Friday, July 5, 2013

think like a scout bee

Since he was largely responsible for the process of building and mounting our swarm trap, this entry was written by Jonathan.

For this, my first post on tree to river, I would like to begin by reminding you: I am not handy.  Nonetheless, I think we pulled it off.  Believe me.  No one was more surprised than I was.

This was day two of our "do it yourself swarm trap" adventure.  The first task for this morning was to undo several of the things I had done incorrectly earlier this week.  Fortunately, I now had two assistants to help me fix my mistakes. 

Following the advice of our bee guru, Phil Gaven, at The Honey Exchange, we turned to Dr. Thomas D. Seeley's incredibly helpful "Bait Hives for Honey Bees" pamphlet.  Dr. Seeley offers Twelve Commandments:
  1. Height: about 15' above the ground
  2. Shade / Visibility: well-shaded, but highly visible
  3. Distance from parent nest: not important
  4. Total Entrance Area: about 1.5" to 2" square (e.g. a 1.25" inch diameter circle)
  5. Entrance shape: not important
  6. Entrance position: near the floor of the hive
  7. Entrance direction: facing south preferred
  8. Cavity volume: about 1.4 cubic feet
  9. Cavity shape: not important
  10. Dryness / Airtightness: dry and snug, especially the top
  11. Type of wood: various types acceptable
  12. Odor: lemongrass oil
It turns out that bees build from the top of a hive box down so my seemingly brilliant plan to hang the frames in the lower half of the swarm trap wasn't going to work.  Oh well.  So much for my awesome window latch release design that was supposed to allow us to split the trap in half when we wanted to move the frames and our guests to a permanent hive.

Rebecca points out that the latches could allow us to just put the whole box onto a new hive.  I was thinking we would lift the frames out.  But perhaps my latches will actually be put to good use.  We'll keep you posted.  I know you'll be on the edge of your seats waiting to find out.  

Anyway, we unscrewed the top panel and inserted seven new frames and, courtesy of Phil, a deep frame covered in old brood comb.  Since we have medium hive boxes, the deep frame ends up dipping down a little further into the lower hive box.  Hopefully this uneven landscape won't confuse the bees too much.  

One of these things is not like the other...

Including the older brood comb runs counter to Dr. Seeley's advice; he fears wax-born disease.  But the smell of old comb entices new bees and, since this is from Phil's hive, we feel pretty safe.

Then Rebecca painted the second coat and we began the process of hunting for our trap location making sure we were thinking "like a scout bee," Phil's sage advice as to how to find a location for the trap.

I think it looks a little like a smiley face.  Happy to welcome a wayward hive.

Of course, Elliott, Mr. Animal Lover, led the way to the perfect tree.  It had a fork about 12' off the ground which allowed us to bolt a board between the two branches a few feet above the V.  This board would securely hold the brace completely level.

Almost ready.  Just a few more steps.  First, dab lemongrass oil on the inside of your trap and smear Vaseline on the flanges so that the two will slip apart easily when it is time to lift the full trap down to the ground.  What?  You've never smeared Vaseline on flanges?  Clearly you need to get out more.

Then create the entrance hole.  Dr. Seeley's Commandments demanded a single hole 1.25" in diameter.  So we put a cork in the upper hole and enlarged the lower one.  Then we made sure we were orienting the entrance toward the south.

We fashioned an upper brace to allow the full box to be lifted straight up on the ropes and then lowered to the ground without disturbing the swarm overmuch.  The only other option would be for me to climb up there and muscle it down the ladder by myself.  This solution seemed like the worst possible idea we could think of given how difficult it was to get up there.  When it was empty.

So we bolted the upper brace to the tree and lifted the trap into place.  Fortunately, these last few steps were some of the easiest and speediest of the whole process.  I'm not sure how much more trap energy any of us had left.

Now only two things remained to do:

1) Thank the Werner ladder company for making the process of putting something 15' in the air as easy as putting something 15' in the air could be.  (Note: we are not related to the ladder Werners nor to the Werners who run the trucking company.  But now you'll think of us every time you see either the ladders or the trucks.)

2) Then step back and admire our efforts.

Now: what do we do if we actually catch something?

"Do you think it will work?  It'll take a miracle." - Miracle Max


  1. Very cool, Jonathan! I think the window latch idea is brilliant! As is the rope and brackets for raising and lowering the swarm trap. I think experimentation is one of the things that makes beekeeping so interesting. Our successes and failures are what make us better beekeepers.
    Be sure to check out our bee blog at


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