Southerns Beekeeping Association

Catch boxes


Catch boxes, or catch hives, are used to catch bees from other colonies that are swarming. For the duration of the presentation, I will refer to a catch hive as a “box”.

These boxes are convenient to use during bee removals, since its weight is lighter than that of a brood box and is easier to handle and carry. It is also more cost-effective to catch swarms with a box than to purchase a swarm. When I purchased my first swarm from a beekeeper in 2009, I paid R350. You can imagine my disappointment when I opened the box a month later, only to discover the box contained a weak swarm with only two frames of brood! Often times, bees that move into a catch box by themselves tend to remain for a longer period of time than a swarm that has been forced into the box during a bee removal, since those swarms tend to abscond a few days later.

In the beginning, I bought my first catch box to try to capture others swarms to expand my apiary. Later, I started building the boxes myself. Catch boxes are easy to make if you have the most basic wooden tools and some DIY skills. The materials I used when I started making my own were:

Scrap wood:

  • You will be surprised to see how much scrap wood is available if you start looking around. This is the more cost-effective route.
  • Make sure the sides of the box are not warped and that there are no gaps. Bees don’t like to live in a wind tunnel. Make it easy for them to maintain the temperature in the box by sealing it properly.
  • Some people use plastic catch boxes, but they bend easily in the summer heat and tend to become too hot for the bees. It is not recommended. Wood is more natural.
  • Other beekeepers use painted card board boxes. It works, but doesn’t last very long.
  • Use waterproof wood glue to stick the wood parts together and secure with nails to ensure durability.
  • Nails made from mild steel will rust with time, so it is better to use galvanized nails. It is also important not to hit the nails at a 90 degree angle, but rather a 70 degree angle. The nails then grip the wood better and cannot pull out later, even if the wood starts to swell due to moisture.


  • I treated the inside of the catch box with Waxol to preserve the wood. It is available at most hardware shops. You mix in about 10% of paraffin to make the Waxol more of a liquid and make it easy to apply with a paint brush.
  • I also paint my boxes with roof paint on the outside to camouflage it, but you can paint it with Waxol as well.

A 5-frame catch boxes
A 5-frame catch box


Different size catch boxes are used for different purposes. I prefer a 5 frame catch box, for the simple reason that it is not too heavy to handle when you must remove it. Others use 6, 8 & 10 frame boxes.


Any time of the year is suitable for placing a catch box. However, the prime time to place catch boxes is before the beginning of Spring, since most of the colonies start swarming during that time.


The best places are in the branches of trees, hidden in shrubbery or other safe locations in the neighbourhood. Place it out of sight, since children like to investigate. Ask colleagues and friends if you can place a catch box in the

A catch box on top of a pergola
A catch box on top of a pergola

ir yard. It is essential to explain to them that bees, when handled correctly, are not at all dangerous. Convince them by giving them free honey as “rent” when you catch a swarm in the box that you have placed in their garden. Once the swarm has moved in, remove the box after about two weeks. The swarm is more likely to stay in the box after the queen has started laying eggs.


It is advised not to put a box directly on the ground due to moisture, termites and ants. Bees don’t usually fly close to the ground, but higher up in the air. Do not place the box close to entertainment areas and lawns. Bees are irritated by lights at night and tend to fly around the light if the box is too close to the light. The vibrations of a lawnmower or weed eater can also irritate them. It is scientifically proven that the best results are achieved when the box is placed at between 3 to 6 meters above the ground. In areas where theft of catch boxes is predominant, the higher the box, the better. Some beekeepers resort to put it 9 meters high to make it inaccessible.


Paint the box generously with melted beeswax on the inside and at the entrance
Paint the box generously with melted beeswax on the inside and at the entrance

My first box had no bees for a year. When I spoke to the company I bought it from I was told that I have to use bait to attract bees, because it was a brand new box. I treated the box with beeswax on the inside and at the entrance and caught a swarm soon thereafter. Try to purchase old catch boxes, because the smell is familiar to bees and this increases the likelihood of success tremendously. However, be aware that used boxes that are not looked after can spread disease.

Use the following bait to attract bees to new boxes and frames:

– Paint with propolis
– Melt honey and beeswax in a double warmer until it melts, not over an open flame as beeswax is flammable.
– Others use the oil used for horse hooves to paint their boxes. I have not tried this method, but apparently it works.
– Bind old comb onto the frames.
– Use old brood frames, because the smell is attractive to the bees.
– Put a few drops of lemon essence at the entrance of the box.


Use brood frames with a 2cm wax foundation strip at the top. Bees measure the cavity available in the box and using a full wax foundation often results in the bees rejecting the box. Make sure the tension of the wiring is correct.


Place the box facing east for sunrise, not south facing due to the cold and wind. Clear the entrance and flight path of the bees from hanging branches or any other obstructions. Bees build their combs vertically, so place the box upright. Also, tilt the box slightly forward to prevent water from flowing into the entrance.


A box with a single 60mm wide entrance
A box with a single 60mm wide entrance

Most boxes available on the market have two entrances for better ventilation and temperature control. I found that the bees only use one entrance and, therefore, I build my own boxes with one entrance of 60mm wide and 6mm high in the centre. Once the swarm has 3 brood frames full of comb, I transfer them to a brood box. The temperature factor is therefore not an issue if the bees are transferred well before the box becomes full. Do not open the box on a day where the temperature is lower than 16 degrees Celsius. Ensure your bee transfers are quick and efficient to prevent the cells being exposed to the colder temperature.


Attach the queen includer to the front of the box with two screws
Attach the queen includer to the front of the box with two screws

When I do bee removals, I use a queen excluder/includer to keep the queen inside the box until the swarm has settled in. I keep it in place with screws for at least two weeks.

11. LID

Make sure the lid is not skew and fits properly. If there are small gaps with normal lids, the bees will seal it automatically with propolis. I prefer a telescopic lid in order for rain to drip off easily. If the lid is warped, try to strap it tight. Commercial beekeepers prefer to have normal lids for the boxes, because the telescopic lid reduces the number of catch boxes on a single truck load by between 15% to 25%, depending on the width of the overhang of the lid. When you place the box in a tree, ensure the lid doesn’t move, which leaves a gap on the top. Strap the box securely to the branch in case of wind.


Use a hive tool to plug the entrances with a piece of hessian
Use a hive tool to plug the entrances with a piece of hessian

It is highly recommended that you do not use any smoke to calm the bees before the box is closed. Sometimes you will have to travel for 30 minutes or more to move the box to your apiary and you don’t want to kill any bees on the way. It is easy to suffocate them. Smoke only if needed i.e. if there are bees on the outside of the entrance. Use a piece of hessian 10cm x 10cm. Put your hive tool at the centre of the piece of hessian and press the hessian in the entrance of the box. Plug it tightly to ensure that no bees can escape. Do not use paper towels. Other beekeepers use perforated entrance plates for ventilation during transport. When you arrive at your apiary site, put the box in place, stand at the back of the box, pull the hessian out of the entrance and shake off any bees from the hessian. Do not linger longer than necessary, since the bees will be agitated from the journey.


The optimal time for moving bees is at night, since the worker bees will be out foraging during the day. Transfer the bees to a brood box where there are 4 frames of brood in the box. My wife made me a huge pillow case out of spare net curtain material. I usually place the box in the curtain sleeve and fasten the entrance of the sleeve with a cable tie. When transporting bees in the car, I always keep my protective clothing on for the journey in case of an accident.

Remember to give the owner of the property where you placed the box a free bottle of honey when you go to fetch the box! Take a spare box with to replace the one where the swarm moved in. I found the owners look after the box like a watch dog and are quick to let you know when your new guests have arrived.


I know of a beekeeper who caught 700 swarms in 6 weeks in one season in the citrus region and another who caught 100 swarms from 140 boxes in suburbia. Personally I caught 4 swarms in one season in one of my boxes. I am currently increasing my number of catch boxes for the next season.


Invest in catch boxes first, have brood boxes available for transferring them when the colony is big enough later. Catch boxes are a very cost effective way to expand your apiary.

If you have any other tips and tricks or ideas where to improve please pop them in the comments below and we will share it with our young upcoming beekeepers! Together we make a difference for a better future for our bees and for ourselves.

The world’s food security is currently at risk. Without bees we will have much less food on the table. Thank you for your commitment to protect our bees!!

Presentation by Dr Fanie Booysen
Cell: 082 332 8007


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