What to Do if you Find a Swarm

What's on this page?

What do I do with a swarm?

What to do with a swarm if you know nothing about bees.

Hopefully, youíre reading this page for one of two reasons. 

Firstly, you are some random citizen who has a swarm landed in the tree in the back yard and decided to look on the internet to see what to do.  For you, I have an answer.  You can do one of two things with a clean conscience. 

You can call someone you know or whose number you can find quickly to remove the swarm and place it in a hive in a humane manner...
...or you can set up a lawn chair and watch the swarm until it leaves.  Thatís all you have to do.

If this hive is in a wall or hole somewhere and has comb and lives there, it is not a swarm and this is not the page for you.  You can leave it where it is if it's not bothering you or you can have it removed humanely by a beekeeper who does cutouts.  DO NOT destroy the hive with hornet spray and plug the hole.  All you will get is a rotten mess and you will be paying to replace a section of your wall in a couple years.

Thereís nothing to be afraid of, even if you are allergic to bee stings.  Swarming bees have no desire to sting, and since they are loaded up with honey, oftentimes they donít really have the ability.  Most likely what will happen is that the bees will take a few hours to find a new home and then move on.

Please donít attempt to coerce money from beekeepers for the privilege of collecting the swarm in your yard.  None who is worth his salt will do it.  Youíll only make them angry and frustrated with people who know nothing about beekeeping.  A better idea would be to insist that you be able to watch and learn and ask questions.  You might even want to become a beekeeper yourself one day and bees are one of the most interesting creatures on the planet.

What to do with a swarm if you are or want to be a beekeeper.

Firstly, you want to be prepared. 

The first thing to have is a box with which to catch the swarm.  The best kind would probably be a five or ten frame nuc (nucleus hive).  It would be a good idea to have at least a single frame of drawn brood comb and the rest could be foundation.  However, drawn comb is not necessary, and truthfully, frames arenít necessary either.  But, if you catch a swarm in something other than a beehive, youíll be looking at a mess when it comes time to transfer them to a bee hive as they will build comb in any direction they want.  You want this nuc to have its bottom attached and for its top to be attachable.  This may be accomplished with wood screws or cargo straps or nails or however you want to do it. 

Youíll also want to be prepared with your protective beekeeping equipment though this is also optional.  Iíve only been stung once recovering swarms.  Swarms are usually quite docile.  Smoke should not be necessary unless the bees have been disturbed.  Inquire about the conditions of the swarm from the person who called you.  Sometimes people will douse them with water or do other naughty things to try to get rid of them.  Be aware.

If the hive is up in a tree, you will want a ladder, or if you donít feel like falling out of a tree that day, you could attempt to entice them down with a pheromone lure.  These 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 with the following ingredients: Lemongrass oil, paper towel, sanwich bag.  Put about ten drops of lemongrass oil on the paper towel after you've folded it and placed it in the bag. Then you can seal the bag.  The oil will permeate the plastic and lure the bees.  If you're making this up on the fly and don't have time for the oil to soak through, leave the bag open a little.

Another option for catching a swarm in a tree is to attach a bucket to a pole.  Then you can stick the bucket up under the cluster and hopefully jar the branch a little, causing the bees to fall into the bucket.  Then you can gently dump them into your swarm box.

There are other more complex methods such as vacuums and whatnot, but Iím here to keep it simple.  At some point in the future, I plan to build a bee-vac, but not yet.  Also, I have no experience with other methods, so I cannot attest to their veracity.  The above are well known and proven techniques which should yield success most of the time.  Remember, you canít count on a swarm to do anything.  They are wild animals.  Feel privileged if you catch swarms.  Learn from your mistakes if it doesnít work out.

Swarm Traps
See the Swarm Trapping page.

Preventing Swarms

The first advice I'd give about actively preventing swarms is to not.

I know, that sounds so counter intuitive, so wrong, especially if you've read a lot of beekeeping books, especially beginner's beekeeping books.  But much can be done that can be harmful and counter productive in prevention of swarming that is not necessary.  Like I said above, swarming is natural, normal, and a sign of a healthy hive.

Do not:
  • Squish swarm cells (they could be supersedure cells.)
  • Squish swarm cells (get this, it's important.)
  • Squish...you get it.
I'm putting that in there as important because you need to realized that without the proper mentality toward swarming management, you're just going to cause yourself problems.  You never really know if the swarm cell is actually a swarm cell or a supersedure cell, though you can sort of tell, mostly.  Swarm cells are often at the bottom edges of the comb, supersedure cells are usually in the middle of the brood. The original queen may have already left and now you squished the only opportunity for a new queen.  If you find a queen cell, you should approach carefully and either use it for a nuc or leave it alone.  For more information, check out my Queens page.

I use two methods in concert to prevent swarming, though the prevention of swarming is more or less a side issue rather than the main focus of the action.  The first thing I do is keep quite large hives.  My typical hive size is 4-5 deeps which in truth is probably more space than all but the most extraordinary hive needs in this area.  But it seems to work well and I see few downsides.  Secondly, I often place new frames of foundation or foundationless frames in my hives in the center of the brood nest in the spring.  I have done this for a long time to build up the amount of comb that I have and to get the most of my small cell foundation as bees tend to build good worker brood cells early in the spring.  But I can't help but tie my success in lack of swarming to this practice.  It gives the bees something to do and they seem to be less likely to cause the broodnest to become honey bound early on in the season.

As a secondary argument, I have split hives in the past in a way that still allows honey production and prevents swarming.  Just about any splitting method will prevent swarming, but you may have more hives in the end than you want.  The other downside is that you may be preventing swarming by making the hive less productive, which is not a goal of beekeeping.  My method is to take the queen and the five frames of brood, mostly capped and start a new hive.  It also helps to shake several frames of nurse bees in as well.  Then allow the old hive to make a new queen.  If your original queen is worth her salt, she and the rest of the bees will build up quite rapidly even to produce some honey.  The old hive without the burden of raising new brood for about a month will devote more energy to honey production and produce a crop as well.

There are also methods such as checkerboarding, and I have tried them somewhat.  You are free to go look them up if you are interested.  This is just about what I know works for me.  Do not checkerboard the broodnest, that's not how the method works.