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How to Move a Beehive {Without Losing Bees}

If you are a beekeeper, chances are that you will need to know how to move a beehive at some point. Though we strive to find the perfect location for our hives, things happen. 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.

Moving a Beehive Without Killing Bees

Beekeeper working to move a beehive to a new location image.

Sometimes, we need to move beehives because we are moving to a new home. Or, perhaps you are having a problem with a bear or other pest and your hives are in danger.

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And maybe, you just wish one of your beehives (or more than one) was in a different spot. The bee hive relocation requires some thought and planning if you hope to avoid losing bees.

Large numbers of honey bees may die if their home is moved while they are out foraging. They will return to the original hive location – even if it is a short distance away.

Some may be unable to find their home and perish. As amazing as it sounds, moving the hive a small distance can be more challenging than long distance relocation.

Keeping bees with success depends on developing an understanding of bee life. Failure to do so hurts the bees and the beekeeper.

Relocating a Beehive – The Honey Bee Mind Map

Why is beehive relocation such a big deal?  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?). 

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 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 what we would consider a short distance away – some of the bees have trouble finding the hive. They fail to reorient to the new location.

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Honey bees orient to new hive location to find way home image.

Personally, I have been able to move a hive 3-4 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. 

This happens when relocating capture swarms a short distance.  A small percentage of the bees kept going back to the swarm trap area!  It is maddening.. LOL

Anytime that you move a colony of bees to a new nearby location, 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 to the hive location. This has worked very well for me for short moves.

How to Move a Hive (Short Distance – Long Distance)

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 smell their sister nearby. As some of them find their way home – they will fan at the hive entrance to help others find the way to the entrance.

But because of the way bees located their home, moving hives several feet (more than 4 – 5 feet?) to the right or left can result in massive bee confusion.

Several hives on stands in apiary with arrow to show short distance move image.

Hive Relocation to Nearby Spot

Let’s say, you need to move a beehive 50 ft away? The best way to move a beehive a short distance without bee loss is to do so slowly.

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 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 2 steps. 

Another tip that can aid in helping the bees reorient is to place 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”.

Long Distance Hive Relocation

This is why so many experts recommend to move the hive a mile or two away and then back to the location you desire.

Move it more than 1-2 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 reorient to the new hive location (perhaps at a friends house) and then they reset to the new hive location at your home. Not everyone has the time or property available to do this.

Beehives loaded on trailer to move to new crop image.

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.  As daylight wanes, you will see fewer foragers returning to the hive. 

Wait until the last possible moment. Then, close up the hive before full dark – so you can see what you are doing.  The hive is ready to go.

While bees do tend to not fly at night, they do crawl. You can get a stung by a bee in the dark so be careful.

Waiting Until Dark to Move the Hive

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. Waiting as late as possible to avoid leaving field bees stranded. 

Wire mesh with holes too small for bees to fit through can be pushed into the entrance or attached with duct tape.

The bees can remain in the closed hive over night. 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.

Beehive in Winter snow image.

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.

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 !

How to Transport Bees When Relocating

Beehives are heavy and difficult to lift.  Most beekeepers do not have access to heavy lifting equipment.

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.) 

A fine mesh net like this is sturdy and will help ensure that none of the bees in the hive can get out and be lost. 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.

Beehive strapped down with ratchet straps prior to relocating image.

The last thing you need to happen is hive tops or bottom boards coming off during transport. And, it is a good idea 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 or a purchased moving screen. 

When moving hives during hot weather, we need to be aware of the need for beehive ventilation.  In this case, folded screen or a purchased moving screen is the best option to close the hive entrance.

Steps for Moving Your Beehive

After rounding up a couple of strong friends, you hive can be relocated to a new spot using these tips.

  1. Plan to move the beehive at night. 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.
  2. Close up the front of the beehive with 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.
  3. 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.
  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.
  5. 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 the bees recognize a location change.

    Flying around the beehive before foraging helps them form a new mind map.
  6. Gently remove the entrance closure (screen etc) and walk away. Leave the bees alone for a few days to adjust and calm down.
Bees scenting at front of recently moved hive image.

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 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 stresses the bees and its just not my way.

If you do close up the hive, be sure that the bees inside have plenty of food and the hive has very good ventilation to avoid over heating.

Avoid Moving Beehives When Possible

The best advice for a new beekeeper is to choose the best hive location in the beginning. Don’t place hives too close to your house.

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. 

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