Spring is the swarming season. This means the bee colony grows so much and so quickly they don’t have enough room. To overcome this, the workers grow a new queen and at an appropriate time, leave the hive with the old queen to find a new home.
Catching a swarm is a great way to get yourself a hive. However, sometimes the colony doesn’t like the new home you’ve given them and they leave altogether. Here are a few tips to help you hopefully keep the swarm you have caught.
Why Do Swarms Leave?
A swarm of bees has no home. They are in a transition phase, leaving the old hive and looking for a new home. The swarm has no comb, no brood, and no honey to look after, so there is nothing really to keep them in your hive. They may leave immediately, or in a few days, but there are some things you can do to keep them from leaving.
Give Them A Used Box
If you have ever removed frames of wax or burr comb from a hive, you will notice that bees are attracted to them, even when you have moved away from the hive some of them will follow you. This is because the bees recognize the scent of the hive on the frames or wax you have removed.
When housing a swarm, try to give them a used hive body, but make sure it is in good condition. You don’t want any pests lingering in the wood. The bees will be drawn to the scent of the beeswax and propolis and will be more inclined to stay. The pheromones of the previous occupants that linger in the box are attractive to the swarm and this can help to keep them from leaving.
Another potentially effective strategy I have heard of is to rub beeswax over the inside of the box to make it more attractive to the swarm. This is something I have not tried myself.
Give Them A Box Of The Right Size
House the swarm in a box that will best suit their size. Not too big or too small, just right! Too big and they will be inclined to abscond because there is too much space, too small and they most likely leave because of the lack of it.
A swarm of bees can vary in size. They are usually about the size of a basketball or football, sometimes larger. They often hang from the branch of a tree, clustering together around the queen, so it is easy to estimate their size.
If the swarm is small, use a five-framed nucleus box to capture them if you have one available. Make sure the waxed frames are in the box first before you put the swarm inside. If they are on a small branch just leave a space in the center and place the branch in.
If the swarm is larger, use a Langstroth hive body, with waxed frames inside if you have them.
Should you encounter a really large swarm, then you will need two boxes.
If you don’t have any bee hardware available and can’t borrow any quickly, then a cardboard box will be sufficient in the short term.
Give Them Used Comb Or Brood
If you can manage it, place a frame of built comb into the box where the swarm will be. This will give the queen space to lay immediately without the worker bees having to hurriedly build cells for her. The frame will have added appeal because it has the scent of a beehive, added motivation for the swarm to remain. If I have one, I’ll put a frame with some brood on it into the box.
This is an even better incentive than drawn comb because not only can the queen lay in it immediately, the brood will be looked after by the nurse bees.
Give Them Gentle Treatment
Treat your swarm gently and they will be more likely to stay. I try to be thoughtful about how I transfer them into the box. I prefer to cut the branch they are on and lower them into the hive carefully.
If I can avoid shaking them I will, and I’d never vacuum them! If you lower them down into the hive box carefully, the cluster, with the queen in it, will more likely remain in tact. This is much less stressful for the swarm.
Move Them After Dark
If it’s possible, wait until the sun goes down before moving your swarm of bees. This will give all the flying bees a chance to return to the hive and keeps the swarm numbers intact.
Leave Them Alone For A Week
After catching your swarm and placing the hive in your preferred location, leave them alone for a week. This will allow them time to build comb and for the queen to start laying eggs.
If you disturb them before the week is up, they will likely leave. After all, they won’t have had time to make comb or for the queen to lay eggs and so they have nothing to lose. If you have a frame of brood comb or even drawn comb placed in the hive this can help them to stay as they have a reason to remain there.
You can open up the hive after a week and make changes because by that time they will have built comb and the queen will be laying. They will be unlikely to leave because they have begun to make a home in your hive.
Catching a swarm is a very rewarding experience and it is worth your while making it an attractive proposition for the bees too.
I endeavor to coerce, not force them into the hive by using the suggestions above. Using the ideas listed you are more likely to retain the swarm.
You will gain a lot of valuable experience from catching a swarm and I really recommend it.