Thursday, March 12, 2015

Survival Bee Keeping - The Swarm Trap

Originally I read a book titled something like "The Democracy of Bees" or some thing like that which stated that a swarm would look for certain characteristics in a new home. If I remember right it listed a cavity space of roughly five gallons as being ideal with an entrance hole of around 3/4 of an inch and about 8 foot off the ground.

The five gallon cavity size actually comes out to a box slightly larger than a normal sized brood chamber. The first dozen or so traps I made were all the type you see in these pictures.

I made them to take a few frames inside in hopes that the bees would start making their new comb on the frames and make transferring them to a hive easier. I found out that plan only worked if the frame had already been drawn out with wax. A bare foundation frame has no appeal to a new swarm and they will just start making comb off the top.

I also added in a removable telescoping top that is tied into place with the thin rope and off set a hanging bar with the circle cut out. A trap like this can be hung from a limb lopped off by sliding the hanger bar over the limb.

This design allows me to throw in some drawn out frames from any dead out hives I get. Put in some Lemon Grass oil on a Q-tip, close up the trap and put it in the tree. If a swarm moves in all I had to do was wait until after dark, plug the entrance hole with a cork and take the entire trap away to a new bee yard.

What I eventually figured out was that this design worked well but the size didn't necessarily appeal to all sized swarms. Also the fact that I had to lop off a limb to place the trap left some people a bit skeptical about allowing me to place a trap in their yard. Believe it or not finding a suitable limb to lop off facing the right direction and the right height off the ground wasn't always so easy either.

So I started making and using some smaller boxes as well. Four and five frame nuc or split boxes I found worked really well inside towns. I also designed a stand that would fit on top of a metal fence post. A seven foot metal fence post with the stand allowed me to place a trap about six foot off the ground after the post was driven in.

I had a picture of the stand but can't find it now. It isn't rocket science though just a 2 inch diameter PVC pipe wedged between two pieces of 2x6 with a plywood shelf on top and two I-hooks that allow me to put a trap on the shelf and then bungy cord it down.

I have managed to catch many swarms in some pretty built up neighborhoods using the nuc box and T-post stand method and the home owners will cheer me when I take the swarms away, especially when they consider that swarm could have ended up in the attic.

What I have learned is that traps can be just about any size and height above the ground it doesn't really matter but the conditions you can really adjust for that make traps appealing are having old comb inside to trick the bees into thinking others lived there before them. An entrance facing South and a proper sized entrance hole. I sometimes adjust the 3/4 inch hole down a bit for smaller boxes because I think the smaller swarms prefer smaller entrances.

The other must have variable is Lemon Grass oil I have mentioned before.

I ordered a small case of six bottles of this stuff like five years ago and haven't used even half of it yet. The secret is a little goes a long way. Trust me. When I first put a trap out I will dip a bit on the end of a Q-Tip and touch the outside of the trap with it around the entrance then push the Q-Tip inside. I re-apply the oil maybe once every two weeks or sometimes every week during prime swarm season. Bees can smell the lemon scent from literally miles away and it won't take long before foragers are checking out the trap once you put some in. Supposedly the smell mimics a queens pheromone which why it would make them want to move in if they think a rival queen is already there is beyond me.

An interesting observation I have made over the years though. Whenever a swarm moves into a new trap the bees will destroy the Q-tip end that has the Lemon Grass Oil on it. Almost every time I move a swarm and put it in a hive the Q-tip is just a stick because all the cotton has been removed from the end.

I have also made my own Lemon Grass lure by crushing up Bee Balm leaves which smell like Lemons as well and putting them inside a plastic baggy while rubbing a Q-Tip on the crushed leaves. It works because I have caught swarms with that lure. Good info to know ina  grid down situation where you cannot order oil over the internet.

Here is one of my original design traps put in place out on a field edge. It was facing East and I caught a number of swarms at this location over the years.

Here is an original design that I added an entrance plate too. It's just a simple metal disk that I can spin around and close up the entrance hole without closing it off entirely. As you can see this trap has bees in it. If you start seeing a lot of bees at the entrance and they are fighting it means that a swarm is coming and they have sent scouts ahead to hold the space.

You can also buy traps ready made. I have heard of people gluing heavy cardboard traps together or even two planting pots and hanging them up. The important thing is to check em. I have also been fooled a few times into thinking I had captured a swarm because of the entrance activity only to find out I jumped the gun too.

Next post is what to do with your swarm after you have caught one.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!!


  1. Preppy - How many swarms have gathered over the years?

    1. TB - Oh I don't know for sure anymore unless I pulled out my log and counted em all up over the years. Prolly well into the 50's or more. The drought of 2012 killed off a lot of my bees and I lost all the hives I had plus all the swarms I caught that year just about.

  2. Great practical information to know. Thanks

  3. Now I know what they look like, they aren't little mouse trap looking things baited with honey!

  4. I think it's time to put them up around here. All the plums are done blooming but still a lot of pollen going in.

    1. MV - Wow you are way ahead of us then. Still waiting on the Maples to bloom here.

  5. love it! love it! love it! i am currently overwintering lemon grass that i grew last summer - it is in the house and will be used for many tom yum goong soups, curries AND catching bees! i also have lemon balm growing like mad in the greenhouse and will be sure to plant a ton of it all around the perimeter of our cleared land. and now i know how to build a box and attract the wild bees. these posts are awesome PP! much love!

    your friend,

    1. kymber - Thanks... I am lucky that I love that Lemon smell anyway. The wife sometimes complains about it after I bait the traps :)

  6. A swarm just moved into my trap today. I'd like to take them down from the tree, and move them about 100 feet over. How do I go about doing this without them absconding, or getting lost. I need an effective way to reset their internal GPS. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance. ~Jeff


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