Moving beehives is my least favorite part of beekeeping. Most hobbyist don’t often have to move their hives, but occasionally an issue will arise where it will need to be done. After witnessing several of these moves gone wrong amongst my own beekeeping students, I decided I needed to write a how to guide.
What You Need to Know
-There’s a rule in beekeeping that when you move a hive any distance less than 3 miles, you have to move it only 3ft at time. Otherwise, the forager bees get confused and will go back to the original location of the hive.
- -If you are moving the bees less than 3 miles, but more than 3ft there are some alternatives to moving them 3ft at a time. See below.
-If you are moving your bees over 3 miles, they should only be moved after nightfall or early in the morning before the foragers start working. Otherwise you will leave forager bees behind.
-If you are moving your bees 3ft at a time, you can move them at any time of day. I prefer to move them in the middle of the day, when most of the bees are out foraging and the hive will be lighter for it.
-If you are moving your bees a greater distance, you typically want block the entrance(s) so that no bees can escape during the move. Do not leave the entrances blocked without some form of ventilation for longer than 1 hour. When bees are confined for transport, be sure to keep hives cool and out of the sun.
- -Always suit up. Bees typically are not happy about you moving their hive. They especially don’t like being disturbed at night. Even if you have sealed the hive up, you should suit up in case of a “bee leak”. At night, bees are more likely to crawl than fly and guards are much quicker to sting.
Moving Your Hive Less Than 3 Miles
Moving your hive 3ft each day across your yard to a new location may work in some situations, but in others it’s not ideal. Maybe the distance is too great or maybe the topography of your yard makes it impossible. In this situation you can either move the hive to a location that is more than 3 miles away for a week and then bring it back to the new location in your yard or you can try this trick.
Moving Your Hive More Than 3 Miles
When moving your hive a greater distance, I recommend you do so after dark or in the early morning before foragers are flying.
Step 1: Block the entrance to your hive. You can use a block of wood or a piece of screen, just make sure whatever you use is secure with no bee leaks. You should also make sure you block any top entrances for example, the notch in your inner cover. Another thing to check for is any cracks between your boxes which sometimes happen with old equipment that has become warped and bees might escape from these spaces. I often move my hives at night and will block the entrance with a piece of wood, but I would not leave the bees sealed this way if it were during the day or if it were longer than an hour. In these situations it would be better to use a screen to block the entrance so the bees have plenty of ventilation.
Step 2: Use a ratcheting strap to keep your hive bodies together.
Step 3: Secure your hive in your vehicle so it cannot tip or slide during transport.
Step 4: As soon as you place your hive set up in its new location, open the entrance.
In some ways freshly caught swarms are an exception to the 3ft or 3 miles rule. A swarm of bees has not yet established a home and are quick to reorient when moved to a new location. However, forager bees can still get confused especially when in the process of catching the swarm. For example, if you are removing a swarm from a tree and you shake the bees into your hive box and then put that box on the ground, you may find that foragers will ball up in the tree again. The distance between the original location of the swarm and the box is too great. You may need to elevate the box or continuously disrupt the foragers from landing back in the tree (keep shaking the branch or remove the branch entirely) until the reorient. Sometimes when a swarm reorients, the bees all fly out of the box and circle in the air before landing all together. But once the swarm has landed in the box, if you move them (ideally after dark when they are all inside) even if you move them only a mile, the foragers will simply reorient instead of flying back to the tree. However shorter distances, such as 20ft, may still confuse them. It’s best to watch their behavior and make adjustments based on that.