It is quite common for new beekeepers to wonder if bees will come to an empty hive. After all, if you can attract a swarm of bees to a hive, you will not need to buy bees to get started. Yes, with a bit of time and effort you can lure bees to an empty hive. For example, adding wax frames can act as a “bait” of sorts, while a smaller hive opening is preferable as it’s easier for new bees to protect.
How to Make an Empty Beehive Attractive to Bees
Swarming tends to occur predominantly in the springtime, but it can continue through summer and even into the fall in some places. Expect to find a higher occurrence of swarming when the weather is warm and there is a strong nectar flow.
It is worth noting that bees are unlikely to be attracted to an empty beehive that has just been bought new. You are going to need to put in some work to make it a place any swarm of bees will want to make their new home.
The first thing to consider is where you are going to place the beehive. It is important that it is not placed in direct sunlight; a shaded area is much better. If you have other working beehives, place the empty beehive away from these (but you should already know this). The reason is that your worker bees might decide to explore the empty hive without occupying it, therefore reducing the chance of a swarm migrating to the new hive.
There are things you can do to make a beehive more attractive to a swarm. For example, a larger hive is preferable while adding wax frames means a swarm might be tricked into thinking that bees have already lived in the hive. Ensure that the opening to the hive is small; bees prefer this due to the fact that they have a smaller area to defend against attackers.
How to Know if Bees are Eyeing Up Your Hive
Before a swarm occupies a new home, scout bees will check it out first. Scout bees can spend quite some time poking around a new hive. If it appears attractive, more scouts will visit over a period of days. In the beginning, it is common to see one or two bees hovering around the hive before being joined by more and more of these scout bees with each passing day. When enough scout bees have investigated the potential home and it is deemed acceptable, the entire swarm will arrive.
It is important to have patience when trying to entice a swarm to your hive. Once you have spotted the scout bees, remember that it can take a couple of weeks before the full colony arrives. Try not to disturb anything and, in particular, refrain from moving the hive as this could prevent the swarm from settling.
What to Do if a Swarm Arrives
If you do manage to attract a swarm of bees to your hive, you should leave it where it is for a few weeks to allow the bees to get settled. Once they have arrived, they will start building comb immediately and the queen will begin laying. If you disturb them during this time by trying to move the hive, you could cause them to jump ship and look for a new home.
It is also a good idea to wait at least a week before you inspect the hive as, by that time, the eggs will have hatched. This means the bees will be less likely to want to leave, even if disturbed.
Once you have established that the swarm has been building comb and that the queen has begun laying eggs, you will be able to move the hive. However, do this carefully. I recommend only moving it a short distance each day while ensuring that it is only moved in the evening time when the bees are less likely to leave the hive.
To ensure that the bees have sufficient quantities of food during a move, offer sugar syrup as this will provide them with the energy and nutrition they require until they get used to their new surroundings and find food for themselves.