Honey bees swarm when their colony grows large and overcrowded with bees. This phenomenon often happens in the spring and when it happens, the existing queen and roughly half the worker bees leave the overcrowded colony in search of a new home. Swarms usually take breaks on their way to the new home and during this time, you can easily catch a swarm. Catching a swarm is one of the most interesting and joyful things in beekeeping but if you don’t do it correctly, bees may abscond your new hive within a short period of time. Therefore, it’s very important to learn the following useful tricks and tips which help you to keep your swarm from leaving their new home.
Swarms are transient and they are on the move to find a suitable place to nest in. However, even after they appear to have chosen a place to nest in, it’s possible for them to leave again immediately or within a couple of days if they feel uncomfortable. That’s because they have nothing invested there yet. They have no eggs and larvae, no food storage and no combs. So it’s actually difficult to stop them from leaving again if they feel uncomfortable or disturbing. But luckily, you can minimize this possibility by doing the following things.
Provide Them a Used Box
Bees normally like to nest in places where other bees have lived before. So if you use a new box to catch a swarm, the wood or paint odor of the new box may trigger the bees to leave it because their sense of smell is very sensitive and they don’t like unpleasant odors. But if you give them a used box, the scent of propolis and beeswax will motivate the swarm to move in and settle quickly.
Be Gentle with Them
Bees don’t like to be disturbed and disturbance is one of the main causes for the absconding problem. You need to be gentle with them when you transfer a wild caught swarm to a box. Don’t ever try to shake or vacuum a swarm. Just lower the cluster into your box and carefully scoop the majority of them and let the rest freely march in on their own.
Make Them Think it was Their Idea
Honey bee swarms are more likely to stay when they choose their new home by themselves. They don’t like to be captured by humans. Therefore, you need to make them think it was their idea to nest in your box. Don’t try to forcefully place the bees in your box by shaking the cluster or by vacuuming it, just place the box in front of them. This technique allows them to march in freely and they seem to naturally be drawn to the safety of an enclosed box.
Give Them Enough Space
Most honey bee swarms are smaller than a football or a basketball, but sometimes you may find truly large swarms. When you encounter these large swarms, you must provide them boxes with enough space to make them feel the cavity isn’t too small for them. Oftentimes newly caught bee swarms leave their new home because of the space problem. Therefore, you need to be very careful when providing them a new home. Don’t give them small nuc boxes because they seem to abscond from these much more often.
Give Them Brood or Comb
You can motivate a newly caught swarm to stay in your box by giving them healthy brood or comb from another established beehive. Giving a swarm empty comb makes the new home more appealing to them and it’s even better if you can give them a frame of open brood with strong pheromones from another colony. At this point, you need to be very careful because introducing unhealthy comb or brood infested with wax moths, small hive beetles or infected with brood diseases can trigger the bees to abscond very quickly.
Move Them at Night
Newly caught swarms are more likely to abscond if you move them during the daytime because of few reasons. At first, you may lose many of the scout bees during the process. Then the stress of enclosing the swarm in the box during daytime transport can trigger them to find a new nesting location.
Don’t Disturb Them for a Week
After catching your new swarm, it’s very important to leave them completely alone for a week. At this point, bees have nothing invested in your hive. No brood, no comb, no honey and pollen. If you try to move their location or open the hive to inspect during this time, the bees may become annoyed and abscond. So don’t disturb them for a week, give them enough time to build comb and start raising brood.
Swarming is the natural process honey bee colonies use for reproduction. Beekeepers practice different types of methods to catch and keep these swarms. Some beekeepers clip the queen’s wings, some will use a queen excluder and others like to cage the queen. All these methods work most of the time but I don’t recommend you to implement them first because why use force when you can use persuasion? However, in some instances like when you don’t have brood, comb or a used box to give them, you may have to cage the queen or use a queen excluder to keep the swarm. Beekeeping is all about observing, learning and experimenting. So it’s very important to try different methods and learn what works the best.