By , on March 26th, 2013

Catching Spring Swarms

by Mike Risk

Swarm box located in tree

Swarm box located in tree

Here is a fun and successful way to catch swarms in the spring.  The last two years I have been catching swarms with a few swarm boxes I made from scrap wood I picked out of the trash.  With just a few ideas I got from the book Honeybee Democracy written by Tom Seeley I have caught 14 swarms in the last two springs.  It’s a great  way to collect swarms and get free bees.

Swarms send out scout bees in search of a new home after deciding to leave their old home.  The scouts assess potential new nest sites and report back to the swarm to essentially debate about moving to their site over other sites found by other bees.  When the swarm comes to a consensus they leave for a new home in unison.

So what are the scouts looking for?  The ideal size trap should be approximately 1 to 1 ½ cubic feet holding 6 to 10 deep frames with a entrance hole about 1 ¼ in diameter about an inch from the bottom with a nail through the middle to keep birds from moving in (see photo below).   I have had the most success with a box I built out of scrap plywood which holds 6 frames; this is approximately one cubic foot.   One could make a bigger box but remember, if you can’t remove the trap for a few weeks after a swarm moves in, it can get heavy pretty quickly.  Think about what it would be like carrying a 60 lb box of bees down a 12 ft ladder in the dark.


Swarm box with lid removed. Note hanging bracket.

The ideal height to place the box is 10 to 15 feet in the air (see photo above left).  I use a 12 foot step ladder and hang the swarm box at a height I can easily reach.   Should you hang them lower?  You could but if scout bees find a more attractive location somewhere else they will not choose your swarm box.   It helps to add a handle to the box with a 2 to 3 inch hole at the top.  This will be used to stabilize, carry and hang the box.  I drive a large nail into the tree and hang the box using the large hole in the top of the handle.  I level the box using a block of wood against the tree if needed, or the crotch of a limb.  You will need to get a little creative sometimes.

As an attractant place one old frame with drawn comb in the trap.  The rest of the frames can have new foundation.   I have also used empty frames with a starter strip and the bees drew out the comb in the frames just fine.

The outside dimensions are not important so you can get away with using scrap lumber, but some of the inside dimensions are.  The inside length is 19 1/4” but a frame rest is attached to the top of the ends that is 3/8” thick. The side dimensions are 9 1/2″ wide and the box is 10 1/8” deep.  If you were to add more frames you could make it wider, but it would be heavier.

I place a swarm lure purchased from one of the major bee catalogs (they cost around $3.00) in the trap near the entrance at the bottom and secure in an upright position with a nail.  I soak a small amount of lemon grass oil on a piece of paper towel, and then wipe a small amount on the inside of the trap.  I then place the towel in a slightly open zip lock bag in the bottom.


Queen pheromone and lemon grass oil as an attractant.

Last spring when I finally got around to hanging my first boxes the swarm season had already started.  In the front yard of my parent’s house there is a maple tree where I hung a trap in late April, around noon.  The bees had detected the swarm box within five minutes in the back of my pickup truck, probably because of the strong smell of lemon grass oil and swarm lure I had already installed.  By the end of the day the swarm box had captured its first swarm of the year.  I had made extra traps for quick exchanges and returned in a few days after the bees were established, and exchanged the box for a new one in the evening.  I caught two additional swarms last spring at the same location and have captured five swarms in two summers there.  It has been a blast capturing swarms this way and you should give it a try too.






Interior of swarm box with lure.


Vigorous swarm drawing out comb

3 comments to Catching Spring Swarms

  • Chuck Bauer

    I caught 2 swarms in swarm traps last year. I placed one in the woods behind
    my house on a hunters deer stand, which is about 15 feet off the ground. the
    other I placed at my friends house on his deck which is about 10 feet above the
    ground. My swarm traps are the size of a 8 frame deep with a 1 inch hole for
    the entrance. According to the book “Honeybee Democracy”, the 8 frame size
    proved to be best for a swarm trap.

  • michael corrigan

    would like to know if queen bee needs to be in trap,or if you need to purchase one?

  • Stephen Tilmann

    It is not necessary to put a queen bee in the swarm trap. The idea is to catch a swarm of honey bees which would have a queen along with it. It is, however, a good idea to put a queen pheromone lure in the trap. These lures are available from any bee supply catalog and come as little vials of the pheromone of small wipes of pheromone. Many beekeepers will also put lemon grass or lemon grass extract in the trap as well.
    Steve Tilmann, Treasurer
    Michigan Beekeepers’ Association

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