beekeeping equipment how to swarming

My design for a bait hive

I have been using two of the commercially available flower-pot shaped swarm traps for years. Each year I hang them up at the recommended height (8-12 feet) and facing the recommended direction (south or southeast). Each year I purchase fresh pheromone lures (the three-component USDA-endorsed type) and each year I check the traps every day during swarm season. At the end of the year I take them down and store them. Storage is the worst part because they are huge and oddly shaped.

Of course, I have never caught a swarm in one and probably never will. I persist in hanging them up every year because I paid for them—or, more to the point, I paid for the oversize postage. So I will most likely continue this ridiculous pastime until they disintegrate, or until I do, whichever comes first.

But last year after a swarm settled into my empty top-bar hive, I became absolutely enthralled with the idea of building a bait hive from old bee boxes and frames. If I can catch anything it will probably be my own swarms, but that is fine. I’d rather catch my own then have them go off into the woods or nest in my neighbor’s barn. In fact, my bees seem healthy and I’d rather not introduce bees with an unknown provenance into my apiary.

According to Thomas Seeley in Honeybee Democracy, bees on the run prefer a nesting cavity that is approximately 40 liters. This morning I measured the inside dimensions of a deep brood box and it came to 14.75” x 18.38” x 9.63” or 2610.74 cubic inches (they really add up.) I ran this through Convert and came up with 42.78 liters. So, one deep brood box should do it.

Seeley also says that bees prefer an entrance that is 15 cm2. Again using Convert this comes to 2.33 square inches. (Sorry, but as a denizen of Fahrenheitland, I think in inches.) The square root of 2.33 is 1.53. So I can use a square hole of 1.5 inches on a side or a circular hole with a diameter of 1.72 inches (2.33=3.14r2).

I measured the larger opening on my entrance reducers and it is 5.2” x 0.38” or 1.95 square inches. So the question is this: should I enlarge the rectangular opening, or should I make a circular or square opening? Seeley says bees don’t have a preference for entrance shape, but all his nest box photos show square holes.

Just for fun I calculated the area of the entrance in the top-bar hive that the swarm moved into last year. It consists of three one-inch diameter holes. When I calculate the total area, it comes to 2.36 square inches (A = 3.14 x 0.52 x 3). Amazing! Just 0.03 square inches different from Seeley’s ideal size! Seeley never mentions whether the entrance area can be piecemeal, but it is an interesting question.

To make this easy, I think I will mount the brood box on a regular bottom board and block off part of the standard entrance. The entrance is 0.75” high, so I will allow a little over 3 inches of it to remain open (2.33/0.75 = 3.11). Okay, that’s two questions answered.

Height of the bait hive is the third issue. According to Seeley, bees prefer to nest high in the trees. (The wild hives he found averaged 21 feet off the ground.) But in his experiments, most of his bait hives were low to the ground. My top-bar hive is only about two feet off the ground. So I think I won’t bother trying to suspend this thing from a tree because, for me, it is just too heavy and impractical. I will just put it on one of my regular hive stands, face it south, and call it good.

From my reading in the past few months, I’ve learned that drawn comb that previously contained brood is one of the biggest attractants for a swarm, so I will definitely use old comb. Slumgum has also been mentioned as a swarm attractant, so I will smear some of that near the entrance. I will dispense with the regular lemongrass attractant because I have used that in my swarm traps for years to no avail.

So there you have it: my plans for a bait hive. About the only things I have to do are find some used brood comb, cut an entrance reducer, render some wax so I can collect slumgum, and then smear the stuff around. Mud pies for adults. I will let you know what happens.


Discover more from Honey Bee Suite

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.


  • Thought you’d like to know a relatively new beekeeper in Delaware really looks forward to and appreciates your email posts.

  • Rusty,

    I’ve just finished building my top-bar hive, set it in the yard.
    I’ve set the follower boards to 40 liter volume and constricted the entrance to 15 sq cm.
    Folks in local bee club are not encouraging that I could attract a swarm.

    Your experience last year attracting the swarm gives me hope.
    Also notice an Italian bee in the yard near the hive site just before I hauled it into the yard.

    I’ve put some honey on a follower board, crushed some anise seed (anise oil is supposed to be an attractant.) Next sunny/warm spell, I’ll put on some pheromone I purchased.


    • Lynn,

      Do you have a piece of used brood comb you could put in there? That really helps as well. Everything else sounds really good. Hope it works!

  • I shive and ordered a nice on ee alot of bees in the woods by my house in the woods by the creek. So made a small version of bar type,as a trap and ordered a full size one from I hope to catch a swarm and transfer them to my new hive in the same location! I put white clover honey on the comb and a feeder on top with corn syrup and water. Will this work??? Darrell

    • Darrell,

      Putting a bait hive next to a bee tree will probably not work. The only way it would work is if the hive decided to swarm and then the swarm decided to live in your hive. That is unlikely. If you want to hive the colony from the bee tree, you need to go in and cut it out and then put it in your hive. You will need the queen, brood, and some honey combs. It can be done, but you will have to actually go in and do it, rather than just wait.

  • Rusty,

    What is the ideal distance to place the bait hive away from my bee yard? What direction should I orient it? Can it be in the shade or in the sun? Any details that you can suggest would be greatly appreciated.

    I had one colony last year and it swarmed this summer. If my colonies make it through next winter I will have 7 colonies and I anticipate one or two will swarm next summer so I’m trying to minimize my losses and I know a swarm will not build up enough to make it through winter in these parts. While it would be nice to have a feral bee population.

    Thanks Rusty. You make new bee keepers life much easier.

    • Jeff,

      Some folks say a bait hive should be a long distance from the apiary, but experience always shows otherwise. They will move into any empty hive if they like it. From what I’ve read, once a swarm settles on an object and begins looking for a new home they collectively “forget” where they used to live. That is why you can catch a swarm and put it back in the very same place and the bees are fine with it. My own bees have settled in swarm traps that were only a few yards from the original hive. I wouldn’t worry about that part.

      Face it east or south to catch the morning sun. Same goes for shade: morning sun is good but high afternoon heat is undesirable. Higher off the ground is better than close to the ground but, again, I’ve seen them accept hives close to the ground if everything else is good. Pay a lot of attention to the opening size as I mention in the post “My design for a bait hive.” Use a pheromone lure or used brood comb for scent.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I was under the impression if you placed the bees back to the colony they originated from they would leave again due to the scout bees. But when placing back to the original colony I mean there is a couple honey boxes and queen excluder separating the existing brood chambers.

    I have several big plastic buckets that I can literally put a full frame in. So I my rig up something to support the frame inside and leave an empty brood frame in there during the swarm season, add some lure pheromone and see what happens next year. The only bees to catch are my own so I am not worried about the health of the bees.

    I’d prefer to catch the swarm than let them go as they will not survive the winter as our summers are short and they cannot build sufficient reserves is such a short time.

    Thanks Rusty.

    • The way I understand it, once the “swarming impulse” is satisfied (that is, they felt like swarming and they did) the impulse is gone. You can take these bees and put them right back from where they came with no negative consequences. That’s not to say that they won’t develop another impulse in a few days or weeks. But that’s a new development, not a continuation of the previous one.

      Your bucket idea sounds like it will work. I’m really thinking about experimenting with more swarm catching arrangements next year because I had such good luck catching them this year. I should have combined more of them, though. I’m really short of equipment for the number of hives I have . . . and I don’t really want more hives.

  • I can verify that old healthy brood comb in a full-size super with a medium-size entrance reducer makes a successful bait hive. I think a secluded, out-of-sight location, with filtered sunlight or even none at all, works better than direct sunlight. First you see a few scouts. Then more. Then maybe none at all, if the swarm chooses a different location. But some swarm WILL choose your bait hive, and you will get the swarms you need, without risking your life on a ladder in your neighbor’s tree.

  • I had a hive to swarm and found it in a tree about 30 ft from the hive and about 12 ft up. I captured the swarm and put in a nuc, as it was a small swarm. The next day it had left the nuc. I could not find it this time. The day after that I found it in a nuc I set up hopefully to catch swarms. I used a ladder tree stand I use for hunting, set it up about 10 ft high with the nuc in the seat. The next day it was gone again. I opened the hive I thought it first swarmed from and to my surprise there were two queens; the old queen was marked, so I made a split using the old queen. Both hives are doing great, unless that crazy new queen wants to go on vacation again.

  • So the lemongrass thing. I heard a little goes a long way. Like a drop by the entrance and a drop on one of the top bars. Too much acts like a repelant? What I heard anyway.

    Explains my first swarm trap. Just showered it in lemongrass…. heh.

    • Raul,

      It’s easy to overdo the essential oils. Yes, too much will repel them.

  • Did you put frames in the super? I like the idea of using a deep super as a swarm trap and then just relocating it and making it the base of a new beehive… seems like it would minimally disrupt the bees…

  • Hi Rusty

    Great blog article. Thank you.

    I’m planning on using a 5 frame nuc box for a swarm trap. What do you recommend in dealing with the standard nuc box entrance? I also plan to use a single 10 frame deep box.

  • Hi — how’s this for a plan: a once-used deep, containing 1 frame with old comb and 9 frames foundationless; maybe with 3 droplets of lemongrass oil dripped onto the deep’s inner walls? I’ve heard that with this scenario, the comb-frame can go in the middle, to the side, or wherever ……

    • Mitch,

      It might work. Go easy on the lemongrass though. Too strong can be off-putting to the bees.

  • Do you know if honey bees show a preference for nesting in certain species of trees? Or do they not care, so long as the tree has a suitable hollow?

    I ask because of the connection Paul Stamets made between bees and fungi. It seems that different fungi thrive in different kinds of wood.

    • Sean,

      I think the location of the tree and the configuration of the cavity is the most important consideration. Honey bees have been moved far from the trees they evolved with, and they still do fine.