The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Classroom

The Classroom – May 2020

- May 1, 2020 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
Attracting Swarms

My last colony moved out and I’m now beeless. I’ve got lots of hive bodies and I don’t want to chase swarms. Any advice on how I may attract swarms to move into my existing equipment?

Bob Dye
Missouri, February


Sorry to hear that you are beeless at the moment. I would not like that either! I would be itching to get bees again as well.

To me, the best way to get bees is purchase a nuc, package, or hive from someone else. I certainly understand wanting bees to show up in the equipment you have. However, this can take time and depends on the density of colonies in your area. After all, there have to be colonies swarming nearby for you to have a chance at landing a swarm in your empty equipment.

If, however, you would like to try your hand at attracting swarms, you can take the following steps to increase your chances of success.

1) Reduce the entrance of a single, deep hive body with solid bottom board to about 2 inches. Swarms looking for new nest sites prefer reduced entrances. I would not use a box that is smaller than a large hive body (i.e. a deep box). These are about 40 L (10 gal) in volume, which is the volume that nesting swarms prefer.

2) Add a lid to the hive body/bottom board.

3) Strap the hive together with a ratchet strap. This, effectively, creates a “swarm trap” or “bait hive.” Incidentally, many beekeeping equipment suppliers sell swarm traps. They look like flower pots made out of cardboard-like material.

4) Suspend the swarm trap from a tree or other structure 15-20 feet high. Make sure the swarm trap is secure and somewhat shaded.

5) Point the entrance of the trap south.

6) Consider using a swarm lure. You can purchase these from a few of the beekeeping equipment supply companies. There are also recipes for making swarm lure online. You can suspend the lure in the hive body or simply slide it into the entrance of the swarm trap.

7) Check the swarm trap every two to four weeks to determine if bees have moved into it. You may need to change the lure monthly.

8) Swarm traps are more effective during swarm season (late winter through the major nectar flow).


I developed a document on swarm trapping for pest control operators some years ago. I give additional pointers in it. You can find it by Googling “Swarm Trapping for Pest Control Operators EDIS.” Hope this helps and good luck!

Q More on Swarm Trapping

I enjoy your Classroom! I have an interesting situation here in western Montana. At a ranch in an old building is a hive of bees that the rancher says has been there for at least 10 years — maybe 15 years. They are a hearty bee hive as I did collect a swarm from that hive five years ago but a bear got in my hive and killed it. The hive did split and get into another spot on the building. I have several questions.

1) How close should I put swarm boxes to these hives in the building, which is about 40’ x 80’ long?

2) What do I do for mite control on a captured swarm from these untreated hives?

I think a hive that has survived these cold Montana winters and has swarmed multiple times with no human intervention could be worth the effort. I have been hobby beekeeping for at least 15 years with two to seven hives. I check my mite count in the spring and fall and treat regardless of the count with Apivar and Apiguard. Just wanting to know some answers.

Leo Pfendler
Montana, February


Honestly, I would just ask the rancher if I could remove the colonies from the building and hive them directly into your own equipment. I think you would have more success doing that than waiting for one of their swarms to move into a bait hive. If, however, you still want to go the bait hive route, I would establish a few bait hives (see my answer to the previous question) 50-100 yards away from the colony in the wall. You might try putting five or so on a perimeter around the building to increase your chances.

For mite treatments: I recommend reviewing the Honey Bee Health Coalition Guide to Varroa Management (just Google that phrase to find it). You can use that document and the other information/tools provided at their website to develop a Varroa control strategy for the colony.

One last note: I understand that a colony of bees may have inhabited the same nest site in the building for a number of years, but it is important to know that it is not the same colony of bees. The average colony will requeen itself yearly. When this happens, 50% of the genetics from the original colony is lost. So, it is more appropriate to think that a succession of daughter colonies inhabited the site from year to year. I say this because people seem to put a lot of hope and confidence in colonies that have occupied the same nest site for many years with no human intervention. However, just because this is the case does not necessarily mean the bees are fitter, more tolerant of Varroa, hearty, etc. The colonies occupying the nest site could be dying every year, leaving the nest site open to the next swarm that wants to occupy it. This can happen in relatively short succession, making it look like the nest site is continuously occupied.

Of course, the alternative explanation is also possible, that indeed an unbroken line of offspring colonies inhabit the same nest site for a decade or longer. Even when this happens, though, the genetics of the colony changes from year to year as the queens are replaced over time.

Either way, I like the challenge of removing a feral colony and welcoming it into my apiary. Good luck.

Q  Gentle Bees from Gentle Queens

We met at the “Young Harris Institute” some years ago. I take great pains to purchase quality queens to breed from. My greatest fear is to rear a queen whose daughters are not “gentle.”

I fear a beekeeper using queens I produce would open a hive without wearing veil and hat and not light a smoker. I worry that the workers might boil out and sting this beekeeper multiple times.

Word travels fast in the beekeeping community and positive reputations are important. So how confident can I be that the mega dollar queen I purchased is passing her genes to the next generation?

Glad to see you have taken over for Jerry Hayes … good luck.

Wil Montgomery
Alabama, March


Hello Wil. I do remember you. I remember my Young Harris Beekeeping Institute days with fondness. It has been 14 or so years since I attended one. Maybe I will get another invitation to speak there again someday.

On to your questions: Your fears are reasonable, but I hope to help dissuade them a bit. First, the bad news is that there are no guarantees that the workers produced by the queens you breed/sell will display the characteristics you hope are there. As you know, breeding queens is part science and part art. You do your best to stack the deck in your favor (the art part), but biology is messy (the science part). Let us review the process for the benefit of the reader.

First, you choose queen stock from colonies that display the characteristics you want. In your case, you are purchasing breeder queens from someone who does that for you. Surely, they are looking at productivity, gentleness, bee/brood production, etc.

Next you bring that stock into your operation and you produce daughter queens from the breeders. You are, of course, hoping that they carry the traits that you purchased their mother to have. However, the queens you purchased have two sets of chromosomes that they can contribute to every