The Central Iowa Beekeepers Association (CIBA) had a meeting in March. At this meeting Jamie Beyer, the vice president of CIBA, talked about how to build and place swarm hives. This was an interesting topic for my sisters and I because we want to catch a swarm. I have written a couple blog posts about swarms already. A swarm, like I have said in other posts, is the natural reproduction of a honey bee colony when the mother queen and part of the colony leaves the mother hive to find a new home. A swarm is something all beekeepers like to catch because it is free bees.
The plan that was suggested was this plan created by Dr. Leo Sharashkin. This trap was designed to be lightweight, durable, weather-tight, economical, easy to build, easy to transfer from place to place, and it allows for standard frames. The trap is lightweight because it is built out of plywood. It is easy to carry up to place in a tree, but it is harder to carry down from a tree because it will be full of bees. It is both durable and weather-tight partially due to the metal attached to the roof. The metal keeps rain out. This trap is economical because you can get four traps out of two pieces of plywood. This is another reason we like this trap. It is easy to build. We have not built any of these traps yet, but everyone who has built one says they are pretty easy to build. Because the traps are so tall, they are easy to transfer from place to place. Being lightweight helps make them easy to carry too. Because the trap uses standard frames it is easy to transfer a swarm to a permanent home. One can simply place the frames and the bees into a ten frame hive to transfer the bees.
He suggested adding a couple things that were not part of the plans. One of them was to add a 3/4 inch ventilation hole in the upper part of the trap. The hole should be angled so that rainwater cannot drip into the swarm trap. The hole should be covered with insect screen so that the bees cannot use it as an entrance. Mr. Beyer also suggested using a ventilated entrance gate. This is a plastic round piece that has different settings that control how open the entrance is. Writing something like “Saving Local Bees” on the trap may help eliminate potential vandalism problems. He ties a piece of 14 or 16 gauge wire around the top of his traps so that he can attach his hive like a picture to the tree. He does this so that he does not need to drill into the tree more than necessary. He also uses ratchet straps to keep the swarm traps in place.
To prepare a trap for its first use, the interior should be generously rubbed with propolis. Propolis makes the swarm trap more desirable to the bees because it makes the trap smell and feel like the hive they just left. A few drops of lemongrass essential oil should be put on a cotton ball and the cotton ball should be placed in a small container or bag. This should be placed at the bottom of the trap. The lemongrass oil smells similar to the queen pheromone. Six frames should be inserted into the trap. Nails should be placed on either side of the six frames at both ends. This prevents the frames from shifting and squashing bees. If possible a couple of the frames should have old comb on it. This attracts the bees to the swarm trap. The covers should be secured to the hive using screws or nails. Putting tow hooks on the side that will be facing out makes it easier to mount the trap.
Here are some of the keys to success he gave. Making sure to bait the hive using lemongrass oil and propolis. It is important to make sure not to put too much lemongrass on the cotton ball. If too much lemongrass is put on the cotton ball, the scent will be too strong for the bees. Using dark comb attracts the bees. The frames should be frozen before they are placed in the hive to freeze and kill any pests. The best height to place the trap is 12-15 feet above the ground. This is the height the scout bees look for new homes at. The traps should be visible. If branches are blocking the trap they should be trimmed. The trap should be completely shaded and painted a light color. The traps should be placed near a large landmark tree. This helps the bees remember where the trap is. If possible the traps should be placed near an apiary. This increases the chances of getting bees. It is especially smart to place traps by other people’s apiaries. The trap should be placed near a nectar source. This will increase the amount of bee traffic nearby. It should also be near a water source. Traps should be placed out as soon as the weather is consistently in the sixties and seventies. In Iowa, it is suggested to get them out by the middle of April. This year it is cold and wet so the traps may not get placed until May. The entrance should be pointed where it can be easily seen. The tree where swarms are caught should be used repeatedly.
Here are some things to remember and do when a swarm is caught. Just because there are bees flying in and out of the entrance does not mean a swarm has moved into the trap. These bees could be seeing if they can rob the trap or they may be checking out the trap. When a swarm is caught, the trap should be moved at least six miles from where it was caught. The swarm should be left in the trap for a week after it is at its new location so that the bees can reset their orientation. Swarm traps should be retrieved at night when all the foragers are at home. If there are bees outside the hive they should be gently smoked or spritzed with water.
I am excited to build swarm traps and to try to catch a few swarms.