Springtime is finally here, and honeybees, both wild and managed, are working on fulfilling their evolutionary purpose - strengthening the colony, making a new queen, and reproducing the superorganism through swarming. As beekeepers, swarming is a mixed bag - great if it’s someone else’s, or a wild colony, and not so great if it’s your own. Collecting wild swarms is one of my favorite parts of beekeeping but it’s one of those things we can’t schedule; you don’t know when the phone call will come and you don’t know how long it will stay. Another approach is to give the bees what they want - a cavity of suitable size and configuration - and let the swarm come to you.
Several years ago I read Honeybee Democracy by Tom Seeley. It’s a great book about bees and how they make decisions, specifically around swarming. Dr. Seeley spent years measuring the dimensions of wild bee colonies and conducting experiments that allowed swarms to select between cavities with different configurations. He collected the data, analyzed it, and made some conclusions about what bees are looking for in a cavity based on the results. The gory details are in the book, but if you take all his graphs and charts and boil them down to one box design, you get a box with a volume of 45 litres, a two square inch opening toward the bottom on one side, hung 5’ - 20’ off the ground. I adapted the ubiquitous “Coates Nuc” design to this configuration and found it to be very successful - not only for hanging in a tree during swarm season to attract that wild swarm, but also for capturing that swarm from my own hive that decided to cluster in the top of a tree. Other club members have had great success with this design as well.
I usually use ½” CDX plywood for these. They have held up to the elements for several years, though I do take them down in late summer and store them for the winter. You need to paint them, though, or they will not stand up to the elements. They hold five frames, which you should put inside before putting the top on and hanging it on a tree. The bees will start their colony on the frames provided and you can transfer them to a proper hive.
Quantity Part Dimensions
2 Front/Back 19-¼” x 18”
2 Sides 17-⅜” x 7-½”
1 Bottom 19-½” x 8-¾”
1 Top 22" x 9-½”
2 Handles 8-½” x 2"
1 Hanger 24" x 4"
Feel free to make any modifications you would like to this design. I only ask that you tell me and other club members what improvements you have made!
Click through the slideshow below to see the assembly process: