Old hives for traps

Using old hives for traps is the simplest way to increase the apiary. But I would far rather have five strong colonies than twenty weak ones.

Honeybees by their very instinct have a powerful swarming drive; it is nature's way of reproduction and simultaneously strengthens the old colony with a new, young virgin queen; one that is able to lay more eggs.

Strong hives will send off multiple small colonies to start anew in someone's roof; or your trap.


In many ways this is not helpful. Neither for the homeowner who has to deal with a pest, nor the beekeeper who loses much of his workforce.

The only place I can think of to get an old hive is a local beekeeper. Join the association before making a start; one of those you meet will surely sell you an old hive. It doesn't really matter if it has got holes and looks a bit decrepit; in fact that may be a plus.

It must just have the smell of bees. A week or two after a feral swarm moves in, you can move them into a new hive. Then use full foundation; it speeds up the growth of the colony and reduces the tendency to build drone cells.

Small trap hives

The trap hive shown below is in fact the normal Langstroth box; but beekeepers often use small trap hives for catching feral colonies. Usually they would have five frames instead of ten; they are easier to move.

Place two frames with old combs at the edges; with three in the centre that have only strips of wax a few centimetres wide. The new swarm needs an area in which they can clump.

Many novices get caught out; they see bees buzzing around the trap hive and think a swarm has moved in, but it's only the initial scouts checking it out.

How soon can the trap hive be moved to a permanent location?

bee traps huge swarm

This old hive trap has been sorely neglected. It was hung up in a tree to entice a feral swarm and then forgotten. It is now so heavy and cumbersome that moving it to a permanent location has become hugely problematic. There are combs filled with brood in that clump below the box; it could be a second queen.

The rule of thumb is that the trap hive should be moved within three weeks; before new brood starts to hatch. Thereafter the bees start to become aggressive and during a honey-flow may become very heavy in a short period.

You could move the trap hive the very same evening that they moved in; in fact if you want to move them a short distance, that's best. After three weeks the new bees will be hatching and it will become increasingly difficult; and heavier as they collect nectar.

A week would be a good average time to move the trap hive to its permanent site.

Different sizes of trap hives

Feral swarms come in varying sizes; they may be little bigger than a fist or as large as a football. Tiny colonies will not be interested in a trap hive consisting of a brood-chamber as in the photo above.

Old hives for traps

Old hives for traps may be easy but requeening and splitting colonies would achieve other important goals.

For the more experienced "beek" requeening is a far better way to increase the size of the apiary. Every hive then will have a new young virgin that can lay far more eggs; an increased workerforce will deliver far more bottles of honey. 

In addition the swarming instinct is greatly reduced; it is unlikely the hive will send off small feral colonies taking away a large part of the workforce.

During the growth of new queen cells it has been noted that hives forage much less; for a three week period less nectar is brought into the hive. That is another significant loss for the beekeeper that would be averted by splitting colonies.

Swarming bees

In short swarming bees are a mixed blessing. They are one way to increase the size of the apiary but there are many good reasons to discourage hives from sending off feral swarms that can be a menace to society.

Before starting an apiary in the garden just make sure no one in the family is very allergic to beestings; or immediate neighbours. Local pain and swelling at the site is normal but any reaction at a distant part, especially the face and throat must be taken very seriously. 

Starches in general and especially simple carbs have come under the hammer in an increasingly obese society; and rightly so. But natural honey from a local "Beek" has a low GI; it's not fattening[1].

In fact natural honey astonishingly is being used for diabetic patients to lower their blood glucose[2]; and together with freshly-grated turmeric in a salve for treating bedsores at home.

Turmeric and raw honey treatment for bedsores

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South Africa