HOW TO MOVE A BEEHIVE

Posted May 1, 2017
by Hilary

Moving beehives is my least favorite part of beekeeping. Most hobbyists 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.

The Rule You Need to Know

There’s a rule in beekeeping: 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.

Timing is Everything
  • 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.
Safety for You and Your Bees

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.”

Tip: 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 gaps to allow bee leaks. You should also make sure you block any top entrances. For example, is there a notch in your inner cover? Another thing to check for is any cracks between your boxes, which sometimes happens with old, warped equipment. The bees might escape from these spaces.

Safety Note: 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.

Moving Swarms

In some ways freshly caught swarms are an exception to the 3-ft 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.

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 gather 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 the next day instead of flying back to the tree.

Exceptions: Shorter distances, such as 20ft, may still confuse a swarm. If you choose a short distance, it’s best to watch their behavior and make adjustments based on your observations.

19 Comments

  1. scsheffield

    Moving the bees is definitely the worse part of beekeeping. Especially in the southwest were so many hives are africanized! Nice stuff!

    Reply
  2. Gary Warren

    I love your articles, very helpful and we’ll explained. Thank you and keep up the great work you do.

    Reply
  3. Jared

    We moved a beehive this weekend in tropical north Australia and the more experienced beek cut a length of shadecloth exactly the width of the opening then rolled it up into a tight “sausage” that just fit into the opening. On letting go it expanded slightly and filled the enterence and bees were unable to push past. No squished bees at the other end either!

    Reply
    • Ruth Osborn

      I have two bee hives of natives bees that sellled into unused warmer features in my garden. I love having them there, but am moving 400kilometres to Magnetic Island. I would like to take them with me, do you think it is possible?

      Reply
      • Hilary

        When you say native bees do you mean wild honey bees or are they another species of bee like bumble bees or leaf cutter bees?

        Reply
  4. Manuka honey

    Thanks! This really help me alot. As i plan to keep bees soon.

    Reply
  5. Julius C Neal jr

    I have a question. Someone in my area want to tear down a garage, and they know that there’s a bee hive in it. Is it ok to remove and relocate the hive anytime or only during swarm season?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      It’s best to remove them in the spring when then can recover more easily, but depending on your climate it *may* be done any time.

      Reply
  6. Donna

    Ah so I can’t move a hive from Virginia to Illinois over two days?

    Reply
  7. Erin R

    How soon after moving a new swarm (over 3 km) can I look inside?
    Can I give a frame of brood to the new hive – this swarm came from the same hive so I am confident there is no disease.
    Thanks
    Erin – Perth Australia

    Reply
    • Hilary

      If you are adding in a frame of open brood you don’t need to wait. The brood will keep the swarm from absconding. If you are not adding brood, wait a week.

      Reply
  8. Laurie smith

    I have built a top bar hive and wish to relocate an existing hive to it in the same location but about 3 foot above the present location by simply transferring the frames any tips

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I don’t understand what you’re trying to do… you want to transfer bees from a Langstroth hive into a TBH?

      Reply
  9. sue

    I need to relocate my hive, in my yard about 20 feet. I was planning on moving it 3 feet at a time and leaving it at it’s new location for 5 days or so, depending on the weather. It is way too heavy for me to lift it, Can i moveit one box at a time if I move it quickly ?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Yes, that should be OK.

      Reply
  10. April

    I’m in a pickle. We are moving to another state this week and I want to take my two beehives/colonies with me. They are 10 frame Langstroths, one deep and one super each. I have created screened top boards for them, put double ratchet straps on, and have partially closed the hive entrances. One hive is cooperating nicely in preparation for the move, but the other one has a lot of bees clustered on the front of the box, night and day. The weather has heated up making that situation worse. These two-box hives are very heavy becaue the supers have a lot of honey in them. I’m not sure the best way to try to lift them. I will be driving one car and towing another Jeep Cherokee behind me. My plan was to put the hives in the back of the Cherokee and roll down all the windows and stop from time to time to spray water on the top screens for them. The trip is about 8 hours. I have never moved hives before. Can you give me any tips on getting the bees to stop clustering on the one hive and a good technique of physically moving them from their spot in my front courtyard to my car, about 30 feet away?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      When the bees are clustered at night and I need to close them, I use smoke to drive them back inside.

      Reply
    • joejtrsmoe@gmail.com

      After dark, spray mist overtop from back. they think it os raining. Light mist from hand spay bottle.

      Reply
  11. Greg Mover

    Beekeeping can also help build a sense of community. Sharing honey with neighbors, exchanging knowledge and experiences with other beekeepers, and contributing to local conservation efforts create a wonderful sense of connection and camaraderie.

    Reply

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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