Free Honey Bees
Honey Bees at Hive Entrance
Can you really trap honey bees?
So, can you really trap honey bees? Well....sort of. When a successful hive of bees is able to build up it's numbers in the spring, it could form a swarm. A swarm is mother nature's way of creating new hives, as the old queen and some workers leave the old hive to start a new one. The swarm will normally land and form a cluster on a branch or something similar. While clustered, the swarm will send out some scout bees to find a proper location for their new home. This is where our 'trap' comes into play!
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The Honey Bee Trap
A honey bee trap, at least the way I am referring to it, is a box used to lure a swarm of bees. All I have done is built a small box with a 3/4 inch hole that will hold five medium frames, and added an attractant inside the box. I am using only four frames with wax coated foundation, leaving an open space behind the entry hole. The attractant I am using is lemon grass oil. I dipped a cotton ear swab in the oil, swabbed some on top of the frames, and left the swab in the rear of the box. The box itself is not super important, but I like the idea of having frames. I figure, if I do catch a swarm, I can transfer the frames into their permanent hive. I guess we will see how that works if I actually catch some bees!
Do you think I will really catch free honey bees?
This seems a lot like a Blog
Well, I guess it is sort of a blog. I am new to beekeeping, and I have done a ton of internet research. I noticed that a lot of folks talk about catching swarms, but I don't find many success stories. I hope to write my own success story by charting my efforts to trap a swarm.
So, I have some hives built and I have ordered two nuc boxes of honey bees from a local apiary. I will definitely have some bees when the apiary fills my nuc order, but I dream daily of 'free' bees in my trap. I have my brand new smoker, one of those bee veils for my straw hat, and a homemade swarm trap. Through my research I have found that lemon grass oil works good as an attractant, so I bought some online for maybe four bucks. As you can see from the pictures, I put four medium frames into my little five frame box. I rubbed some of the lemon grass oil on top of the frames, and left the oil swab inside the trap.
I have fed local honey bees for a while using a small chicken watering device, so I mounted the box above this feeder. It is on the top of a pole about eight feet off the ground. I went ahead and screwed the top on so it doesn't fall off, and I screwed the box to the pole with some metal brackets.
Honey BeesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Installing the trap, Feb. 18, 2014
So, I got the trap mounted on top of the pole. Now I guess it is just a waiting game. I am in central Georgia, so I would not expect to see any swarming activity until probably April. I figured I could get the trap up early just in case. I already have plans to install another trap in my new bee yard, and of course I will include information on that one too. The temperature today is about 65 degrees, so I put some sugar water in the feeder. Local bees crowded the feeder all day, but they seemed to mostly ignore the little box on top of the pole. I saw a couple of bees go inside to explore, but they seemed to be more concerned with collecting sugar water.
Checking the new bee trap, Feb 22, 2014
The weather is warm again today here in Georgia, and the bee feeder is crowded as usual. The trap seems to still be ignored by the bees for the most part. Other than the occasional curious bee going inside for a look, the trap sits empty and waiting.
Several friends and family have seen my feeder and my trap and asked me why I can't trap the bees from the feeder. You know at first, I even thought that same thing when I noticed hundreds of honey bees at my feeder. There are, however, several problems to consider along with that idea. First of all, those worker bees at the feeder are gathering food stores for a hive somewhere. Inside that hive are other bees that depend on those workers to bring in food. Second, worker bees are not much good without the other bees that make a whole hive function. For example, a queen is a must when it comes to a successful hive. Somehow capturing a handful of worker bees from a feeder will not supply a hive, it will only kill a few hundred bees and possibly the hive they left behind.
I like to feed the local bees on warmer winter days in hopes that their hive will grow stronger and swarm in the spring.
I will try to update this article every weekend, but I think it will be a while before we see any activity. There are still some cold nights ahead before spring. When we get into a full flower bloom in spring, I will check in more often. I hope some experts will read through this and offer some great tips or advice in the comments section!
Winter at Weiss Lake
Checking the Bee Trap, March 1, 2014
Still no activity at the ole honey bee trap. I did recently find out that my neighbor up the road keeps about five hives. Most of the bees at my feeder are probably from his hives. I'm not sure if I should continue to feed them, as I don't want to interrupt his management plan.
The weather has been awesome today and the family and I drove out to the lake. We have a little camper up on Weiss Lake, near Centre, Alabama. The place has been a ghost town all winter, and we thought it would be nice to get a jump on spring cleaning. There are always a few cobwebs, cluttered shelves, and maybe some dust. But once the weather gets nice, who wants to dust cobwebs?
The water in the lake also goes down during the winter, and this is a great opportunity to pick trash that washes up on the banks. I was near a clump of thick brush and I noticed a tiny cluster of white flowers blooming on one of the weeds. Almost as soon as I noticed those flowers, a fuzzy little honey bee landed on them and proceeded to work the entire cluster. It was clear at that moment that I must set up a honey bee trap at the lake. I can't believe I didn't think of this sooner. Our camper sits in the middle of huge cotton and corn fields. There are bound to be a few bees out there, and I am going to catch a swarm of them! More later.....
Honey Bees Get in Free
The Honey Bees are Flying, Mar. 8, 2014
The weather is great this weekend, reaching highs in the seventies. The bees from my neighbor's bee yard are attacking my bee feeder and exploring the swarm trap above. Still no swarm in the trap, but I think it is still too early in the season.
Since I found out the bees I am feeding belong to my neighbor, I have been having mixed emotions. I have not mentioned the feeding to him. I love to watch them buzzing around the feeder, but should I be feeding someone else's bees? I would hate for them to starve, but he may not want me feeding them. It reminds me of a story about my mom's little lap dog, Shaggy.
Shaggy has always had a problem with itchy skin. Often he would have bare spots on his rump from scratching and chewing his itchy skin. A trip to the vet revealed that Shaggy was simply allergic to an ingredient in his food. The vet recommended a more appropriate food, and my mom assumed the problem would go away. But it didn't go away, it go worse and worse.
One morning, my mom had an early appointment and asked me to come by and let Shaggy out for a bathroom break. She would normally let Shaggy out in the back yard unattended to do his business, as the yard was fenced. So I did the same, and sat down to watch a little television while he did his thing. After several minutes, I wondered what was taking so long, so I went out to investigate. It took some searching, but I finally found that he had wiggled through a little hole in the fence and was in the neighbors back yard.
I went over and filled in the neighbor, a very sweet elderly woman, and asked if I could retrieve Shaggy. She let me know that he would come on back after he was done eating, just like every morning. You see, ever since the first time Shaggy wiggled through that hole in the fence, she had been feeding him table scraps. So, while her intentions were good, she was actually causing a problem with the dog's skin.
I have studied this issue in regards to feeding the local honey bees, and today will be the last day. Spring is almost upon us, and the bees should have plenty of flowers to feed them. Not to mention, I do not want to cause a problem for another bee keeper. He may be over there thinking he has the most resourceful bees ever, when in fact I have been feeding them all winter.
Free Honey BeesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Trap Check April 18, 2014
Still have not caught a swarm of bees, but hopes are up. The weather has been so chilly and windy over the past month, I have lost some interest in the honey bee trap. However, the beekeeper I ordered my two nuc boxes from called to tell me my bees will be ready to pick up on Saturday. In an effort to fill the three empty hives I have already built, I not only set the swarm trap, but I ordered two boxes of bees back in the fall. After the call about the nucs, my interest has once again perked up in regards to the swarm trap.
The weather should be warmer here in Georgia by now, but we have had a pretty cold spring this year. According to my internet research, honey bees in my area normally do not start swarming until May. With that time drawing ever closer, I thought I should inspect the trap and refresh the lure scent. During the inspection everything looked the same, and I swabbed some more lure scent inside the trap. I think as soon as the weather warms up, I will be back to checking for bees three or four times a day!
Two New Hives
Trap Check May 4, 2014
Still waiting for a swarm to find my trap. I did pick up my two nuc boxes from a local bee keeper two weeks ago, so I have bees now. Only, I didn't catch these, I purchased them from Sweetwater Honey Farm in Douglasville, Georgia. I installed these two boxes in their permanent hives and they have been working like crazy. The blackberries are blooming here now, and they are building comb on the new frames and bringing in nectar. I couldn't be happier with the bees I got from the Sweetwater apiary.
After installing the bees into their new hives, I now have two small, five frame boxes sitting empty. This seems like a great opportunity to set up two new traps. I have placed a few phone calls to some friends around town. I live in a very rural area, and I would like to set up some traps in different areas. As soon as I get the traps up, I will add some updates to the blog and we can track all the traps together.
I have enjoyed watching my new bees work the white clover in my lawn. I don't really control the weeds in my lawn, so it is a mix of different grasses and weeds. White clover covers the majority of the yard, and the bees seem to love it! I got some pretty good pictures of the bees at work.
Honey Bees working White CloverClick thumbnail to view full-size
My current honey bee trap locations
Additional Trap Update, May 20, 2014
Still no bees buzzing around the original trap, but I have added a second trap to the mix. A friend of mine offered to let me put a trap out on his property. He lives a few miles from me, in a rural area. There are plenty of trees around his yard and a little creek in the rear. I threw a rope over a limb and hoisted a baited five frame nuc box up about fourteen feet off the ground. There was plenty of room, so I tied a smaller line to the rear of the box for stability. I didn't want it spinning around in the wind all day long. The weather is nice and warm now, so maybe our luck will change. I didn't have my camera with me, but I will get some pictures of the new trap soon.
The two colonies of honey bees I bought from a local apiary are going strong. I included a couple of photos to show their progress.
New Hives Going StrongClick thumbnail to view full-size
Additional Trap Added June 7, 2014
Well I was finally able to add another swarm trap at my Weiss Lake fishing camp. The camp site is located on the shores of Weiss Lake, near Godfrey's Island. My camper is surrounded by cotton fields on three sides and the lake on one side. With all the wildflowers in bloom, I spotted many honey bees working around the camp. I set up a five frame nuc box with four frames of foundation and some lemon grass oil as a lure. This is the same setup I have used in the other two locations. I placed the honey bee trap about ten feet off the ground, in the rafters of the pavilion over my camper. I anticipate capturing our first swarm any day now. A friend of mine that lives in the next camp over is keeping an eye on our fish camp trap. He will let me know if he notices any honey bee activity. Everyone keep your fingers crossed out there!
Swarm Spotted, June 22, 2014
Well I spotted my first swarm today, but I don't know that I will capture it. My son and I actually witnessed the formation of a honey bee swarm first hand. The swarm came from my strongest hive, and we happened to bee sitting on a nearby bench. My son said the bees looked like a tornado.
The swarm settled on a tree branch about thirty feet above the bee yard. If they were a little closer to the ground, I would most definitely attempt a direct recovery. Unfortunately, it looks like there is little I can do at this point. I did set up a couple of swarm traps under the swarm, but who knows what will happen. I will be keeping an eye on the bees to see if they make a move.
Honey Bee SwarmClick thumbnail to view full-size
Bye Bye Free Honey Bees
Well the swarm left sometime today while I wasn't watching. Looking back, I should have probably set up several more swarm traps near my new bee yard. I now have three permanent traps near the bee yard, along with the others.
This is the prime swarm season in my area, so I am still keeping my hopes up that I will catch a swarm. I know from first hand experience that honey bee colonies are creating swarms right now.
Update August 2014
I think the active swarm season is nearing an end, although swarming is still possible. I have refreshed the lure scent in all the traps. This should last until next spring, then I will refresh the lure again. To catch a swarm during this time of year is unlikely, but stranger things have happened. I will keep my fingers crossed.
This is The End, December 31, 2014
Well, the year is over, and I was not able to capture even a single swarm. The most important thing I learned happened when my son and I witnessed one of my own hives cast a swarm. I will definitely be installing several swarm traps around my own apiary. I have had fun trying to catch swarms, and I will continue my efforts next year.
Update for 2015 Season
While my apiary is up to a dozen hives now, none of this can be contributed to swarms. With another year of experience, and zero luck in the traps, I am shifting my efforts. I have seen firsthand that I can create more colonies with splits from existing, well managed hives.
Although the swarm trapping is interesting, I will use any extra resources in the future to make splits. A small, four to six frame swarm trap can easily be used to make a split. This gives me a much, much better chance of adding a new colony to my apiary.
Just think, with enough existing hives, ten swarm traps could create ten splits, of which about eighty percent will succeed in my bee yard. That's eight new colonies to use for income, hive resources, or expansion. Those same ten swarm traps have not caught a thing in two seasons on my watch. Seems like an easy decision when you have some extra boxes lying around.
Got Some Free Bees
Well folks, I have successfully captured a swarm of honey bees! I had no luck in 2014 with my original traps, so I expanded in 2015. Heading into 2015 swarm season, I had nine swarm traps placed in several locations. Each trap was baited with one frame of old brood comb and lemongrass oil.
I checked the traps often during the spring and summer, and never caught anything. I had one trap at my fishing camp that was visited by hundreds of honey bees, but still no luck. I went around for the last time at the end of August and checked them all and they were all still empty. So I gave up on trapping for the winter and focused on my hives at home.
Jump forward to the end of January 2016, when the time to start spring beekeeping chores was upon us here in West Georgia. I went around to collect up some of my swarm traps, as I had decided to use a few to make splits from my existing hives. I left a few up, but eliminated multiple traps in the same location.
When I got to the last trap, I noticed something was wrong right away. From a distance, I could see that the trap was pulling away from the support board on the side. This thing was about to fall off the tree! When I got close enough to see the entrance, the reason became clear. There were about a hundred bees on the front, and hundreds of bees coming and going. I had caught my first swarm!
So, it is much too early for spring swarms here, meaning this swarm must have moved in during the October goldenrod bloom. I never checked the traps after August, and I learned my lesson.
It is always great to catch a free swarm, however, this colony had been building in this swarm trap for months. This thing was so heavy, I struggled to get it down from the tree. When I peeked under the lid, the swarm trap was packed with natural comb, honey, and bees. Check out the link below to watch me move the colony from the trap into a standard hive.
Moving Swarm Trap Colony
First Year Beekeeper
- First Year Beekeeper
Follow me, a first year beekeeper, through all four seasons of my first year. I am starting with two nucleus hives and attempting to use only chemical free beekeeping methods.