Posted April 4, 2022
by Hilary

Swarm are designed to travel. When a swarm lands, a beekeeper never knows how long they will stay put. I have often rushed out of the house to catch a swarm only to have them leave in the time it took me to drive to their location. If you hope to catch a swarm this season, remember that time is of the essence! That’s why I like to keep everything I need in my car. Afterall, you never know when you’re going to get the call to rescue some bees. Read on to find out how to make your own swarm-catching kit.

The 5 Must-Haves for a Swarm Catching Kit
1. A Nuc Box

I almost always use a nuc box to catch swarms. I like this option because nuc boxes are lightweight and easy to carry. Especially if you screw the bottom board to the nuc body. Plus, they take up less room in my car. I also love that the swarm can stay in the nuc box for awhile. This means I do not have to distrub them right after I catch them, I can wait until they are established before I transfer the to full-size equipment.

Large Swarms Tip: The only time I don’t like to use nuc boxes is for large swarms. In these cases, I will use a full-size Langstroth box or two medium boxes. Providing an appropriate sized box for the swarm increases the chances that they will stay in your apiary.

Note for Top Bar Beekeepers

There are a lot of Nuc Box designs for top bar bekeepers, from DIY plans to custom-made boxes on Etsy. To catch a swarm I want to put in a top bar hive, I create a top bar nuc with a deep Langtroth Box and 9-10 top bars or place my top bars in a Nuc Box. I can do this because all of my bars are 19 7/8 inches long, which is the length of a Langstroth box. You can glimpse this method in this reel I made for Instagram about my first swarm catch of 2022. When using a TBH nuc box, make sure the dimensions of the nuc match your full-size hive.

MacGyvering a Household Item for a Swarm Catch

If you are considering using household items like buckets and cardboard boxes to catch swarms, the swarm will need to be transferred to a proper hive asap. The stress of transferring might cause the bees to leave. For this reason, I  only use household items to catch a swarm in a pinch.

Catching a Swarm for Top Bar

2. Protective Gear

My kit includes my ventilated bee suit and nitrile gloves. Swarms are usually docile by nature, but you never know. My suit is like my seat belt. I wear it in case of worst-case scenario. Swarm catches can also draw a curious crowd, so I also like to have it on to set an example for non-beekeepers in attendance.

3. Swarm Lure & Bee Repellent

It’s handy to have a lure , but here’s the trick, I never spray it in my nuc box. Lures smell like lemongrass and immitate the Nasonov pheremone, a bee homing signal, but they are VERY powerful. Juts placing the uncapped bottle near the entrance is enough. If you spray it, the smell might initially attract the swarm, but if the smell is overwhelming it could also cause them to leave it.

Bee repellents like Fischer’s Bee Quick help when part of the swarm tries to return to the original location. Returning foragers, for example, often get confused about where to go. Spraying a bit of repellant on the original spot can encourage foragers to keep searching for the hive elsewhere.

A swarm of honey bees hangs from a pepper tree in San Diego, CA.
 4. Ratcheting Straps & Duct Tape

You will need a means to secure your nuc box when you take the bees home. I use duct tape to secure the lid and to hold my entrance blocker in place. You can see how I use duct tape and an entrance blocker in this swarm catch video I made for Instagram.

If I’m catching a large swarm and using a Langstroth box, I use ratcheting straps. Check out my post on moving bees if you need information about this process.

5. Basic Tools: Pruners & a Sharp Knife

During a swarm catch, you might find yourself reaching for pruners to remove branches and vegetation blocking a swarm. A knife also comes in handy for lots of things, from cutting strips of duct tape to removing bits of comb the swarm may have started building.

Check out my first swarm catch of 2019 or this eggplant swarm catch as an example of how handy pruners can be.

Swarm Catch from a Mallow Bush
Optional Items for your Swarm Kit

These items are not necessary, but you might find them useful! You can read more details about them in an article I wrote for Keeping Backyard Bees.

  1. Ladder or sturdy step stool to reach a high swarm.
  2. Entrance blocker to secure the hive box for transport.
  3. Frame of comb in your nuc box to encourage bees to stay.
  4. White sheet spread below the swarm to make bees that fall from the cluster easy to spot.
Want to see some more swarm catches and the kinds of kits I bring with me?

Check out some of these videos.

Want to learn more swarm tips from me? Check out my new on-demand streaming class Swarms & Splits.

Take My Swarm & Split Class! 

Get ready for swarm season with on-demand beekeeping classes, including one of my advanced classes specifically on swarms and splitsLearn everything you need to know about this topic. Find out how and why bees swarm, how to prevent swarming (including how to make a split) and how to catch a swarm! This is a recording of a live zoom class I gave in April 2021. It is lecture based and features mostly photos.


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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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