Bee-Loved Plant Products To Attract Swarms

Cameroon (photo Eric)
Cameroon (photo Eric Tourneret)

‘Adamawa, a paradise of bees’, renowned bee photographer Eric Tourneret calls this place in Cameroon. And then he introduced me to the idea that beekeepers can use bee-loved plants and flowers to attract swarms.

In Adamawa, a  beekeeper fastens into a tree a traditional cylindrical hive, made of the veins from raffia leaves, after having coated the sides with beeswax prepared in an infusion of citronella to attract a wild swarm of bees.  Here’s a citronella plant. With that ‘citron’ in the name I imagine it smells lemony. I don’t know if it’s ever grown in New Zealand but will check.


And then, through Facebook, I met Melissa Blodgett Vanek, who also uses bee-loved plant products to attract swarms (and has a lovely blog). Melissa studies at the College of the Melissae, the Center for Sacred Beekeeping, in Ashland Oregon, one of six United States bee cities. What a great idea bee cities are.


I saw a video of Melissa’s goats, with two hives in the background, and asked her about the hives. She responded–

These two are baited boxes waiting for spring to finally take hold and swarm season to start! …I am working here on the bee-centric gardening as well and have my eyes open to find possible log hives in my woods. Lemongrass oil has worked for me in terms of baiting. Thyme and lemon balm are favorites of my bees.

lemon balm from Melissa's blog
lemon balm from Melissa’s post on ‘The medicine of melissa [officinalis]’, the  plant named after honey bees

And then Melissa added a bonus, not knowing yet that I don’t have bees, partly because I live in an area where the city council uses Roundup regularly–

To keep mites at bay, have you tried putting stinging nettles in the hive?

Have any of you tried this?

Photo 02-05-2015 14 15 16
dear bees – choose this hive, wrote Jonathan Powell

And then Jonathan Powell, of,  set up this log hive ‘with new roof made from biodynamic rye, hand cut by my good friend Brock’. This is what he wrote

This is set-up as a ‘bait hive’,  which I hope a passing swarm will find irresistible. The key to a good bait hive is a couple of drops of lemon grass oil just inside the entrance (topped up every few weeks).

And he added–

…and most importantly, old starter comb 8cm x 8cm squares pinned the ceiling with oak pegs. There is nothing better in beekeeping than to have the experts, the bees, choose your hive and settle in. You know that when they do that over 80% of the scout bees have voted that your hive is the best.

So, citronella in Cameroon, lemongrass oil in the United States and in England. I know I can grow lemongrass. On the hunt for citronella now. And any more suggestions are, as always, very welcome.

PS Jonathan’s lemongrass oil worked!

4 thoughts on “Bee-Loved Plant Products To Attract Swarms”

  1. My log hive mentor, Hal Strain, used a frame of honey in his latest log hive. He thinks at first, bees came in to rob the honey, but that the ‘foot traffic’ of those bees might have made the hive more attractive to the swarm that moved in a few weeks later. He used a few drops of lemongrass oil too.
    I generally use a little LGO, a little honeycomb (I don’t have much) and before I set the log up, I’ll melt some old comb with a torch on the side of the hive. Someone on said that smell attracts bees. All three of my log hives now have natural swarms that have moved in. It’s a wonderful feeling to have a swarm of bees actually vote your hive as their next home.


    1. O this is wonderful to read! Thanks very much for your stories. Three log hives with natural swarms seems completely fabulous to me! Where in the world do you and Hal live, and will either of you need to monitor your bees for disease and feed them sugar, or can you just leave them to get on with it and take a little honey now and then?


      1. We live on the Oregon Coast. Hal lives inland about 20 miles. This is his dictum…
        We provide the hollow log. The bees can be free to choose it. We don’t medicate, poison mites, or take any honey. In my humble opinion, the bees have to adapt to living with the mites. If you try to poison them, you’re going to be killing the beneficial mites too. I think most beekeepers like to think they’re helping the bees by killing the mites, but I doubt if they know there are more than 30 kinds of mites, some of which can be beneficial. In my log hives, I let the bees build their own natural comb. My reasoning…bees build both sides of the comb at once, foundation gets in the way of that process. Also bees are free to build their own cell size (not have to accept the cell size stamped on foundation) The bigger the cell size, the more mites will be born.

        No feeding of any kind…after all, they can survive in the forests with no one pulling frames or mixing sugar water for them. We don’t take any honey from the log hives…I read this quote somewhere that says it all…”Man can live without honey longer than he can live without bees.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks a million, solarbeez! I’m just writing about two bee sanctuaries and it seems to me that you and Hal have created the most wonderful sanctuaries and I treasure your stories. Sending you and ‘your’ bees every good wish in the world.


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