Attracting swarms to get free bees

We have told the story before about how we stumbled into beekeeping. Our first year as beekeepers we were able to attract a swarm directly into a hive without much effort. Last season we got 4 the same way (although one entered the owl box) and even caught one on video. So this year we have our method pretty much figured out and are hoping last year wasn't a fluke. Here's what we do.

We start by getting a normal hive ready. We use all medium sized frames and boxes. We use all foundationless frames to let our bees build their own wax. Our swarm traps are really a full hive setup, with a base board, a box, 10 frames, and inner and outer covers. We tend to look for hives that have already been used by the bees. This year we have a couple of boxes we removed from the hives to consolidate them for winter that should work better for swarm attraction.

After we setup the hive we then take a small ziplock bag and stuff a paper towel inside and then wet the paper with lemongrass oil. We then close the ziplock almost all the way leaving a small entrance for the smell to get out slowly. That bag gets dropped to the bottom of the hive. We also drop a couple of drops of lemongrass oil on the flying board to help attract swarm scouts looking for locations to test out. You can replace the lemongrass with a number of industrial attractants although we've never tried them.

Once we have the hive fully assembled and with the lemongrass attractant deployed we set it somewhere where it's not in the way and make sure the hive is level. That's particularly important as we're using foundationless frames. Bees will follow gravity and build their wax hanging down vertically. If the hive wasn't level the combs wouldn't be aligned with the frames. So far we've set out 4 hives in a few spots. We've doubled down on the wooded area where last year we caught two large swarms. We're now completely out of hives and thinking of how many we want to order from our typical supplier.

Our main idea is to set out full hives that we can then just move into the bee yard without any other intervention. Moving them once they are full is a little harder than if we were using a lighter box but we've managed fine so far. If you want to look into this in more detail there was a pretty large study done on what characteristics will attract swarms. The main outcome of the study is the following list of characteristics of the optimum swarm trap:

  • Set 5 meters off the ground in a well shaded but visible area (distance from the parent hive doesn't matter)
  • An entrance that's about 10-15 square centimeters large at the bottom of the box and ideally facing south (shape is irrelevant)
  • A box that's about 40 liters in volume (both deeps and mediums should be fine, the study only really tested 10, 40 and 100) and also airtight and dry
  • The smell of wax and lemongrass or other attractants. A frame of old black brood comb is often recommended here.
22 responses
Thanks! Will read linked pdf.
Thanks! Will read pdf.
Thanks! Will read pdf.
5 meters off the ground?
That's what the study recommended yes. That's why people usually hand them off a tree. We usually just put them on top of the large walls that limit our fields (we're on a slope).
So have you set these traps level on the ground as in the photos, or 5 meters off the ground?
We've done both and caught swarms in both types of locations. The higher ones do seem to attract them more. Our property is on a slope and the fields are terraced so we get them high by putting them on the ground at the end of a field where there is a 4-5m drop to the next field. If you're on flat terrain you'd probably need to put them up a tree to get the same height. The main idea is to create spots that the bees judge as better than all the others around. So if you do everything else and then set the box on the ground, if there are no competing tall places (e.g., hollow trees or a house with a hole in a wall) then they will pick your box.
Bees
I love Bees..
I have bee equipment in my garage. I try to keep the door open during swam season. After a week and seeing bees checking out my garage. I set a starter live just outside of the garage door. It has worked the last three years.
My cajun Grandfather used anise to call the bees. It worked too. I don't remember him ever not having less three hives of bees.
Very interested!
Very interesting,
Excellent article. I have been keeping bees for a while but have been considering trapping a few swarms to build up my hive numbers. Thanks for the info.
This year my husband and I will have our first bee hives we have been experimenting with sugar water with a dab of anise oil and one with lemon oil. The bees tend to like anise oil better.
I have also heard of using a new queen taken from her cell, then placed in a small vial of alcohol. Add to that a drop or two of lemongrass oil. The alcohol extracts the pheromones of the queen to solution, which is then placed in the trap as in the article above. Several sources say this is very effective while not wasting any unwanted queen cells your colony might produce. Comments?
This will help me out. I have a swarm of bees in a tree some where and I am feeding them every day. Will this lemon grass oil help move them to my new bee hive?
Thank you
It is not working please help how to attract swarm to get free bees into hive box
Very informative for me. A must read for beginners especially
Do you have a excluder in the box when trying to attract a swarm ?
Hi Mark. No excluder in the box at any point. When attracting you don't want an excluder because that wouldn't allow the queen to enter the box. And since in this method the swarm moves right into their final home there's no need to add an excluder later to avoid them leaving because they were the ones that picked the box in the first place and have no tendency to run away.