It’s time for ‘the talk’. This remixed version is a little more complex than your typical rom-com about boy meets girl and a series of accidents and misfortunes get’s the girl. In this version, girl meets boy, and then meets a dozen more boys, then begins an empire.
When the empire has succeeded in building up the numbers, it splits in two and said girl, now a queen, goes forth to build another legacy, leaving a capable daughter behind and half the workforce. And that boys and girls, is how a swarm is made.
This explanation now brings us to a bigger and more pressing question for many beekeepers: How do you find and attract a swarm of honey bees?
Let’s dive right into what you need to know about attracting a swarm of bees to a hive.
The Truth About Attracting a Swarm of Honey Bees
There is still a lot that we don’t understand about swarming behavior. Scientists have narrowed down a list of conditions and factors that are present before the girls take to the sky to form a living pulsing cloud in search of a new home.
If you’re trying to lure a swarm of bees to a hive or bee box, then you must be aware of the following factors that influence swarming behavior.
The weather is one factor. A change in seasons provides the nectar and warm foraging weather a colony needs to build comb from scratch. Overcrowding also appears to contribute to swarming.
If you’re lucky, you have a very good queen, and she is great at her job and does it with gusto. As a result, she has provided herself (and you the beekeeper by extension) a serious workforce for nectar and pollen collection.
As she does so, the girls fill up the available space with food reserves and then they start to get a little claustrophobic because every day her highness is popping yet another sister. At that point, swarming is likely to occur.
The Time of Year When You’re Most Likely to Find and Attract a Swarm of Honey Bees
Swarms take to the sky when the weather allows for outdoor activities.
It is, therefore, no surprise that you get a lot of swarms in the springtime. The specific time in spring varies because the weather patterns in winter can affect the size of the colony that makes it through.
Sometimes you have years where the season’s transition from one to the other is like clockwork without any sudden hiccups. Sometimes the winter is warmer than expected and the queen starts to build up the numbers early.
By the time spring comes around, their numbers are quite large which causes them to swarm early. If the beginning of spring is interrupted by a blizzard, then spring comes later that year.
Since weather patterns differ from year to year, and bee colonies are also different, swarming occurs anytime between spring and fall. The months may differ from one state to another but it will definitely occur once the frost has ended.
Most beekeepers associations will have the contacts of beekeepers that are interested in catching swarms and are best suited to advise you on when they get the most business.
4 Factors You Can Control that Significantly Increase the Likelihood Of Attracting a Swarm of Honey Bees to a New Hive
If you’re wondering if swarming bees will move into an empty hive, then the short answer is maybe. You see, when bees go house hunting, there are certain qualities that sway their decisions.
We may not know the mind of a bee, but scientists have worked out that the presence of the following items increases the attractiveness of a hive.
You can use this information to your advantage and increase the likelihood of catching a swarm by using a more compelling swarm attractant.
1. The Use of Old Brood Comb
Honeycomb that has never held brood is almost white and turns a little yellow because of the honey.
Brood comb, on the other hand, tends to be much darker and is made so by the accumulation of old cocoons left in the cells after the adult bees emerge.
This dark comb is very attractive to scout bees and placing a piece of comb in a hive or swarm trap definitely increases the attractiveness of your hives.
In fact, the old comb is so effective that you can find a swarm moving into abandoned hives that still contain this old comb. I guess bees want to move into a home, not a house.
A home has that lived-in vibe, even though it may be a fixer-upper. Bees are pretty good at sealing cracks and cleaning out debris so they settle in quite easily.
Old brood comb has been used in other forms as well. You can melt it down to enhance the scent of the wax and spread some of it on the inside of the hive.
2. Propolis and Other Hive Materials
In the absence of old brood comb, propolis could act as a swarm attractant, albeit without the same level of results.
It would appear that bees are quite attracted to areas where other bees have lived before them. Once again, abandoned equipment, despite its lack of drawn comb, has found favor with a homeless swarming colony.
3. Use Nasonov Pheromones
This has been scientifically proven to be the most attractive scent to a swarm of honey bees. This pheromone is excreted by the scout bees and helps to direct the swarm into the chosen hive once they have arrived at the selected structure.
There are commercial products that mimic this pheromone and they have been found to be extremely effective. One such product is swarm commander (see details).
4. Location! Location! Location!
If you visit experienced beekeepers, you will find that they place several swarm traps and bait hives in elevated areas, particularly trees that bees are attracted to. That isn’t to say you can’t capture a swarm with a hive on the ground, but bees, when they swarm, they tend to do so upward.
Many wild colonies will be found in hollow trees or on the roofs of caves so it’s clear that bees prefer to be higher than ground level.
It’s easier to work with bait hives and then move the colony once they get settled.
Sometimes, the bees can decide to move into an empty hive without much fuss. When that happens count your blessings but don’t get too comfortable. They may not give an anchor performance next year. These creatures continue to be a mystery.
How to Make a Swarm Trap that Attracts Honey Bees
To answer this question, let’s review what we know about bee real estate.
They like a natural cavity with small enough to keep intruders out, yet allowing the inhabitants free movement. The scent of the new home can be a deal maker so they are looking for a hive that has the equivalent smell of cookies in the oven.
If you are a craftsperson, there are multiple options for you to try. From swarm buckets, flower pots and bee boxes, there are multiple construction projects you can attempt.
My advice would be to go with the natural materials but that doesn’t mean the others don’t work. Here is a video that shows you how to create a cheap swarm trap that you can use to attract honey bees.
If like me, you aren’t handy with a saw, all you need is a wooden box, the size of a deep brood box, with a lid. In the book ‘Honeybee Democracy’ by Tom Seeley, he identifies the special needs of the swarm, including the size of the entrance.
The cavity should be 40 liters in volume, which you can easily convert to cubic inches if you prefer. You will find that your average deep brood box will offer roughly the same volume.
The entrance should be 15 square centimeters, which converts to about two and half square inches. The shape of the entrances doesn’t seem to matter so it could be square or circular.
He also stipulates that bees prefer to nest high in the trees. To get the most out of your swarm trap or bait hive, you may have to hoist your bait hive into a tree. More importantly, you need to be able to get it down when it’s full of bees.
If you can, wedge the box between the trunk and a strong branch, and tie the trap/hive to the trunk as an added security measure. Hopefully, you can get some help when it’s time to get the hive down.
If this isn’t possible there’s still hope in the form of swarm lures. I have noodle strength in my arms and hoisting anything that requires brute strength just won’t work.
If you have a good swarm lure, you probably won’t need to do any hoisting. Remember, this is a game of patience with no guarantees. Even so, you have so much more to gain than you have to lose so go ahead and give it a try.
The 3 Best Swarm Lures to Attract a Swarm of Honey Bees
First and foremost, what are swarm lure attractants? Well, as the name implies, this is a product intended to persuade a roaming colony to pick your structure to finally settle down in and raise the kids. The appeal of a lure is in its scent.
Sometimes, in our zeal to cover all our bases, we try to use all types of lures at once. Scientifically, they haven’t found that using two types of lures in one hive increases the effectiveness of either one.
If you really want to experiment with different lures, use them separately. It’s easier to note their effectiveness and figure out what works best for the bees in your area.
I would divide swarm lures into three classifications:
Pheromones are the cell phones of the bee world. As mentioned earlier, a commercial lure known as swarm commander mimics the nasonov pheromone that is produced by worker bees. In the wild is used by bees during swarming, among other things. Synthetically, it is made by a combination of oils.
Then there are the pheromones that rule the nest, the queen’s pheromones. These can be extracted from recently dead or culled queens by soaking them in a small vial of rubbing alcohol. This preserves the queen and the pheromones.
Thereafter, you can use a cotton swab to dub a few drops of this solution on the inside of the hive and even place the swab used inside a little baggie with a hole in it and place that in the bait hive. That would slow down the rate of evaporation of the alcohol but you may need to wet the swab every few days to keep it effective.
The downside here is getting a bunch of dead queens. If you’ve had to do some queen replacements recently, that might help, but the effectiveness of this tincturing process is determined by the hormone levels of the queen, therefore it works better with younger queens than those that were headed for retirement anyway.
2. Hive Construction Material
This could be old brood comb, wax or propolis. The old brood comb doesn’t require additional processing and can be placed, as is in the trap or hive.
I have come across a beekeeper that melts the brood comb, soaks a piece of cloth in it and then hoists that fabric on a branch. You can choose to put that piece of fabric inside the hive and let the inviting smell do the rest.
3. Essential Oils
Lemongrass (see details) has long been used by beekeepers to attract swarms. You don’t need much because it has such a strong scent. A drop or two should do it. Alternatively, get a few drops on a cotton swab, and rub the interior of the trap or hive.
Then place the swab in a small bag and poke some holes in it so the scent lasts longer. You could also choose to melt some wax, add a few drops of lemongrass oil to the mix, then let the wax cool and make starter strips for the frames that go into your bait hive.
There are various essential oil recipes available but the simpler you can keep it the better.
Final Words About Catching a Swarm of Honey Bee
Attracting a swarm of honey bees saves you the price of a package of bees, potentially increases the genetic diversity in your apiary, and gives the bees a fighting chance for survival if you prove to be a hard working beekeeper.
It’s also a game of chance but the reward is worth it. Therefore, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try again. If you do succeed, be grateful and hang the traps up next season. You might just capture your own swarm which is a win for you.