If you like the idea of getting bees for free then you’ll want to check out setting up bait hives. Bait hives are just that – a bait or type of lure designed to attract a swarm of honey bees that are looking for a new home. Prior to the actual swarm casting from a robust colony, the scout bees have been busy checking out potential locations for the future swarm to call home. When the time finally arrives the scouts alert the colony to the location/s where they have already scouted and then they vote on which one sounds best. You’ve probably see the wiggle waggle dance where the forager bees communicate to other foragers where the good nectar or pollen is out in the field right? Well there is a very similar type of communication by the scouts to the colony on the location of the new hive. The more enthusiastically the scouts dance in regard to the new location the better the odds are the colony will all take off and go to that particular spot.
Here are a few things you can do so that when a swarm is in the air, your location will get the most votes and catch a swarm for yourself.
1. Select a location that is south / south east facing for your bait hive placement
2. Use a 5-frame deep hive, or 2 medium 5-frame hives secured together with a lid and bottom
3. Dab a little lemon grass oil on the outside cover, and put some queen lure on a Q-tip and toss it inside
4. Use empty frames with wedge comb starters or regular frames with wax starter strips
5. Place your bait hive about 6-15 off the ground.
6. Your hive should be level from left to right. A slight tilt to the front or back is OK.
You’ll want to install your bait hives a couple of weeks before prime swarm season approaches in your area. This will give the scouts a chance to check out your hive in advance and report back to the colony. The lemon grass oil is the best way to attract bees to your bait hive. Even if they do not like your hive for some reason, you will have bees come and check it out just because it smells so good.
The opening should be small enough for the bees but not so big that a small bird will want to use it for his nest. I use 2-3 3/4” in holes drilled into the front of the hive, so I’ll end up with 2 or 3 openings all together. Check it once a week or when ever you are in the area. If you see some bees buzzing around, chances are they’ve already made themselves at home.
Using bait hives is probably the easiest way to catch some free bees. The only work you have is putting the hive up in a tree or other location, and then taking it down after you catch a swarm. If you use the tips mentioned above, you’ll have a great chance of success. Be patient, and don’t give up. Sooner or later a swarm will vote on your hive as their next home.
This spring was my 2nd year using bait hives. I did not catch any swarms last year, but this year I placed 3 – 4 bait hives in similar locations, and I finally caught my first swarm this spring. It’s pretty exciting!
If you stick with it, you might be able to catch some feral swarms and introduce some diverse genetics in your apiary. One thing for sure is, swarms are cast from survivor colonies so odds are good that you’ve got some pretty decent stock to work with. Check out the video portion of this article online. Just search for the same title as this article to see my video of the swarm I caught this spring.