Retrieve that Swarm

When a hive decides to swarm, they will send out scout bees in search of a new home. This process can happen very fast (within a few hours) or they may search for a couple of days before finding a suitable home. While scout bees are searching for the next home, the swarm will find temporary resting points relatively close to their original hive (roughly 50 to 100 feet). Generally, swarms will find shelter on tree branches but can find rest on any style structure.This is your time slot to go out and capture them! Grab your NUC (cardboard or wooden) to put them in and head their way.

What to do when you find the Swarm.

A swarm may seem overwhelming and frightening but during this stage, they are not aggressive. Locate the swarm! They may have landed 1 foot off the ground or they could be 80 feet up in a tree. Access the situation and determine if the bees can be acquired safely. Be cautious of your surroundings. Electrical lines and other hazards may be hidden. If a ladder is required, use your best judgment to determine how best to retrieve the swarm(a branch may need to be cut off). Other options may be available if a ladder seems too risky (like the Hipps Swarm Retriever).

Here are the Things You May Need:
  • Protective Equipment (veil, gloves, suit)
  • Wooden or Cardboard NUC
  • Bee Brush
  • Spray Bottle with Sugar Water Mixture

  • You may need additional equipment to reach the swarm.

When you capture the swarm, you will need to bump or brush them into a NUC box in order to transfer them into a hive. This will create stress within the swarm and if they are not transfered into their destination shortly, they may cook themselves. Before you set out to capture the swarm, have your hive setup so that you may transfer it over easily.

Here are some tips how to catch a swarm in a NUC Box:

Swarms on Branch Accessible from Ground: Lay a white sheet out below the swarm. Take your NUC box and determine if the swarm is small enough to bump into the NUC. If it will fit perfectly, go ahead and give it a couple bumps to dislodge the swarm from the branch. If it exceeds the NUC box, try to get the center cluster inside the box, leaving the outskirts to fall onto the sheet.

Swarms on Branch Accessible by Ladder: Place a white sheet below the swarm. Stand ladder on top of the white sheet so that you can easily reach the swarm.Determine if the bees can be acquired safely. Safely carry the NUC box up the ladder to dislodge the swarm into the NUC (best done with two or more people for support).

Swarms on Something Other than a Tree Branch: They may have come to land on a fence post, roof overhang, or even on the ground. The main objective is to transfer the large cluster without disrupting them continuously. The best procedure is to spray them down with a sugar water, making it difficult for them to fly. Lay out your sheet below the swarm (as best you can) and brush them into the NUC. Try to acquire the main cluster in the beginning and then retrieve the bees on the fringes. swarming

The sheet is placed underneath the NUC in order to catch any bees that didn’t make it into the NUC. The sheet will also help any stragglers find their way to the main cluster. Take your NUC and the sheet to where you have setup the hive to transfer them over to. If you used a Wooden NUC to capture the swarm with, you can leave them be until they are fully established. Add the frames that are needed and cover the top. If you are using a cardboard NUC, you will need to transfer them into a permanent 8 frame or 10 frame hive. Place the sheet so that it leads to the entrance of their new hive. Spray the bees down with the sugar water mixture and pour/dump them into the hive. Set the cardboard NUC so that the opening faces the hive and the remaining bees will walk right up the sheet and into the hive.

This is one way that you may rescue a swarm. There are many other ways and every situation is unique. Capturing the Queen is Key! To successfully acquire the swarm, you must retrieve the queen. She is likely to be in the center of the swarm, surrounded by the cluster of bees. However you choose to rescue the swarm, check on them after a week to ensure the queen is laying. If you were unsuccessful in acquiring the queen, the bees will not stick around. You must also check the hive that swarmed and ensure that they are left with a laying queen as well. Now one hive just became two!