March 24, 2022

Swarm Traps aka Bait Hives (066)

Swarm Traps aka Bait Hives (066)

In today's episode, Jim Tew and Jeff Ott (who's stepping in this week for Kim Flottum) discuss their experiences using swarm traps - sometimes called "bait hives". Swarm traps are used by beekeepers to lure the scout bees looking for a new home. There...

In today's episode, Jim Tew and Jeff Ott (who's stepping in this week for Kim Flottum) discuss their experiences using swarm traps - sometimes called "bait hives". Swarm traps are used by beekeepers to lure the scout bees looking for a new home.

There are multiple types of swarm traps from the commercially available 'flower pot' type traps, to home-made traps to simply setting out old hive bodies with a frame or two of brood comb or foundation. Jim and Jeff talk about what they've used, what'd worked and what hasn't.

Lures are a second topic discussed. These are also commercially available, can be home made or even use store bought lemon grass oil. Some would consider the use of old brood comb as a lure!

Perhaps one of today's most noted authorities on the natural lives of honey bees is Dr. Tom Seeley. His pamphlet on setting up swarm traps can be on the Cornell website here:

Do you set up swarm traps? If so, what do you use? How do you set them up? Where? How high above the ground? Let us know in the "leave a comment" section above. Join or start a conversation!

If you like the episode, share it with a fellow beekeepers and/or let us know by leaving a comment in the show notes. We'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 66 – Swarm Traps aka Bait Hives


Jim: Jim Tew, coming to you this morning talking about swarm traps and when to put them up and how to put them up. Normally I'd be talking with Kim, but Kim's not here again today. Jeff is visiting with us. Jeff, good morning.

Jeff: Good morning, Jim. How are you doing?

Jim: Well, I'm actually all right. It's Friday morning and it's springtime with maple in full bloom and it's always exciting.

Jeff: Well, that's great. I'm glad to hear it's springtime somewhere. What passes as spring here, it's raining.

Jim: Well just to make sure you know, I'm Jim Tew.

Jeff: I'm Jeff Ott.

Jim: We want to talk with you for a few minutes on this whole business of should you or could you use swarm traps that would help you get some free bees?

Jeff: Sounds like fun.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media. The folks behind Beekeeping Today podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura hosts Kim Flottum, and Jim Tew, explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world in engaging an informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.

Jim: Jeff, I always mean to put swarm traps up. Tell me what you think before we go any further, what a swarm trap is.

Jeff: Well, golly-- Golly, where did that word come from? My idea of swarm traps has evolved over the years. Originally, way back when the swarm trap was one of those inverted flower pots that they were selling long ago about the time that the Africanized honey bee was coming around. Those were real popular then, but now it's evolved. I like the idea of swarm traps. I want to use them more than I do.

Jim: Nobody told me to do this but when I was getting my thoughts together to talk to you and the listeners, I realized that my way of looking at swarm traps, there's two kinds. There's the intentional kind, where I go out and climb a ladder and put this thing up on a bracket and close it down so squirrels can't get in and all that thing and then watch as nothing happens or there's the kind that I really catch more swarms with and that's the incidental equipment sitting around that I should have put away. I should have done something with it. I should have kept wax, moths, and mice out of it, but I just didn't get to it. Then one day while you're there, a swarm moves in.

That is what I've called an unintentional swarm trap. Have you had bees moving old equipment just sitting around? It happens all the time.

Jeff: I just need to comment on what you were saying before because I've never really thought of-- If you would have told me what kind of different swarm traps are there, I would have listed off the inverted flowerpot, the nuc, the Langstroth hive type box, the SciELO type box. I never in my life would have come up with the intentional or unintentional. To answer your question, yes. I've had a move into an old empty hive that I've had sitting there. Which just always astonishes me but it shouldn't.

Jim: I want to tell you, and I want to tell the listeners I've had it happen twice and it's just exhilarating. It's just one of those white-hot moments in beekeeping. I have terrible hearing. My bad hearing is legendary. In the bee yard three, four years ago, I kept thinking, is that an aircraft over my head? Is someone flying a drone? Not a bee but a small aerial aircraft over my head. What is the noise? I had to move up from under the tree canopy and look up and there was a huge swarm in the air above me.

I watched that swarm pinpoint. Out of all my equipment, live bees, dead bees, they pinpointed a hive they wanted and I just stood out of the way while they move back into that empty box. They found that empty hive body ergo, unintentional swarm trap, and they moved in and I stood there, and saw that as the same thing as counting my money. This is free bees.

Jeff: Well, this time of year, that's a $250 savings right there. If you count the cost of a nuc, that's nice savings.

Jim: I need you to send that comment to my wife and send it in several different formats, so I'm sure that she gets it because she'd never heard savings and beekeeping in the same sentence.


I'm sorry, I love beekeeping, beekeepers. Our scientists my go-to guy has become Tom Seeley, a very practical scientist who's always doing good work. Years ago, he and others at Cornell did some basic studies on this swarm trap thing. He said to put a box about 15 feet off the ground. You've got to climb a ladder and get high up and put brackets up there. I've got a friend who does probably what I would do if I wanted to get that high off the ground.

I get up there once and I'd put some mechanism. A pulley, and a hook and whatever, and then I would string it up, and then on that happy day when I got a swarm, I'd lower it down. When I didn't get a swarm and the season's clearly past, you put it away so the thing didn't hang out there and beat itself all winter. Instead of me climbing up and down the ladder.

Jeff: I can't remember which one of those of Seeley's book that that's in but that is a real fun study to review. They did all studies on the size of the cavity, the size of the opening, the position of the opening north, south, east, west, or whatever. It really is helpful, at least, as he always points out in that area of upstate New York where they did the experiment. How high the bees preferred, and what was accepted. If you're serious about looking for trapping your own swarms, I think that would be a great resource to start.

Jim: This is where my intentional and my unintentional concept comes together because if you decide you want to intentionally do this, Seeley said that about the right size box seems to be at least a medium super. A deep super wouldn't be bad. He said that he wanted probably about an inch and a half opening. He didn't say it, I'm saying from experience that the main thing I'm trying to do is to keep out birds and squirrels. Restrict the opening quite a bit so that my bees would find the place.

Jeff: That's exactly what I've heard or what I read as well. I've not gone to the extent of building my own swarm trap with those dimensions. I have used an old deep, and one of the things we can talk about are the lures, what types of different lures, or do you need lures for that, or maybe just all brood comb?

Jim: Some of those lures are for sale. I think if you will check our sponsor, you would find that they're one of the sources that has these lemons-smelling lures for sale.


Betterbee: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their supportive beekeeper educational activities including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at


Jim: Those lures that you can get, sometimes you can make them yourself, sometimes you buy them, they really smell good. They smell like lemongrass lemon. Your whole shop, your whole bee operation smells good. You smell good. It masks the odor of that stinky smoke.

Jeff: [chuckles] You don't like smoke. It does smell good and it does smell like springtime in the bee yard or even a swarm. That smell of a swarm.

Jim: I get it off the subject so easily but the smells in beekeeping, Kim and I try to talk about that the good smells, the bad smells because there's no way to take that to a meeting. There's no way to hand it around, here smell this. There's no way to do that unless you pass around a frame of American foulbrood or something. Which, of course, would have every inspector in the audience going ballistic. There is an odor in the air. There is an odor, a straw odor, an animal odor.

It's not dirty, it's not offensive at all, it's when those bees are all bunched together in a swarm. That odor is a possibility that isn't attractive to some extent but it's just part of beekeeping.

Jeff: What have you used if you've designed or used your own lures?

Jim: I'm not prepared to go into that off the top of my head. I have not made my own lures in 20 years. I had to buy the components. There were three components. Jeff, I can't do it from memory but it's too easy to buy them and they always smell like lemon.

Jeff: It's much easier to buy it than try to make it yourself unless you'd like to knack around, then go ahead and give it a shot. There's also recommendations to just use lemongrass oil.

Jim: That was one of the primary components.

Jeff: That gives it that lemony smell. I will warn our listeners here that if you use lemongrass oil, a little bit goes a long way. If you use too much, it just is overwhelming. I know that's why I never attracted a swarm to that box. It's just, they said it stinks.


Jim: Well, I hadn't thought about that but you're right. This is where I talk too much. I always say I talk too much when I listen to these after they're finished but I think that if I just had comb or no bee box with the propolis smell, that really has to be what intrigues the bees not so much my artificial swarm lure. I think in the intentional world where you do all you can, but the swarm lure in. In the unintentional world where you're doing other things and the equipment's just sitting there, there is in a way, its own attracted, its own swarm lure there in the form of the natural odors and smells.

Jeff: Regarding using old equipment and having a bee yard, would you recommend having just old, single deep, a couple of frames of old brewed comb in it as every season, just leave it there to attract any swarms?

Jim: It adds to the decor of your yard to have rotting equipment sitting around and the weeds and the edge of the bushes. It looks like a real bee yard. I'm being sarcastic, but I'm being serious. That is a retirement use of that equipment, but I need to step up and say that in a pure standpoint, you would be discouraged from actually using comb because of the possibility of diseases or wax mobs or whatever. On one hand, the comb is an attractant. On the other hand, don't use the comb because it is an attractant, but it's not attracting bees. In that case, wax moth.

Here we go again, Jeff, which world are you in the intentional world or the unintentional world? In the unintentional world, the comb is sitting there and you haven't gotten around to doing anything with it. In the intentional world, the swarm lures these that you bought. You try to lure them into a nice cleaned-out cavity where you can neatly make the transition when the swarm comes in that way.

Jeff: This year, I think I will be setting up a empty hive with a couple of one or two frames of brewed comb and maybe a couple of frames of just foundation. Just to have it there just in case someone finds it and wants to use it.

Jim: I agree with you completely. I do have some old equipment with the coroners rotted out and whatever, and that's fine. You don't have to have a big entrance. Just neaten it up, put a frame or two in it. The suggestion was to use foundation. If you don't want to use comb, use a piece of foundation, put a piece of beeswax in there, or something. Keep the interest reduced to keep out the mice and the birds and just fish. You got your bait out there, just fish.

Jeff: It doesn't hurt. Some of the beekeepers I know like to leave several of those out around this area of their bee yard or maybe an out yard or their primary yard just to catch those aren't swarms that they miss. I think that's a good idea too if you have the time and equipment to set that up. I think that's a good option as well.

Jim: If you're a younger person, climb higher. If you're an older person, leave them on the ground.

Jeff: Old, definitely, no climbing ladders. Jim, we were talking about lures. Here's an idea to just stick in the back of your head somewhere. I was reading this morning that they're developing artificial lures for the Asian giant hornet.

Jim: I've been reading that. Yes, I have been reading that.

Jeff: Wouldn't that be fun to have a swarm of those or have a queen show up in your yard?

Jim: No. You people of the Pacific Northwest, keep your vermin up there. I don't want it here in Ohio.


I do hope that works.

Jeff: It'd be interesting. Well, we're off-topic here but hopefully, that'll be something that's no longer needed in the Pacific Northwest.

Jim: I hope not. Well, I'm going to do the swarm trap thing, but as we showed it down here, Jeff, I'd like to say you people continue to write us and interact with us. Use our comment page if you would and we'll talk back and forth there. Becca wrote and wanted to know if using a hairdryer was okay instead of a heat gun. It is, but it's slower. What else have you got? Michael wrote and said he'd like to use a deer wagon for haul deer around. It'd be a good chance to get a discussion going if you want to have a webpage discussion on our blog there.

Jeff: I want to encourage our listeners to use the comments section under each episode for leaving their observations or suggestions, for new show topics, or even add to the conversation. We really would like to get our listeners to talk with each other and learn from each other, and to share. In addition to the comment section, I encourage folks to check the show notes for URLs for some of the topics we talked about here, maybe some lures or plans, and Seeley's book that will also be listed there in the show notes.

Jim: This is a way to get rid of your old equipment. Give it a new retirement life like Jim and Kim, and give us something to do in retirement. Use your old equipment for swarm boxes and see if you can pick up an extra swarm this season. It's a lot of fun to do it when it works and you get to talk about it at bee meetings.

Jeff: I'm looking forward to it. I'm hoping to catch many swarms from other people's bees this year [laughs].

Jim: I'm glad it's not mine. We're too far away. I'm finished with you, Jeff. I'm done.

Jeff: Thanks a lot, Jim.

Jim: I had a good time.

[00:16:58] [END OF AUDIO]