Capturing a swarm has many benefits. For starters, you don’t have to lay out money purchasing bees.
Capturing a local swarm has the added benefit of ensuring the bees you are keeping are used to the weather and environment and are equipped to be strong in the face of illness specific to the area.
If you already have a hive or two, capturing a swarm will not bring diseases from outside your area, thereby reducing the risk to your existing colonies.
But once you have captured a swarm, how do you ensure the new colony does not take off?
The most common reasons captured swarms leave are temperature, ventilation, and access to foraging and water.
To keep a captured swarm, you need to ensure the hive you have provided is as comfortable as possible with adequate ventilation to reduce heat, and that there is sufficient foraging and space available.
There are several things you can control to ensure the bees are healthy and comfortable enough to stay.
Monitor and Control the Temperature in the Hive
Where your hives are placed can cause the bees to overheat in summer if the hive is getting direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day.
When a swarm is introduced to a hive, they will be looking for a cool place to call home. Place the hive in a well-shaded area to reduce the temperature in the hive.
Sun in the morning is fine, but only in the early morning when the temperature is not too high.
You can also put a water source close to the hive so that they do not have to go out in search of water. The water will also help regulate the temperature in the hive.
Provide Ample Ventilation
Make sure the entrances are open.
If the hive does not have sufficient ventilation, it can overheat. Make sure that all ventilation holes are open and that there is nothing blocking the ventilation holes.
Positioning your hive where there is a natural breeze can also help with this.
You can also raise the inner cover by inserting pieces of wood about 0.5mm on the inside at each corner of the inner cover.
You are only trying to improve the airflow; you do not want to open the hive up too much. The bees like the privacy of a closed hive.
You can drill holes in the upper deep and the honey supers. This will add ventilation and also give the bees more entrances to come and go.
Monitor and Split Colonies When Needed to Give the Bees Space
If your hive is too full, your entire colony may leave.
If you have ever ridden on a train during rush hour, you will know how uncomfortable and hot it gets. Bees experience this cramped, claustrophobic sensation when the hive grows too big.
There is not enough space for the brood and the honey cells so the bees will find a new place where they all will fit.
During your inspections, you will be able to get to know your bees well enough that you will see the behavioral changes when they feel overpopulated in their dwelling.
With a captured colony, you may not have the time to predict when this will happen as you need to leave them alone for at least the first week so that they can settle in.
Prepare a trap hive with plenty of space to add supers as needed. If they see they have plenty of space, they are less likely to continue the search for better housing.
Add supers to the hive before spring gets into full swing.
If you are trapping a swarm, it is advisable to set out two hives next to each other so that if a large swarm comes along, they immediately have enough space.
Other Things You Can Do to Prevent Your Captured Colony from Leaving
When you paint your hives prior to setting the trap, do not paint the inside of the hive. The paint fumes can easily overwhelm and repulse the swarm.
Place the hives in a quiet area, away from loud noises and vibrations.
Leave the swarm alone for the first week. You should inspect the hive regularly – once a week is plenty. You do not want to disrupt the activity in the hive.
Also, only inspect when the temperature is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit so that the hive does not get cold inside.
Release the queen only when the workers have begun to build comb. If she is content as soon as she moves in the colony will stay.
You can also add a queen excluder under the brood box so that she cannot leave in those early days. You can only do this for a few days while the comb is being built.
She will need to mate with drones to produce brood. You should remove the excluder after three or four days.
Make sure the hive is safe from predators like bears. If the bees are threatened, they will attack, sting, and die because they no longer have stingers.
Giving your bees a secondhand hive can also make them feel more at home. You can also provide a used comb. Make sure that everything is clean. Do not provide a hive or combs from a colony that died due to disease.
Place lemongrass or aniseed oil (aromatherapy oil) that is mixed in with syrup or sugar water inside the hive.
The smell is comforting to the bees and the smell coupled with something sweet will stimulate your bees to build a comb.
Some beekeepers replace their queen every second year. I don’t destroy queen cells; if a queen cell is present, I remove it before the queen emerges.
If I don’t need a new queen, I sell the extra queens. Having extra queens can be helpful when splitting colonies or replacing queens who either die or do not return to the hive.
Colonies do like young queens. Having a young queen will reduce the chances of the bees swarming.
Handle your bees with care. Use your smoker and only move the hive at night. You want to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Make sure your equipment is in good condition. You do not want a hive that collapses from the weight of the swarm and their honey cells and brood cells.
Make sure that there is no rot or mold in the hive that could not only weaken the hive but could also lead to catastrophic diseases.
Place the hive where there are plants to forage and the bees have access to water. A well-planned water feature that is surrounded by flowers, fruit, or vegetables would be perfect.
You can also give the bees a tasty piece of fruit to keep them interested in building their new home.
Monitor the hive for ants and varroa mites. Treat the ground around the hive with bee-friendly pesticides regularly to protect the hive from invaders who could be carrying diseases.
Capturing a swarm is easy enough by simply setting out a trap hive. Keeping the swarm from leaving is actually not that hard.
You want to keep the bees comfortable. If they feel comfortable, they will not have a reason to leave.
Provide them the tools to set up their new home – a good hive and combs. You could even provide them with brood cells. Give them plenty of reasons to come home.
Let us know about your experiences with captured swarms in the comments below.
Di-Anne Devenish Seebregts was raised in an environment where daily life consisted of hiking, environmental conservation, growing fruit and vegetables, and raising poultry for meat and eggs.
She combined her passion for the writing word with her love of the pride that comes with not relying on others. She raised three children (who are now adults) to value the environment, and understand the value of being self-sufficient.