Several years ago I bought two swarm traps, hoping to catch runaway honey bees. They look like giant paper-mache flower pots with lids. Now swarm trap hanging, baiting, and storing are rituals I repeat every year. So far, however, they have yielded nothing.
Before I purchased the traps I bought the DVD from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm that explains in slow southern detail all the in-and-outs of swarm trapping. It describes where to hang them, how high to hang them, and which direction they should face. It shows how to install the pheromone lure and explains how often to replace it. The DVD features beekeepers who have populated whole apiaries by catching swarms—hundreds of swarms. By the end of the DVD I was sure I could add dozens of hives to my collection.
As it turns out, swarm traps are little more than a storage problem for me. Because western Washington winters are so wet, I take them down in the fall and store them in a shed. In the spring, I buy new lures and hang them up again. I suppose I will keep doing this until they wear out . . . or I do. Something about a fragrant spring morning after a long, dank winter always compels me to try again.
The answer to why they don’t work for me is also in the DVD. For one thing, they are mounted too close to my own apiary. I tried to put them as far away as possible, but that isn’t very far. Honey bees like to move away from a crowded area when they swarm, so I’m highly unlikely to catch my own swarms with traps mounted so nearby.
The other reason is that there are not a lot of beekeepers in my area—at least none that I know about. Swarm traps are really good for catching your neighbor’s honey bees, but if your neighbors don’t have honey bees then you’re left trying to catch feral swarms. But, again, those bees are not going to want to move into a crowded area.
The one swarm I did catch this summer flew right past my swarm traps loaded with fresh pheromones and into an empty top-bar hive that was sitting beside the driveway. That was definitely more convenient for me than moving them from a trap into the hive, but how often is that going to happen?
So for now, up the hill I go. It’s time to bring the swarm traps in for another long, wet winter.