Swarm Trapping

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Trapping swarms is an age old method of increasing your apiary with wild bees. It’s an excellent method for acquiring good genetics of feral bees, and for profiting from your neighbor’s healthy bees.  You're not actually trapping anything, just enticing it to occupy the box you've provided.  Swarms come almost invariably from healthy hives.  Swarms should not be avoided, nor swarmed queens be re-queened unless found objectively to be unacceptable.  Despite what you may have heard, swarms almost always come from healthy hives of reproductive capability.  Swarms are a good thing.  They are the result of the hive’s reproductive urge.  It should never be stifled or frustrated, though it can be profitable to redirect the urge.

The Trap
I’m told that the optimum size for a swarm trap is about the volume of a single deep hive body.  If you make your swarm trap out of a deep hive body, this is perfect, but a deep hive body can be a cumbersome box to move and to place in a high spot securely.  A five frame nuc will do with a good lure.  In my area, I have caught a reasonable number of swarms each year with five frame nucs made of thin plywood or of typical ¾” lumber construction.  On occasion, you may encounter a swarm too large for a five frame box.  Feel fortunate.  But typically they will be a couple of pounds, able to cover a few deep frames.  At the time of this writing, I have not yet used medium boxes to catch swarms but as soon as I have some experience, I will write about it.  A way to block off the entrance and still maintain ventilation would be very useful.  A disc entrance is an excellent way to achieve this.  The whole purpose is to get the bees home right?

5-Frame Nucs

It is also advisable to place the hive above head height in a tree or somewhere else where it can be mounted.  I have screwed an 18” 1x2” to the side of the hive and then screwed the top into the tree so the hive hangs from the side of the tree.  I find this works quite well.

The Lure
Swarm lures are available from most beekeeping supply places and consist of a little plastic vial of yellow fluid that smells like Lemon Pledge.  You could go for a more home-brewed approach if you have access to the following ingredients: lemongrass oil (available online), queen juice (dead queens soaked in alcohol), and Q-Tips.  Dip one end in the oil and the other end in the queens.  Place the Q-Tip in the hive box and set it in an accessible place.  If fortune should smile on you, the bees will eventually decide to move into your box.

Another lure which can work alone or in concert with the lure above is brood comb.  Some beekeepers catch swarms in empty traps and then cut out the hive and install it in standard equipment later.  You can do this if you like, but I prefer to skip that step by using frames in my traps.  A frame or more of brood comb will release its own smells and pheromones and it has been found to increase the catch rate dramatically. 

Another thing that has been reported and that I can confirm is that if you catch a swarm in one spot, chances are high that you will catch a swarm in the same spot again, whether in the same year or in successive years.