Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bait Hive

During this time of year your colonies may be making preparations to swarm. A lot of beekeepers implement certain management techniques to discourage their bees from swarming. One of these techniques is checkerboarding. Another method of swarm prevention is reversing the brood chambers. Both are methods used to expand the broodnest. Some people let their bees have an unlimited brood nest. This means they do not confine the queen to lay in certain boxes, usually with the help of a queen excluder, and gives her free reign to lay her eggs wherever she wants within the hive.
Bees swarm for different reasons. It is in the honeybees' nature to reproduce as it is the inborn instinct of any other living being. Honeybees reproduce by swarming to make new colonies. In reality, a colony of honeybees is a superorganism. Since so many individual organisms are required for the superorganism to live bees must swarm in mass to reproduce. If a colony of bees is not given enough space and outgrow their hive they will swarm due to overcrowding. A colony may also abscond from the hive but this should not be confused with swarming.
The problem with bees is that you may implement every known swarm control management technique known to man and still have a colony swarm. One of the easiest things to do is to make a nucleus colony from the one which is going to swarm or to split it. The easiest way to see that a colony is going to swarm is if the colony has capped swarm cells. These are typlically located near the bottom of the frames. I have also noticed in the past that a few days before a swarm emerges that some bees will mass on the outside of the hive facing down toward the entrance as if watching for the queen to come out and take flight with the exodus of bees which will make up the swarm.
Let's face it. We all lead such busy lives that it is impossible for some of us to check our colonies every week for capped swarm cells, sit and watch for a colony to swarm, or to even implement any swarm management. This is where a bait hive comes in really handy.
Though I am planning on making nucs from my colonies and continue to do so as they are strong enough up until mid July, it is quite possible that I may have a colony swarm and not be available to retrieve it before it disappears into the surrounding mountains. Therefore I am preparing a bait hive to use in case one of my colonies should swarm when I'm away.
For the bait hive I'm using an old nuc box I built a few years ago and only used to start out a few new colonies. If I should catch a swarm there is a rear chamber for holding an inverted jar of syrup for feeding until the population is large enough to move to a full sized deep. I am also using some drawn comb from a deadout I had this January.

The frames that I selected for the bait hive have drawn comb which brood has been raised in. The honey and pollen is not important to put into a bait hive as it will most likely be robbed out before any swarm moves in. However, the honey and pollen will definatley get the attention of any possible scout bees in the area.

All I did was to fill the five frame nuc with frames of brood comb. If you don't have much drawn comb on hand you can take a frame from the outer edge of the brood chamber from one of your colonies to use, Just replace it with a frame of foundation, a frame with a starter strip, or an empty frame. You can also put this frame between frames of of brood which can help to relieve congestion and overcrowding by opening up the brood area. This is a form of swarm prevention that some beekeepers use. If you just use one frame of brood comb for the bait hive you can use frames of foundation, frames with starter strips, or empty frames to fill the nuc.

Aside from the brood combs, there are other attractants used to lure the scout bees to the bait hive. Once scout bees find a new home for the swarm and agree on the location they will lead the swarm there. A good attractant to use is lemongrass oil.

It only takes a small amount of the lemongrass oil to use as a lure in your bait hive. A drop or two on each frame and a few drops at the entrance will last quite a while. A honeybee's olfactory senses are far superior to ours. They can smell the aroma of the oil long after we can't. Some people will use the oil evry week, some will every month, some will once a year. I perefer to use just a few drops every couple of weeks after the intial dose at the beginning of spring.

Ease of handling of your bait should be taken into consideration if you make your own. Some outer handles make it easy to carry. The entrance should also be somewhat smaller than on a regular full size hive.

A prime location for your bait hive is somewhere between ten to twelve feet off of the ground about fifty yards away from you colonies. You could even set up a perimeter of bait hives around your apiary. It is not of utmost importance to place your bait hive in such a manner. You could place it on the railing of your deck, on some masonry block a few yards from your hives, or almost anywhere you wish within reason.
If you don't have any brood comb or nuc boxes to use for a bait hive you can always use a swarm trap. Almost every beekeeping equipment supplier has these available for purchase. They also have swarm lure available as well.
I hope this helps you catch any swarms that you may have otherwise missed. I can't remember how many times I've came home in the vening to hear someone tell me I had a swarm and just point in the direction that they think it went. Sometimes I got lucky and had the swarm move into an old dead out or stay put on tree limb nearby. This year I am going to try to increase my odds of keeping any swarms that hopefully will not happen by using a few bait hives.

1 comment:

John said...

Nice post, Cass. My Russians look like they are about to swarm just as I'm about to leave town for a week so I loaded up a couple of nucs but wondered if I should bait them. Your post answered my question and I used lemongrass oil. Now we'll see if they mean business...