How to Attract Bees To a New Hive in 5 EASY Steps
Everybody likes “freebies,” right? And that’s what you get when you attract a swarm: free bees. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as “you build it they will come.” You need to learn how to attract bees to a hive.
Like a real estate agent trying to sell a home, you have to make your hive attractive to the bees. But don’t start burning the vanilla candles yet.
Keep reading to learn bees’ secret desires, including which scent they prefer. (Hint- It’s not vanilla!)
- What You’ll Need
- Attracting Honey Bees To A Hive In 5 Simple and Easy Steps
- What To Do Next
- Our Take
What You’ll Need
- A bait hive or swarm trap
- Wire mesh
- Old frames with drawn comb
- Lemongrass oil or other swarm lures
Attracting Honey Bees To A Hive In 5 Simple and Easy Steps
Why buy bees when you can get them for free? Many beekeepers do it, and so can you! With just a little bit of skills, time, and equipment, much of which you may have on hand, attracting a swarm of bees is not an impossible dream.
So, ready the swarm trap box or bee box. It’s time to lure worker bees or catch a swarm and have your honey bee colonies! Here’s how to attract bees to a hive.
1. Determine When Swarm Season Is
Bees don’t just randomly choose their new home. They, too, like to go on a house-hunting spree.
Several weeks before they swarm, the colony sends out their representatives, AKA the scout bees, to look for options (1). Now, like a seasoned real estate agent, you’d want to make your bait hives as irresistible as possible.
When the swarm season starts, you’ll have a better chance of beating out the competition and sealing the deal. Speaking of swarm season, when is it?
Bees generally begin to swarm in the spring. But, determining the exact swarm season will depend on your location.
For instance, in California, swarm season can kick off as early as January and last until May. But, when you are New York-based, May is the start of the swarm season (2). If you are in a Southern area in the United States, you’ll need to prepare ahead of time since temperatures rise earlier in the south than in the north (1).
To find your area’s swarm season, you can check with a local university or get in touch with other apiarists nearby.
2. Buy Or Build A Bait Hive
If you want bees to move into your beehive, you should find out what they want.
Just like there are different types of beehives, there are several kinds of bait hives. Though they all have one primary purpose – attract honeybees, you can also build bug hotels to invite other species of bees to pollinate your yard.
Use An Old Hive
If you have an old brood box or hive with a drawn brood comb, you can convert it to a bait hive (3).
“Using such equipment makes transfer of any captured swarms easier.”
Plus, you can take advantage of the drawn comb’s scent to lure more bees! So, how do you transform an old beehive into an irresistible trap box? It’s simple.
Using plywood, simply close off the top and bottom. Add another layer of plywood at the top to prevent rainwater and seal any cracks. Then drill a one-inch hole at the bottom of the box. This hole is where the bees will enter. You should cover the whole like mesh or even a nail to keep birds and other critters out.
You can place a few old frames in your box if you have them. Three to five is a good number – you want to leave some space to help attract the bees (3).
Just be careful with old frames as they are at risk for wax moth infestations (4).
Build A Bait Hive
Don’t have an old hive? That’s okay. You can make a homemade bee trap.
There are many swarm trap plans out there. But if you want to increase your chances of attracting bees, follow Cornell University’s well-researched recommendation of 40-liter cavity volume with a south-facing 1.5″-2″ square inches entrance area (1).
The recommended size is about the same measurements as a standard ten-frame Langstroth hive body.
You will want to paint your bait hive to protect it from the elements. While the bees don’t seem to prefer one color over another, painting it a darker color camouflages it from other humans who might disturb your trap.
You can also purchase swarm traps. These are similar to biodegradable plant pots – 15 inches high with a 15-inch diameter (3).
The traps can be cardboard or wood pulp. The top is closed, and there is a hole at the bottom where the bees enter. These are an excellent option as they are easy to install and lighter than other options.
You’ll learn why weight is essential when we talk about where to position your bait hive. But before you install your hive, you have to do one more thing.
3. Apply The Lure
Like a real estate agent, you want the new place to smell as enticing as possible. There are several ways you can make that trap smell great to those bees.
First, as we mentioned before, you can use an old hive or old frames since bees are attracted to the smell of beeswax. The downside is wax moths also love that smell.
So rather than using an old comb, there are better options like commercial pheromones lures. They usually have a lemongrass-like smell which mimics the scent scout bees leave after visiting a location. Plus, pheromone lures are very effective at attracting bees to your hive (5).
“… a bait hive with a scent lure can be five times more likely to attract a swarm than one without a lure….”
Another option that is popular with beekeepers is lemongrass essential oil (6). Again, you will find the distinctive citrus smell similar to the scent released by the scout bees. You can either dab it on with a Q-tip or place it in a plastic vial designed to disperse the smell over time slowly.
Once your hive is smelling good, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
4. Position Your Bait Box
Location, location, location. Another critical factor to successfully attract bees to your hive is where you position it and when.
Place your trap hive 15 feet above the ground for the scout bees to see it quickly (1). You can place the swarm box up on tree branches or build a platform to house it. Make sure it is secure enough to hold the weight of super full of honey and bees.
The ideal location of your bait hive should be somewhere well-shaded and easily accessible. Don’t forget to make it highly visible for scout bees to see it.
If you are using a swarm trap rather than a box, you can nail it to a board and attach it to a tree or platform. Make sure to place the hive in the shade. If the hive is in direct sunlight, it might be too hot for the bees.
And remember, scout bees go out and do their job before swarm season. So, have the bait or trap in place and ready several weeks before the season kicks off.
Once you have placed your hive, you only have one thing left to do.
5. Wait For The Bees To Move In
Waiting is the hardest part. No matter how perfect you have made your bait hive, there is no guarantee the bees will like it. But, you can increase your odds of capturing a swarm of bees by placing multiple swarm traps.
If you see bees buzzing about your hive, it doesn’t mean they have taken up residence yet. They may just be scouts checking the place out. By carefully observing their flight patterns, you can tell if they are scouts or foragers.
Watch this video to learn more about how scouts decide which home to move to
Make sure you check on your bait traps frequently. You never know when the bees will decide to move in. It is easier to move a recently occupied beehive than one where the bees have been hanging out making honey for a while.
If you see foragers flying around the entrance to your beehive, congratulations! You have successfully attracted bees to your hive.
What To Do Next
Now that you have your “free bees,” you have to get them from your swarm box to your apiary. Doing this can be extra tricky because now you have to move a heavy hive 15 feet down and on a ladder!
Don’t go climbing yet – safety first. Wear your protective gear. It can be a full suit or bee jacket. Wear a bee veil and gloves too!
You want to be extra careful when taking it down from the tree. Secure it with a rope before you detach any nails holding it in place. And, make sure you keep the hive right side up to avoid damaging the comb. If the comb is damaged, the bees can drown in honey (1).
Using a hive body with frames can make it easier to transport the bees from the tree without damaging the comb. That is assuming you can handle the extra weight!
Once you have gotten the bait box from the tree, you will transfer it into a beehive box with movable frames. The frames will allow you to inspect the new bees properly.
A full bait hive can weigh as much as 60-70 pounds!
It is easier if you started with frames in your bait hive because you simply move these frames into a new super. Otherwise, the methods range from unceremoniously dumping the bees into the super, cutting the comb from the bait hive, and transferring that. It will depend on how much comb the bees have built-in bait hive.
Either way, it is best to make the transfer in the early evening. Spritz the bees lightly with water to simulate rain. These things will make it less likely the bees will abandon their new hive (1).
If your new honeybees haven’t brooded, there is a huge chance that they will abscond (or fly away) after the transfer. To minimize this possibility, get an open frame from one of your established honeybee colonies and give it to them (3).
Don’t carry your bees to a new location hastily, or you’ll mess up your bees’ GPS. You will have to move your “free bees” in short distances.
Whenever you are moving bees, the general rule of thumb is to move 3 feet at a time from the original location. If you carry a hive and the distance exceeds 3 miles, bees will reorientate (7).
So, give them time to adjust to the move. It takes a lot of patience, but it’s worth the effort rather than scaring them off!
Attracting bees to a hive isn’t really that difficult. And whether you are a beginner beekeeper or have a thriving beekeeping business, you can always use more bees.
Locating the perfect spot is probably the most challenging part of the whole venture. That and taking down a 60-70 pound bait box from 15 feet height, of course. But in the end, it is worth it when you capture your first swarm of free bees.
Flowering plants attract bees but not every flower. They prefer varieties that produce more nectar. Hybrid flowers, for instance, don’t produce much pollen, so bees avoid them.
Aside from that, color matters as well. Bees like blue, lilac, purple, and white flowers because they can’t see the color red (8). Some herbs are also irresistible to bees. So much so that it has influenced their names – like Bee Balm.
Yes, an empty beehive will attract bees. Even if it isn’t positioned up in a tree or converted to a bait hive, the scout bees can smell residual beeswax in the wood. If you have an empty hive and want to make it more attractive to bees, you can add a swarm lure. If enough scout bees decide it is a good location, a swarm will move in.
You get bees to start a hive by capturing a swarm, or if you are not interested in capturing bees, you can purchase them. When buying bees, you can get them in two different ways. You can either get package bees or buy a Nuc, short for nucleus, hive.
A nuc includes the beehive frames as well as the bees. It is generally half the size of a standard hive, just five frames. The problem with nucs is that there is the risk you can bring pests and disease in the frames.
Package bees come with all the bees you need, a queen and some workers, and some sugar syrup. You set them up in an empty hive with some frames and let them go to work.
- Bait Hives for Honey Bees. Retrieved from: https://ecommons.cornell.edu/bitstream/handle/1813/2653/Bait%20Hives%20for%20Honey%20Bees.pdf
- Notes From Swarm Season in Norcal. Retrieved from: https://beeinformed.org/2014/06/23/notes-from-swarm-season-in-norcal/
- Bait Hives. Retrieved from: https://canr.udel.edu/maarec/wp-content/uploads/sites/18/2010/03/BAIT_HIV.pdf
- Wax moth IPM. Retrieved from: https://www.clemson.edu/extension/beekeepers/fact-sheets-publications/wax-moth-ipm-publication.html
- Honeybee Democracy. Retrieved from: https://hadinur1969.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/thomas_d_seeley-honeybee_democracy_-princeton_univ.pdf
- Using Essential Oils for Honeybees. Retrieved from: https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/using-essential-oils-for-honeybees-zbcbz1403
- Move A Beehive 3 Feet Or 3 Miles. Retrieved from: https://backyardhive.com/blogs/managing-your-top-bar-hive/moving-a-bee-hive-learning-how-bees-orientate
- What Do Bees See. Retrieved from: https://news.ncsu.edu/2011/07/wms-what-bees-see/
Rachael and her husband arrived on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua in 2011. There they founded El Jardin de la Vida, a tropical micro food forest, focusing on Sustainable Living Education. She teaches others to build with natural materials, live off-grid, and appreciate slow food.