There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. --- Henry David Thoreau

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best -- " and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do,
there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. -- The House at Pooh Corner

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Swarm Trap / Bait Hive

One of the things you'll probably want to try eventually is a swarm trap or bait hive. There are a bunch of different designs out there ranging from small boxes that are basically nucs, to the paperboard flowerpot style that are cheap and easy to acquire. You can even make them out of wastebaskets. They are not actually "traps", since the bees can come and go. It's just that you provided them a temporary shelter that's portable and allows for easy transferring of the swarm to a hive. You can bait an empty regular hive body as well, particularly if you have an extra  set up around your other hives when the colonies decide it's time to swarm.
I was looking around to try to find a comprehensive web page that had both pictures and a description of how to make one of those double flowerpot style bait hives that I have been using. There's not a good website yet, but there's a nice plan for this in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping, on pages 66-67. I copied it and had pretty good success in construction.The single flowerpot style costs about $20 from beehive suppliers. My double flowerpot  swarm trap has a larger capacity, which is probably a positive factor for getting the bee scouts to choose it. (I suppose you could use just one flower pot and a piece of heavy cardboard or plywood for a cover.)  Whatever. There doesn't seem to be a good illustrative set of instructions anywhere handy that I can find; so I decided it ain't all that hard, I'll put instructions and pix here on the blog. Wall- la:

 It takes me about fifteen minutes to make one, but I'm gettin' old and slow.

Cost: The first one I built cost me about twenty bucks as well, including all the materials, but I made about 5 of them; so the cost averaged out to less than ten dollars. Not as cheap as that wastebasket hive up above, but still a pretty good value.

2 molded pressed fiber nursery pots 12"x11". Mine are 100% recycled paper and biodegradable.
[9/8/10 Note: I used big 12" pots since they seemed to offer the size of space bee-girl scouts like best, but I am beginning to think pots around 8" are perfectly fine and a bit easier to move about, and manipulate. Your choice, of course.]
1 Cable/Zip tie
4 1" outdoor deck screws or wallboard screws
1 can of foam weather sealant
1/2 pt clear sealer such as polyurethane

drill driver or screwdriver
small paintbrush
1 bottle of Foster's Beer (not shown)
1. Invert one flower pot. Using drill driver or screwdriver, put two small holes an inch apart in the bottom center.
2. Insert cable/zip tie into one hole from inside, loop around and insert in other hole, slide tie end into lock end loosely, leaving an ample loop outside.

3. Place inverted pot onto rim of upright pot.  [9/8/10 Note: This is a good time to slip an old piece of comb into the bottom pot and maybe drip some lemongrass oil in too.] Using drill driver or screw driver, screw 4 deck screws through rims of pots, joining them together.

4.Place pots on their sides and fill 7 drain holes on top and bottom with spray foam. Remember to leave one opening on bottom pot for an entrance for the bees.
5. Hang bait hive/swarm trap in convenient work area. Allow sealant to dry.
6. Coat exterior with clear sealer. Allow to dry. (You can skip this step if your conditions are not super wet, the pots are fairly sturdy and water resistant)
7.Variations:  Smaller diameter pots would prolly work just fine, too. You can make small holes in the sides of the pots if you feel there needs to be more ventilation, depending upon how often you can check the swarm trap. If you dislike spray foam, you can plug those drain holes with anything -- wads of paper, chewing gum, putty, etc. You can also use a serrated knife to carve a larger opening in the bait hive if you suspect you're going to be inundated by the Mother of All Swarms.
8. Remove cap from bottle of Foster's Beer by twisting it off.  Consume contents at leisure, the project is completed. Repeat Step 8 as necessary.

I haven't found the exact right source of information about where and how to set up a swarm trap / bait hive, other than some reference to always keeping one near your hives so that you stand a good chance of capturing your own bees when they swarm. (9/8/10 ... I still haven't found much of a better source of placement information than the short two pages in Dean and Laurie's guide. Most links, like this one, say put the swarm trap about 8' up in a location where lots of bees are active, and where swarms have landed before [duh].  I'll keep lookin', but if you find a good source of swarm trap placement info, let me know, okay?)

So far I have had three of these hives out in various locations since about the end of May. It's been rainy and swarms are not quite so plentiful this year, so I have not had any results as of yet. My first bait hive is set up by the Bee Tree from last year's swarm captures. The other two are strategically located around the neighborhood and at the Eagle's Rest apiary. I'm thinking the grove of bee trees from last year's week o' the swarms might be an ideal location.  As for lures, I haven't acquired any of those pheremone lures they sell; I've just tucked a piece of old comb inside the swarm trap, and dribbled a few drops of  some really good lemongrass oil right inside the entrances.

Last year the Warré hive I baited and my small 24" kTBH never seemed to attract any action or interest from the bees, but I was more of a newbie then and less informed about the process. I don't personally know any one who has caught a swarm in a bait hive here in my area, although the different beeks on the 'net claim to have about 20% success rates. But what the hell, it's worth a shot, right?


  1. great post. will be building some of these early spring with fingers crossed.

  2. A friend gave me one of the "paper" swarm traps...I have it out near a feral's hopeing they take to it. I think I'll build a couple like yours with the flower pots..good idea. I would like to build one that I can put some TBs in so transfering from trap to hive could be done without too much trouble or disturbance of the bees. (I have 2 hive..1 Langs and a bees yet.)

  3. I purchased 10 pots last winter ($36 with shipping) which made 5 traps. One commercial trap will cost you around $25 a piece. I put them around the fields here on the farm (with pheremone lures) and was surprised to capture 2 swarms. I can't wait to see what happens this spring. Thanks for the great idea.

  4. @Mike: Glad this is working for you! Your experience seems to be about "par" for the success rate for these swarm traps for any short period of time. To date my traps are about 30% successful, and I'm thinking the secret is in where they get set up. Yeah, I know. It's surprising how good that rate is compared to others! I think this spring, with the experience two years brings in using these kind of bait hives, we'll see an even better rate of capture. Me? I'm using lemongrass oil and pieces of old comb.

  5. yes

    trap looks good and prices vary dramatically so check around:

    Try 2.95 plus tax for a 12 inch by 11

    50 feet plus away to avoid attack from first hive was mentioned--just a perfectionist though. You also need to disguise or camouflage it or leave a stealth sign
    : Govt experiment. County management apiaries: Or just please beware of swarming killer bees above or something.


  6. Im making some nuc hives from whatever wood I can find keeping weight in mind and setting them around different areas of my county. Ill be writing a fake serial number on boxes aswell as a do not disturb box or camera sign on trap. Of course there no camera but paranoia will hopfully keep folks away. Along with serial number beginning with EPA 3456 TN for example.

  7. Great Information: I will also try to make some bait hives and hope to trap bees. Regards, Waheed (AJK) Pakistan