How Do You Catch a Swarm of Bees?

Ask the Expert!

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Desmond asks: I found a swarm of bees in my yard. How do I catch them for my hives?

Josh Vaisman replies:

First off, let’s think about what a swarm is because that’s important. A swarm is, typically, the “old” queen from a robust colony and about half the workers. So that big pile of bees hanging off something is several thousand ladies and a queen somewhere in the middle. The big trick with swarm catching is, ‘get the queen, you get all the girls.’

The simplest answer to “how to catch a swarm of bees” is this — get the queen and all the ladies in something you can safely transport them in back to your apiary. More often than not, a nice cardboard box works well. That said, I’ve seen folks use all sorts of boxes.

Swarms are typically very docile so they are quite easy to handle. Still, I always recommend wearing protective gear. I always do.

The challenge of swarm-catching typically comes from where the swarm is located. We had a hive swarm a few years back. The queen — and all the girls — landed on a young pear tree in our front yard. So the ball of bees was all of five feet off the ground on a branch. We geared up, put a box beneath them, and gave the branch a firm, solid, shake. Into the box, most of the bees fell!

We watched for a few moments and could see bees from around the edges of the box and some from the air quickly moving into the box. That’s when we knew we had gotten the queen in there too. Her pheromone will attract most of the workers in the cluster. We gently swept (using a bee brush) most of the rest of the bees off the branch and gave the stragglers around the box a few moments to crawl in. Then we closed up the box, careful to not totally eliminate the flow of air, and took them to a new hive where we installed them.

Of course, if the swarm is high up in a tree, on the eave of a home, underneath the wheel well of a car, or some other odd location, you may have to get creative. If you’re going to make a habit of swarm catching, you might want to invest in (or build) a “bee vacuum.”

Finally, one last piece of advice … have fun! Swarm catching is a blast and something to celebrate. “Free” bees from a colony that did well enough to swarm!

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