Embracing a New Solution for Keeping Bees

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Photo by Hank Will
You can lure bees into a “trap hive” rather than purchasing them from a breeder.

The other evening, after work, I was building a new door for Joanna’s hospital coop when I heard an inordinate amount of buzzing. I thought it was flies on some dead animal that one of the dogs or cats had dragged into the workshop, but I was wrong. It was a group of about 30 scout bees measuring the new hives I’d recently built. These hives have 14 frames in them, and only a few of the frames are primed with about an inch-wide strip of foundation rolled from brood comb wax. One of the hives also has a vial of lemongrass essential oil in it — a semipermeable vial that releases the scent in the parts per billion concentration range. The extra vial was left over from baiting the seven swarm trap mini-hives that I’d set out in hedgerow trees earlier in the year.

When I built the swarm traps, I was a bit skeptical that they would work, but my beekeeping heroes, Leo Sharashkin and Chip Taylor, both of whom I’ve heard speak, noted that baiting trap hives with lemongrass essential oil in these vials would do the trick. And do the trick they did. Within five days, one of the traps was occupied, and within a couple of weeks, six of the seven traps were teeming with new colonies. To say that I was dumbfounded would be a complete understatement. The seventh trap remains unoccupied because I set it in a tree that was too far away from the hedgerow, in a spot with no shade. I planned to move it, but never got to it. 

My reasoning for building the bee swarm traps was partly genetic and partly financial. I had grown weary of purchasing packages or nucs from bee breeders in distant regions (with vastly different environments) and having the bees perform poorly. Yet, we had plenty of “wild” honeybees on our farm that appeared to thrive in the bee trees. Last year, we installed one swarm of feral bees gathered from a neighbor’s farm, and the subsequent colony thrived through winter, while our $135 packaged bees from Northern California vacated. I figured that the local bees might be better adapted to the local environment — like a landrace of sorts — so this year, the obvious solution was to catch “wild” honeybees to fill our empty hives. I don’t know how well the new hives will perform, but I’m gratified that we had no problems luring bee swarms into our mini-hive boxes. We’ll transfer them, along with their frames, to full-sized beehive boxes this fall. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

If you’ve ever had one of those lightbulb moments where a solution suddenly popped into your head that, in retrospect, seemed obvious, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to send me your email at HWill@MotherEarthNews.com, and maybe we can compile them in a future issue.

See you in October,

Hank