How to catch a bee swarm

by Flow Hive 7 min read

Cedar catches a swarm at Flow HQ live on camera.


Video transcription

Look at this, we've got a swarm that's airborne despite our best efforts to split all the hives. We do have a swarm here and you can see them in the sky all moving around. And the queen has left this hive. So what's happened is this hive has gotten too crowded and half of the bees and the queen have left. Now straightaway you can see the bee numbers have dropped from what was a lot of bees in there to now fewer bees and they're all in the air up here. The queen has landed on a palm frond. So I was just setting up a ladder. I'm putting on my gloves because this swarm is actually a bit of a grumpy swarm. Now, despite common belief, swarms can be grumpy sometimes, often they're not. But this one I can already tell is a bit grumpy because of the way the bees are behaving. So I'm gonna make sure my bee suit's done up and put on my gloves and that will limit any stings. Now I'm going to put on my gloves. 

What you need for a swarm catch is a brood box like this. So it's always good to be prepared and luckily we are here. So you can see what we've got is a brood box, we've got a baseboard. Any kind of baseboard will do, any kind of roof will do and we're just going to put half of the frames in and leave half of the frames out. That way, we have plenty of room to shake that swarm in. Now the aim of the game is to get up there and get the bees in the box, or at least get the queen in the box. Sometimes you can just grab a little ball of bees with the queen, put her in the box and the rest will actually follow because of the pheromone of the queen. So that's the aim. I'm gonna get up there, I'm gonna shake that palm frond, shake the bees into the box and hopefully we'll have a successful swarm catch. You can see the swarm ball building on the branch up here, you can see a whole ball of bees. It's not a bad size swarm, it's not huge but it's a decent size swarm there. 

Swarm catch

So I'm gonna attempt to just hold the bee box out in one hand while I shake that palm frond and shake the bees into the box. Sometimes it's nice to let them really consolidate and collect a bit more, but I think we'll just get into it and see how we go. Okay, up the ladder. Now I have tied the ladder to secure it - safety first when you're doing this kind of thing. I've got a tie point right up the top of the palm tree so that when I lean out to catch this swarm, it's less likely that the ladder will slip. So I'm gonna have to swap hands now, which is tricky. It's always an adventure catching a swarm when it goes high in a tree. So I'm getting that to my left hand so I can put it right under the swarm. All we need to do is then shake them in without falling off the tree.

We're gonna shake this palm frond and shake the bees into this box here. They're now settling down which is good and they're going through a process soon of working out where their new home is. So it's amazing to watch the bees actually and see what they're doing. You'll actually see waggle dancers on the surface of the swarm. What they're doing is communicating, there'll be scout bees going out to find new homes and what they'll be doing is taking a bit of a democratic vote on where a good home is. It's quite a long swarm so I might toss out some more frames to make a bit more room in the box. We'll put them in when we get down. I'm gonna attempt to bend this palm frond down like this. Gently, gently - because you don't want to shake off the swarm ball before you're ready. Let's see if we can get 'em in there.

Okay, we've got a lot of bees in the box which is good. Now we're gonna come down, put our swarm on the ground and I'm gonna go back up and cut off that palm frond. Reason being is that the pheromone is still actually on that palm frond. So you see a lot of bees heading back up there thinking the queen's still on the palm frond.

Replace the frames and close the box

We're on the ground and before all these bees leave, what we need to do is put the rest of our frames in like this, and I'm just gonna sweep the bees in, in case the queen is on the outside. Another frame in here and one to go When you catch a swarm, it's a great idea to try and get all your frames in so you don't have to come back too soon and push the frames together so that any excess space is on the edges. Next we're just going to drop the inner cover on.

Next I'll get back up there and cut off that palm frond because you can already see a lot of bees are going back up there. Hopefully the queen is in the box and not in the palm tree. I've got a pair of secateurs handy, which is always good to keep in a swarm catch kit. I'm just gonna cut this palm frond off.

Again, do be careful with this stuff. Don't fall off the ladder. Alright, now we have a whole lot more bees and the queen may be here. I'm gonna shake the rest of these bees into the box as well just in case the queen has actually gone airborne when we shook it down and is back on this palm frond. So when you're trying to get bees off something, it's a good idea to give it a good sharp shake. So here we go doing as best as I can to get them on top of the box. And shake! And now, frame back in again making sure we're pressing all the frames together again.

Brush the bees away from the edge, inner cover back on and there - we have hopefully a successful swarm catch. One more thing to do is just to level up that hive. We want the naturally drawn comb to be nice and level in the sideways direction. But what I'd recommend doing in a situation like this is actually moving it within the next hour or two to where you actually want the hive. That also means if there are any scout bees that have already gone out looking for a new home - measuring garbage bins, mailboxes, tree hollows, you name it. When they return, the swarm won't be up there and hopefully you've got the queen in the box, which if you watch the entrance and they all start marching in, then that's a good sign. I'm not seeing that right now, but we have got a lot of bees in the box already.

No queen?

I might actually pick up this and move it already into a position in the row here because that's where we'll want a new hive. Now just another tip, this palm frond, just move it a bit further away. You can already see some bees sniffing around and actually we haven't got the queen I don't think, you can see a swarm collecting up here on this mango tree. So we'll let that consolidate and we'll come back and work it out. But you can get the case where there's two queens in a swarm, but in this case it looks like we probably don't have the queen. She's gone airborne when we're shaking her off the palm fund and there she is collecting again. So all we need to do is repeat the process, well let them settle in this time and go and do some beekeeping. I'm just gonna pick this hive up. It'll be nice and light because there's no honey stores in there, no pollen stores and all the things that make the hive heavy so I can easily just pick up that hive like this and walk with it to wherever I want to put it.

Why would you not smoke them first or during the closing of the box?

Generally they're not aggressive in the swarm, however sometimes they are, so still wear your bee suit. I have done lots of swarm catches with no bee suit on at all, but there's no need to be a hero. Protect yourself, you'll get less stings and every now and then you get a really grumpy swarm and if you don't have your bee suit on, you get covered in stings - unpleasant experience. So

How long will you leave the swarm before you check on it?

I will be checking it in an hour or so to see whether actually they're going to stay. If there isn't a queen there then they'll either go and find her or they'll go back to the original hive.

When will you put a Flow super onto the hive?

It's springtime here so we wouldn't do it straight away, we'd let them draw the comb. So once all the comb is drawn in the bottom box, then we would put the super on and that's a good way to go because it makes sure your hive is ready for it. Otherwise you'd be waiting a long time.


If you had another queen could you use that to keep the swarm in the box?

Absolutely you could. If it's a fresh swarm they might still be chasing the scent of the swarm that just left. So it might not guarantee you to keep those bees that you've shaken into the box. But it will increase the chances. In fact, if I had open brood where there's eggs down the cells and larvae down the cells, I could drop a frame in there and the the bees would be more likely to stay. Giving honey to a swarm doesn't help though, in fact could do the opposite. So don't give honey to swarms.

Want more? Watch past videos, and get notified of livestreams as they stream on Facebook here


For in-depth training, check out our online beekeeping course at

Also in Livestreams

Does mint work against hive beetles?
Does mint work against hive beetles?

by Flow Hive 3 min read

Read More
Why is there brood in my Flow Frames?
Why is there brood in my Flow Frames?

by Flow Hive 4 min read

Read More
How do I move my bees to a new hive?
How do I move my bees to a new hive?

by Flow Hive 3 min read

Read More