What is a swarm?
I constantly receive calls wanting me to come to get a "swarm" of bees from people's property. I ask a few questions to determine whether they have a swarm of bees or an actual hive living in a tree or structure. Also to find out if they are truly honey bees.
A swarm of bees is a group of bees that have left their hive searching for a new home. Generally, the swarm will be found as a cluster of bees hanging on a branch, fence, or other objects. Usually, honey bees swarm in the spring and summer months but swarms are found year-round.
Collecting a Hanging Swarm
Use caution although these bees are generally calm, protective gear is recommended.
You can use a cardboard box that is secure and durable with a hole cut and a screen cover for ventilation, a nuc box with the entrance ventilated, or any other container that will hold the bees securely but have ventilation.
The queen is in the center of the swarm, once you have these bees in the box leave the top ajar and watch the bees enter. IF the bees leave the box the queen is not there and you need to repeat the process.
If the swarm is assessable from the ground:
1. Place a light-colored sheet on the ground under the swarm with your box on top of the sheet.
2. Spray the swarm with a sugar water mix to reduce flying.
3. Using pruning shears clip the branch and place it in the box.
4. With the top cracked open allow the stragglers to enter.
5. At this point, you can take the bees with you or leave them till sundown to assure you have them all.
If bees are on a large branch or another solid object you will need to use your bee brush to sweep them into your box. Some of the bees may go back to their original spot because of the phenomenon left there.
If the bees are on the ground you need to place lemongrass in the box and set it on its side as close as possible. If they don't go in you may have to coax them a little with your bee brush
Whatever method you use if the bees don't stay in your box try again.
Why do honey bees swarm?
Honey bee swarms are a natural response to overcrowding in a hive after the spring population boom. If a honey bee colony outgrows its hive, the bees will make a new queen. The new queen will stay at the hive, while the old queen will fly off with half the colony’s population to start a new hive in a different location. The laying queen can’t fly long distances. Most of the honey bees will stop somewhere to rest while scout bees look for a new hive.
A bee swarm setting up within arm’s reach on a tree would be wonderful luck. But this won’t come around often. Instead, you can use some techniques and tips to lure them into one of your hives.
Attracting a Swarm
There are ways to encourage bees into a swarm trap but the position is the most important. The swarm trap needs to resemble a real hive. So hang them 12-15 feet high and out of the direct sun. Also, placing an empty nuc or hive in your bee yard can be successful.
Although we don't know exactly what the scout bees are looking for there are some things that tend to help lure them to your trap.
1. Old brood comb
The brood comb is much darker than the regular honeycomb and needs to be circulated out of the hive anyway. Scout bees are very attracted and placing a frame in a swarm trap could bring them in. It feels a little more homey and ready to use. You can melt this brood wax down and spread it on the inside of the swarm box.
Propolis is made when bees use buds from the trees that produce cones. This resin-like material is used to maintain the hive by sealing cracks and also helps with viruses.
Use propolis along with other hive materials like abandoned equipment as a swarm attractant.
3. Sugar-water feeding station
A sugar water feeder near the hive will increase bee activity.
4. Nasonov pheromones
You can make a pheromone extract by soaking a dead queen in a small container of rubbing alcohol. Or look for commercial products.
5. Lemongrass essential oil
Only one or two drops onto a cotton swab and wipe it on the inside of the swarm hive.
What can I use as a swarm trap?
Your swarm trap should have a small entrance near the bottom of one wall and 2 frames(or more if you use a larger trap) with built comb and 2 without comb. Consider the weight since your trap should be 10-15’ above the ground, preferably in a tree. You will have to use a ladder to position and retrieve it.
Ideally, the trap should be a 40-50 liter capacity (about 20x20x8) box including 4-6 inches of empty space at the bottom.
Swarms occur usually mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Your swarm traps should be in place in late winter. Checking these swarm traps as often as you like is fine. Once you are certain a swarm has moved into your swarm trap and has been there 5 or more days you may take it down to move it to a hive. Feed the swarm just like you would a package of bees or Nuc.
*Remember a swarm is an OLD queen with older worker bees. The bees that stay in the mother hive will have a new queen and the nurse bees will have stayed behind to care for the brood and queen.
Evaluate the swarm queen's pattern before replacing her instantly. But in general, the Queen is replaced from mid-June to July.
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