They are normally quite calm. They have no brood or honey to protect and they are on a mission to find a suitable house. However, it is still a good idea to wear your bee suit.
There are a few different ways to collect free bees:
You spot a swarm in a tree and gather it up.
You have set out swarm traps and bees have moved in to it.
You are called out to retrieve a hive of bees which have been living in a wall or building. This is usually referred to as doing a cut out.
I am going to just talk about capturing a hive of bees that’s still hanging in a tree.
The first thing to do is start to gather tools and equipment you might need:
A ladder, if they are in a tree or on the side of a structure.
A container to shake the bees into. I have used cardboard boxes, large ice cream buckets or a super with some frames, bottom board and lid.
A saw and or pruning shears, in case you have to remove branches.
A bee suit.
A white sheet.
Screen or tape to shut up the box so you can transport them.
The ones I have captured have been easy. Both hives were in reaching distance from the top of my ladder.
Lay a white sheet on the ground underneath the swarm. Position the ladder right under the swarm. Once up the ladder, open up the hive box or whatever you are using to collect the bees and give the branch a good shake. You may have to do it a couple times if it’s a big swarm. Then cover the box and carefully go down the ladder. You may have to go up the ladder again to retrieve some stragglers, or you can leave the box on top of the ladder and let the bees walk in. If a bunch of bees have fallen to the ground below where the swarm was hanging, place the box on the white sheet so it will be easier for you to see if the bees are walking into the box. If they start marching inside, it’s a good sign you got the queen.
You can leave the box on the ground for a while to gather as many stragglers as possible or you shut up the box and take them home.
Either screen off or block the entrance up if you have to take them some distance in your car.
Once home, you have some options. If you have them inside a cardboard box or other container, you will want to get them out of that fairly quickly. So set up a brood box with frames of drawn out comb and some honey if you have some. Then dump the bees into the brood box and put on the lid. Some people will tell you to block the entrance for 24 hours. But be aware, if it’s hot out they could overheat inside and die. If you do decide to lock them in, staple a screen over the front entrance so they can get lots of air.
Leave them alone for upwards of a week so they can get settled in to their new place. After a week, open up the hive and check for eggs. If they are not from your apiary, it’s a good idea to do a mite check on them.
There are lots of great info on YouTube and in books on swarm catching. This is just the way I did mine in the situation that presented itself to me.
No two are alike.
Updated: May 9, 2022