How to Move a Beehive to a New Location
At some time in your beekeeping journey, you will wish one of your beehives (or more than one) was in a different spot. Knowing how to move a beehive to a new location is a valuable skill. The process requires some thought and planning. Let’s explore the major factors involved in moving hives.
Physical Challenges of Moving Beehives
Beehives are heavy and difficult to lift. Most beekeepers do not have access to heavy lifting equipment. I have moved production colonies by hand. This is not something you want to do alone. It’s a great time to enlist some strong friends.
Physically moving the hives is one part of the process when moving a beehive. Dealing with the living occupants inside – well, that is another. Hives should be moved very late in the day – dusk is best. By this time of day, most of the foragers should be back in the hive. We want to avoid leaving bees behind if possible.
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.) A fine mesh net like this is sturdy and will help ensure that most of the bees are not lost.
A honey bee trait that always amazed me was the tendency of the bees to stay in the hive. 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. However, I do like to secure the hive components together with ratchet straps. The last thing you need to happen is hive boxes moving around during transport.
And, it is a good idea to close the entrance of the hive. This can be accomplished with almost anything: crumpled newspaper, grey packing foam (often found in electronic boxes), a rolled strip of screened wire or a purchased moving screen. When moving beehives during hot weather, we need to be aware of the need for ventilation. In this case, folded screen or a purchased moving screen is the best option.
When Can You Move A Beehive?
Beehives can be moved almost anytime of the year. This is why commercial beekeepers are able to transport thousands of hives for crop pollination. However, beekeepers with a smaller number of hives have the advantage of choosing the best moving conditions for their bees.
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. This is the method that I use – even when relocating bees that I have captured in a swarm trap.
As daylight wanes, you will see fewer foragers returning to the hive. I like to wait until the last possible moment. Then, I close up the hive before full dark – so I can see what I am doing. The hive is ready to go.
What to Do If You Can’t Move a Beehive in the Dark?
If it is not possible to transport your hive during dark hours, you have a couple of options. It would be best to close up the hive at dusk. Wait as late as possible to avoid leaving field bees stranded. With the hive entrance still closed, the hive should be moved to the new location very early the next morning to avoid over-heating.
Open the entrance and step back – those bees will be ready to great the day! You can not leave a beehive closed up during warm weather, the bees have no way to cool the hive and death can result.
Can You Move a Beehive In Winter?
Absolutely! Winter is not a bad time to move a colony. On cold days, the bees are clustered inside. I give the same physical recommendations for winter movement. Close the entrance and strap the hive before moving.
I will add one more caution if you want to move a beehive in Winter. Be gentle. Do not handle the hive roughly just because you think the bees won’t respond. Rough handling can cause the cluster to break apart resulting in bee deaths. Perhaps, even your queen !
Why Moving Hives is Such A Big Deal
The physical aspects of moving beehives are easily overcome with some planning. So, why is hive relocation such a big deal? Well, it has to do with how honey bees navigate. 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.
The Honey Bee Mind Map & Hive Location
Beekeepers 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 amazing navigation skills of the honey bee.
If the beekeeper moves the hive more than 3 feet (approx.), some of the bees have trouble finding the hive. Personally, I have been able to move a hive 4 feet with little trouble( with no other hives nearby.) I suspect they smell their home.
But moving a beehive. even a short distance can cause bee confusion and drifting of bees to other nearby colonies. Bees may become “lost” and keep returning to the old hive location. I have had this happen when relocating capture swarms. A small percentage of the bees kept going back to the swarm trap! It is maddening.. LOL
Anytime that I move a colony of bees to a new location, I place some small tree limbs or branches in front of the hive for a few days. Bees leaving the hive notice the change and re-orient. This has worked very well for me for short moves.
How to Move a Beehive a Short Distance
If you need to move your beehive a short distance, – very short, you should have few problems. A couple of feet to the left, right, back or forward is not a big deal.
You can also use this technique when you need to move a farther “short” distance away. But things will go better for you and the bees if you can do so slowly.
Let’s say, you need to move a beehive 50 ft away? Move it 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 . Each week he pulled the hive a little farther along it 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 2 steps. Move it more than 2 miles away for a few weeks and then bring it back to the desired location.
This forces the honey bee “mind map” to reset. First, the bees reset to the new hive location (perhaps at a friends house) and then they reset to the new hive location at your home.
Should You Close Up a Beehive After Moving?
Some beekeepers favor closing up the hive for a couple of days after moving the hive to the new location. They feel this allows them to it move the hive more than 3 feet but less than 2-3 miles in one step. I do not doubt that this method can work. However, I am not a proponent of closing up hives. I think it stress the bees and its just not my way.
How to Move a Beehive A Long Distance
Upon occasion, you may desire to move your hive several miles (or more) away. This can be successfully achieved with the following steps.
1. Plan to move the beehive at night. The foragers are back inside the colony at night. 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.
2. Disturbed bees will crawl out of the front of the hive and sting. Close up the front of the beehive with screen wire or some type of breathable material. 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.
3. Bees use propolis to plug cracks in the hive. This causes the boxes to stick together. Propolis is often a problem for beekeepers during hive inspections. But before moving a hive, you should secure the hive with some type of strapping. Don’t depend on propolis holding it together.
4. 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. Unload the hive and set it on a hive stand or similar base. Gently remove the entrance closure (screen etc) and walk away.
5. When the bees emerge the next morning, they recognize a location change. Flying around the beehive before foraging helps them form a new mind map. Leave the bee alone for a few days to adjust and calm down.
Avoid Moving Beehives When Possible
The best advice I can give a new beekeeper is to choose the best hive location in the beginning. I explain all considerations for hive placement in my article – “Where to Put Your Beehive?”. 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 relocate your beehive to a new location. Now your bees can “be styling” in their new location and making lots of honey for you.
updated post 2019
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