My family has been keeping honeybees since 2014. It has been an amazing experience that we are expanding on constantly. We thought that we would have to buy new bees each time we wanted to start another hive. Then we discovered the magic that is the wild bee swarm.We receive phone calls periodically from home and business owners who have swarms on their property that they need moved. My husband and I go out, moves them into a hive body, and relocate them to a hive in our yard. It is a very cool process and it brings us lots of yummy & local (as local as you can get) honey! If you want to catch a wild bee swarm of your own, there are some things that you should know…
Things to Know Before You Catch a Wild Bee Swarm
1) What is a bee swarm?
Any grouping of bees is often referred to as a swarm, but this is incorrect. A swarm is a group of bees that have split off from their original “mother colony”. In the Spring if the colony is healthy and growing, the queen bee leaves the hive with a large percentage of the worker bees to find a new place to build another hive. This helps to prevent overcrowding and it allows for the bees to continue growing in number.
2) What is happening?
If you want to catch a wild swarm and properly relocate it, then you need to understand what is happening within the swarm. Bees swarm when a hive has become so overpopulated that a about half of the colony must leave. The worker bees create new queen cells and the existing queen lays eggs into these cells. They do this so that the group “left behind” will have a queen to lead them when the current queen leaves with the swarm.
After most of the worker bees has overfilled themselves with honey and the queen eggs are laid, the queen will leave with a large portion of the worker bees. The entire swarm stays as close to the queen as possible. When she needs a break from flying, they all land in a tree, on a fence post, or whatever seems suitable at the time. While they rest, scout bees (the real estate agents of the colony) move out in search of a new home.
At this point, the bees aren’t looking to sting you because they don’t have a home to protect. However, if you plan to get close enough for them to feel threatened then you will definitely want to take some safety precautions.
3) What safety steps should you take?
You will need to be sure to wear your Bee Suit when you catch a wild bee swarm. That sounds like pretty standard information, but you would be surprised at the number of beekeepers who think they are buddies with the bees and go in without so much as a pair of gloves. Bad idea.
Here my husband is wearing just the hood, gloves, and top with tight elastic around the waist to prevent bees from getting in. We have since purchased a full suit with hood, pants, and top that attach plus the gloves. DO NOT get over confident here. Just because the bees are in real estate mode instead of protective mode doesn’t ensure that they won’t sting you when you get close to the queen. Better safe than sorry.
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A smoker is also a good idea. Smoking bees is a necessity when you are checking on them while in the hive as it helps to keep them calm. We always have the smoker on hand when we are trying to relocate them.
4) How long do you have to catch the bee swarm?
You don’t have very much time to work with when trying to catch a wild bee swarm. When the swarm lands to rest, they typically don’t stay for more than a couple of hours. The swarms that we have seen locally have not even stayed around that long. In fact, this Spring I noticed a swarm on a tree in our yard. I went to the shop, gathered my equipment, put on my bee suit, and turned on my camera so I could show y’all the process and they took off before I could get them moved. There are some instances in which the bees will hang out over night, but that is not as common.
5) What should you put your wild bee swarm in?
You can use a hive body, a nuc box, or a plain cardboard box for this. We always use a hive body when we have one available because we want to disturb them as little as possible. If we don’t have an extra hive body handy or the swarm is in a hard to reach area, then we use one of the other options. You will need a secure & ventilated lid no matter which box you choose.
6) How should you move the bees into the box?
There are a few different strategies for this and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Spray & Shake
This method is pretty simple and it works best for bees who have landed on an item that you can pick up such as a branch. Spray the clumped swarm with a little sugar water. Sugar water doesn’t hurt them, but it makes it difficult for them to fly off for a few minutes. As soon as you have given them a little mist, shake them off into your box, brush them with a bee brush, or pick them up with gloved hands. Put the lid on the box and move on. The issue with this method is that some bees may fall or fly so you risk losing a good portion of the swarm.
Scoop & Wait
When bees are in a swarm, they surround the queen to protect her. They form a cluster by hanging onto each other’s arms and legs. I have actually seen them form a “bee bridge” to move the colony into the new hive. This makes the scooping method very effective. Carefully scoop the bees from their cluster into the box. As you scoop a handful of bees up, other bees stay connected and follow. It is VITAL here that the queen moves into the box. If the queen stays back then the whole colony will leave the box that you just got them into so they can get to her.
Letting the bees do the work
You can also simply set your hive body with frames near the swarm, put sugar water in and/or on it and wait for the scout bees and queen to start moving in. This is the most hands-off method, but it comes with extra risks. There is no guarantee that the bees will actually take to the box with this method and you risk losing the entire swarm.
7) How do you transport the swarm?
After you catch a wild bee swarm, you will need to transport them to their new location.You need to be sure that your box has some type of ventilation during the transport. You can poke small holes in the box, place a mesh piece over the top, or whatever works to keep air flowing to the bees. The last thing that you want to do is kill the bees that you have just worked to collect. Those girls are super important for our environment and they will give you some pretty sweet honey if you treat them right.
You can transport them in a truck bed if you have that luxury, but we aren’t that cool so we use our minivan 😉
8) How do you set up a new beehive?
Once you get them to the new location you need to hive them. This is unless you placed them in a hive body from the start. A nucleus box is okay to leave them in for a while. Just place some frames in it so that they can start building the comb.
If your bees are in something other than a hive body or a nuc box, you will need to transfer them into a hive body. Gently shake or scoop them (only scoop if they are still in a cluster) into the new hive with frames. This hive needs to stay closed for 1-2 days so they forget about the old home on the fence post or bird feeder. After that time, you can open the entrance hole on the hive. Give them a little sugar water to get them started and then watch them as the start to pollinate your yard, garden, and everything else within a 2-5 miles radius.
9) When should you check on the bees?
Wait at least one week to open your new hive. This gives the bees a chance to get used to their new location and to build more comb and start making honey.
Congrats! You have succeeded in your attempt to catch a wild bee swarm!