Bait hives, evolution & compromise

Synopsis : The features of a successful bait hive are well known. However, they are not absolutes. The more desirable features your bait hives offer the more successful they should be, but both the bees and the beekeeper can make compromises through necessity or preference.

Introduction

I gave a talk on bait hives to a friendly group of beekeepers from Westerham last week. Westerham is near Sevenoaks in Kent, a rich agricultural area with lots of fruit growing and hops for the brewing industry.

And, as you will see shortly, lots of beekeeping.

One of the messages I try and get across in my talk on bait hives is that it is a remarkably successful way to capture swarms … and a whole lot less work than teetering precariously on a step ladder holding a skep.

However, success involves two things:

  • understanding the needs of the swarm, and
  • overcoming the doubt that such a passive activity – essentially putting a box in a field – can be so successful.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Some readers may not know what a bait hive is.

Bait hive

Smelling faintly of propolis and unmet promises

The post this week is not intended to be a comprehensive account of how you should prepare and set out bait hives. I’ve covered this topic ad nauseam before. Instead, I’m going to try and convince you that, although it is a passive activity, if you do things correctly you are very likely to succeed.

And then, in the second half of the post, I’ll discuss an interesting question (and my – possibly less interesting – answer) from one of the Westerham beekeepers that is a nice illustration of some of the compromises that beekeeping entails.

Bait hives and swarm traps

A bait hive is an artificial nest site placed somewhere suitable to attract a swarm.

In the US these are often called ‘swarm traps’.

I don’t think either name is perfect … a bait hive doesn’t involve ‘bait’ 1 and a swarm trap doesn’t really ‘trap’ the swarm as they are free to leave again.

That they (almost) never do is rather telling … I touch on this in my post on absconding.

Perhaps the term ‘swarm hive’ would be better? 2

A bait hive deployed in mid-April in good time for the swarm season ahead

A bait hive possesses the features that scout bees look for when searching the environment for a new nest site. Essentially these are the following:

  • a 40 litre void
  • smelling of bees
  • with a small entrance situated near the bottom of the void
  • facing south
  • shaded but clearly visible
  • and located at least 5 metres above the ground

The majority of these features were defined by studies of natural swarms and in experiments by Thomas Seeley described in his book Honeybee Democracy 3.

Conveniently a beekeeper can meet these needs by assembling the following and placing it somewhere suitable:

  • a brood box with a roof, a solid floor and a small entrance
  • filled (completely or partially) with foundationless frames plus one old dark brood frame
  • a drop or two of lemongrass oil

Surely it can’t be that easy?

Yes it can … and it is.

But let’s first try and overcome the impression that something as simple and passive as a box in a field will even be found by scout bees, let alone selected by them as the new nest site for the swarm.

If you build it, they will come

In the 1989 file Field of Dreams an Iowan farmer, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner), follows his dream of creating a baseball field in his corn field. The oft misquoted ’If you build it, they will come’ from the movie really means that if you put your doubts aside you will succeed 4.

Kevin Costner … in a Field of Corn

He cuts down his corn, builds a baseball field and Shoeless Joe Jackson and the banned 1919 Chicago White Sox players appear.

Kinsella was attracting disgraced baseball players from 50 years earlier … all your bait hive needs to do is attract a swarm from a nearby mismanaged 5 hive.

Which is a whole lot easier.

Nearby hives

So how many nearby hives are there? How many are likely to swarm? And how near is nearby?

Let’s return to the lovely blossom-filled orchards around Westerham in Kent for some specifics.

The National Bee Unit’s Beebase has information on the number of apiaries within 10 km of any of your own apiaries that are registered.

You are registered, aren’t you? 6

Beebase record for an apiary in Westerham, Kent

Within a 10 km radius of Westerham there are 247 other apiaries. That’s a lot 7, but I’ve no doubt it reflects the excellent forage in the area, and the unstinting efforts of Kent beekeeping associations to train more beekeepers.

How many hives do these apiaries contain? I have to start guessing here as mere mortals can’t mine that sort of information from Beebase.

Let’s assume five hives per apiary.

That seems a reasonable number to me 8.

Firstly, it’s a sensible minimum number of hives to co-locate in an apiary. Secondly, with about 250,000 managed colonies in the UK and about 50,000 beekeepers, if we assume that they are evenly distributed 9 it works out as a rather neat 5 hives per apiary.

Which means that in the 314 square kilometres within a 10 km radius of Westerham there are over 1200 hives, which equates to almost 4 hives per square kilometre (the precise number is 3.931, but you’ll appreciate I’m in arm waving mode here).

How far do scout bees, er, scout?

To answer this we can safely (but briefly) disengage arm waving mode.

Scout bees fly from and return to the bivouacked swarm. They then communicate with other scout bees by performing a waggle dance on the surface of the bivouac.

Thanks to Karl von Frisch we can decipher the waggle dance, which includes both directional and distance information.

And from doing exactly that we know that scout bees survey the landscape for at least 3 km from the swarm.

Hive density, swarms, scout bees and bait hives (see text for details)

In the diagram above a typical area investigated by scout bees is indicated by the pale yellow circle. The red dot indicates the bivouacked swarm. The grid in the background is 1 km squares.

The bait hive is in blue in the centre of a circle of radius 10 km. The smaller dotted circle represents the maximum distance from which a scout bee would travel to find the bait hive 10 .

Let’s put some numbers on that. 

Assuming the average hive density at Westerham is about 4 per km2 and that apiaries and hives are evenly distributed, there will be 111 hives within the smaller dotted circle of radius 3 km 11 .

If any of those hives swarm, their scout bees could or should find the bait hive.

And, if they like the bait hive enough, they might persuade their fellow scouts to check it out and – in due course – together lead the swarm to the bait hive.

The final piece of the jigsaw necessitates re-engaging arm waving mode … 

Ready?

What proportion of hives swarm each year?

Over the last several years I would say that the majority of my full-sized production colonies have tried to swarm each season. By ’tried’ I mean produced charged queen cells which necessitated me employing swarm control.

Queen cells ...

Queen cells …

The vast majority of these colonies did not swarm … because the swarm control was successful.

But I’ve certainly lost a few swarms over the years 🙁

About 80% of free-living colonies studied by Thomas Seeley in the Arnott Forest swarmed each season. There are reasons to think that this may be higher than normal 12, but possibly not much higher than large, healthy managed colonies.

So, if 80% of managed colonies around Westerham ‘try’ and swarm each season, the actual number of swarms is a reflection of how well trained the beekeepers of Kent are … and, for those who have kept bees for several seasons, how effective they are at swarm control.

And, whilst I’m sure the training is excellent and the swarm control is diligently applied, I’m equally sure that many swarms are lost 😉

A small swarm ...

A small swarm …

If we assume that only 10% of colonies swarm, that’s still 11 swarms a season within range of a bait hive placed anywhere within the larger 10 km radius circle.

And I’d wager my favourite hive tool 13 that it’s more than 10% 😉

Evolution of nest site preferences

The preferences shown by scout bees 14 have evolved because swarms that move into nest sites like these survive better.

If they survive, they are also more likely to reproduce (swarm), so passing on the genes that were instrumental in creating the bees that selected those particular features in a nest site.

This does not mean that the nest site features are absolutes.

For example, a 35 litre or 45 litre void is likely to be just as attractive.

In fact, the scout bees may not be able to discriminate between these anyway.

However, although a tiny 10 litre void or a cavernous 100 litre space is less attractive, it does not mean that a swarm won’t select a cavity of these volumes and move in.

Whether it does or not depends upon what other choices are available and upon the poorly understood (at least by me) ranking of the importance of the various features of the nest sites.

For example, if you offer a poxy 15 10 litre bait hive in an environment rich in suitable 40 litre cavities you will probably be unlucky.

However, if the bees rank void volume as relatively unimportant, and your bait hive was perfect in all other regards, then perhaps they would choose to move in.

Compromises by bees

In reality, they probably would not move in to a 10 litre bijou bait hive, perfect in all other regards, as the volume available is the primary determinant of how big the colony can get, how much brood it can rear and how much pollen and nectar it can store.

Furthermore, the natural environment (in which I include your bait hive placed in the landscape) does not offer simple choices in which only individual features vary.

Almost everything varies … even two apparently similar bait hives are likely to occupy locations with more or less exposure, or greater or lesser shade, between which the scout bees will choose.

And natural cavities, in trees, church towers or compost bins 16 are likely to vary in many or all of the features judged by scout bees.

The scout bees make their decision based upon the sum of the overall desirability of a nest site, which is undoubtedly influenced by their ranking of which features are more or less important.

Perhaps they can cope with a west facing entrance that’s a bit larger than they would prefer if the shade is good, the space is the right size and it pongs nicely of bees.

It’s effectively a compromise.

But remember that your bait hive has to compete with the wealth (at least in some landscapes) of natural nest sites.

In this regard, you have an advantage. The more of the desirable features you offer, the more desirable the nest site should be.

Q&A

Which, by a typically long and circuitous route, brings me to the interesting question from a Westerham beekeeper 17 following my bait hive talk:

If scout bees prefer bait hives with solid floors does this mean that bees prefer solid floors over open mesh floors?

I can’t remember the exact wording of my answer but know it involved reference to the draughtiness of the space. I hope I also mentioned the amount of light inside the void, but can’t be sure.

A more complete answer would be that bees aren’t too worried about a draughty space, at least one with small holes, cracks or fissures, as these can be filled with propolis. However, they do prefer a dark space, and a bait hive with an open mesh floor would presumably be too well illuminated for the scout bees.

I think this reflects the evolution of nest site choice.

Bees have evolved to prefer (select) dark spaces as these – by definition – don’t have large holes that let light or more importantly bears, honey badgers and robbing bees, in.

Natural cavities don’t have mesh floors. Indeed, stainless steel mesh isn’t something that bees will have experienced for the first few million years of their evolution.

Therefore, it’s not that they prefer solid floors over mesh floors, it’s that they prefer dark, secure spaces over well lit voids that may well be difficult to defend.

Covered OMF ...

Covered OMF … as bees prefer bait hives with solid floors

But, when setting out your bait hives there’s an easy fix … simply cover an open mesh floor with a piece of cardboard or Correx. You can always remove it again once the bees have arrived.

What do the bees want?

But do scout bee preferences tell us something about what the colony, once established, prefers?

Not necessarily, at least with regard to the closed or open nature of the floor.

Let’s accept that that scout bees (and therefore swarms) prefer a solid floor for the reasons given above. That is not the same as it being an indication that the established colony would prefer a solid floor over an open mesh floor.

If they did, what differences in the behaviour of the bees would you observe?

  1. I think you’d see more colonies absconding from hives with open mesh floors than those with solid floors. I’m not aware of any data showing that colonies on solid floors abscond less. I don’t use solid floors and have never had a full colony abscond.
  2. The bees would cover and seal the mesh with propolis. Again, I’ve never seen this in my own hives, though I regularly see them blocking gaps over the colony with propolis.

There are enough beekeepers still using solid floors, and even some reverting from mesh floors to solid floors. However, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a beekeeper moving (or moving back) to solid floors to reduce the number of colonies that abscond.

Have you?

Compromises by beekeepers

Finally, let’s return to that list of desirable features sought by the scout bees.

Remember that they are not absolute.

Just because a bait hive faces west doesn’t mean it will be ignored by scout bees. I’ve attracted two swarms in successive days to one west facing bait hive in my garden. The same bait hive caught a swarm two months earlier as well 18.

By facing the bait hive west I got a better view of the entrance … it was a compromise that suited me.

Under offer ...

Under offer …

I regularly use two stacked supers (in place of a brood box) as a bait hive. These have been very effective, despite having about 25% greater volume 19.

Again, this is a compromise that suits me. It allows me to use some supers that I dislike because they have an overhang/rebate and are infuriatingly incompatible with my other equipment.

I also never site bait hives more than 5 metres above the ground.

In fact, I almost always site them at knee height.

Bees have probably evolved to choose high altitude nest sites to avoid predation by bears.

Global (current and historic) distribution of the brown bear

There are no bears in Scotland, at least not wild ones, though historically they were present. Their absence isn’t why I don’t bother to place my bait hives up trees.

I want to be able to observe scout bee activity easily. More importantly, I want to be able to safely move the hive late in the evening of the day the swarm arrives.

I can do both these things much better with the hive on a hive stand.

It probably makes the bait hives slightly less attractive to the scout bees, but it’s a compromise I’m willing to make as it improves my enjoyment of the bees and simplifies my beekeeping.

If I wanted to climb ladders I’d go out collecting bivouacked swarms in a skep 😉


 

Footnotes

  1. At least not in the conventional sense of the word. Let’s not get distracted by pedantry so early in the post.
  2. OK, forget it!
  3. And by others, but that book is an excellent guide to the subject.
  4. The actual quote from Field of Dreams was “If you build it, he will come” … the ‘he’ in the film means various long-dead baseball players and Kinsella’s father.
  5. Because otherwise they’d have used swarm prevention and control and there would be no swarm.
  6. If not, you should.
  7. For comparison, my apiaries in Fife have about 50 other apiaries within 10 km.
  8. And not just because I thought of it.
  9. They’re not.
  10. So scout bees from a swarm at the red dot would not find this bait hive.
  11. And, by extrapolation, any bait hive within the 314 km2 should be within range of ~111 potentially swarmy colonies.
  12. Due to the behavioural changes that have evolved in response to high Varroa loads carried by feral colonies.
  13. The one engraved with the words ”Dummkopf … knocking back queen cells is not swarm control.”
  14. Which, if you’ve forgotten are a 40 litre void, smelling of bees, with a small entrance situated near the bottom of the void, facing south, shaded but clearly visible and located at least 5 metres above the ground.
  15. Meaning rotten or lousy, rather than suffering from pox.
  16. Perhaps the last two don’t qualify as natural but I was really meaning not placed there by a beekeeper.
  17. Whose name I’m afraid I missed. Anyway, Zoom screens don’t always display meaningful names for attendees, and the beekeeper probably wasn’t named iPad2 or Office PC.
  18. And was successful every year it was placed there.
  19. Seeley didn’t test the desirability of bait hives that differed by just a few litres. In Honeybee Democracy he states that bees ’… avoid cavities smaller than 10 litres or greater than 100 litres, and that they very much like 40 litre cavities …’ .

18 thoughts on “Bait hives, evolution & compromise

  1. Dani

    Great article, as ever. Kevin Costner was my dream in those days. Alas I’ve grown old and he’s grown ridiculous….. sigh.
    My infallible bait hives are 8 frame Paynes 14×12 poly nucs with solid floors and a small entrance. I’ve painted the inside with propolis and usually add two starter strip frames at the back with an old brood comb sandwiched in between.
    They go on top of my potting shed. I’ve never had success anywhere else. I often wondered why so for an unscientific laugh I got dowsing rods out and thought hard about Lines of Force. The potting shed is at an intersection of three. So there’s another iron in the fire.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Dani

      In contrast … I’ve grown ridiculous while Costner has grown old 😉

      The ley lines thing is interesting. Roger Patterson has written about this on Dave Cushman’s website.

      As a scientist I’m sceptical, but healthily so. I worry that they cannot be measured or quantified using normal physics. Science requires independent verification, using different methodologies.

      At the same time I’m aware that the most successful locations of my bait hives are at least 5 times more successful than the least, and some locations are never successful. But this becomes self-fulfilling … I’m less likely to put a bait hive out in a position that has failed before, but more likely to do so where I’ve succeeded.

      My new ‘garden’ on the west coast is uncharted territory (in more ways than one) and I’ve never put a bait hive out here. Perhaps I should look for the ley lines, place a bait hive or two strategically and see if any are successful? The only swarms will be my own and I’m not going to stop my swarm control, so they might never get tested.

      My ‘garden’ bait hives in Fife and the Midlands were always very successful … and the garden had piles of additional bee boxes stacked up in storage. I often wonder whether this helped … and whether the same applies to the bait hives on your potting shed.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  2. Steve Riley

    Bill Anderson, in his book The Idle Beekeeper, shows that bees prefer insulated bait hives over non-insulated. Remarkable. How do they tell? Anything for us mortal beekeepers to learn here?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Steve

      I seem to remember that there’s some correspondence online about this … it might even be in previous comments here (I’ve had a quick search and can’t find anything, so perhaps it’s on Bee-L). I think I’ve discussed this with Etienne Tardif who has done a lot of studies of thermodynamics of the hive. I seem to remember arguing that bees wouldn’t be able to determine the insulation properties without staying in overnight when the ambient temperature dropped. However, thinking about it, perhaps a well insulated void stays cool as the day heats up.

      I don’t have The Idle Beekeeper and would want to be sure that the only variable was insulation … but that’s my pedantic scientist brain at work 😉

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  3. vince poulin

    David – an entirely unrelated topic but I need your assessment. A month ago I drones appeared in one of our successful over-wintered hives. Bee numbers in this hive were high throughout winter with no issues. The queen is a black Carnolian so hard to find but given the high number of bees and solid activity I did not search widely for her. However, over the month drone numbers increased significantly so much so 40% of the bees if not more were drones. Drone cells throughout the hive are disbursed or sporatic throughout. This brought me to the conclusion the hive was absent a queen and the hive is now a laying worker hive. I did search for her to no avail – I began thinking how to deal with the hive given these bees are nasty. They are the most aggressive I have and had planned to re-queen the hive. I went through the hive again and to my utter surprise the queen is actually still there – the hive is queen right! However, not one capped worker cell in a hive filled with capped drone cells. If not for how aggressive the bees were I would have looked more closely for multiple eggs in cells to help understand the situation. That said, this queen is not laying or is just laying drones. Are there situations where a functional queen in her second year is incapable of laying fertilized eggs but can only drop non-fertilized eggs. The problem is the sporatic nature of the drone cells present – scattered everywhere. There are no nicely filled drone frames as one would think a viable queen would make. If the queen can not produce worker bees why haven’t they eliminated her? I did find one queen cell that has a larva in it but that may well turn out to be a drone in time. But not one capped worker cell is present. All other hives are going gang-busters with spring build-ups.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Vince

      It certainly sounds like laying workers. Queens that are poorly mated can run out of sperm and stop laying fertilised eggs. However, they usually – as you suggest – lay drones in the typical concentric rings seen when a queen is laying worker brood. Usually not as neat, as the drones in worker cells take up more space and often forces her to miss some cells. She may or not be laying and I don’t necessarily think the colony will get rid of her. The spotty, dispersed, brood sounds like laying workers … though it can be due to backfilling of the cells with stores, though probably not this early in the season.

      Whether it’s laying workers or a dud queen, the colony is probably pretty much doomed. The workers will all be very old by now and the drones will not be much use until there are some queens to get mated (which I’m guessing is some way off?). Personally, I’d probably just shake the bees out in front of your other hives having removed the queen (just to be sure she doesn’t enter another hive and cause problems). With lots of drones and ageing workers there’s little point in uniting them.

      Good to hear that the other colonies are doing well.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. vince poulin

        Thanks David – I’m giving it a “long-shot” to see if I can’t make use of the residual bees. 3-days ago I placed a drawn comb in an adjacent hive that is building rapidly (friendly Italian bees). I removed all the frames from an upper brood box and put a put a QE between the lower and upper box to isolate as many drones as I could from the group (to be sacrificed). Today I replaced the original hive with a new brood box and new empty frames – drawn, etc. I dumped the original hive out far enough away to mess with their heads. The Italian bees put enough eggs into the Friday frame that with some luck perhaps they will get the idea and get on with making a queen. Oddly – I did not find the queen I left with the colony so a bit unsure how this will go. I will give the hive a good look again tomorrow to see if I can find her. Black bees – black queen – so need a day to see how it sorts out. The Italian hive is thriving. I did put another donor frame in that hive and will let if get fully laid up before donating it to this futile effort. This is more about the experience than anything. As you said – these are all old bees. They don’t have much time left not to mention they are bees I wanted to replace anyway – too hot headed for a garden apiary. Also – the Italian hive is going gang busters. It will benefit from swarm management within a few weeks so no harm in using the queen for a few donor frames. Will keep you posted! FYI – had a good look at another frame with sporatic capped drone cells. It had a number of cells with multiple eggs (2) and lots of cells with eggs positioned on side walls of the cells. These are laying workers.

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Vince

          The eggs on the sidewall are a dead giveaway, so I agree with your diagnosis. I’m afraid my experience with laying workers is usually a disappointment, and that’s during the main body of the season. This early I’d probably not bother. But, as you say, it’s an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t, and you don’t need to commit too many resources from another hive. I look forward to an update.

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
          1. vince poulin

            UPDATE! I was on the right track with solving the laying worker issue but yesterday and today I committed Carnollan Genocide. I took the laying worker hive and broke it apart apart. I released the bees to their fate. I did learn that they in fact produced one quite nice queen cell on eggs and larva I introduced. My plan was to add one more donor frame today with additional capped brood to help firmly re-establish the colony. However, that was curtailed when yesterday bees attacked the owner of the property where I kept the laying worker hive. One nasty bee even followed him up his street. Others would chase him inside his house. I had earlier made a decision to re-queen the hive but once the hive became a laying worker hive I reconsidered. I would let them make a queen but not give them one they could potentially kill. This hive was propagated from a Carnolian queen I purchased in 2021. That queen also produced some very hot bees and why I planned to re-queen that hive this year. The good news was my efforts to convert the laying worker hive to being queen-right was on the right track. When I broke up the hive I found one nicely capped, viable, queen cell. For the original hive I did purchase a new queen and she is on Day 2 of her acceptance debut. In this case I’m using that queen’s bees but no eggs, larva, or brood. All such frames were emptied by power-washing. To kick-start the process the new queen received three brood frames of eggs, larva and capped brood that came from well-behaved fun hives. Quite a process but as a friend of mine used to say, “Vince, you Gotta-Do-What-You-Gotta-Do.

          2. David Post author

            Hi Vince

            I’ve saved a few laying worker hives in my time, but it takes time and – more importantly – resources in the form of frames from other strong hives. Increasingly I don’t think it’s worth doing. Yes, you save the ‘colony’, but at the expense of weakening others.

            I think this sort of example is one of the best justifications for managing multiple hives. I know I’ve argued two in the past is the minimum, but I actually think 4-6 is a better number. I’m intending to write about this if I get the chance/remember/find more time … it’s all to do with the perception of how close to zero hives you have. If you have two and one is struggling it can feel brave/foolhardy to shake them out, so you don’t. If you’ve got five it’s much easier, and the remaining strong colonies are much more likely to ‘reward’ you by being big enough to make spare nucs.

            Tough love or something like that 😉

            Cheers
            David

  4. Daniel Mcghee

    A useful article – enjoyed reading it- will put out a couple of bait hives this year.

    Reply
  5. Martin

    I like the pragmatic approach to the ‘rules’
    I’ve experimented over a few years with custom made baithives and found biased success over brood boxes with tall narrow units .
    This could give a more natural shape than a national but who knows….
    They obviously are more hassle to put together,but only use five or six frames for the forty litres.

    I noted in one of your blogs that your local colonies know where your baithives are.
    I missed an incoming feral swarm late last year and watched it move around my apiary jumping from station to station where the baithives had just been taken down for the winter.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Martin

      Thomas Seeley tested the influence of different shapes – tall cylinder, cube etc. – and it made no difference if I remember correctly.

      You can also set up a National box with just 5 frames. Even if a monster prime swarm moves in you can always add the extra frames afterwards.

      The great thing is that the bees are flexible and are usually happy to accept what’s offered 🙂

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  6. Geoff Spry

    Timely article David as I just put up my first bait hive after 6 years keeping bees.
    I built a 7 foot high stand ( we still have the occasional black bear here on Vancouver Island!). A ladder will be a small price to pay!
    Using a Langstroth deep, 1 frame of old comb and some empty frames. Will add a Q-tip dipped in lemon grass oil.
    Open mesh floor but with a Corex sheet inserted. Hopefully will be dark enough.
    My questions: if a swarm takes up residence, how long do you wait to a) move them to your apiary
    and b) how long before doing an initial inspection?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Geoff

      I usually move them late in the evening on the day they arrive. I almost always don’t want bees where the bait hive is sited, and so move them before they have orientated to their new nest site. If I don’t move them on the first day, I’ll move them late on the evening of the second. Always late in the evening, just in case it’s a cast and the queen isn’t mated. I don’t want to interrupt her orientation or mating flights.

      I’m happy to have a quick peek inside the box on the day after they arrive to see if the queen is laying. I only look at the old comb as that is where she will start. Again, I’ll do this outside the time the queen could be on a mating/orientation flight … so early/mid morning or late in the afternoon.

      There’s no point in doing a more extensive inspection until they’ve got sealed brood, so at least 10 days and usually a few more than that.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  7. Stan Thornton

    Great Article !
    I have a mostly top bar hives here in Northern California on the coast. I have for the last many years had a swarms move into my top bar hives/bait hive. I use 30 to 40 top bars in my TB hives and I usually have 4-6 hives active in my small apiary.

    I leave the TB hives permanently on their stands because they are too heavy to move. Also, when a swarm moves in they are exactly where I want them. I put a divider in the hive in the TB hive to reduce it to 10 frames ( the equivalent to a full depth super). As you mention SIZE MATTERS. I leave one frame of old brood comb and the rest empty frames. As I’ve read, the bees like to measure the free open space in the hive to determine the volume. Inside the bait hive, I sometimes also put some lemon grass essential oil on a q-tip inside of a ziploc bag which is just opened an inch or so. That way the smell lingers, instead of evaporating too quickly. After I am sure the queen is laying, I typically will treat them for mites. I want to make sure that I am not bringing mites into my bee yard.

    David has also mentioned not having too many bait hives in a single location… to not give the scouts too many choices. I usually have 2 spots available for them to move into, so as to not confuse the scouts passing on information.

    I could try putting a bait hive in a tree or in a perfect location, but the bees seem to come looking for a new home. This way I don’t risk a fall or a bad back. I KEEP IT SIMPLE.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Stan

      It certainly sounds both simple and a winning formula. Congratulations. You can treat for mites before the queen starts laying if needed. I’ve done so with casts (virgin queens) and not had a problem. I just make sure I treat late in the evening when she’s unlikely to be out on an orientation or mating flight.

      The Q-tip in a ziplock bag is a good idea. You certainly don’t want the hive smelling really strongly of lemongrass oil.

      Happy beekeeping 🙂

      Cheers
      David

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