Today, I’d like to share about a project I’m currently finishing up. Building a swarm trap from spare equipment. There are a couple of questions that are pretty common on this topic that I’ll try to address. These questions include the value of a swarm trap, why you should build it out of spare equipment, how to build it, and what to do once you catch a swarm. I’ll try to give detailed instructions and pictures. I hope to have a follow-up post one day with a picture or two of me excitedly jumping up and down next to my successfully trapped swarm!
(Please note, some of the links in this post are affiliate links and we are given a small commission for sales through those links, at no extra cost to you. We only link products we love.)
Value of a Swarm Trap
There’s an old adage quoted by Howland Blackiston in his book “Beekeeping For Dummies“:
A Swarm in May is worth a load of hay
A Swarm in June is worth a silver spoon
A Swarm in July isn’t worth a fly
Similarly, swarm traps have pretty similar values. The sooner you have your swarm trap out and ready to capture, the better. Why? Because the sooner your trap catches a swarm, the longer the swarm has left in the season to build up to being able to survive the winter! A swarm caught at the beginning of the season is the same, some might argue BETTER, then a newly purchased colony! Whereas a swarm at the end of the season? Such a swarm has a limited chance of survival. Also, it will cost you a pretty penny in feed to keep alive through the long winter months.
A swarm trap is also an excellent insurance policy. Bees swarm. It happens! What if it happens to YOUR colony? There’s definitely no guarantee that a swarming hive will discover and choose to settle down in your swarm trap. But there IS a chance it’ll happen. Any chance seems better than no chance, to me.
Why Spare Equipment?
You can build a swarm trap out of almost anything. Some scrap wood, even a waxed cardboard box will do the trick in a pinch. So why am I suggesting you build yours out of spare equipment like I am? Because of how easy it will make your life if your swarm trap is successful. If you catch a swarm in a spare equipment box, you catch them in spare frames that can immediately be transferred to their new home. If you catch them in a cardboard box, you have to pull whatever they have waxed together apart to put them in your spare equipment. Why go through that hassle? I can’t think of a good reason, personally.
Another great reason is because your old equipment smells like a great home to a bee’s sensitive senses. They can smell that the place has been used. What better place to set up a new home than in a home that was successful for someone else, right?
So without further ado, here are the instructions for how to build a spare equipment swarm trap.
What To Do Once You Catch A Swarm
One last, and very important, piece of information. What do you do if it works? After all, the point of putting up a swarm trap is to catch a swarm, right?
Once you’ve successfully caught a swarm in your trap, it’s time to set up the new hive. Set a new bottom board in the location of your choice. I personally use screened bottom boards, because I don’t have an enormous property. What does that have to do with it? A screened bottom board helps by allowing you to seal up the hive for a day or so without cutting off their air supply. The lower screen can be opened to allow fresh air in while they’re stuck indoors. Why do I need to seal them up? Because bees can get lost…
Why Bees Get Lost
Bees are best moved either a very short distance (a few feet) or a few miles. If only a few feet, the smell of the hive guides them home. If a few miles, when they come outside they recognize that they aren’t in Kansas anymore, and they reset their ‘Bee GPS’ as I call it.
Sealing them in helps the bees recognize that something weird has happened. After that day or so of being sealed in, give them a small entrance with your reducer, stuff some grass in it, and put a branch over the entrance so they have to crawl their way through the foliage to get out. These are all signals to encourage the bees to reset their GPS. Any swarm trap I set up is likely to be close enough to my apiary that bees could get lost by flying back to the swarm trap instead of to their new home.
Bottom Board In Place – Now What?
Once you’ve got your bottom board in place, you’re ready to transfer your swarm. Bring a single hive body to your swarm trap. I’d suggest you do it on a wheelbarrow or the like, with your outer cover brought along. Crack open the top of the swarm trap and carefully move the frames from the trap to the new hive body. Wheel it back to your new location and put the box on your bottom board. Put on your inner and outer cover and you’re almost home free!
Make sure to seal, or at least reduce, the entrance, stuffing it with grass and placing a branch in the way of exiting bees, to signal the need for the bees to reorient. You’ll also want to feed this budding hive unless there is a strong flow going on. When in doubt, feed through this initial period. If you are sealing up the hive, and temperatures are high, you may wish to also provide a source of fresh water in some form of bee feeder.
And voila! You have just taken your spare equipment and turned it into a new hive!