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Spring project: Rescue honey bee swarms around Pittsburgh and Forest Hills

Filed under: Beekeeping — jet @ 23:37

Drue and I are trying a project this Spring to trap honey bee swarms. Bees reproduce by swarming, about half the hive takes off on short notice and goes looking for a new hive. They need to find a new home within a day or so after they swarm, they can’t transport food to survive on while they are swarming from one hive to a new space. The real problem is that on average, only one in six swarms survive in urban environments. If they can’t find a new hive and start foraging for food within 48 hours after they swarm they will probably die of starvation.

Here’s what we want to do — place “swarm traps” at places near the parks and other areas where swarms are likely. A swarm trap is basically a transportable bee hive with desirable (to a bee :-) characteristics of a good home. If we catch a swarm, we wait until it’s dark, plug up the openings on the trap, then bring it home to put in an empty hive or give it to a fellow beekeeper who has an empty hive. The swarm has no food, so they need to go to a hive with food as quickly as possible. We might feed them during the pick up, that’s only possible in the dark.

Swarms are relatively tame. I helped a friend fetch one out of a tree last summer and the bees were really happy after we put them in a hive-like container. We literally scooped them off the branch with our hands and put them in a box, it was kinda like cleaning up Legos. With a trap, they even do the “put them in a box” work for us.

Here’s what we need to manage a swarm trap:

– permission from the land owner to place the trap on a tree about six feet off the ground. We just ratchet-strap it to the side of the tree, it shouldn’t damage the bark.

– a way for someone to check the trap every day during daylight hours for a new swarm. It can be us or someone near the hive who just takes a look once a day.

– access to the trap after dark to retrieve a swarm, preferably in the evening an hour or so after sunset.

Here’s what we *don’t* need:

– a permit from the city. This isn’t a “beehive”, it’s a “trap”, and the land owner won’t be keeping bees.

– help installing the trap or retrieving it if it’s with swarm. Bees are pretty gentle creatures but it took us a few weeks of practice before we were comfortable handling them in a way that doesn’t make them cranky.

If any ya’ll are interested in hosting a swarm trap, let us know, and we can work out the details in person.  Swarm season usually starts in April/May, but last year’s warm winter had it start so early we had a hive swarm the second week of April.


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