Ever wondered what to do after catching a swarm of bees? If so, you’re in luck.
To put it simply, you need to contain the swarm ball, and then move it to a more permanent home.
Let’s take a deeper dive into catching swarms of bees and how to handle them.
Contain the Swarm Ball
Have you ever seen a swarm ball?
This is a colony of bees swarming around their queen without a hive. If you do not see any honeycomb, it means they are not in their permanent home and it is a swarm. You first need to contain the swarm ball in something big enough to hold it comfortably- like a box, a bucket, a hive, or a nuc box.
Here are some tips to get the bees into the container:
- If the swarm is resting on a shrub or hedge, cut off the branch that is supporting the swarm and gingerly place it in your container or vessel.
- You can encourage bees to enter the container or hive willingly if you put the branch on top of the frames.
- When bees choose to enter a hive, it lowers the risk that they will abscond- or leave.
- Make sure that the queen bee gets into your container, box, or hive, and gently shake the branch or tree limb that the swarm are resting on to get them inside.
- If the queen is successfully moved into the container, the rest of the bees will follow along. She is in the middle of the swarm; so, if you end up scooping bees into the vessel, make sure to get her.
- If the bees fly away and return to the shrub or tree that you got the swarm from, the queen must not be in the container yet. Keep looking or scooping.
It is best to move bees after dark- but more on that later!
For now, if you do happen to capture and contain a swarm during daylight hours, place the container or hive as near where you found them as you can- at least until nightfall. This lowers the chance that the bees will abscond.
Move to a More Permanent Home
If you have an interest in beekeeping and catching swarms, have a nuc or hive on-hand for such situations.
It is much easier for you and gentler on the bees as it has better airflow and a sealing lid. You can keep bees in a nuc for a bit if you do not currently have a hive for the swarm- and this will allow them to settle in and start building honeycomb for a few weeks.
However, the nuc is not intended to be a long-term home for your bees; find a hive. If you don’t want them to abscond, you need to make them as welcome and comfortable as you can.
Don’t wait to transfer your swarm into a hive. They are ready to be moved in as soon as you capture them. It is in everyone’s best interest for the bees to settle in and get started making comb.
As mentioned, you can keep them in a nuc for a few weeks, but you will need a hive for them. It is not uncommon for bees to immediately abscond when they have been relocated, so be prepared– you may need to go find and capture the swarm again.
Swarms Tend to Abscond
So, speaking of absconding– swarms come and go. They have not chosen where they want to hive and make honey. Until they are invested in the hive- that is, with brood, comb, honey, etc- they may just pack up and leave.
It helps to use things like a queen excluder which prevents the queen from leaving the hive, so you can rest assured the workers will stay, too.
Treat Them Gently
Be kind and gentle to bees. Remember, they are great pollinators and without them, food chains would suffer. Try to treat the bees gingerly.
Move, handle, and shake them gently- avoid vacuum swarming which can traumatize the bees. Again, if the queen is gently scooped into your hive or holding vessel, the rest of the bees will eventually follow suit with no need to shake or force the bees to comply.
If the bees believe that they are choosing to come and stay at your hive, they are less inclined to abscond. The beekeeper can help make them think it was their idea by putting the bees from the swarm near the entrance, but not actually in the box or container.
They typically are attracted to the shelter provided by these makeshift hives, at least initially.
Wait Until Dark
It is best to wait until almost dark, dusk is best, to relocate a swarm of bees. There is some opinion that bees moved during daylight hours are more likely to abscond right away to find a new place to nest.
Provide Plenty of Space
Make sure that you are giving the swarm plenty of space to prevent absconding. On average, most bee swarms are about the size of a ball- though they can be bigger. A five-frame nuc box should be sufficient for most swarms that a beekeeper may encounter.
Make It Appealing
If you haven’t noticed, most of the suggestions offered are geared toward making the bees comfortable and coaxing them to stay. Cut to the chase- the new hive must be appealing if you want the bees to settle in and call it home.
Give the swarm an empty comb to entice them to hang around. If you have a frame of brood, this can also incentivize a swarm to stay and not abscond.
The brood sends pheromone signals to the bees that encourage them to stay and take care of the young. If the hive you are trying to contain the bees in is used, even better. The smell of the bees, wax, and propolis are inviting and welcoming to a swarm of bees.
Give Them a Week
Try to avoid checking in on and inspecting the hive for about a week after transitioning the bees. This can disrupt the bees’ routine and make them nervous.
This also could encourage them to abscond. Leave them be and let them begin building comb. Soon enough, you can give the hive an inspection.
Remember that giving them time to make comb and brood makes them invested in their new home, which means they will be less quick to abandon it. If you have a frame of brood from another hive, you could add this to lessen the strain on your new bees.
Catching a swarm is a great way to fill an empty hive, while also providing a colony of bees with a new home. Use these tips to attract and catch a swarm- but also to know what to do to keep the bees from absconding their new hive.