Get your swarm traps ready for Spring!

Submitted by D. Donk and J.Orem

Updated 12-28-16 with the most recent swarm trap plans compliments of Jeff Jump and Jason Bruns. These guys took this information to heart and made it easy for anyone wanting to build the ideal swarm traps from a 4x8 sheet of plywood. You can make two traps with one sheet... and have some scrap to spare. Thanks guys!

FIRST, WHY DOES ONE WANT TO TRAP A SWARM ANYWAY?

“Free” bees of course as well as new genetic material in the apiary. Bees in a swarm work extra hard to get ready for winter (they have too) so I’ll take a swarm over a package of bees or most nucs any day because of this. If a parent colony is healthy enough to swarm, there is something good going on in that colony and probably being passed on. You can evaluate the swarm colony all summer and then decide if the queen and colony are worth keeping that fall.

WHAT EXACTLY IS A SWARM TRAP AND HOW IS IT CONSTRUCTED?

Jim Orem's original design.

A swarm trap is a box or container that you want a swarm to move into so you can take it to your apiary.

The following is how I originally constructed a swarm trap. I’ve included some pictures as well. My traps are made from OSB or plywood and are not painted. Traps made from old wood that don’t smell as much like glue as the new ones.

I try to keep them as natural as possible so they smell more like bees, wax and wood not paint and glue Don’t get too hung up over the smell, however, because I’ve heard of a colony that moved into a gas tank of an old truck.

Also, mine are made from free scraps I’ve accumulated which makes them more disposable and ugly so they don’t get ripped off.

Cut away... shows the headspace that is under the frames when a bee pops her head in.

The box itself is 4 or 5 frames wide and deeper than a normal deep. I adjust the height and width (4 frame box is taller than 5 frame) in order to make its volume approximately 8 gallons.

Theory: big box big swarm, little box little swarm.

The top should be made of something waterproof and screwed down to the box so it doesn’t come off when retrieving a swarm. I make my tops out of metal sheeting.

The entrance should be no bigger than an inch to keep birds from nesting. If you want a larger entrance area, simply make multiple holes keeping each one under an inch.

The entrance closure should be something that can be closed easily and preferably from the ground prior to lowering and/or moving the trap. Also, it should be something that will not accidentally close prior to or open while retrieving the swarm.

Added ventilation can be provided with a screened opening somewhere midpoint the front of the box.

Frames used for the trap should consist of at least one frame of old comb and 3 or 4 frames of foundation. When I say old comb, I’m talking about comb previously used by bees that you may have from a dead out or combining hives. It is usually brown in color and can still be seen through. Do not use comb that is totally black as this should be destroyed, preferably by fire, in my opinion. If you don’t have any old comb that‘s appropriate, your mentor might and may even share some with you if you ask nicely. Know that it is very valuable and important in a swarm trap as it causes bees to think other bees have used the spot before because it smells of bees. If you can‘t locate any old comb, however, just use all foundation. You will be surprised how quickly a swarm can draw out 4 or 5 frames of foundation in a week.

Tip: the frames of foundation and/or old comb should be placed in the box by the end of March or beginning of April latest so the smell can start to permeate the box.

A swarm lure should be placed inside the box an inch above the entrance. You can pin it there with a thumbtack. Most bee companies sell swarm lures and they can be reused all summer. Their instructions will generally tell you not to open the tube, and put in the freezer when you’re not using to prolong shelf life. Lemongrass oil can also be used. Put it on a cotton swab or in an old tube of swarm lure from a previous year and use in place of the swarm lure. I have found that though Lemongrass does not work as well as actual swarm lure, it does work better than nothing at all.

WHEN DO SWARM TRAPS GO UP, COME DOWN AND GET CHECKED?

Mid to end of April: swarm traps should be out.

May and June: when most swarming occurs and swarms have the best survival rate as it’s still early in the season. Traps should be checked weekly for drones and pollen going in which is when you know you have a swarm for sure.

July: swarms are not as frequent but still have a chance of survival. This month traps can be checked every 2 weeks for drones and pollen going in.

August till first frost: swarms do sometimes happen, but unfortunately all you can do is basically just keep the bees from nesting where they may not be welcomed such as on a neighbor‘s property. Traps only need to be checked about every 3 weeks or so till they come down.

First frost: traps can come down.

WHERE DO YOU PLACE A SWARM TRAP?

One way a swarm trap is hoisted up a tree.

Swarms can move into some strange places so all you can do is try to offer them the best possible choices. Here are some locations that have worked well for me.

  • 100 yards + or - from your hives.
  • 8 to 10 feet off the ground.
  • In partial shade like in a tree and the tree should be at least 10 inches in diameter so it doesn‘t sway much in wind.
  • Along the edge of a woods.

Anyplace you did a cut out, previously picked up a swarm or someone told you they saw a swarm (at least as close as possible to these places). If bees were there before, they’ll probably be there again. Like fishing, when you find a good spot, you keep going there. Bees do the same.

Note: if you try a place and it doesn’t work this year, move it next year. Sometimes 30 feet one way or the other can make a difference; just be sure to make note of what’s tried.

HOW DO YOU MOUNT THE SWARM TRAPS?

I pull the traps up into a tree with a rope. I’ve included some pictures showing this. They are easier to take down and replace with your extra empty one if needed. Simply pull the rope over the side of the box and tighten it against the tree.

Once the trap is hoisted, use the rope to tie the trap against the tree before tying it off.

The box should not wiggle or move around when the wind blows. Swaying with the tree doesn’t make a big difference as long as it’s not a lot. That’s why I previously mentioned that the tree should be at least 10 inches in diameter. The larger the tree; the less swaying there will be.

HOW DO YOU KNOW THERE’S A SWARM IN THE BOX?

You may notice bees coming and going when inspecting your swarm traps. They may just be checking the place out or they may be robbing the frames of any leftover honey. When you see drones and pollen going in, then you’ve trapped yourself a swarm.

WHAT’S INVOLVED IN RETRIEVING/RELOCATING A SWARM?

When you have decided you have a caught a swarm (drones and pollen are seen going in), you will want to retrieve it.

First of all, if bees have indeed moved in, they have made your trap their home and will defend it like any other hive so REMEMBER TO ALWAYS WEAR THE APPROPRIATE PROTECTIVE ATTIRE WHEN WORKING WITH BEES.

The best time to retrieve the trap is after dark so you‘ll need a light. I use a headband light to keep my hands free. You will also want to have a squirt bottle of water with you in case some bees are hanging around on the outside of the box, you can squirt them so they think it‘s raining and run inside. Once you see the bees are in the box, close them in securely and then move the trap.

When you move bees more than a mile from where you capture them, you can go ahead and set them up in their new home. You probably won’t have any problems with them trying to return to the trap‘s previous location because of the distance you moved them.

Or, if where you want their new home to be is not more than a mile away BUT you have a place you can move them to temporarily that is, do so and leave them there for 3 days. You can then move them (after dark) to their permanent location and they should stay.

Should no permanent or temporary locations more than a mile away be available, just go ahead and set the bees up where you want them BUT put a branch in front of the hive entrance. When the bees leave in the morning for foraging, they will notice something’s different and hopefully reset their bearings to return to this new location instead of the trap‘s original location. This usually works, but sometimes it doesn’t. If the bees are still returning to the hive after a couple days, you can remove the branch.

Note: turn off all lights before opening the entrance to the swarm trap. Bees will fly to a light and you don’t want them flying right at you especially if you have a headband light on! Of course, since you ARE wearing the appropriate protective attire for working with bees, this shouldn’t be a big concern. But still, best to just turn off the light.

HOW DO YOU STORE SWARM TRAPS ONCE DOWN?

When you take the traps down after the first frost in the fall, clean out any roaches, ants, wax moths/larvae, etc. and dry them out completely. Remove the swarm lure and, depending on its viability, store in the freezer for reuse, save its container for refilling with Lemongrass oil as discussed or simply discard. Be sure to air out the frames of foundation and/or drawn comb thoroughly. Burn up any old nasty black comb, but be sure to save all good comb to reuse the next year. Check all equipment over and make any needed repairs so the traps are ready to go for the next swarm season. Finally, store them out of the weather and so no mice can move in.

Well, that’s all I can think of for now on the subject of swarm traps as far as my experience with them goes. Hopefully, my suggestions make sense to you and include enough detail to give you some direction in preparing for swarm season.

As Spring rapidly approaches, some beekeepers get busy composing a list of everything they need to do for their bees when they emerge from their winter clusters and begin the new season. This “list” can be rather lengthy and can include such activities as putting up “swarm traps” which in turn can include a rather lengthy list of its own. Now considering a lot of activities probably haven’t been thought about for a while, information on some may need to be revisited. Accordingly, the following is on the subject of swarm traps and is what I passed on to a beekeeper who called me with many questions on the subject. I thought other beekeepers might be interested in it too. Just know these are merely suggestions based on “my” experience of what has and/or has not worked for me. Others do it differently, and I make changes when needed. Do with it what you will and

REMEMBER TO ALWAYS WEAR THE APPROPRIATE PROTECTIVE ATTIRE WHEN WORKING WITH BEES.

10 Responses

  1. Jeremy wilson
    Bears: It should be mentioned that if your in bear country to use an area that cannot be accessed by our brother bear.
    • Jason
      True Jeremy, or more particularly, place the trap high up and out of reach... as you would with your food when on a back-packer.
  2. Booger
    Bees dont sting much when swarming. I have been keeping bees since 1970 and rarely use protection. You just must know your own limitations.
  3. Where are the 24"X 5" Hangers to be placed on the Swarm Box?
    • Jason
      If you choose to do it that way, it goes centered, on the largest side, in the middle... protruding up over the top in order to hang on a nail. Notice in the one pictured, we're using a chain or rope that goes from one top corner, to the opposite side adjacent corner. However you want to hang it is up to you.
  4. Thanks, one more thing. The schematics dimensions for the top and bottom boards are perhaps in error. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the schematics shows the top board being longer when in actuality, it is the bottom board that should be longer as seen in the pictures.
    • Jason
      You are likely right Michael. The bottom board sticks out further for the landing board. We'll eventually get around to fixing that. Thx.
    • Thanks for the awesome info. Hoping to start this coming year. Since I am going to be new at it, I've decided to build both my swarm traps and hive boxes. Do have one question, what are some of the sprays, oils, etc., you all have been successful with in catching a swarm?
    • Jason
      Hi, First, we (our club) believe that when you create the ideal environment for prospective swarms, there is no need for oils and sprays as an attractant. The foragers today are your scouts tomorrow. These traps have the ideal volume of space and when you toss in a frame of drawn comb, that is really that is needed for bees to find it. If a trap goes a whole season without catching a swarm, then try moving it elsewhere the next season. Once you catch one, you'll find you will catch several more in the same location. That said, there are other "lures" you can play with. Lemongrass oil on a q-tip, tossed into the trap. I mix lemongrass oil and spearmint oil into my sugar water as well. This too can be used on a q-tip or paper towel in the trap. Experient, and have fun.
  5. Thanks for the awesome info. Hoping to start this coming year. Since I am going to be new at it, I've decided to build both my swarm traps and hive boxes. Do have one question, what are some of the sprays, oils, etc., you all have been successful with in catching a swarm?

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