Beekeeping For Beginners: How To Catch a Swarm of Bees

Catching a swarm of bees is a great way to get cheap bees (cause we all know there’s no such thing as ‘free’ bees!). Swarming is the process bees do in order to reproduce. This usually happens when a colony has outgrown its space. The colony will begin to create queen cells for a new queen to be born. Once that new queen emerges, the original queen will leave with about 50-60% of the colony. The new queen and remaining colony will continue to live in that hive while the rest of the colony goes off to find a new home. Swarms of bees are extremely prolific during the spring months. In South Florida, we actually start seeing swarms as early as February! 

As a new beekeeping company, we try to do our best to educate people on how important bees are! This is why we specialize in Live Bee Removal, aside from our motto of saving as many wild hives as possible. We also help people get starting on their beekeeping journey. Keep reading to learn how to catch your very first swarm.

The Pros of Swarm Catching 

Many beekeepers, like ourselves, actually prefer to catch a swarm of bees because these are local bees that are acclimated to your specific climate and any pests that might be in the area. Also, a swarm of bees usually means the original hive was extremely strong and productive!

Another pro of catching a swarm of bees is how cost effective it is. We never say bees are free because you still need to purchase the hive equipment in order to keep the bees and also spend the time tending to the bees.  However, it is much cheaper than purchasing a box of bees or a nuc from a local beekeeper. 

Lastly, catching a swarm of bees can be a very easy task. When a hive swarms, they do not have anything to defend and usually have a full belly of honey. These two factors make the chances of getting stung or finding very aggressive bees unlikely. 

The Cons of Swarm Catching

With any pro, there has to be a con! Since you are getting a wild hive, you don’t know what their genetics are. If you live in an area with africanized honey bees, you risk bringing home an aggressive hive.

Also, you never really know the health of the hive. Swarms can be healthy but they can also be queenless, have a very weak queen, or come with a load of pests, like varroa mites.

While catching a swarm of bees can be very simple, which we will get into below, it can also be difficult and tricky. We cannot control bees and sometimes they will do whatever it is they want! However, with experience, we’ve been able to learn a few tricks in regards to catching a swarm of bees.

How to Catch a Swarm

There are so many different scenarios to catching a swarm. It depends on many many factors, like where the swarm is, what you have on hand, and what you’re comfortable doing. We’re going to explain a few different scenarios to better equip you for your first swarm catch. Let’s start what we recommend having on hand for your swarm!

Tools You Should Have

  • Nuc Box
  • Queen Excluder
  • Queen Clip
  • Lemongrass Essential Oil
  • Spray Bottle with Sugar Water (1:1 ratio)
  • Bee Brush
  • Pruners
  • Protective Gear

Scenario #1: Swarm on a Tree Branch

So you found a swarm on a tree branch. There are so many factors that go into this scenario! Is the branch easily accessible? Is it easy to cut? Are you comfortable climbing to the branch? Please do whatever you’re comfortable with and don’t be afraid to ask for help! Let’s say the swarm can be accessed by climbing on the roof of a home, like the photo above shows. Here, we are cutting around the main branch that the hive is on. This will make it easier to walk down a ladder with the hive and branch in hand.

One person is on the roof, while another is on a ladder close to the swarm. While the person on the roof is cutting around the swarm, the person on the ladder is holding the main branch. This way, once the main branch gets cut, the person on the ladder can simply hold the branch and walk down the ladder with bees in hand! So in the photo below, you can see our set up. 

A nuc box situated on a few roof tiles for proper ventilation. A queen excluder between the bottom board and the box. Two frames on each side of the box. Next is our favorite part of catching swarms. With one quick and calculated movement, SHAKE the ball of bees into the box. Why?

Because the queen is usually somewhere in that ball so getting as many bees into that box will increase your chance of getting her in as well! This is also why we have a queen excluder between the bottom board and box; it will trap the queen and prevent her from leaving which has happened to us on many occasions. 

Once you have shaken the ball of bees into the box, simply put the cover on the box and wait. If you begin to see the bees flying into the box and fanning outside within a few minutes, you know the queen is in that box. If you see the bees flying back to the branch and the swarm is becoming larger after 15 minutes, you know that the queen is not in the box.

You can repeat the steps above as necessary until she stays in the box or you can lay a white blanket in front of the hive, shake all the bees onto it, and then search for the queen so you can cage her. Caging the queen is the key to making sure your swarm stays in the box!

Scenario #2: Swarm on a Tree Trunk

This scenario is sometimes rare. Bees will typically land high up on a branch but there is always the possibility of them landing lower on a tree trunk! The key to catching a swarm is preparing yourself for many different scenarios. So our steps for this scenario are similar to the first one, except it involves a brush instead of pruners!

Our set up is the same, elevated hive with queen excluder between the bottom board and box. This time we opted for a 10 frame nuc because this hive was on the bigger side. In this scenario, I was lucky enough to see the queen walking on the swarm and quickly caged her. Since I was able to cage her, I removed the queen excluder and then placed the cage in the box.

These bees were a little stubborn and were having a hard time finding the queen so our handy bee brush was perfect! We brushed some of the bees into the box and then placed the inner cover on the tree trunk. This created a little bridge which made it easy for the bees to crawl into their new home. By the time the sun set, all the bees were in their new home and we were able to pack them up and move them to a new location. It’s important to wait until night fall to move any beehive because the foragers and scout bees will be back by that time. 

Practice Makes Progress!

Don’t forget that the first time you catch a swarm may not be the smoothest! That’s okay! Everyone is a beginner at some point and we have made many mistakes while beekeeping. Continue to try new things and never give up. We are very far from perfect and beekeeping is a life long craft so don’t worry and don’t give up!

Leave a comment if you’ve ever caught a swarm before and if you found this post helpful, please share on social media!

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