Thursday, October 31, 2013

Survival Bee Keeping - Part II

If you have come far enough to know you at least want to try and capture your own bees then you are now wondering about the size of the trap.

The above picture is a nuc box I made designed to hold four frames or three frames and an inside feeder. I wasn't all that happy with the design so these days I use it as just another swarm trap.

Basically a swarm trap can be any size or shape but if you want the girls to build on the frames and not scatter comb all over the inside of the trap you have to conform to bee space.

Bee space is just a fancy term for making sure the home you keep them in has no open areas large enough to convince the bees to draw out comb where it isn't wanted. Generally speaking any open area greater than 1/8th of an inch will encourage comb to be built.

If you are going to move the captured bees to an actual hive pretty quick then open space is nothing to worry about but if you are going to leave them inside the trap for a while the bees will waste alot of precious comb and you may end up killing some eggs when you transfer the bees to a full hive.

On many occasions I have baited the pictured trap with only one drawn out frame of comb and then added three additional frames for the swarm to begin building on. Of course if you don't have protective gear it would be best to fill the box with frames before setting the trap out.

Generally speaking you can tailor the trap to the size of swarm you want to catch. I have caught numerous small swarms in boxes like I have pictured but a large swarm would decide the space of that box as too small. Most of my traps are about twice the size of the one pictured. I also designed a platform that I can attach to the top of a t-post then bungy down the traps without hangers. I have made traps of all sizes some very large with frames being placed sideways inside some like the one pictured pretty small. Anytime I have some project lumber left over I make a swarm trap. You can even use smaller frames for mini-traps if you wanted.

Some research claims the best places to set your traps is 8 to 10 feet off the ground with the entrance facing either East or South. I have found the height isn't as important as the entrance facing. The last thing I want to do is carry a ladder into the woods with me or risk taking a fall over a trap. I would say 90% of the traps I place have an entrance height of between 5 and 6 foot. In a very few cases I have used an old stump or something to get upto 8 foot but have never noticed an increase in capture percentages because of it.

Trapping bee swarms is alot like fishing. The trap is basically the hook and the hook size pretty much determines the size of the fish. The bait seals the deal. Frames of old comb will always generate nibbles. There are attractant lures you can buy but generally I use Lemon Grass oil I order from essential oil companies or buy at health food stores. This year I also used the crush leaves of a plant called lemon balm. The leaves smell very lemony, I placed several leaves in a small plastic bag and crushed them up. I also rubbed the leaves around the entrance of the trap. This lemony smell attracts honey bees as it mimics a queen pheromone, basically it calls out to the swarm scouts and makes em check the trap out for a potential home.

Many times you will see a few dozen to as many as a few hundred bees checking out a swarm trap often fighting at the entrance and coming and going. These are scout bees and foragers from other hives. Not to go into the particulars of how a swarm chooses a trap too much but basically the scout bees find the trap and then they return to the swarm and send more scouts to check it out. All the scouts eventually vote on their new home and once a consensus is reached the swarm lifts off and flies to the trap (or other space of they found a better site).

I have been fooled more than once into thinking a trap was occupied when it was nothing more than a large number of scouts. I good rule of thumb I use now if I did not witness an actual swarm moving into a trap is to wait until sunset and if there are still a large amount of bees coming and going after the sun has set it's a good bet a swarm has moved in. Pollen being brought into the trap is another sure sign.

There is nothing quite as much fun as being right near a trap as a swarm moves in. To watch a cloud of bees slowly moving across an open area and then building until they totally cover the outside of the trap often bearding and hanging a few feet down.

So if you are thinking you might want to keep some bees around but are not yet willing or able to purchase all the harvesting and other equipment maybe give trapping a swarm or two a try. You can see just how handy you are at building bee houses and get a feel for having the girls around.

Then if you want to make the jump into keeping and tending them you already have the bees.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!


  1. Where does a novice bee keeper come up with the old comb to put in the trap? Get some from a local bee keeper?

    1. Oh. The old comb isn't a requirement. In fact until this last year I just put in empty frames because I didn't really have old comb to use either. If you buy frames made with foundation they are already covered with bees wax from the factory or you could as you said get some from a bee keeper. Raw unfiltered comb or wax works better but even commercially available wax would work.

  2. Senior and I were trimming a tree line today for one of our clients, and bees were buzzing around the flowering trees, I kept thinking about you, and looking through the woods for the hive. I know it had to be pretty close.

    1. JuGM - Maybe look up in the eaves of the house. Honestly I find feral bees in houses more than in the wild.

  3. Will the bees stay in the trap for awhile? What time of year is best to trap them? Spring?

    I have researched bee keeping several times in the last couple of years but always had something else going. I need to go to the library and get serious this time. My granddad kept bees and we used to eat "honey bread" when we were over there it was so yummy. I wish I had spent more time with him learning about this stuff but I was young and dumb :/

    1. Keely - As long as you have the trap filled with frames with no gaps larger than about and eight of an inch you should be able to leave the bees in the trap indefinitely. Really the trap is no different than a hive except you won't be able to add supers and such as they grow. A colony in one box will tend to swarm often after they fill it up.

  4. Preppy...I've missed reading your blog but plan to catch up soon and get a post up on mine. Love all of the info on the bees. Although I've had mine for over a year I am still learning. This summer was a bust on mine...nothing but rain and more rain for almost 3 straight months. I will probably have to feed mine all winter. Will be doing a check in the next few days.

    1. MB - I knew you would be back around. I have often wondered when you would post again but figured you were busy busy busy...

      Good to hear from you!!!


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