Use of Bait Hives to Reduce the Number of “Loose” Swarms Alan Riach SBA Apr 2020
The swarm season is not far away and inevitably there will be swarms, maybe more than usual if folks are not getting out to do swarm control and honey harvesting. However ensure that your bees have plenty of supers to provide space and discourage swarming and if possible practice artificial swarming.
In order to try and cut down the number of “loose” swarms, this document suggests increasing the number of bait hives, especially in or near urban areas.
Bee scouts are very thorough and investigate all new home possibilities. An attractive bait hive will be preferred to part of a public building.
What makes an attractive bait hive?
Tom Seeley says something the size of a Smith or National brood box (about 35 to 40litre), but the bees have to be able to measure it, which they do by travelling round the interior walls and performing diagonal flutter flights inside the space.
A hive full of old drawn comb is not the best set-up, because the bees can’t do their diagonal flutter flights inside the hive to complete their volume measurement.
A hive full of empty standard frames doesn’t work as they usually start drawing comb diagonally across the top bars, no doubt conforming to some inner magnetic field feeling or some such.
What I’ve found works well is a broodbox with one old drawn comb frame at one side (to give a bee smell) and the remaining 10 frames with 20mm strips of foundation fixed to the top bar (trapped with the wedge strip, even with a few spots of glue or some molten wax run down the edge of the wedge to keep the foundation strip in place).An alternative is to use foundationless frames which have a V shaped projection protruding from the underside of the top bar of the frame. Bees like to draw comb from an edge. Both of the above methods will allow the scouts to carry out their diagonal flutter flight distance/volume measurements.
A video clip showing the preparation of such a bait hive has been posted up on the SBA web site.
Additional advice (often given by David Evans) is to add one or two vertical bamboo skewers to the frames, between top bar and bottom bars (David uses two), so that when the bees have drawn comb and before it has had a few brood cycles to stiffen up, it has some support when the beekeeper is handling the frame, Not essential but worth considering, one skewer would be ok. Some lemongrass oil could also perhaps be smeared on one of the frames, as that does seem to be attractive to bees, but again perhaps not essential (& maybe difficult to get at present)
If a substantial number of members (especially members in or near urban areas), set up a bait hive it should have an effect on the number of “loose” swarms looking for a home and settling in places where it is difficult to effect a rescue..
Of course, there is the subject of disease to consider but, maybe not a big problem for the cities. The use of strips of foundation will also help by forcing a brood break and allowing any disease to be “flushed” out of the workers. However best practice would be to quarantine a swarm for 6 weeks on a quarantine site, As most hobby beekeepers will not have a second empty site suitable for quarantine, the next best solution is to examine the swarm every week for 6 weeks once it has started to produce brood. This is especially important if there has been foulbrood in your area. Make sure you are signed up to Beebase so that you obtain disease warnings.
We would also advise oxalic acid (trickle or vapor) varroa treatment of bait swarms 5 or 6 days after settling and before brood has been sealed, as the adult mites that may have arrived with the swarm would be sheltered from the oxalic in the sealed cells. Use an authorised oxalic treatment such as Api-Bioxal.
Once a swarm has established itself in your bait hive, it will need feeding, especially if the weather deteriorates. They will use quite a lot of food to produce wax to draw out comb. Feed 1 to 1 (1 kg sugar to 1 litre of water) in a rapid feeder and keep feeding until they have drawn 80% of the frames, at which point you can stop feeding and add a queen excluder and super. Commence carrying out your weekly checks for FEDSS (Food, eggs, disease, space & swarm signs)