Bait Hives

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For attracting swarms [edit | edit source]

A bait hive is a hive, usually with some drawn comb that is set up to attract a swarm during the swarming season.

Often for about a week before a colony swarms, it sends out scout bees to find a new home. Although we shouldn't try to humanise bees, there are several criteria that seem attractive to them, some being:-

  • Where bees have lived before.
  • Sufficiently large cavity to store enough food to survive through a winter and perhaps a bad summer.
  • Easily defendable.
  • In the shade to aid ventillation.
  • Dry.
  • Where several energy lines cross.

Most beekeepers have seen bees inspecting an empty hive or a pile of supers during the summer. At first there is just the odd bee or two, then there are more, often becoming quite agitated. This normally happens for about a week then either ceases or a swarm appears. If activity ceases, the swarm could have found another home, the beekeeper has dealt with the colony or collected the swarm when it settled.

I have always put bait hives out and been successful at attracting swarms. I set them up as follows:-

  • Use a solid floor. I have never had success with an OMF, presumably because the bees don't think they can defend it.
  • An old brood box and crown board that haven't been cleaned, so they still have wax and propolis on them. This seems to attract swarms better.
  • One old comb inside if the bait hive is at home, a full box of old comb if it is away from home.
  • A small entrance about the area of the end or side of a matchbox. Too big and you will reduce your chances of success.
  • In the shade.

If bees become interested in a bait hive the first thing to do is to check your own colonies. Even though you may think they are alright, there is a possibility there may be supersedure cells or queen cells you have missed. If they are not your bees they could come from another beekeeper or a feral colony, so take the usual precautions to avoid the possibility of them being infected with foul brood.

If the bait hive is at home where I can see what is going on, I only use one old comb. When the swarm arrives I can shake the bees off, clip the queen and fill up the brood box with foundation. If the bees have put honey/nectar in the comb it can be burnt. If I use one comb away from home, where I don't see what is happening, I am likely to get a box full of wild comb, so I fill the box with comb and take a risk on the possibility of getting foul brood.

There is a suggestion that bait hives should be placed at head height or above, but In my opinion this doesn't matter.

I have always had quite good success at attracting swarms into bait hives, but this has improved since I started putting them in places where energy lines cross.

Some beekeepers use swarm lures, but I think that is cheating and prefer to rely on my own skills.