Which Swarm Box Will Catch the First Swarm of Bees?

I put up four swarm traps this week in the hope of catching a swarm of wild bees. Of the four traps I put out – Walnut, Oak, Wisteria and Willow – which one do you think will catch the first swarm of bees?

More about each swarm box in just a sec

How to Catch a Swarm of Bees

Last year, I built a swarm box, caught a swarm of wild bees, and installed them in a horizontal bee hive I built in my shed. A swarm box is a box used to catch bees when they swarm. Here in western North Carolina, peak swarming season is from about mid-April to June. You can read how I got into beekeeping in this post called Dreaming of Wild Bees.

Moving bees from swarm trap to hive: here, I’m transferring the bees I caught in my swarm trap last year (R) into the horizontal hive I built for them (L).
Bees happily building comb

I have enjoyed keeping my wild-caught bees so much that, over the winter, I built another hive and four more swarm boxes in the hopes of establishing a second colony of bees.

Building the second hive in my tool shed. I only discovered too late that the hive was wider than the door….
The first swarm box I built. It’s made of 3/4″ plywood. I used 3/16″ plywood on the next boxes because it’s so much lighter. Remember, this box has to be hauled up a tree. And when you take it down, hopefully it’s full of bees. The weight adds up so less is better. The frames hanging in the box give the newly arrived swarm something to build comb on.

The idea behind catching a swarm of wild bees is simple. Built a swarm box, also called a bait box. Put some frames in it. Scent it with something to make it smell good. Hang it in a tree. Wait. When you catch a swarm, put it into your beehive.

This week, I finished hanging my bait boxes and thought you’d enjoy seeing what happens next.

What Makes a Good Swarm Box

A good swarm box should be about five gallons, which mimics the most common size tree cavity that bees nest in. The ones I built are about twenty inches tall, twenty inches deep, ten inches wide and accommodate 12 Langstroth deep frames. A Langstroth frame is the standard bee frame that lives in most of the bee hives you drive by.

To make it smell nice, I put a few drops of lemongrass oil in two of the boxes and a few drops of anise oil in the other. I used two different oils just to see if one worked better than the other.

What Makes a Great Place to Hang a Swarm Box

Ideally, the swarm box should sit in a visible tree, preferably on the edge of a field. That makes it easy for the scout bees, the bees that eventually lead the queen and the rest of the swarm to their new home, to find. The swarm box should face south(ish) and be placed 10 – 12 feet off the ground.

Introducing Swarm Boxes Walnut, Oak, Wysteria and Willow

Here are the four swarm boxes I hung, along with the trees I put them in and some notes on each box.

If I could only set out one swarm box, it would be in this walnut tree. The photo doesn’t do justice to the tree’s size but it’s huge, much larger than I can reach around. It’s at the bottom of our hay field and it’s where I caught my first (and only) swarm last year. The swarm box is scented with lemongrass oil.
This swarm box is on the top of the hill behind our house, next to our wall tent. It’s a beautiful spot overlooking the Brush Mountains, but I have no idea if there any bees looking for a new home that far up the hill. The view is amazing, though. It’s scented with anise oil.
This swarm box is halfway down our driveway in a dead tree with wisteria crawling up it. A few days after I hung the box, the crown fell out of the tree, which are all those branches you see lying on the ground… Oh well. It’s scented with lemongrass oil.
This swarm box is in the willow tree right next to the cabin. Again, like the walnut tree, this is a big honkin’ tree. You can barely see the swarm box nestled in the first large limb on the left. Because it’s so close, I walk over a few times per day to see if any bees have shown up. It’s scented with anise oil.

Which Box Do You Think Catches the First Swarm?

Okay, you’ve got an idea of what makes a good swarm box, and where it should be placed. Now comes the guessing part. Which swarm box do you think will catch the swarm box? Will it be Willow, next to our cabin? Or Oak, a mile away, way high up on the ridge?

Bonus points: what day will I catch the first swarm?

Leave your guesses in the Comments section.

My Secret Hope

I secretly hope that I catch a swarm of black bees in the Oak swarm box, way up on top of the mountain. Sammy, an old neighbor of ours, says he once cut down a tree full of black bees and they ran him off so fast he dropped his chainsaw. I’m not sure why I’m drawn to that type of bee but I am.

A black bee that landed on my arm last fall.

So far, I haven’t seen any scout bees circling any of the swarm boxes. I’ll be sure to let you know which they choose first. Now go ahead. Be bold. Leave your best guess which one they’ll choose in the Comments section.


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24 days ago

I think it will be the walnut box again. Lemongrass has a very strong smell. I’m going with May 12th – my firstborn grandchild’s birthday!

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