Even if you think you have found the perfect spot for your beehives, chances are you will face moving bees at some point. Knowing how to move a beehive is a necessary skill for most beekeepers. Whether you need to relocate a hive due to personal reasons or for the good of the colony, there are some tips you need to know first.
Why Moving a Beehive Is a Big Deal
New beekeepers are always cautioned about the issues that can arise with bee relocation. But, there are times when there is just no other option and the task must be done. Hopefully, it will not be an emergency and you will at least have a few days to plan.
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Sometimes, we need to move beehives because we are moving to a new home. If you are lucky, your hives can travel to the new location with a minimum of stress.
Another reason for moving bees is that you just wish one of your them (or more than one) was in a different spot. Bee hive relocation requires some thought and planning-if you hope to avoid losing a lot of bees.
The Honey Bee Mind Map
So, why is moving the bee boxes an issue? It has do to with the way honey bees are able to find their way home – using a type of GPS. We know that honey bees navigate using the location of the sun. (They can do it even when it is cloudy? How cool is that?).
The magnetic fields of the earth also play a role in bee navigation. And now, we are learning that bees use landmarks to form “mind maps”.
The simple fact is that healthy bees know where the hive is. Fascinating! But there is a down-side to the navigation skills of the honey bee.
It is an amazing system, but in nature bees don’t normally have their home moved while they are away. When we do that – it causes problems.
If the beekeeper moves the hive what we would consider a short distance away – some of the bees have trouble finding the hive. Even those inside the hive may fly out and away and fail to reorient to the new location.
Relocating a Beehive to a Nearby Spot
If you need to move your beehive a very short distance, you should have few problems. A couple of feet (2-3 feet ) to the left, right, back or forward is not a big deal.
Returning foragers may experience a bit of confusion. But, they will use their sense of smell to find their sisters nearby. As more of them find their way home – they will fan at the hive entrance (releasing pheromones)- to help others find the way to the entrance.
Because of the way bees locate their home, moving hives several feet (more than 4 – 5 feet) to the right or left can result in more bee confusion.
Even that short distance can cause some drifting of bees other nearby colonies. They may become “lost” and keep returning to the original location. However, this problem generally resolves itself within an hour or so.
This situation can also occur when relocating captured swarms a short distance. A small percentage of the bees kept going back to the swarm trap area! It is maddening.. LOL
Forcing Bees to Reorient
Anytime that you move a colony of bees to a nearby location, place some small tree limbs or branches in front of the hive for a few days.
Foraging bees leaving the hive notice the change and “hopefully” re-orient to the new hive location. This has worked very well for me for short moves. It is not always 100% successful.
Some may be unable to find their home and perish but it does help reduce the number of lost and confused bees. This same strategy can help when you capture a swarm near the bee yard and place it in a hive.
Again, aid in helping the bees reorient by placing an obstacle in front of the entrance. This could be a leafy branch or similar. It is temporary and only there to make the bees think – “hey something is different here”.
Moving Hives a Long Distance
Surprisingly, moving bees a farther distance is actually the easiest thing to do. This is why so many experts recommend to move the hive a couple of miles away and then back to the location you desire.
This noticeable change of location forces the honey bee “mind map” to reset. First, the bees reorient to the new hive location (perhaps at a friends house) and enjoy the resources their for a few days.
Then, when then are returned – they again reset to the new hive location at your home. This may seem like a lot of confusion but bee colonies are very adaptable.
It is believed this double reset is not as stressful as losing foragers. However, not everyone has the time or property available to do this.
Mid-Distance Hive Relocation
The most common challenge beekeepers face is the need to move a colony more than a short distance but not too far way.
As amazing as it sounds, moving a beehive an intermittent distance can be more challenging than long distance relocation.
Let’s say, you need to relocate your bees to a spot 50 ft away? You do not have the opportunity to take them miles away and bring them back. In this case, the best way to move them without bee loss is to do so very slowly.
Move your hive in small increments (2 ft at a time) once a week until you reach your destination. I know this is time consuming but it is a way to avoid lost bees.
I had a beekeeping friend who did this by placing his hive on an old play wagon – I would recommend a sturdy garden cart or a small trailer.
Each week he pulled the hive a little farther along its destination. It looked funny but it worked! If you do not wish to implement the “wagon plan”, it is best to relocate the colony in the 2 steps long distance option.
How to Transport Bees When Relocating
Beehives are heavy and difficult to lift. Moving full sized honey producing colonies by hand is not something you want to do alone. It’s a great time to enlist some strong friends.
Physically lifting the hives is one part of the process when moving a beehive. But honestly, that is the easy part. Dealing with the living occupants inside – well, that is another matter.
A handy resource to have is a hive moving net. I used one for years when capturing swarms or transporting package bees home (they always had a few loose bees hitching a ride.) It comes in handy if you transport bees inside the car!
A honey bee trait that always amazed me was the tendency of the bees to stay in the hive while moving.
As long as my hive sits on the back of the truck or rack of the ATV with the motor running, the bees stay inside. But you don’t want to turn off the motor until you are ready to deal with the bees.
Of course, most beekeepers who move a beehive do not have nets. That is okay. You do need to secure the hive components together with ratchet straps or similar. The last thing you need to happen is hive tops or bottom boards coming off during transport.
And, most beekeeper will want to close the entrance of the hive-but not air-tight. This can be accomplished with almost anything: crumpled newspaper, grey packing foam (often found in electronic boxes), a rolled strip of screened wire. Use a little duct tape to hold it in if you wish.
Steps for Moving Your Hive
After rounding up a couple of strong friends, your hive can be relocated to a new spot using these tips.
- Plan to move the hive late in the day – just at dusk is best – waiting for the last stragglers. Now, the foragers are back inside the colony. You will not be losing bees that are out in the field.
Bees don’t generally fly at night. But don’t let your beekeeping friend “goad you” into being the one holding the flashlight.
- Close up the front of the beehive entrance with a mesh, screen wire or some type of breathable material. Disturbed bees will crawl out of the front of the hive and sting.
Especially during summer, honey bees can overheat inside the colony-even at night. You do not want to arrive at the new location with a box of dead bees.
- Secure the hive with some type of strapping. Don’t depend on propolis or bee glue holding it together. Having hive parts come unstacked during transport does not make the bees happy.
- Lift the secured box into the back of a truck or car and travel to the new (or temporary location). Be gentle with the bees – especially if moving in cold weather.
- At the new location – unload the hive and set it on a hive stand or similar base. Place some limbs or partial obstructions in front of the hive entrance. This helps them form a new mind map.
- Gently remove the entrance closure (screen etc) and walk away. Leave the bees alone for a few days to adjust and calm down.
Keeping bees with success depends on developing an understanding of bee life. Failure to do so hurts the bees and the beekeeper.
Avoid Moving Beehives When Possible
However, situations change and beekeepers find themselves needing to move bees at times. Giving proper consideration to hive placement is the best apiary management plan.
But when the occasion arises and you must move your honey bees, it can be done. With proper timing and planning, you can move you beehive to a new spot.
Beehives can be moved almost anytime of the year. This is why commercial beekeepers are able to transport thousands of hives for crop pollination.
The best time of day to move a beehive is after dark. Most of the foragers will have returned to the hive and the temperatures are cooler.
Winter is not a bad time to move a colony. On cold days, the bees are clustered inside. Close the entrance and strap the hive parts together before moving. Do not handle the hive roughly just because you think the bees won’t respond.
Be gentle. Rough handling can cause the cluster to break apart resulting in bee deaths. Perhaps, even your queen bee !
It is not necessary to close up the hive entrance for several days after relocation of a hive.
But, some beekeepers choose to do so and it should do no harm if temperatures are not hot, the hive has good ventilation and food resources inside.