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Catching bees using a Bee Catch Box

Published on May 20th 2019

by CandideUK. All rights reserved

A close up of a flower
Do you know the importance of bees and why we need them? At this stage, you could probably answer this question with either: 'Yes', 'No', or 'Maybe', or perhaps 'Maybee'.
The 20th of May is World Bee Day. On 20 December 2017, the United Nations General Assembly adopted this resolution, declaring 20 May as World Bee Day each year. The idea behind this initiative is to raise awareness about the importance of these insects and to help drive measures to ensure the survival of bees for the benefit of the entire human race. Bees are some of the world’s most hard-working creatures, and they are often underappreciated.
Bees play a vital role in the pollination of many agricultural crops. Simply put: we need bees, otherwise we won’t have food on our tables. Foods such as apples, almonds, asparagus, blueberries, broccoli, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, and pumpkins are some examples of agricultural foods that will disappear from our plates if bees ceased pollination.
Often, when we think about bees, we think about hundreds of bees inside a hive (artificial or natural). However, there are also numerous species of solitary bees. These bees don’t form colonies but live solely in the ground or in other structures. They feed on pollen and nectar, meaning that they are essential garden pollinators. This is one reason why you would add an insect hotel to your garden to provide housing for these bees. Honeybees, on the other hand, are social bees, forming colonies and producing honey.
In general, when it comes to bees, people have mixed feelings about these six-legged flying insects. Mostly due to the allergic reactions to bee stings, which could create a phobia towards bees, known as apiphobia. The degree of this allergy can also vary between people. Therefore, it is quite understandable that some people don’t like bees. On the other hand, some people love bees and will even start their own apiary where they will keep bees, and enjoy the sweet honey.
Honeybees will make use of any cavity with favourable conditions and use it as a hive. Sometimes, they nest around our homes, which is not too convenient for people. When they nest and you want to get them out, you can phone a local beekeeper, who will typically smoke them out. However, there is another way and it doesn't entail any harm to bees.

Catching bees with a 'catch box'

Recently, I had the opportunity to try this myself. Bees nested inside the wall of my aunt’s house. They used the air holes as the entrance to the wall cavity. She wanted them out, so I proposed to catch them with a catch box.
This operation started in March and I brought the catch hive to Babylonstoren on the 14th of May. These are the steps I followed to get them into the catch box:
The objective was to seal off the airholes, forcing the bees into the catch box. I made a tube out of aluminium gauze. I had to do this after dusk when the bees were all inside the wall. This creates a tunnel from the wall to the catch box. I had to seal the airholes, so that the only way the bees could exit, was through the tube. In order to do this, I used a type of carpet material which you can paint over. When the paint dries, the material hardens and forms a perfect seal. (Adhesive tape wouldn’t have worked on the wall, and that is why I used this method instead). The other side of the tube goes into the entrance hole of the catch box.
Left: The aluminium gauze tube sealed at the wall; Right: The other end of the tube to the entrance of the catch box.
The next morning, foraging bees had to go through the pipe and into the catch box in order to get out. They managed to fly out between the box and the lid. That was now the new entrance and exit. Time was now the only variable, and therefore I gave it a few weeks and then saw a lot of activity inside the box.
A week before I brought them to Babylonstoren farm, I had another look at the box. I was surprised to see that the whole box was full of bees. In this catch box, there were five frames in total. Four brood frames and one frame with honey. The honey frame was a lure, making the box more attractive. When I looked carefully into the box, I saw that all frames were covered with bees from the top down. I was certain that I caught most, if not all of the bees in the box. I saw no more movement in the tube, and then removed the tube from the box and closed it, so that no bees can enter the wall again.
This was the first visitor from the wall, via the tube to enter the catch box. This was directly after I assembled the tube into the catch box.
This was after the first visit, a few weeks later - a lot of bees all over the five frames.
The next week I closed the hive at night time, sealed it and took it to the farm the next morning. When I removed the packaging from the hive, the buzzing sound of the bees became clear. Curious bees started to explore, exiting from the entrance hole. The catch box is now safely located in one of our bee camps on the farm.
The wrapped catch box, ready to be opened at the Soetdoring bee camp at Babylonstoren.
The green catch box standing amongst other hives.
Three days later I went to have a closer look inside the hive to see if I can spot the queen. Unfortunately, there was no queen. We had to improvise. We took a brood frame from another hive, containing new larvae. We placed this frame in the catch hive. Now the bees will start to feed the young larvae, and some will be fed royal jelly, a protein-rich, glandular secretion, from special glands situated on the sides of the heads of young worker honey bees. This substance is fed to all larvae, and the amount fed to larvae will determine the caste of the bees. For example, worker bees are fed only a little bit of royal jelly, and the rest of the time bee bread, made from pollen and honey. Bees destined to become queens are fed royal jelly all the time during the development stage. Drones, the male bees, are also fed royal jelly, and even a little more than worker bees. We are positive that we will spot a queen cell very soon. As the new queen emerges, she will have to mate with drones. This is the only time a queen will leave the nest, and then she will return and start laying eggs in the wax cells. The queen might leave the nest later when swarming takes place.
The wall-to-catch box operation was very experimental, as I simply looked at a video on YouTube. I thought to myself that I had nothing to lose and gave it a proper go. In the end, we gained a new swarm. This is something that you can also do.
There is a lot of concern about bee populations on a global scale. Populations seem to decline and can be ascribed to the spray of chemicals and industrial agriculture, parasites/pathogens, and climate change. Therefore, every swarm is important.
Considering the function of pollination in agriculture and ecosystems, we need to appreciate our bees, social and solitary species. Next time you enjoy honey, think about the hard work they have to put in to produce the sweet liquid.

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Check out this video to learn how to make a Bee Catch Box:

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