How to Capture a Swarm When Beekeeping

If your bees swarm and you can see where they landed (and you can reach it safely), you can capture them and start a new hive. You may even be lucky enough to get a call from a friend or neighbor who has spotted a wild swarm in his yard (beekeepers are often called to come capture swarms). Either way, capturing a swarm is a thrilling experience.

Despite their rather awesome appearance, swarms are not that dangerous. That’s because honey bees are defensive only in the vicinity of their nest. They need this defensive behavior to protect their brood and food supply. But a swarm of honey bees has neither young nor food and is usually very gentle. That’s good news because it makes your job easy if you want to capture a swarm of bees.

If you live in an area known to have Africanized Honey Bees, you must be very cautious. There’s no way of telling just by looking at them. If you’re in doubt, don’t attempt to capture a swarm unless you are certain this swarm originated from your hive.

Say your swarm is located on an accessible branch. Follow these steps to capture it:

  1. Place a suitable container on the ground below the swarm.

    You can use a large cardboard box, an empty beehive, or a nuc box. This container will be the swarm’s temporary accommodation while you transport the bees to their new, permanent home. The container you use should be large enough to accommodate the entire cluster of bees and a hunk of the branch they are currently calling home.

  2. Get the bees off the branch.

    One approach is to give the branch holding the bees a sudden authoritative jolt. Doing so will dislodge the swarm, and it will (hopefully) fall into the container that you have placed directly under it.

    A more precise approach enables you to gently place (not drop) the bees into their “swarm box.” This approach works if the swarm is on a branch that you can easily sever from the rest of the foliage. You’ll need a pair of pruning shears. Follow these steps:

    1. Study the swarm.

      Try to identify the branch (or branches) that, if severed, will allow you to gingerly walk the branch with swarm attached over to the box.

    2. Snip away at the lesser branches while firmly holding the branch containing the mother lode with your other hand.

      Work with the precision of a surgeon: You don’t want to jolt the swarm off the branch prematurely. When you’re absolutely sure that you understand which branch is holding the bees, make the decisive cut. Anticipate that the swarm will be heavier than you imagined, and be sure that you have a firm grip on the branch before you make the cut. Avoid sudden jolts or drops that would knock the bees off the branch.

    3. Carefully walk the swarm (branch and all) to the empty cardboard box and place the whole deal in the box. The bees will not leave the branch as you walk, but you should walk as gingerly as if you were walking on ice.

  3. Close up the box, tape it shut, and you’re done. Whew!

    Get it home right away because heat will build up quickly in the closed box.

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