Beekeeping can be an expensive endeavor, especially in the beginning. As the initial equipment and hive cost around $400 or more, the cost can be a significant hurdle for beginner hobbyists.
Because of this, many new beekeepers will try to find ways to avoid these hurdles. One way to do this is by contacting local beekeepers for used gear and equipment. Another way is to try to attract bees to an empty hive, which can work quite well using the following tips and tricks.
There are some well-known general ways to attract bees to an empty beehive. Depending on your situation, you will need to take additional steps:
- Add wax frames: adding wax frames to your empty hive will attract hives through the smell. Because beeswax smells like home, they will be more apt to move into the empty hive (given that theirs is overcrowded).
- Decrease hive opening size: Smaller hive openings are easier to manage and defend for beginner colonies. So, if the new home has that built-in, the bees will feel much safer in the new home.
- Use lemon balm as bait: A queen bee smells similar to lemongrass or lemon balm, so lightly rubbing lemon balm on the outside of the hive or mixing a SMALL amount of lemongrass essential oil into the beeswax will make the bees feel more comfortable.
- Use an old hive: Only utilize used, empty beehives to attract swarms because of the pre-made smells and structures. Using a brand new hive won’t have that attraction feature for bees, so it will be much harder to get a free colony this way.
- Place hive in the shade: Because bees (like humans) don’t like to be over a certain temperature, an empty hive in the shade will be more attractive to bees. However, to deter pests, you will want the hive to have at least 4 hours of direct sunlight every day.
- Give bees supplemental food: Whether you’re a bee or not, moving is a lot of work. Because of all the work bees are required to do during a move, they need extra energy. Providing bees with supplemental food is a great way to help them to stay. Either via sugar syrup or by planting a nearby flower bed, your new hive will have the extra energy needed to create a thriving new colony.
Attracting New Bees to an Empty Hive
Suppose you do not have an established colony already. In that case, the process of attracting bee colonies to an empty beehive will take some caution and patience – especially if you are a beginner.
The most likely method of receiving a colony is through swarming. Swarming occurs when a bee colony becomes too populated. The worker bees will essentially kick the queen and a lot f the others out. The queen and her followers will then form a swarm on a nearby branch or in the air while they search for a new hive to populate.
To get these bees to become your own, you have to transfer them into the new hive. How to do this will depend on where the bees are located.
The best situation for capture is if the bees are located on a reachable branch. If this is the case, all you have to do to get the bees into the hive is:
- Put your protective gear on
- Hold branch on one side
- Cut off the branch on the other side
- Lower branch into the new hive
If the new hive has the lemon balm smell and some beeswax, the bees are likely to make their way into the hive slowly.
If the branch is too tall or thick to reach and cut off, it’s a little bit of a trickier process. You will need to grab a device and shake the bees out. This does cause more chaos and confusion than just lowering them. To make it easier, one firm shake to drop a cluster of bees at once is best. Hopefully, in doing so, you shake the queen into the new hive. If she is there, the worker bees will follow. If not, the forager and scout bees will decide whether the hive is a worthy home and will then communicate to the rest of the hive to follow.
If, for whatever reason, shaking is not possible, there are still options. One way for either intermediate or brave beekeepers is to scoop them by hand into the hive. While swarming bees are generally gentle, you obviously are taking the risk of getting a few stings. However, scooping makes the process less chaotic than shaking. This is especially true if you can locate the queen and transfer her first.
Attracting Your Swarms to a Nearby Hive
If you already have an established hive and can sense that a swarm will soon occur, there are ways to keep those bees as your own. This process differs from attracting your first colony but still requires a lot of patience and care.
First, you will need to move the empty hive far away from the established ones. Experts recommend no smaller than 500 feet away, but you can go further if you wish. Once the hive is placed far away in a partially-shaded area, you must prep the hive.
As previously stated, bees will be more attracted to a hive with a lemon balm smell and beeswax inside. In addition, bees are more likely to find the new hive if a feeding supply is placed nearby – i.e., a good bed of flower plants or a sugar syrup solution.
Once the new hive and bait are set up, all you have to do is wait. To check if bees are starting to occupy the hive, check the opening periodically. If there is pollen on the outside, that means that a new colony has begun to populate inside.
Once you have evidence that a colony is starting to populate the hive, it can take 1-3 weeks for the migration to be complete.
Because bees are seasonal, you’ll have better luck with populating your hive at certain times of the year. The most prominent time of year for swarming is in spring when the weather is warm, and there is a peak in blooming flowers.
Alternatively, you will not want to transfer a hive in the fall as they will likely not have enough honey stores to survive the winter.
Empty beehives can attract bees if specific protocols are followed. This process can either be done to receive your first colony or to grow your apiary. Placing your empty hive correctly and preparing it well will increase your likelihood of getting a colony to populate.
Swarming will likely be the easiest method to receive a colony for the new hive. Following the above steps can make the transfer more manageable and safe.