explain that a swarm is free hanging but an established hive is not. That is an effective way to reach people.

  12. Nick Grasso says:

    I read your book and built a trap used lemon grass oil and old comb. Just caught my first swarm 10/17/14. Thanks a Bunch!

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