June 21, 2024

Moving Bees – Good Practice

Most beekeepers will need to move bee hives, for example, when they are bought or sold, taken to fields or orchards for specific crops, or if they are just in the wrong place.  But we need to know what we are doing.

In nature, a honeybee nest would remain in one place.  Moving bees can put them under stress or spread pests and diseases that seriously endanger their health.   There are some key matters for us to consider that concern both the well-being of our bees and human safety.

How far to move bees

  • Bees orientate to the precise location of their nest entrance. If you were to take a foraging bee and release her a mile or two from her nest site, like a homing pigeon, the bee will follow landmarks until she finds the exact spot of her nest. The general rule for moving colonies of bees is therefore: Move bees less than three feet (in which case they will drift this short distance) or more than three miles (in which case they will re-orientate at the new location). If a colony is moved, say half a mile, thousands of bees may fly back to the original site and cause a nuisance looking for their home!
  • One exception to this rule is to move bees in winter; after they have been continuously clustered for about two weeks of cold weather. In these circumstances the bees will usually re-orientate to their new position when the weather warms up and they break cluster.
  • Another exception is taking and hiving a swarm. These bees seem loyal to the swarm rather than their old nest site, so can be hived in any suitable position.
  • A beekeeper wishing to move bees half a mile in summer will need to move them more than three miles away, then wait three or four weeks for the generation of foragers with memory of the old site to die, and then move the hive to the new site.

Potential dangers of moving bees

  • When shut in their hive and vibrated in a vehicle, bees become stressed and are in danger of overheating and their wax combs melting and collapsing. Bees can also suffocate if there is not sufficient air supply.
  • Beekeepers and other people may be in danger of being stung if bees escape from hives during transit.
  • Hives are heavy. To reduce the risk of injury, consider removing excess honey before the move to lighten the load. Consider asking another beekeeper to help you with lifting and carrying hives, maybe using a hive carrier or wheelbarrow. Beware of trip hazards too, especially if working on your own.

Planning for a move to another site

  • If possible, visit the new site in daylight. Agree with the landowner a suitable location for the hives and place hive stands in position.
  • Arrange for vehicular access to the site, knowing how to unlock gates.
  • If possible, avoid hot weather and hot times of day. Very late in the evening, or very early in the morning before or soon after dawn when the air is cooler, are good.

Preparing for travel

  • Ensure the colony is not overcrowded; bees need space within the hive to spread out allowing air to circulate. Add an empty super if necessary.
  • Make sure that the frames within the hive cannot move, so bees will not be squashed. If a box is not full of frames, consider fixing frames in place with a couple of nails or by adding extra empty frames to fill the space. Having a well propolised colony is an advantage here!
  • Use well maintained, bee tight equipment, to prevent bees escaping during the move.
  • Bees sometimes cluster under mesh floors. Brushing them off and putting a monitoring board under the hive temporarily, until the entrance has been closed, can prevent this, if done a day or more in advance of the move. Or when you come to move the hive, it can be wrapped in a sheet to contain any bees under the mesh floor.
  • Replace the cover-board with a mesh travelling screen to provide good ventilation.
  • Strap, clamp or staple the hive parts from floor to cover-board together securely. A common method is to use two straps with tensioners around each hive, one at the front, one at the back to stop the hive parts twisting.

Loading Up

  • Either late in the day when all the bees have finished flying, or at dawn before they have begun flying, block the entrance. Beekeepers often use a strip of upholstery foam to block the entrance. If the bees are hanging out of the entrance, spraying a of mist water over them may persuade them to go in. Then remove the roof.
  • Gently load the hives into your vehicle. Having the frames running in the direction of travel helps prevent the frames swinging and squashing bees. Ensure hives cannot slide about.

On the road

  • Driving safely is clearly paramount. Ensure that you can see clearly and remain in full control of the vehicle. Drive as gently and smoothly as possible, consistent with road safety, to avoid jolting the bees.
  • Keep your car or van as cool as possible, either opening windows or using the air conditioning. In hot weather spray a mist of water through the travelling screen every half hour or so, so that the bees have water to evaporate to cool the hive.
  • Take your beekeeping equipment with you, including duct tape and foam in case bees escape. Remember to take a torch if you will be working after dark!

On arrival

  • Gently lift the hives onto the stands. Replace the roofs. Hive straps can be removed and cover-boards replaced at the next inspection.
  • Lastly open the hive entrances.  In some cases, bees may rush out aggressively – especially if you have been delayed on the journey, and it is now hot.  Act with due caution for yourself and others.

Version 1            January 2017                                                            Owner – Executive Committee