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How To Attract Bees To A Hive

Did you know that by plants for bees in your garden, along with other inviting elements, you are helping to care, and cultivate an environment that supports biodiversity? When I first became a beekeeper, or “bee guardian,” as I call it, I didn’t know this! Bees ultimately ensure the retention in the diversity of our ecosystems.

Many new and experienced beekeepers wonder if bees will come to their hive. You can practice several strategies and methods to apply to your everyday life to make your hive the best place for existing and new bees. From planting plants to providing new food sources, you are sure to have a bee-inviting hive!

As bees are some of the most important pollinators, they increase our crops and blooms significantly. Are you having a difficult time learning how to attract bees to your hive? Say no more! Keep reading to learn all the tips and tricks to attract some stinger friends to any beehive!

Why Do You Need To Attract Bees To Your Hive?

When you have a bee colony, you are naturally invested in their health and well-being. It could be extremely disheartening to go out to your beehive for a routine inspection and find your stinger friends distressed or in poor health. As bees are such amazing creatures, their needs and care reflect differently. It is important to know when it’s important to attract them, keep them in your hive, and exactly how to do it.

Attracting bees to your hive can maximize your crop’s growing and harvesting. Not only will they keep your plants healthy, but they will optimize your whole garden to the best possible garden.

Swarming tends to occur predominantly during springtime, and it can continue through the whole duration of summer and even into the fall in some areas. You can expect to notice a higher occurrence of swarming bees when the weather is hot, and there is a prominent nectar flow.

 It is always good to notice that bees will always be unlikely to be attracted to an empty beehive that has just been bought in sterling condition. For new beehives, you as the beekeeper will need to put in a lot of time and effort to make it a place any swarm of bees will want to make their new permanent home.

The first thing to consider is where you will be placing your new beehive. It is never advised to place a beehive in any form of direct sunlight for heating issues.

Place your beehive in a shaded area, and if you have other existing and working beehives, you should place your empty beehive away from them. The reason for this is that your working bees might decide to explore the empty hive without moving into it, which greatly reduces the chance of a new swarm migrating into the hive.

There certainly are things you can do to make a beehive more attractive to a swarm of bees. For example, a larger hive is always preferred over a smaller one, but adding wax frames to the new hive might trick the swarm into thinking that bees already lived there.

Ensure that the opening of your hive is always small, as bees prefer this due to the fact that they will have a smaller area to defend against attackers and potential robbers.

Effective Ways To Attract Bees To Your Hive

Now that you know how important it is to attract bees to a hive, you are ready for the next step: Learning exactly how to attract them to your hive! Why buy bees when you can get them for free?

Many beekeepers do it, and with only a few tools and materials and following the steps thoroughly, you will have bees zooming to your hive in no time!

You will need:

  • A swarm trap or a bait hive
  • Wire mesh
  • Old frames with drawn comb
  • Lemongrass oil
  • Nails
  • A ladder
  • A hammer

Ready your swarm trap box or bee box and get ready for five simple and easy steps to attract honey bees to a hive:

Determine Exactly When Swarming Season Is

You have to realize that no bees just randomly choose their new home. Like us humans, they also like to go on house hunting sprees. Several weeks before a colony starts to swarm, they send out scout bees to look for some options. This is why you would want your bait hives as attractive and irresistible as possible.

When the swarming season starts, you will have a much better chance of eliminating all possible competition and winning the swarm over. Do you know when the swarming season is? If you are unsure, read the first paragraph and check if you find the answer!

Buying Or Building A Bait Hive

If you want some stinger friends to move into your beehive permanently, you will need to learn what they want and expect from their landlord, that being you as the beekeeper, of course!

Just like there are several different types, including shapes and sizes of beehives, there are different kinds of bait hives. Though all of these different bait hives only have one purpose: to attract honeybees, you can build your own bait if you prefer to do so.

Building your own bait hive.

If you do not have an old hive, do not panic! You can make your own DIY bee trap. You can practice many swarm trap plans, but if you want to increase your chances of attracting bees, follow the common accommodation of 40-liter cavity volume with a south-facing 1.5″ – 2″ square inches entrance area.

As I mentioned, your bees prefer that the entrance of their hive is as small as possible! The recommended size is about the same measurements as a standard ten-frame hive body.

You will need to give your beehive a layer of paint or two to protect it from the weather elements. While bees don’t prefer one color over another, it would be best to paint it a darker color, camouflaging it from other humans who might want to disturb the trap you worked hard on to create.

Using an old beehive as bait.

If you are lucky and an experienced beekeeper, you might have the luxury of having an old hive. You can use this old hive with a drawn comb and completely convert it into a bait hive.

Having an old beehive lets you take advantage of the drawn-out comb’s scent to lure more bees! However, the question is, how do you convert an old beehive into an irresistible trap to lure bees? Well. It is fairly simple.

Using plywood pieces, simply close off the top and the bottom of your old hive box. Add another layer of plywood at the top to prevent any rainwater. Now would also be an ideal time to check for any seal cracks.

Next, drill a one-inch hole at the bottom of your box. This hole is for your bees, and they will use it as a hive entrance. Remember to cover holes with mesh or even a nail to keep birds and other disturbances out.

You can now place old frames in your hive box if you have some. Three to five frames is a good number, as you would still want to leave some space to help attract the bees. You should always be careful when using old frames as they could carry the risk of wax moth infestations.

Purchasing swarm traps

You also have the choice of purchasing swarm traps. These swarm traps are very similar to biodegradable plant pots, and they are usually 15″ high with a 15″ diameter. The traps can be made from wood pulp or even pieces of cardboard.

The top is closed, with a hole at the bottom, allowing the bees to enter. This is a great option as they are easier to install and lightweight. Weight is essential when you are deciding where to place your hive, as strong wind conditions may compromise things.

Apply The Lure

Now you are ready to make your bees’ new home smell as enticing as possible. There are several ways that you can make your bait hive smell great to your stinger friends.

If you had an old hive to use, you could skip this step, as your bees will be attracted to the frames as they are extremely attracted to the smell of beeswax. So if you do not have an old comb, there are more beneficial options like commercial and readily available pheromones lures.

They usually consist of a lemongrass smell which is almost identical to the scent the scout bees leave after visiting a particular location. Pheromone lures are considered to be one of the best and most successful lures on the market.

Another option that is popular amongst a lot of beekeepers is using some lemongrass essential oil. You can either decide to dab it on your hive with a Q-tip or piece of cotton wool or place it in a plastic vial that is designed to dispense the smell over time slowly. Once you have your hive smelling good, you will be ready to move on to the next step.

Position your bait box appropriately

Everyone knows that the success rate of their hive almost solely depends on the location, amongst other vital things. It is best to place your bait hive at least 15 feet above the ground for the scout bees to be able to see it quicker.

You can place your bair up on a tree or build a platform to house it. All you need to do is make sure that it is secure enough to hold the weight of a box full of honey and bees.

The ideal location of your bair hive should be somewhere that is both well shaded but easily accessible. Do not forget to make it highly visible for the scout bees to get it. This is especially applicable when you put your bait hive in a tree amongst the branches.

If you decide to use a swarm trap rather than a hive box, you can nail it to a  piece of strong board and attach it to a tree or platform. This should also be done in a shaded area because if it is in direct sunlight, the bees will flee as it will be much too hot.

Remember that the scout bees will be going out to look for houses before the swarming season. So, it is best to have the trap or bait in place and ready for action several weeks before swarming season is set to start.

Once you have placed your hive correctly and securely, there is only one thing left for you to do…

Wait for your bees to move in!

All beekeepers know that waiting is definitely one of the most difficult parts when it comes to beekeeping. It is important to remember that it doesn’t matter how perfect you have made your bait or trap hive. There is no guarantee that the bees will like it. But, you can increase your chances of capturing a swarm of bees by placing multiple swarm traps and bait hives.

If you see some bees flying about your hive, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have moved in yet, and it could only be some of the scouts checking the place out. By carefully noticing and observing their flight patterns, you will be able to tell if they are foragers or scout bees!

Planting Plants, Perennials, Annuals, Shrubs, And Trees To Attract Bees

Apart from setting up bait hives and swarm traps to lure some bees into your hives, there is an alternative way that will successfully lure bees to your hive and benefit the aesthetic of your garden. How? By planting specific plants!

As we know, bees use scents to find flowers all around them, no matter what the distance. It is advised to choose nectar-rich and sweetly scented plants, as the bees will only notice their color when they fly closer. Bees are attracted to violet, purple, yellow, blue, and white-colored flowers, although they are not opposed to any other colors.

Several flowers have nectar guides that are only visible in ultraviolet lights. Because bees can see ultraviolet light, these guides act as proof of a sure food source, and bees will choose these types of flowers in a field full of others.

It is most beneficial to plant a wide variety of flowers in larger groups of similar flowers. Along with planting plants, you should know the three main things your bees will need to be comfortable.

Firstly, your bees will need nectar, as the high sugar content will provide them with enough energy to fly around, forage, and pollinate.

Secondly, your bees will need pollen, which is their main source of fats and proteins.

 Lastly, you will need to provide your bees with enough sources of freshwater. You can provide them with water in an external source such as a flat dish birdbath or shallow pond.

Always avoid using harmful pesticides containing chemicals.

Plants For Attracting Bees

  1. Margaret Roberts Lavender (Lavandula intermedia ‘Margaret Roberts’)
  • Position: Sun
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: Violet
  • Flower Time: Year-round
  • Size:  150cm x 150cm
  • Plant Type: Perennial shrub
  • Foliage:  Evergreen
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Position: Full sun
  • Water Requirements: Low
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: Blue
  • Flower Time: Spring to summer
  • Size:  100cm x 100cm
  • Plant type: Perennial Shrub
  • Foliage:  Evergreen
  • Garden Mint (Mentha spicata)
  • Position: Full sun to Semi-shade
  • Water Requirements: High
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: White
  • Flower Time: Summer
  • Size:  40cm x 15cm
  • Plant type: Perennial Groundcover
  • Foliage:  Evergreen
  • Borage (Borago officinalis)
  • Position: Full sun to Semi-Shade
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy:  No
  • Flower Color: Blue
  • Flower Time: Mid-spring to summer
  • Size:  90cm x 60cm
  • Plant Type:  Annual

Other options of Herbs include:  Thyme, Lemon Balm, Sage, Citrus, Fennel, Dill, Tansy, Catnip, Coriander, Strawberries, Granadillas, Rocket

Perennials For Bees

  1. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Position: Full sun
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: Purple
  • Flower Time: Mid-summer to late autumn
  • Size:  75cm x 30cm
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Foliage:  Deciduous
  • Blue Mealy Sage (Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria’)
  • Position: Full sun/Afternoon shade
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Flower Color: Blue
  • Flower Time: Summer to autumn
  • Size:  70cm x 30cm
  • Plant Type: Annual
  • Cape Marguerite (Osteospermum ecklonis)
  • Position: Full sun
  • Water Requirements: Low
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: Violet / White
  • Flower Time: Early spring to later summer
  • Size:  75cm x 100cm
  • Plant type: Perennial Groundcover
  • Foliage:  Evergreen
  • Blue Lily (Agapanthus praecox)
  • Position: Full sun
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: Violet / White
  • Flower Time: Summer
  • Size:  1m x 1m
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Foliage:  Evergreen
  • Ribbon Bush (Hypoestes aristata)
  • Position: Full sun / Semi-shade
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: Semi-hardy
  • Flower Color: Purple / Pink
  • Flower Time: Late autumn to winter
  • Size:  1m x 1m
  • Plant Type: Perennial shrub
  • Foliage:  Evergreen

Other options of Perennials: Rudbeckia, Scabiosa, Felicia, Euryops, Arctotis, Barleria, Diascia, Geranium incanum, Bulbine, Watsonia, Arums, Mesembryanthemum

Annuals For Bees

  1. Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)
  • Position: Full sun
  • Water Requirements: Low
  • Hardy: No
  • Flower Color: White/Pink
  • Flower Time: Summer
  • Size:  100cm x 30cm
  • Plant Type: Annual
  • Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
  • Position: Full sun
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: Yellow / Orange
  • Flower Time: Winter to early spring
  • Size:  35cm x 35cm
  • Plant type: Annual herb
  • Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  • Position: Full sun
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: No
  • Flower Color: Yellow
  • Flower Time: Summer
  • Size:  250cm x 30cm
  • Plant Type: Annual
  • Fairy Primula (Primula malacoides)
  • Position: Semi-shade
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: White/Pink/Lavender
  • Flower Time: late winter to spring
  • Size:  20cm x 25cm
  • Plant Type: Annual
  • Cape Forget-me-not (Anchusa capensis)
  • Position: Sun / Semi-shade
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: No
  • Flower Color: Blue / White
  • Flower Time: Spring to summer
  • Size:  40cm x 25cm
  • Plant Type:  Annual

Other options of Annuals include: Sweet Williams, Marigolds, Nemesia, Hollyhock, Lobularia maritima, Poppies, Portulaca, Nasturtium

Shrubs For Bees

  1. September Bush (Polygala myrtifolia)
  • Position: Full sun
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: Purple
  • Flower Time: Spring to summer
  • Size:  3m x 2m
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Foliage:  Evergreen
  • Heather (Erica spp)
  • Position: Full sun
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: Pink/Purple/White/Red
  • Flower Time: Year-round depending on species
  • Size:  Varies according to species
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Foliage:  Evergreen
  • Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-Sinensis)
  • Position: Full sun
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: No
  • Flower Color: Pink/Yellow/White/Purple/Red
  • Flower Time: Spring to summer
  • Size:  4m x 3m
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Foliage:  Evergreen
  • Aloes (Aloe spp) ***
  • Position: Full sun
  • Water Requirements: Low
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: Varies according to species.  Mostly hues of orange, yellow and red
  • Flower Time: Varies according to species.  Mostly in winter.
  • Size:  Varies according to species.
  • Plant Type: Succulent shrub
  • Foliage:  Evergreen

Other options of Shrubs: HebePortulacaria Afra, Buddleia saligna,  Leonotis leonurus, Hellebores, Plectranthus spp, Buchu, Proteas

Trees For Bees

  1. Wild Pear (Dombeya rotundifolia)
  • Position: Full sun
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: White
  • Flower Time: Late winter to early spring
  • Size:  6m x 4m
  • Plant type: Tree
  • Foliage:  Deciduous
  • Wild Laburnum (Calpurnia aurea)
  • Position: Full sun / Semi-shade
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: Yellow
  • Flower Time: Late summer to autumn
  • Size:  3m x 2m
  • Plant type: Small tree
  • Foliage:  Evergreen
  • Forest Elder (Nuxia floribunda)
  • Position: Full sun / Semi-shade
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Hardy: Yes
  • Flower Color: White
  • Flower Time: Winter to early spring
  • Size:  5m x 3m
  • Plant type: Tree
  • Foliage:  Evergreen

Now that you know all about the type of green you should plant in your garden to attract bees, it is up to you to decide and check which is available in your area!

Know That Timing Is Everything

Depending on your location, the swarming season can happen all the way from spring through to fall. However, bees do not look at a calendar when they decide whether to swarm or not. They judge their timing by looking at certain conditions traditionally found during the spring and during the summer.

Bees tend to swarm when hotter weather coincides with a bit of wind because it usually means that the fine weather comes with a nectar flow. 

If You Are Successful

If you have patiently waited and you successfully lured a swarm, you should be extremely careful not to disturb them for the first week. When the bees arrive, they will immediately jump to work and start building comb. The queen will lay her eggs in the comb, which isn’t necessarily a big enough investment to hold the bees to their new home and location.

The slightest disturbance could cause the new bees to evacuate the nesting in favor of another one. If you wait a week before checking up on them, their eggs will have hatched into larvae by then, and this will ensure that your bees will stay, even if you do a hive inspection.

It is advised to check on your new bees after a week because not all swarms are created equal, as some are queenless or come along with a virgin queen. Therefore, when a week has gone by, and you do your first hive inspection, search for eggs to verify that your colony is queen right and the queen is actively laying.

It is crucial to remember that all bee swarms will be docile at first, but they can change completely once they get comfortable and settled in. You, as their beekeeper, should be prepared by always wearing the appropriate protective gear.

Conclusion

Having bees in your backyard or farm is truly an amazing and rewarding experience that any person can only dream of having. When you become a beekeeper, you are like a superhero helping our planet and its primary and most important pollinators and making their jobs the slightest bit easier.

Now that you know how important it is to put in the time and effort to attract some stinger friends to your hive, you will be sure to be successful. All it takes is patience, patience, and patience!

Jaco Stander

My name is Jaco Stander. I’m from Cape Town, South Africa. I’m a registered beekeeper with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development in South Africa. Registration number WC808. I live on a small holding where I keep my 16 beehives. Taking care of bees is a very rewarding feeling, contributing to keep our bee colonies growing and thriving, and as a bonus, enjoying that sweet pure raw honey!

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