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Sometimes bees will swarm to start a new colony. They’ll break free from the hive and group together in numbers up to around 30,000. A lot of people are terrified of a swarm of bees; I blame Disney and its depictions of Winnie The Pooh running away from a swarm. However, bees are actually very docile when they’re in a swarm, so this is one of the best times to catch them and boost the population of your hive.
But there is something of a knack to it so let’s take a look at how to catch a swarm of bees.
To catch a swarm of bees, you need to entice them into a ventilated box so that you can collect them and re-home them in a hive. Once the Queen Bee enters the box, the others should follow.
The main thing is to be ready because it’s a good idea to catch a swarm as soon as you find it. This means gathering your equipment beforehand. You’ll also need to consider your safety and make sure that you wear protective gear. While bees are generally docile in a swarm, there is still the possibility of things going south so it’s always better to be protected.
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Many people think that a swarm is a name given to a group of bees. While a swarm does involve a group of bees, this isn’t the same as something like a pride of lions or a murder of crows. Instead, a swarm is more of a behavior that bees exhibit when they are moving from one location to another.
Swarms tend to happen during the spring when the bee colonyis much larger. Once things become overcrowded in the hive, up to half of the members will form a swarm and move on to a new location. Within the swarm, you’ll always find the queen and it is possible to see swarms taking a rest as they make their journey.
One of the great things for beekeepers about swarms is that they’re so easy to catch. The reason for this is that their aggression levels are very low as they’re not trying to defend their home or food stores. Moreover, there’s no comb involved so you can simply scoop them up and put them into a box.
If you’ve found a swarm and want to catch it then you will need the following equipment:
- A breathable box. This should be made from either wood or cardboard.
- A tarp or sheet in a light color
- A bee brush
- Some pruning shears
- Some lemongrass essential oil
- Protective clothing. Bee swarms aren’t usually aggressive but these are animals and, in rare instances, can be unpredictable so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Swarm Traps Can Also Be Used:
Swarms are not settled and won’t typically hang around in any one location for too long. So, if you notice a swarm then it’s best to act as soon as possible. Sometimes a swarm might stay put for a couple of days but in other cases, it may be gone in as little as an hour.
You really have no idea of how long the swarm intends on staying where it is. You might have discovered it after it’s already been there for a few days and is preparing to leave. I’ve even read stories of beekeepers that have stumbled upon a swarm, dashed home to gather their equipment, and returned to find they were too late.
If you’re out and about, I’d recommend having your swarm kit in the trunk of your car. That way, you won’t need to worry about traveling home to fetch it with the potential of missing the bees.
You’ve got your kit, the swarm is nicely settled, and now it’s time to catch it. Here’s my easy step-by-step guide on how to catch a swarm of bees.
Before you go in all guns blazing, it’s a good idea to assess how safe it is to catch the swarm. Now, I’m not necessarily referring to how safe the bees are but more the location of the swarm. If you can reach it from the ground, then dive right in. However, if the swarm is higher up then you’ll need to make sure that you can access it with a ladder and get back down safely with the box. If it doesn’t seem safe then leave this swarm, there will be others.
This is especially important for new beekeepers. While it’s unlikely that the swarm will attack, there’s always a risk so I’d recommend at least using a veil and gloves. Although if you want to go all out and wear an entire bee suit, there’s nothing wrong with that.
You’ll now need to take your tarp or sheet (make sure it’s a light color) and lay this on the ground, below the swarm. Get your box and place this on top of the sheet.
Direct the swarm into the box. You don’t necessarily need to get all of the bees in there at this point. Your main concern right now is ensuring that the queen goes in. You’ll know if she has because the other bees will stay in the box. However, if they all come back out, this tells you that you didn’t get the queen and you’ll need to try again.
There are different methods of getting the bees into the box and which you use will depend on the location of the swarm.
- For swarms that are on a tree branch, you can simply shake the bees off and into the box.
- Where the swarm is located on vegetation or hanging from a smaller branch, you will need to use your pruning shears to cut the branch free and place it into your box. Do this gently so as not to alarm the bees.
- Some swarms will be located on a structure like a mailbox or a fence in which case you will need to use sugar water in a spray bottle before using a bee brush to get them into the box. As best as you can, try to keep the swarm together without breaking it up too much.
- Finally, if you find a swarm on the ground, you’ll use your lemongrass oil to lure them straight into your container.
Once the bees are in the box, you’ll need to close it but leave a little gap for any remaining bees to get inside. This is where you’ll need to be patient because some of the stragglers may take a lot longer to get into the box.
It’s best to leave the container where it is until the sun goes down as bees won’t stay out when it gets dark so you can feel confident that they’ll all have made their way inside. What’s more, if you don’t wait for all of the bees to enter, they’ll be left behind and may become a nuisance for local residents.
Once nightfall comes, you can then seal the box using tape or pop it into a mesh bag.
Now it’s time to move the swarm and once the box is properly sealed, you can take it to its new location. You’ll need to do this as gently as possible but don’t try to install the swarm into its new hive until the next morning as this will prevent it from overheating.
There’s nothing quite as exciting for a beekeeper as happening upon a swarm. This group of bees will be on the hunt for a new home so why not give them one in your hive?
And while a lot of people wonder how to catch a swarm of bees and whether it’s safe, the good news is it’s super simple and the bees will be very cooperative.
You don’t even need any special equipment and luring the bees into the box shouldn’t be hard work. One thing I would suggest is making sure that you jump at the chance as soon as you notice the swarm as you never know when it might disappear.