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How To Catch A Swarm and Get Honey Bees for Free

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Have you considered becoming a beekeeper?

I know a lot of people love bees. They are great for pollination, the honey is delicious, and they are also great for reproducing and selling to others that would like to become beekeepers.

You can keep them in a country setting or become an urban beekeeper.

But the main thing that hinders people from keeping bees (apart from allergies and bee stings) is the cost of buying bees.

So today I’m going to tell you how to catch a swarm of bees and get honey bees for free. Yes, you can actually become a beekeeper for very little cost. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a beekeeper.

Method #1: Chase your swarm

There are two methods to catching swarms. The first is to chase them.

In order to chase hives, you need to have all of your equipment ready to drop and run at any minute.

What you'll need:

  1. Bee Suit (at the very least, you’ll need a baggy shirt, baggy pants, and a hat with veil)
  2. Shop-Vac (or a bee vacuum, it makes getting all of the bees a little easier.)
  3. Bee Box
  4. Frames
  5. Sugar Water (in a spray bottle)

Once you have your equipment, you’ll need to advertise on sites like Craigslist to get the word out that if someone comes across a swarm of bees not to spray them with pesticides.

Instead, ask them to call you to remove the swarm.

bee-swarm-on-fence

It is often helpful to offer a small reward for those that spot swarms. People are more likely to make the effort to call you if there is something that will sweeten the deal for them.

When someone called you, go to the bees and assess the situation.

If they are on the ground, spray them with sugar water so they’ll become very still and you can knock them into the bee box and onto the frames.

You can use your optional bee vacuum to make sure you suck up all of the bees.

If they are not on the ground, you can use a bucket with a telescopic pole. Squirt the bucket with sugar water. Then run the bucket up to where the bees are and shake it to where the bees fall into the bucket.

Once you get the bees into the bucket you can leave them in there or shake them into a bee box.

The most important part to this is making sure that you get the queen. If you do, then your bees should bounce back and thrive quite easily.

However, if by some chance you don’t get the queen be sure to replace her as soon as possible.

That's how you catch a swarm...

If you are thinking, “Chasing bees sounds like a bit too much for me.” Don’t worry. I have another option that might be a great fit for you.

Method #2: Let the swarm come to you

Our first year in keeping bees, my husband and I chased our bees. We did crazy things like cutting bees out of trees or getting them out of really awkward spots.

After doing this for a season, we quickly decided we just didn’t have the time to put into chasing them.

That's when we discovered bait hives.

This is the option we’ve been using and this year alone we’ve caught 6 swarms. Our swarms are now thriving, and we are up to almost 30 hives.

So how do you bait hives? It isn’t very complicated.

Photo by Happy Hollow Honey

You will need:

  1. Nuc boxes or old hive bodies
  2. Some new and old frames
  3. Swarm attractor

All you will need to do is place a ¾’ entrance in the nuc box or old hive body. You’ll then need to place some new hives in the box but also use a couple of old frames that have old comb in them.

Then you’ll need to choose your swarm attractor.

You can use lemongrass oil, you can purchase swarm lures (such as Swarm Commander), or you can use an old queen---which is the best swarm attractor.

Place the old queen in rubbing alcohol or corn whiskey. Then squish her up, she'll release a pheromone that will attract a swarm.

Now, if you choose to use a swarm lure or lemon grass oil then just dab a q-tip or a cotton ball in them.

Regardless of what kind of swarm attractor you use, you’ll want to place it on the top in the back of the hive body. That way the bees have to go all the way inside to the very back to get to the scent.

After the swarm moves in and gets accustomed then hopefully they’ll make it their new home. If not, then you keep the hive out for the next swarm.

Where you place your swarm boxes is important as well. We have the most luck placing them out in open fields. But anywhere without a lot of traffic is a good option.

What can you do with a swarm?

There are multiple things you can do with a swarm.

The first option is to keep them as your own bees.

You’ll need to mark the queen (with this marker) and put a queen excluder on the outside of the hive for a few weeks to make sure that she doesn’t leave once you’ve caught the bees.

This is a great way to get as many hives started as you can without incurring much expense.

But, what if you catch a ton of bees and don’t want to keep them all?

No worries. You can keep what you want and sell the rest. Yes, you can sell them pretty easily. A lot of people are always looking for bees and, unfortunately, the demand is greater than the supply.

Some people also rent their bees out for pollination. Farmers will pay a fee for you to place some of your bees on their land to help their crops.

And when all else fails you can always keep them around for the honey that they will produce for that season but don’t do anything special in order to keep them.

Just give them a home while they want it, basically.

In all of these options, your free bees will quickly help you create an income that will help cover any minor expense you accrued in the process of catching them.

I caught my swarm, now how do I keep them?

So you’ve gone outside and you have a swarm. They’ve been in the hive for a few days, and you feel confident that they’ve made this old hive body their new home.

What will you do now?

Well, you begin by letting them be. After about a week, it’ll be time to put on your bee suit and go through the box. Identify and mark the queen. You can mark the queen with queen marker.

After you have her marked and ready to go, you’ll then need to make sure that she is laying brood and check to see how much room she has left on the frames that you gave her in the bait hive.

It will most likely be time to move her to the permanent hive. You can choose to go with an 8 frame or 10 frame hive set-up. Not sure what kind of hive you’re looking for?

You can buy a hive here:

Or, if you prefer to build a DIY hive, check out this post:

38 DIY Bee Hive Plans

When placing them in the hive you’ll just give them a firm shake like you did when you caught them originally. From that point on you’ll just need to go through them on a weekly basis and make sure that the queen still has plenty of room for laying so they don’t swarm again.

Read this article to learn how to perform a swarm split.

When food is not in bloom, it will be important to feed your bees equal parts sugar and water. You only have to do that in early spring, late fall, and over the winter. In the winter, you’ll want to add a piece of fondant as well to help keep them from starvation over the long winter months.

So that is how you can catch free honeybees and become a beekeeper without a large financial investment.

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