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Swarm season is here- any tips for catching one?


I plan to start up at least 5 new hives over the next two months. My plan is to catch swarms to start hives if I can. This week I am making half a dozen 5 frame nuc boxes to get me started. Does anyone have any tips about how to best set them up to catch a swarm? I know about the drop of lemongrass oil…

One question I have is: do I leave a nuc box full of empty frames- or just put one frame in- or- Is it best to have a frame of foundation- or five frames with foundation? Or just starter strips? I was hoping to put a drawn comb in each box but was told that is illegal in Australia (plus I don’t have any drawn combs anyway).

I am kind of hoping I can get away with leaving each box with just one frame in it- then keep an eye on them and add more frames when a swarm moves in. Does that work?

I plan to place the nuc boxes up high where I can- I have read the 3 meters above ground is ideal- not sure I will be able to manage that in every case but I should be able to position some on top of my shed and similar places.


Hi Michelle,
You have the right idea, according to Tom Seeley, an 8 frame box is the ideal size for bait hives, however a 6 or 7 frame box will do the trick. Old brood frames are perfect as they contain brood pheromone that attracts the swarm. Not sure where you heard it is illegal but I do know the NSW DPI Apiculture Specialist and he uses this method and has often written about it. 2 - 5 metres in part shade is works though I am aware of a few beekeepers who leave a few empty hives around their bee yard specifically to catch swarms and catch one every spring… best of luck


“8 frame box is the ideal size for bait hives, however a 6 or 7 frame box will do the trick.”

but not a 5 frame box? :wink: that’s what I am making… I have two hoop pine 8 frame brood boxes also- and will put them out too. But I was hoping to use 5 frame nuc boxes as my main swarm traps…

It was a local SA apiarist supplier who told me I cannot use brood comb. They said it is a pest risk- and illegal- possibly only here in SA?

If you don’t have any drawn combs- how do you go about it? Is it possible to catch a swarm by having a box with just one or two undrawn frames in it? Actually- I realise it is definitely ‘possible’ but is it likely? Should I put in foundation frames- and if so how many is the fewest I can get away with?


The “fewest” (sic) is zero. If I had old drawn comb, I would put in one frame. Especially brood comb, as it is so resilient and yet so attractive to swarms. If not, I would put in one frame of foundation and the rest foundation less. My concept is to use the foundation as a comb guide, to reduce the creative comb possibility. However, in the San Diego Spring and Summer sun, an unpopulated swarm trap can easily reach 45C or more, and I would be worried about losing the foundation to sag/warping/melting. So I still have to check every week or more often, to make sure my foundation is OK… :blush:


I will add.
If you read Seeley he describes how scouts investigate a possible new home. As well as measuring the H/W/D they fly diagonally across the space. The fewer frames the better in this regard, as Dawn says. I use one old brood comb, which is the best swarm lure ever, opposite the entrance, and a frame wired with fishing line in front of it. I visit my bait hives every day so I can afford to have just the one drawn frame in it. If you can visit only once weekly then it would pay to do two things. Insulate the box well and leave waxed top bars in. A prime swarm can draw a whole box in less than a week and if you have only one frame in there will be some creative comb in there (A box of foundation would obviously prevent that but the swarm might well consider the box too small and not move in at all)
A 5 frame nuc is probably too small for a prime swarm by the way.
Pick up a copy of Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy. It gives you so much insight in how bees work and once you understand how, the whole beekeeping thing becomes instinctive.
Good luck for the season


G’day Jack, there’s another way you can go about it. Build bird boxes & possum boxes. Sit them high in trees & hope that birds or possums move in. Chances are, while your watching & waiting for birds or possums to move in a swarm of bees will move in instead.

The first year I started keeping bees, I asked the main beekeeper in the local phone book to remember me if he gets any swarms he hasn’t got time to chase. That worked, I got lots of swarms to collect. Also I put my name down with the council because people often ring the council with bee problems. That also worked. I put my name in the yellow pages as a beekeeper for the following edition. That worked as well.

A few years ago I was able to help out a new beekeeper with swarms I couldn’t collect until one day he phoned me to tell me he couldn’t handle any more.

Good luck with it, cheers


I had 5 frame box out last year & year before, it was thoroughly & I mean thoroughly inspected by scout bees almost every day over some weeks. You could see them ‘measuring’ the outside of the box. Some returned with up to 50 or more bees but they never stayed. I even had a secondary swarm from one of the feral hives on my property move in, for about an hour, it seemed once they all had almost arrived they decided to head off again. This year using some spare mediums (given to me & won’t be using as part of hive set up) combined to make deeps, as my swarm traps. @JeffH made a great comment regarding trap, to “think of it as your resume”, it has to be the best on offer.


That wasn’t our intention but that’s exactly what happened, we put 3 up & within 4 days we ‘caught’ 3 swarms which have been with us now for nearly 6 years (time goes so quick, I thought it was only 3, but was reminded today how long had really been)
No lemongrass here wasn’t meant for bees, in fact they ‘evicted’ a young ringtail possum from the last one


I’ve had decent luck with five frame deeps and eight frame mediums as swarm traps. The lure (lemongrass oil and old brood combs) makes more difference than size. But yes, an eight frame deep is ideal. A ten frame deep works fine. A five frame deep works fine. Smaller will not catch a large swarm as they will not fit.


Had the lemongrass…in the swarm trap last year


The three most important things for a swarm trap are location, location and location. After that, lemongrass oil. After that old dark comb. After that some QMP doesn’t hurt. After that an old used box helps. After that the right size is helpful. All of this assumes a reasonable sized opening and no screened bottom. After that some height is helpful… It’s like fishing. Location is more important than the lure, but a good lure helps…


Thanks for the input everyone.

@Michael_Bush [quote=“Michael_Bush, post:11, topic:8411”]
All of this assumes a reasonable sized opening and no screened bottom

Hmm- all the hives I plan to set up have screened bottoms… But all of them have sliding covers underneath as well. I was planning to put them out with the bottom covers inserted- is that OK? When you say ‘no screened bottom’ do you strictly mean only screened- not screened with cover inserted?

Also if all you had was empty frames- how many would you put in a 5 frame nuc? Should I just put waxed top bars like a TBH? I hope to keep a close eye on the hives and intervene quickly if a swarm moves in.


Too much ventilation not only will keep a swarm from moving in, but could cause a package to abscond. If you close it off it will be fine.


The usual reason for sudden disappearance of scouts that have been REALLY interested in your bait hive is that the beekeeper responsible for them has got into gear with his swarm control.


I think, I could be wrong, however I’m of the opinion that the scouts don’t start looking for suitable nesting sites until the swarm has actually left the hive. If that’s the case, no swarm control measures were in place. Also the scouts could also have come from a swarm that issued from a feral hive.

The other day when a second swarm turned up in my yard, I was letting the swarm move into the box through to top over frames dabbed with lemongrass & also a frame containing young brood. Bees were slowly moving in & covering the brood, but not as fast as I would have liked. At the same time scout bees were vigorously advertising something. I figured that with all this dancing & advertising possibly a better location, I’d better cut the branch & drop the swarm in the box & put the lid on. That worked because they’re still there.

@Kirsten_Redlich, I was thinking of your possum boxes when I made my earlier comment. I’ve done a bit more thinking about swarm lures. A small swarm lure will be suitable for a small swarm, but not a large swarm. However a large swarm lure will be suitable for large AND small swarms. I’ve had no experience with using them, so I can’t speak from experience. I got all the colonies I needed from catching swarms at the start. After that it was from swarm management.


According to Seeley’ experienced foragers become scouts and one significant impetus is sustained inability to offload their nectar. Ie the hive is becoming full. They begin scouting once the hive is in swarm mode though not yet swarmed. They are the initiators of the buzz run which prepares the colony to swarm. Scouts debate and recruit bees by waggle dancing on the surface of the swarm where the final decision will be made but many scouts have been actively searching out nest sites before the swarm issues


The swarms were from the colonies on my property, I watched them leave the boxes and follow on from there, one went on to land in neighbours garden a couple of streets away, somewhere else they’d found a better propostion.

The secondary swarm from one colony set off twice in 2 days. The first time they hung around the trap for about 3-4 hours (appeared to settle for approx hour), then they ‘absconded’ straight back to the parent colony. The next day they took off & wasn’t quick enough to follow, just to see them disappear over horizon.


post removed by me as was repetitive


Thanks Jeff, I think that makes sense, & thinking back & referring to notes I made at the time, I do think that putting out larger options is a possible way to success. Can only keep trying. Will try a few options where I only change one variable each time, try & narrow down.
As I mentioned to Dee, the secondary swarm was the one that spent the longest amount of time & greatest number of bees, that one I saw leave the colony.
The other investigations happened over few weeks with varying numbers of bees returning, but nothing like swarm numbers. And that’s one of the reasons I think that the size may play a part, they spent sometimes 30minutes at a time measuring outside & entering, repeatedly.
Hey, can only try, if they swarm & land close by (as did the one I gave away) then can catch as you’ve done, little less like ‘fishing’ for bees :slight_smile:
P.S The poss box colony that built all the comb on the front is already clustering large numbers on front of box…


In my observation things are not clear cut in swarming. Sometimes they swarm with no idea where they are going to go and sometimes they even get stuck and never decide where they are going. Sometimes, though, they have obviously already decided as they swarm out, gather in a tree and the second the swarm has settled they take off for “the wild blue yonder.” They obviously already knew where they were going.before they left.