Preparing for Swarm Season.

Even a few thousand bees from an observation hive can make an impression in the sky!

Bait Hives.

With the UK currently in “lock-down” and most of us unable to leave our homes, except under 4 conditions, things are uncertain just now. However, one thing for certain is that our bees will swarm. We are awaiting advice from Scottish Government about caring for out-apiaries, but, meanwhile, it is best to plan ahead and assume that there will be more swarms than usual if folks cannot get out to do swarm control procedures.

Ann wondering how she will keep this swarm at home.

What can we do? Well, we can all set up bait hives in our apiaries and this will be really useful in towns and places where there may be new beekeepers unable to access mentoring to help them through their first swarm season. We know that swarms hanging from a tree in our gardens will be our own swarms because they initially cluster not far from the parent hive. This is because the scout bees need to advertise the possible new home sites and they do this by dancing on the swarm until the bees decide where to go based on consensus. When they agree, they will depart within an hour or more unless the weather changes for the worse and they cannot fly for a few rainy days. Scout bees start looking for new homes several days before the swarm departs and if we can provide what they seek in real estate, we can usually effortlessly catch a swarm. Sometimes they decide on the new home before they leave the hive and, instead of clustering nearby, head straight for the new nest. So, you may be able to catch your own swarms in the bait hive. The following article by Professor Seeley and Dr Visscher explains the decision-making process.

One of Ann’s bait hives positioned about 6 feet off the ground.

What Makes an Attractive Bait Hive?

Bait hive on garage roof.

What Can Go Wrong?

Bearing in mind the risks involved with bringing down a bait hive heavy with bees, and the need to stay clear of hospitals at this time, it might be wiser to leave bait hives at ground level this year. They will still attract swarms there.

The first season I put up a bait hive I got excited when I saw a lot of bees going in and out. I called the friend who was to have the swarm and he took the box home to discover that it was empty. The bees may have been scout bees, but more likely they were excited robbers going for traces of honey on the combs. The lessons learned were to only put strips of foundation and perhaps one drawn comb (with no honey) in a bait hive. Also, wait till you see bees going in with pollen to be sure that you have the swarm bagged.

Filling a bait hive with drawn combs will not work because the scout bees need to pace round an empty cavity to assess the capacity and volume. Filling it with empty frames will not do either because they will start drawing comb out diagonally across the top bars. What to do is have one old drawn comb to give off a nice attractive odour (but not such an old comb that might harbour disease) and fix 20mm strips of foundation to 10 deep frames. You could try stabilising the foundation strips by inserting one or two bamboo barbeque skewers vertically between the top and bottom bars.


I use lemon grass essential oil as an attractant, as explained in a previous blog, but you may not have access to it just now. Swarm lures mimicking nasonov pheromones are available from beekeeping equipment suppliers. However, these are not essential if your bait hive has been made from an old brood box, or you have a used an empty brood comb.


Your captured swarm may have a heavy varroa infestation so is it advisable to treat the colony while it is broodless and oxalic acid is a good choice.

Buying Time to Catch the Swarm at Home.


6 thoughts on “Preparing for Swarm Season.”

  1. Thanks for this Ann, a very interesting read. I haven’t caught a swarm yet (in the city there aren’t that many I guess!) but I do try to minimise the risk of me losing one of my own, so I shall be placing bait hives not far from my established colonies, just in case! I have done this most years since I started to keep bees, but I have successfully controlled the swarms I have had, so the bait hives have gone empty year after year!

    1. Thank you, Alistair, I’m glad that you found it interesting. I’m impressed by your swarm prevention management. Maybe this will be the season for a city swarm. I’ve discovered that sometimes the bees do actually decide on the new home before they leave the hive in which case they do not cluster but go straight to the new abode, which could be in your garden! So, if you have the bait hive/s just so with a whiff of something attractive, and plenty space perhaps they will stay very local.

  2. Thanks Ann, that’s all great advice. I had a couple of swarms moving into my bait hives some years ago. It was exiting to watch them to move in. But as you say it is wise to keep your bait hive in some distance from your own colonies and treat and observe them, as they could easily bring diseases into your apiary.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledges and experiences! 🙂👍

    1. That is good to know, Anna, that you have success too with bait hives. Thanks for sharing this. There must be a lot of swarms in your city. Nearly every year the press reports the “drama” of local hero rescuing them from obscure places, so, great that you can give some a good home to find.

  3. I’ve decided to start this year and am struggling to get bees I have notice there is 2 hovering now and again the box faces NE it was SE and my garden faces NW I have lemon grass oil in the hive with some melted wax please help

    1. Have you read the previous posts about bait hives, Shane? Where do you live, and do you have a local association to join for support? You can send me an email with more specific details about what help you need.

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