Friday, April 13, 2012

Swarm Traps.- How to make them, where to place them.

Swarm Traps.

How to make them ,  when and where to place them.

Swarm Trap located in a oak tree.

Why do bees Swarm?

Bees usually swarm for a few reasons. The main reasons are as follows:

  1.  Bees have a need to reproduce and they feel that conditions are right to do so. Very briefly, the queen oversees the production of queen cells. Just before several virgin queens emerge, she leaves with approximately half the colony and sets up a new home somewhere else, usually in a radius of between 200 meters and 3 kilometers from the mother colony.
  2. Bees in their own colony are overcrowded, classically due to spring honey, a large hatching of brood and an increase in foraging bees. This in turn will trigger their queen in to producing queen cells before she departs with about half the colony.
  3. Bees are currently not in a viable hive. It might be diseased or in a position that has not been chosen well or has been damaged due to an external force making the current hives position non viable.

Generally a colony of Bees will swarm due to one or two of the above reasons and its as simple as that! 
Colonys in a small cavity generally will swarm more often than one in a large cavity.  Queens in their first year are also less likely to swarm. In their second year, twice as likely to swarm and so on! The average life for most queens being 3 to 5 years old.

How do you catch a swarm.

Catching a swarm can be a tricky business.  If your bees swarm from you aipiary then you may be luckily enough to find your bees temporarily resting on a branch or wall, gate post and hopefully at a convienient height. The majority of bees don`t behave like this and will go in you your neighbours back yard or a couple of hundred meters away, out of sight, in the top of a tree.
You may not even notice your bees have swarmed as you are working during the day when they swarmed.  You have come past your apiary on your way home and see nothing out of the ordinary, as it looks like most of the bees are in your hive, where they should be at the end of the day!
Its not until you come to inspect your hive a few days later and see a few  open queen cells, brood, no eggs and not many bees.
You have lost your prized queen that you bought for her honey producing qualities and you  have lost her a couple of weeks just before the peak honey flow starts. How can this be avoided! 

How do you stop your bees swarming!

There is much information on this issue . Really the main crux of beekeeping is swarm management. If you can manage your bees and reduce swarming, then you have really mastered beekeeping.
You can add honey supers to give you colonies more space and you can take out a brood frame in the extremities of our colony and spin them if they are full of honey. This will give your queens more space to lay in to but the eventual will happen. Your bees will swarm some time in their queens life.

You will begin to know when your bees are about to swarm. The obvious signs of large amount of brood hatching, the creation of swarm cells and  change in the bees behaviour, to name but a few signs.

Some  people like to use a phsyical control  namly clipping the queens wings. I do not support this practice. It usually results in a messy ball of bees attempting to swarm but with a queen that cant fly. This is a completely unatural thing and results in very confused bees.

If you carry out as many swarm prevention measures as possible and then accept the fact that you will have to deal with a few swarms from your apiary each year you will be managing your bees in a much more natural way and have young stock to take over for the forthcoming years. So the question you are asking is ok but how do I catch the swarms that I might lose? The awnser is simple. You put out swarm traps.

Why put out swarm Traps?

I put out swarm traps for 2 reasons.
  1. To allow my  colonies of bees to reach a point in their reproduction where they can swarm freely or they reach a point where they are all about to swarm.I will then go in and artificially swarm my bees . The difficulty in predicting when this is going to happen. Swarm traps help you predict when that time might be, and if you get it wrong, they are more than likely to go in to the trap, rather than choose another place. This generally happends when the necterflow reaches its peak after a warm wet period.
  2. To catch  feral swarms that are natrually produced in the wild. These wild swarms are so important in relation to the gene pool we use in beekeeping today. These wild bees have to deal with all that naure can throw at them and yet they still manage to swarm and raise successful colonies.
What is a swarm Trap.

A swarm trap is basically any cavity or box that has been modified to offer a suitable residence for bees that are in the swarming mode. The box must be of an approximate size, have a small entrance that easily guarded, offer good access, have some ready drawn up comb in, that is clean and pest, disease and sugar/honey free, allowing the colonys queen to start laing within a few hours. The Smell is also important ie previously used nest of deserted colony or a well used Nuc box! 
Build your nucs first: Click here:

What elements make a viable swarm trap.

Research shows that European honey bees prefer a cavity size of about 40 ltrs.  Thats not to say that some bees won`t swarm in to a smaller or much larger cavity but the results of generally show that this volume is the most acceptable. Dont forget you may think a huge swarm has just gone in to a very small volume container  but its going to be at least 21 days before any young bees are going to be produced and the size of the colony will probably decrease by 10 or 20 % before any new young start to hatch out.

Shape is not important but its stupid to make a swarm trap without thinking of how you can get out the swarm afterwards. Some comercial swarm traps availible on the market are of the lobster pot / papier mache design. Their design does attract swarms but if you are not around within 24hrs to shake your bees in to another suitable container or hive, then you are left struggling with a difficult cut out. This is a shame and its the last thing you want to do is give your lovely new colony a load of grief. The best swarm traps are basically used  nucs and hives, though more so nucs, as they are more portable, lighter and less cumbersome to lug around. The other main benefit is that you can leave your swarm trap for 2 weeks or more if you wish, you may catch a swarm the second day after you put the trap out but the bees will start drawing out new comb and get on with establishing their new home

When you find you have caught a swarm you can then easily transfer it in to a new hive or nuc as they have built on to your frames that you just lift out. You can feed your bees easily, treat them agaist mites and generally manage the colony well.

How can you turn new nucs in to old ones

So you`ve just started beekeeping but dont have any old , used nuc boxes.  Theres no point in putting out brand new ply nucs that have only been constructed the day before, you need to get them "hive smelly"  to give them a realistic chance of working and there are 2 ways you can do this.  The obviously most natural way is to transfer a colony of bees in to your nuc and leave it there for at least a couple of  weeks. The other way I call "artificial propolisation."

Artificial propolisation.

Propolis is the glue that bees use within the hive to help keep the hive clean and it acts as a sterilant. It is a product from the  buds of trees and shrubs. Bees scrape it off and then return to the hive and use it to close up holes in the hive, seal any open cracks  etc. It has also been known to be used to seal over dead mamals that have died in the hive. You can buy propolis in mail order but thats quite expensive and really the quality is too pure.

The type of propolis you need is the propolis you would find inside an old hive, so what you need to do is first get hold of some well used honey supers. Most beekeepers will lend you some out of season. Just say you are cleaning them up for free and they will be more than hapy to loan them to you!

Next on a large clean table or sheet of ply start scraping out all the old propois and wax you can find. I find a good quality flat edged screwdriver is perfect for this. The most propolised areas are generally under the metal frame supports.  One old honey super will give you half a jam jar full in no time.
Please be careful as you scrape all this out. You can easily slip with the screwdriver or hive tool!
Brush up what you have scraped out regularly. A lot of the debris comes out in a fine powder so be careful not to let it fall to the ground. Dont wear good clothes and be prepared to smell like a bee hive when you have finished. TIP: do this in the winter months, propolis goes hard and shatters more easily losing its stickyness!

Removing propolis and wax debris from honey Super.

The scrapings ready for use.

When you have collected up all the little bits that will also include bits of wood , wax as well as propolis. Find a large class jar (about 1 litre in Volume) and then you need to get hold of some very pure alochol. The best place to source this is your local chemist of Pharmacy and you will probably have to explain what you want it for! Try to get the alochol with a minimal odour content as its really important that you don`t taint your prepared hive with a different smell and defeat the whole object.

Next, Wearing old clothes, gloves and face protection , mix your hive scrapings and alochol about 1 to 1 in volume.  You will soon see why I say wear gloves. The propolis very quickly dissolves in to the alochol. Put the lid back on to the contained and shake it for at least 10 minutes. Some of the larger propolis will take a fair bit of agitation to get it to dissolve. TIP: I like to drop in a couple of the kids marbles, it helps agitation within the jar.

Next get your nucs out and spread them over a piece of the garden  or where you wont make a mess. Not on your clean garage floor, as you will stain it brown. Leave the nucs upright and open with the frame covers off. You are better off doing this outside in a well ventilated area.
The next stage it to paint the inside of your nucs with your liquid propolis solution.  Don`t try and cover all the inside of your nucs. You will run out quickly as the aclohol will start to evaporate , add more alochol to keep it liquid and also if you find more in the bottom of the jar that has not dissolved but the main object is to keep the solution as thick as possible. Start by painting around and above the entranceway and then try and get some on the side and around the areas where the frame supports are and finally try and get some on the inside of the frame cover. Careful when you do this as its terrible stuff, sticks and stains on everything and is really volatile and flammable. TIP: bring the jar of alohol in to a warm room for a couple of hours to lift up the temperature of the solution, but never heat it up in a microwave or on the stove.

When you have completed this leave the treated nucs outside for a couple of days to really dry out. If you are doing this in mid spring you will already notice bees taking an interest in the inviting odours coming from your nucs.
To finish the treatment, I go over all the inside of my hive very lightly with a blowtorch. This heats up the surface enough to evaporate away and remaining smell from the alochol and adds a bit of burnt wood smell to the nuc It has been proven that bees dont really mind this and in nature this smell in common to bees.

What to put in your Nuc as the best attractant.

So you have now got an old nuc to make up as a swarm trap. Bees may well swarm in to this well scented box but there is still more you can do to make it more attractive. The first thing is to try and get hold of some old drawn  up brood comb frames. These are really the one most inprotant thing that will excite scout bees more than anything! Pictured below is one of the frames  I was left with last season, when a hive became queenless and I was unable to re queen. At the time I was annoyed but  I know now that beekeeping is all about making use of what materials you have. If you loose a colony or two it will give you better chance of catching a swarm  the following spring. If you look closely you will see old comb and lots of different pollen stored in the cells. Thats the best frames of all to use. Also you will notice no sugar or honey! Thats another key element you don`t want in the hive, as it attracts mice and other hungry insects not to mention wasps and hornets. Drawn up comb will also enable a queen to start laying within a few hours of arrival if conditions are right.
The best way to get drawn up brood  comb except when you loose a colony is each spring when you open up your hives the bees will have normally emptied the extremities of the hive allowing you to remove 2 old drawn frames and replace them with two of just foundation. As the hive popuation increases in the spring these replacements will soon be drawn up by the need to expand the hive.
If you cant get sugar free drawn up comb you can use brood frames that have sugar stored in the cells but you must try and remove most this.
I find the best way is to do this is by scraping off the surface capings and then using a warm water wash with a fine, strong spray directed directly in to the frame  this does do the trick, but water temperature is critical and it does use quite a lot of water. However needs must!!!! ps dont do this when your wife has just cleaned the kitchen. You won`t be the most popular member of the house. 
 I once asked my beekeeping teacher if I could buy a few of his old frames. They are not for sale I was told. drawn up frames are like hens teeth. Very rare!

Drawn up brood frame with pollen and no sugar or honey.

Other Attractants.

Once you have got at least two drawn up combs in you five framed nuc ( the others being of foundation) you could call this a viable swarm trap but there`s still a couple more things you can do to maximise its attractiveness.

Lemon Grass Oil.

Bees seem to be attracted to many fragrances and indeed there is many a story of older or should I say "more experienced beekeepers" who have secret herbs or balms that they make up every 2 weeks to put in to swarm traps to aid the potency of the hive.  However one of the most well known is lemon grass oil, or  to be strictly correct its the oil from the plant "cymbopogon citratus." Put a few drops of this on some kitchen roll or tissue and then put this in to a small zip lock bag. Don`t fully close the bag, leaving just one corner not quite zipped up.
Bees will sense this and  very  soon check it out.


Nasanov is the natural feromone released by bees. It is used as a calling message to either draw other bees back to the hive or to a newly selected area away from the hive It comes from a gland underneath the bees front legs and when emitting this feromone bees tend to lean forward with their bottoms in the air and fan their wings, sending the scent out and away from them.
By putting Nasanov directly in to your swarm trap you are saying to the bees "come on in here, its ok"
You can buy nasanov in very small ampoules that can be hung on to the inside of one of your frames of drawn up comb. In france the cost about 1 euro each.
It dosent mean that hundreds of bees will suddenly start checking out the smell but the foragers will be very curious and hopefully combined with the smell of the drawn up comb and the old hive they will find this a perfect attraction.
Its always handy to have a spare amoule or two availible during the season. If you have been called to swarm in a place where is difficult to get to, then just put the nasanov in a trap or hive and within 20 mins or so you should see some results. Dont take risks when catching swarms. If the swarm likes your trap or nasanov they will soon move in to what you are offering.
Nasanov can be stored in the freezer untill needed.

Nasanov and Lemon grass oil together?

Well I dont know and haven`t been trapping bees long enough to say whether putting the two in the same trap offers any greather luring potential. Out of preference I would keep the Nasanov in the hive if you have it availible. On the outside of the hive I would dab a bit of lemon grass oil but not too much! and repeat this every 2 weeks if you can.

Nasonov ampoule on the lower part of the middle frame

What actually happends when scout bees find your trap?

When scout bees are sent out to look for suitable places to make a new home in they will find your swarm trap, check it out ,remember where it is and report back to the colony  and pass on this information. However its not just one bee returning with this information that would cause a colony to swarm to your trap.
Over the next few days, weeks, as the colony grows and spring "mass hatching" occurs, other scout bees will find the same trap and report back to the colony with the same information. As time of swarming approaches, these reports of the swarm trap are then re investigated by a growing number of  scout bees who will increase their study of this possible site and then when the swarm is ready to issue and the number of reports of this possible home are all the same, the swarm will leave and go directly to the swarm trap, avoiding the need to settle on a nearby position.
The swarm thus goes straight to you trap in an orderly fasion ( as orderly as a swarm of bees can be) and the colony gets to work straight away.
I will add, that you  might think you have a swarm already in your trap, as thers lots of bees seemingly coming and going, but often this is not the case and its scout bees constantly checking out their new proposed home.
I have witnessed this happening a good 5 days before a swarm arives and yes usually the more bees that are scouting out your trap, the bigger the swarm usually is.
Is not unusual to have as many as between 30 to 60 bees checking things out, with the higher numbers of scout bees showing their prescence the last and penultimte day before the swarm arrives.
They will also delay by a day or two if the weather goes rainy and cool, as they would at your own apiary!

I have also added lemon grass oil to the front of the hive if i see a few more bees than just the occasional one or two, that are present most of the summer. This seems to help  increase the activity around the hive and i have never seen the reverse effect, so you have nothing to loose.

So If you see some bees around your trap and then a couple more the next day, it is likely that a swarm will issue in the next few days.

I have also had traps empty for almost a co plete seaso with no bees there at all, then on a routing check , sometimes only two or 3 days after, i have had a swarm establishd in the trap, but the majority of times you will see a build up of interest before a swarm takes residence.
Obviously if you see pollen being brought in then there is a swarm inside. Happy days!!!!!!

Trapping swarms from your Apiary

In the same way you can use this as an indicator by watching several swarm traps around your hives.This will give you a very good indication of a forthcoming swarm from your own hives. When you see a marked build up of bees coming and going from the swarm trap, its a pretty sure sign that things are about to happen.
I woulds place at least two traps around your own aipary and at a distance of at least 200 meters from your hives. This is shown to generally be  the minimal distance bees like to swarm too. However I know someone who placed a nuc 20 meters from a nest in a tree and the nuc was occupied. But on the other hand was another swarm from somewhere else that came to the trap?

If you think you have  caught a swarm , you see lots of bees coming and going but if you are not sure if it is a colony or just lots of  inquisitive bees, then go  back of an evening. If their are some bees walking up and down the front landing tray then its likely you have a swarm inside. The other way is to give the Nuc a sharp knock on the side walls. If you have a swarm you will hear a loud hiss from all the bees inside fanning their wings in alarm.
Dont repeat this as they will soon send out a reception party!.

If you are sure you have swarm and want to quickly have a look inside the nuc you will be very suprised just how docile the bees are in the first few days. I have frequently opened up a newly hived swarm with little of no reaction from the bees. This is because the queen has not started laying yet and bees have nothing to guard. They know they are more use to the queen and colony alive, so they are very conservative in the defence. This is a lovely time to get really close to your bees and just sit and watch.

Setting your Nuc

So you have spent all this time getting your swarm trap just how the bees will want it but where is the best place to put it?

After you have spent a few years beekeeping places to put your traps wont be difficult to find. You will get calls to get swarms and these places are where you want to put your traps. I had none of these places when I started but within a few years suddenly I have not  got enough traps to my mind and I am putting out 25 this year. I found finding positions  easy as I was fortunate with my job that I have many clients with all sorts of different gardens. If I saw bees there one season I would put a trap there the following and so on until I kind of begun to know the region I was in.

Its also improtant to say that even if you know the whereabouts of a bee tree or a chimney with a nest of bees in it, its by no means a guarantee that you wll catch a swarm in one season or that the bees will even swarm! So you have to spread your bets and put out more traps in different places.
In years of drought you will see many less swarms and in times of strong wet springs followed by warm summers you will see more swarms but even saying that its impossible to use that as a rule and many other factors determine when and why bees swarm.

Where to place your swarm traps.

The best position seems to be generally south to south west facing ( Northern hemisphere) and the height of  about 1.5 to 2 meters from the ground. Try and place them so that they will get the sun for most of the day and best of all the sun from mid morning to late in the day as a preference. They seem to prefer the sun on the front of the hive as much as possible.  Also try and place you swarm trap in a sheltered spot behind an existing building,  garden wall ,on a granite window sill, so theres no  prevailing wind.  I also favour the use of old tin shed roofs. I am sure that the action of the heat rising from these metal roofs helps advertise the the presence of a hive, wafting the odour from the nuc up in to the air. Free advertising, go use it!!


The only pest problems you will have with your un inhabited swarm traps are wax moth.
These are natures cleaners that in the wild will lay eggs in to old disused comb and when their larvae hatch out, they will happily munch their way through whatever they can, unfortunately for us that meany the lovely old comb that you have toiled so hard to present to a potential swarm of bees!

There is a treatement for this that is harmless to bees. You just simply spray the top halves of your frames with   Bacillus Thuringensis  . This spore stays on your frames until needed. If it comes in to contact with a larvae of a moth or caterpillar is starts in to growth, consuming it and quickly killing it.

If you dont treat your frames look at the picture below to see just how efficient they are. The middle old drawn up wax frame and they have moved on to the foundation.

Wax Moth Damage!

Swarming Season.

Where we are in France  (North Brittany) the swarming season lasts form the middle of April untill the middle of July but each region is different  and obviously  south of the equator its the reverse.

With all things in nature they are all subject to variation due to climatic differences.

If you get it right and the bees come to your trap then hopefully you will see something like this.
Happy swarm catching!


  1. Great post. I will try your swarm traps this year.

  2. Another good post thank you. I am a complete beginner with bees. We bought some equipment last year but no swarm came either naturally or via the local 'bee man', the head of the local association who registers bee keepers. So we are fingers crossed for this year. I am finding your blog posts useful but am feeling a bit daunted by all that I have to learn! We live just south of Dinan.

    1. Hi Stuart and Gabriel, thanks for your kind comments. I may be able to supply you with some bees if you are interested.
      My e mail addres is or call me on 0296827365.
      KInd regards

  3. Put up a homemade swarm trap, one old brood frame and rubbed the inside with some melted wax. A swarm moved in the very next day. I was so surprised, caught my first swarm.