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Collecting swarms

Collecting honey bee swarms in the spring is an excellent way to replace winter losses, strengthen weak colonies, or start new ones. Primary swarms are valuable; they may contain as many as 25,000 bees plus the queen. In comparison, a 3-pound package will number approximately 10,500 bees. Three considerations to keep in mind before attempting to collect a swarm are 1) how long the swarm has been there, 2) where the swarm is located, and 3) its size.

Swarms normally cluster on a tree limb, shrub, fence post, or on the side of a building (Figure 18). When possible, remove the swarm gently, disturbing the cluster as little as possible, and put it directly into a hive or enclosed container (a cardboard box with a tight-fitting lid works well) to transport it to a new hive or location. If the swarm cannot be cut down, either shake or scrape the bees into a lightweight box (Figures 19 and 20). When a swarm settles in a very high tree or on any other inaccessible structure, it is best to leave it there. Such swarms may be an afterswarm with one or more virgin queen and their successful capture can be very difficult. Sometimes you can knock these high swarms into a bucket at the end of a long pole and then lower it to a collecting box. The success rate, however, is very low.

Once you have successfully captured a swarm, you can introduce the swarm into your own equipment by either shaking or dumping the bees into an open hive with several frames removed (Figure 21). If you were successful in getting the queen with the rest of the swarm, the bees will adopt the hive. Using drawn combs is better than foundation when introducing swarms to an empty hive, but one or two drawn combs, preferably with pollen, brood, and/or honey (from a disease-free colony), combined with foundation also works.

Instead of waiting for swarms to simply appear, you can try baiting swarms. Pheromone lures (available from beekeeping supply companies) placed in special light-weight bait hives or empty hive bodies (with or without drawn comb) can be used to lure swarms. Place trap boxes in exposed locations 8–15 feet off the ground (with entrance reduced to keep birds and squirrels out) and check weekly during the swarm season (April–June, depending on your location) so you can transfer any swarms into a standard hive in a timely fashion.

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