Swarms: What Do You Need to Have Ready?

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Last month we wrote: “Swarm season is coming. What do you have in your ‘swarm kit’ so you can quickly go if you get a call? We’re putting together a list of what you need to capture a swarm, as well as any helpful hints.”

We received some robust answers, thanks so much. We’re including some of the emails as we received them direct from the authors, as their commentary is wonderful.

Dr. Daniel Michael wrote:

For me it’s really basic, as I am not intending to leave them in the container I collect them in. Supplies:

  • bucket or box with ventilated lid

  • bee brush

  • sugar water spray bottle

  • hood and gloves

  • rope

  • duct tape

  • short step ladder or extension ladder (kept on the roof of my van during swarm season)

  • positive attitude

  • time to get home and put them into a hive

These items, along with the mindset that every run is not a victory run. Once the swarm was on a man's porch, but by the time I got there, they were at the highest point in a huge tree in his yard, and as I pulled up, they began to move again. Lost them, and about an hour of my time.

Set limits as to how far you will drive, and to what extreme you are willing to go to capture the swarm. 

Hope it helps! 


Andrew Miller shared:

Here in the San Jose/San Francisco Bay area our swarm season starts as early as mid-February. From Valentine’s Day to the Fourth of July, I keep a “Swarm Capture Go-Kit” in my vehicle so that I can answer swarm calls on my way home from my job in Silicon Valley. 

Here are a few of my Swarm Capture Go-Kit essentials: 

  1. A 5-frame nuc box with an attached bottom. Seldom are feral swarms too big to fit in a 5-frame box. Lifting, closing, and moving a smaller box is exponentially easier than a regular hive body, bottom board, and tops. The attached bottom prevents box shifts when lifting or transporting – box shifts that release confused bees inside your vehicle and cover the box with crawling workers.

  2. Frames with old comb. You can’t force the bees into their new home. They have to be convinced that they want to go in. The smell of the wax is a welcoming discovery for an eager new colony. Often, when a box with frames of old comb are placed next to a swarm, the entire swarm will turn in unison to face the box and march into their new home together.

  3. Webbing strap to secure the box for transport. For a 5-frame nuc, a single light duty strap will suffice. For a full-sized hive body, two ratcheting straps are required. Don’t try to move a hive that is not strapped tightly together.

  4. A plain white flat bed sheet or tarpaulin. Spread the sheet on the ground under the swarm cluster with the hive box placed in the center. After dropping the cluster into its new home, the fabric’s even surface makes it easier for loose stragglers to walk into their new home. No more stragglers lost in the grass. When the bees have moved into the box and you have closed the entrance, the sheet can be wrapped around the box for extra protection during transport.

  5. Sprayer bottle with plain water. A light misting keeps the bees from flying, so settling and move-in time is reduced. Plain fresh water is fine. Sugar water spray is unnecessary, drowns bees, and you have to wash your equipment daily to avoid ant and mold problems. Save the sugar water for feeding, after the bees have been moved to their new bee yard.

  6. A veil. Don’t be a show off. You will be carrying boxes of bees over unfamiliar yards. There will be accidents and surprises. Be safe. You have no idea where these bees came from, nor how many kids have been poking them with sticks all afternoon. Nobody likes getting stung in the face, ever.

  7. An extending pole with hook and pail. I use a regular paint roller extension that has a twisting cam-lock. The pole can be used to lift a plastic pail and to shake high branches. With the right technique, the swarm falls into the bucket, which can then be poured into the waiting nuc.

  8. Clippers and pruners. The easiest way to get a swarm into the box is by supporting the branch and clipping it free, then slowly laying the branch in the waiting nuc. Clip away and remove sections of the branch as the bees move off them and into their new home.

  9. Leave the smoker at home. Bees with no honey or brood are not defensive, and smoke interferes with their natural pheromone reactions. It is better to use their own natural reactions to encourage them to move into the comfortable new home you are providing them.

  10. Ladders are seldom necessary for the casual swarm catcher, but if your vehicle allows, bring one. Most home owners have a serviceable 6-foot step ladder you can use. Swarms that are out of reach of a step ladder plus an extendable pole are seldom worth the effort and risk to collect. Pass the out-of-reach swarm calls on to a professional.

  11. A cell phone with a camera and quality display. Ask callers to email a photo of the cluster and of the surrounding area before you commit to a house call. Photos tell you if the clusters are honeybees and not yellow jackets, swarm or established colony, and what equipment/ladders are required to do the job. This is a big time and mileage saver.

Randy Bunker, from Utah, wrote:

  • Cell phone

  • Blue tape and duct tape

  • Ladders, 6 ft and/or extension

  • Hand saw

  • Deep hive body with frames, inner and telescoping covers, and bottom board

  • Lopping shears and hand shears

  • Sheet

  • Queen Cage

  • Apple box with screened vents

  • Camera

  • Ratchet strap

  • Ropes

  • Veil and gloves

  • Small bottle of honey for landowner

  • Spray bottle w/sugar water or plain water

  • Business card


Other items and hints shared by readers:

Bib—for catching the drool when you see how large the swarm is.

Extra suits—if you have them and want to share the experience with spectators.

Lemongrass scent or queen pheromone—“they were in a wheel well, and when I put down my swarm trap with that scent, they turned simultaneously like a flock of starlings and marched into it”. Be sure to take a cotton ball or the like for adding it to the container. 

Give them your cell phone number and ask them to call if the swarm leaves before you get there.

Some old dark comb, “they seem to love the old dark, drawn comb”.

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