April in North Georgia means swarming season. I think it actually came a bit early this year because I caught my first swarm on March 30th since we seem to be having a warmer than usual weather pattern so far. If you are a bargain hunter at heart, there is no better feeling than catching some free bees during swarm season.
I tried for about 3 years before I finally caught my first swarm last year. I put one of my nuc boxes up in a bradford pear tree about 7 feet off the ground and put some lemon grass oil on it in mid March. I caught a swarm in it about a month later. This year I felt it would probably be a good idea to put the swarm trap right back in the same tree again. Sure enough a swarm took to the hive about 2 weeks ago. They are still up in the tree because I’ve been so busy this year catching swarms all over. I think I’m in the neighborhood of 14 swarms this year. So I went from never catching swarms to finding it hard to keep up.
So I wanted to pass along what has worked for me and what has not so far. Here is what is not working so far. Swarm traps under my back deck off my house. I have a buddy that puts bait hives under his deck and catches swarms, but not me. I think it may not work for me because my apiary sits about 150 feet from the house and the bees may have enough sense not to try and set up shop with all the competition in the area.
The bradford pear tree I mentioned sits in the middle of a huge field with a wet weather stream that runs down the middle of it creating a beautiful windrow / tree line for a thousand feet or more down the field. Now that I’ve caught two swarms in this particular spot I also noticed that my hive entrance faces south, and the nuc body (actually I’m using 2 -5 frame nucs together) holds a cubic volume of roughly 10 gallons. I put a bottom board and a lid on the hive and use a ratchet tie strap to hold it all together and I’ve nailed a small 2×4 into the tree to keep it standing level. Inside the nuc boxes are about 4 frames of drawn comb that I saved from last year along enough comb guide frames to fill out the rest of the frame spaces so they will draw their own natural comb in the hive. If you’ve seen my style of bee hives, you may have noticed that I do NOT use landing boards. I only use entrance holes in the hive bodies and a 1 inch notch for an opening on the bottom board that sits flush to the hive body. Like I said NO LANDING BOARD. So the entrances to the hive are small and manageable for a swarm to protect and feel secure.
Now that I’ve discovered this “sweet spot” in the field, I’m going to mount several swarm catchers all along this particular tree line in the same fashion.
Another swarm that I captured was from my own observation hive. My observation hive is not your typical show & tell style hive. It’s big enough to hold 15 medium frames total. Well it was a tiny cluster all winter long and then as we got into late February, I could see the bees were bringing in lots of pollen even before I could notice anything in bloom. They were finding it somewhere. Most likely from the trees in our area. By mid March it seemed as if they were about to explode in the sheer number of bees and by April 5 they decided it was time to swarm.
i just so happened to be home when they decided to go for it. I heard the noise BEFORE I saw what was happening. That is how loud they were in the house! I rushed to get my camera and film them. They were rushing out so fast it was as if the hive were on fire! They went into the air and in about :15 minutes they began to settle on a bush that sits close to the house. I’m so glad they didn’t go up into a tree 40 feet in the air or something. After they gathered together into a ball on one of the branches, I got my double nuc boxes and shook them into it. I then gave them about an hour to settle in and moved them onto the hive stand rails with the other hives I have. Another addition to the neighborhood.
You can always tell if you have the queen in the box because they tend to settle down in :30 – :60 minutes tops. If your queen is still outside, you will have lots of bees that continue to gather on the outside of the hive rather than continuously go inside. I gave them some sugar water as a house warming gift with a shot of Nectar Gold to welcome them to the bee yard.
If you’ve tried to catch swarms but have not had success yet, don’t give up. Keep trying! I felt like I would never catch one after many unsuccessful attempts, but now I plan on sticking to a double medium nuc body with comb, along a tree line, and facing south. Always check for swarms after it rains. I think the bees view this as their best chance to go for it and not get caught in a rainstorm figuring that one just finished. Mount your swarm catchers about 2 weeks before the main flow kicks in. For me, it’s mid March. If you live up north say in NY, it might be more like mid May / early June. Check with your local beekeepers because they will know.
Let me know if this works for you this season. I’d love to hear if it does. Please feel free to share some of your success stories on swarm catching when you visit my site: www.enjoybeekeeping.com.
Make sure you check out the video called “Swarming View From Inside the Hive”.