Catching Swarms - Amazing Bees | Beekeeper Section

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Catching a Swarm of Bees
Catching a swarm of bees can be daunting for a new beekeeper.

In fact it is quite simple when you do it right by the bees.

If "the swarm" has already built sheets of comb with brood and food stores then it is no longer a swarm but a bees' nest and the scenarios below do NOT apply!

For the scenarios below it is assumed the swarm is accessible, e.g. hanging off a branch on a tree or bush.

Scenario 1 - Let the bees just walk in - no need to catch them
Catching a swarm of bees can be so easy. No need to catch them, just offer them a box for accommodation and they march straight in - voluntarily, no need to force them.
As shown in our YouTube video clip below.

To speed up the process and increase the chance of the bees settling in, the remaining little clusters of bees can be scooped up and shaken off in front of the hive.
As shown in our YouTube video clip below.

Scenario 2 - Shake them into a box - and let them settle in
This is not the only, but a very efficient and successful method to capture a bee swarm - with a less than 5% chance that they will leave the hive again. And if they do simply repeat the process.

You don't need a purpose-built swarm box - you also don't need a swarm lure such as Lemongrass Oil - all you need is a common two-box hive assembly with one empty box at the bottom and one box filled with frames with wax foundation for the top box. For small swarms, up to the size of a football, an assembly of two nucleus boxes will be fine, otherwise you need two 8-frame boxes (see illustration below).

Most important is the empty box at the bottom as a swarm needs room to cluster. *

When you put a swarm into just one box filled with frames with foundation they don't have room to cluster and will move out as soon as they can, usually within half an hour.
* Putting a swarm into an empty top-bar hive should also be very successful as there is plenty of room to cluster, i.e. no comb or sheets of wax foundation in the way.

It is in the cluster where the bees start producing wax to build comb. In most cases they build comb onto the sheets of wax foundation, sometimes they start building comb underneath the frames.

It is assumed that the swarm is accessible, e.g. hanging off a branch on a tree or bush, and the two-box hive assembly can be placed on the ground close to the swarm in direct line of view. Capturing the swarm happens during bright daylight.

Step 1: Place the two-box hive assembly on the ground, close to the swarm to be captured and in direct line of view from the position of the swarm. Take the lid and super with frames and wax foundation off and place it behind the empty bottom box, which is now open, ready for the swarm of bees to be shaken in.

Step 2: Capture the swarm from its location by shaking them into a tin bucket or carton, or cutting the branch off they are clustering on and pour or shake the bees into the empty bottom box.

Step 3: Put the super with frames and lid back on top of the bottom box, quickly before the bees come all crawling up and getting squashed. Usually you now have at least 70% of the swarm in the hive boxes; the flying bees return to the branch where they were initially located.

Step 4: Repeatedly capture the bees clustering at their original location and shake them off in front of the entrance. A ceramic tile (or board) makes it easier for them to find the entrance and signal to the other bees where their new home is by fanning their scent into the air.

Step 5: By ensuring that the majority of the swarm cluster is now in the hive, chances are pretty high that the rest will follow - even if the queen is not yet in the box. However, a close inspection of the remaining bees at their original location might reveal that the queen is still there - in such case it would be beneficial to capture her and place her directly in front of the hive entrance and let her crawl into the hive. Knowing that the queen is in the hive increases the likelihood that the swarm will stay in the hive.

Step 6: If the bees have started to build some small amounts of comb at the original swarm location, remove it and take it away. If there are several fully built sheets of comb with brood and food stores then this is no longer a swarm but a bees' nest and this entire scenario does not apply.

Step 7: Leave the two-box hive assembly at that location until all bees have accepted the new home and no more bees are found at the original swarm location - this usually takes several hours, normally until it gets dark. In some cases it takes another day.

Step 8: If the bees need to be relocated within 3km it needs to be done on the same day or next morning at the latest - only when a colony of bees is in "swarm mode of operation" they can be relocated within 3km without any difficulties. If they are getting relocated over a distance of more than 3km, that can be done any time later.

Step 9: The following day the hive need to be inspected. Lift the top super up from one end and check whether the bees are still clustering.
If the bees are not clustering underneath the frames the empty bottom box can be removed.

If the bees are still clustering, there is a chance they have started building free comb underneath the frames. If the bees are also building comb on the foundation all free comb beneath the frames should be cut off and removed before the empty bottom box is removed.

If the bees have not started to build free comb underneath the frames or on any of the foundation and are still clustering, leave them as is and check again one or two days later.

Step 10: If not already established, it needs to be confirmed that the queen is laying eggs. Often already after one day eggs can be found; at the latest one week after the swarm has been captured there should be eggs present - if not, it might be a queenless swarm. Usually after two weeks there is brood in all stages. However, the swarm could have had a virginal queen and she needs more than a week before she starts laying eggs.

Figure below: Swarm box assembly using standard hive boxes.
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