Sunday, April 05, 2009

How to build a swarm-catching box

If you want to catch a bee swarm, you need something to put them in. Any kind of box will do in a pinch, but a little extra preparation will make the process more comfortable for the bees and easier for you. I learned about swarm boxes at bee club.
A copier paper box is about the right size, has a removable lid and is readily available. You also need some screening and tape. It's good to use foil tape, since you may be misting the screen. Duct tape tends to fail if it gets wet. Foil tape costs about $7 a roll.

I have some screen from doing repairs. You could cannibalize an old screened window, or use whatever netting you happen to have around. Maybe a crinoline, mosquito netting, or ... hey, you don't need that wedding veil anymore, do you?

Cut a squarish hole in the box (I traced a 4-inch card box as a guide). Tape the edges to seal them, then tape in the screen.
You also want to have a bee door. Once you've gotten the bulk of the bees into the box, you'll put the lid on, but leave this 1x2-inch trapdoor open on the end. If the queen is in the box, you should have some workers around this entrance, fanning away and telling everyone, "Hey, get your bee butts in here!"
I put a tab on the door so it's easy to open and close. It can be taped shut with masking tape for transport. I also taped up the handle holes. Once most of the bees are in the box, you want to leave it in place with the bee door open for a while so most of the scouts have a chance to join the group. Then close the bee door and go.
That splotch in the lower left corner is a drop of lemongrass essential oil, which reportedly is attractive to bees. I am also contemplating putting some beeswax on the inside of the lid for extra homeyness. Painting the box to look like a quaint English cottage is also an option.
If you need to take the bees in the car, you may want to mist the screen with water or sugar water so they don't get too hot. Hive them just before dark, or do it first thing in the morning. They'll be clumped up in the top of the box, so look through the window to see where, then carefully lift the lid, position it over the hive and jerk them in or use a bee pick to lower them in.

Voilà. Free bees!

P.S. Now you can see this swarm box in action! Click here.


  1. The Garden Ranters blogged briefly a few days ago about a new article in Scientific American ( about bees and CCD. Very, very interesting.

  2. I'm getting a wonderful mental picture of you taking a box of bees for a drive.

  3. Terrific post! Brilliant idea to have the door to bring in any stragglers. Also, very useful tip about the foil tape—I definitely had problems with duct tape when I made my swarm-catching box.

    One thought to consider is making slightly larger ventilation holes, especially b/c if you have a big swarm + hot weather, the bees might really appreciate the extra air.

  4. You make it sound so easy. If I did it, it would look like physical comedy, only I wouldn't be laughing.

  5. Thanks Pam. There's been some buzz (ahem) about that article in the beekeeping discussion groups. So many different schools of thought on CCD.

    Miss T, one woman was telling bee club about failing to seal a box of bees she put in the back of her SUV. The entire back window was plastered with bees, completely freaking out the drivers behind her. They didn't bother her, though.

    Thanks, Gerry! As temps warm up, I may put another window in. But I hope the bees will never need to spend too much time in the box. I anticipate catching one swarm at least, for me, and then we'll see about others. Sounds like you've had some experience. I'll check out your blog.

    Betts, I make it sound so easy because I've only done it in my head! When it comes to the actual event, I may be a basket case. Who knows?