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Moving bees

Some suggestions to reduce problems

All beekeepers are likely to need to move bees and for a number of reasons. It could be a beginner who has bought a colony and needs to move them to their new apiary, an established beekeeper who needs to move bees a short distance, or to a crop such as oil seed rape (OSR) or heather.

There is "standard" advice that is often given, but this usually applies to moving bees in the summer. You should be aware there are several different considerations when moving bees in the winter, that are more appropriate when moving shorter distances, which I cover on this page.

Bees have much shorter lives in the summer than they do in the winter. In my experience, winter bees have longer memories than summer bees, so can retain their hive location for several weeks. If you move a hive away, you need to leave it longer before moving it back to a different spot in the apiary. On several occasions during the winter I have left a colony at a different site for 6 weeks or more, then moved them back to a different stand and found the bees returning to their old stand.

In fair weather during the summer, returning bees finding their hive moved will soon go into another hive, but in the winter returning bees are likely to fly around, get cold and die.

Bees orientate themselves to their own home and to features such as a fence, post or bush close by. When returning home they will fly to the entrance with great accuracy and will be confused if their hive has been moved, even if only a few feet. In the summer, bees will usually fly around a mile and a half in normal circumstances, though on occasions it could be more. In winter it could be only a few hundred yards.

There is a well known saying in beekeeping that in the summer you should move a colony less than 3 feet, or more than 3 miles and within reason this works well. In my experience bees seem to remember their location for about 3 weeks in the summer, so remember 3,3 and 3.

Moving short distances.

For short moves of several feet there is no need to secure the hive or close the entrance, but wear head protection and lift the hive from the bottom! This is particularly important if you are being helped by a non-beekeeper. Smoke the entrance and move the hive gently. Make sure there is nothing to trip over.

If you have near neighbours remember the bees may fly around looking for their home if you move it too far away. The further you move bees, the more they are likely to fly around looking for their home. Until they settle down this will mean a lot of bees in the air and perhaps settling in order to rest. An experienced beekeeper can get away with moving a hive much further, as bees will usually be accepted into a hive if they have been foraging.

As indicated earlier there are differences depending on if it is summer or winter .

Summer

A hive can be moved about 3 feet at a time in the summer when bees are flying every day. If there are no colonies close you can stretch this a little as returning bees are likely to go into the nearest hive. My observation is that on a good flying day if you move a hive it takes the bees 2-3 hours to fully find their new position. This allows you to move the hive again, so they pick up the new position, then after another 2-3 hours you can move it again, so on a good flying day you can move the hive several times a day, but 3 feet at a time. This can be improved by pushing something like a garden fork into the ground and move it with the hive. On a poor flying day this doesn't work so well, tending to suggest that not all flying bees fly on poor days. A single hive on a featureless area such as a lawn can be moved further than 3 feet at a time, but I suggest smaller steps to be safe.

Winter

In winter it is difficult moving 3 feet a day because not all bees fly and the hive can be some distance away from it's location when a returning bee flew last time. It is much better to move the hive after a spell of 2-3 weeks of non-flying weather, but there may still be bees that go back to their original site.

Bees obviously don't fly as far in the winter as they do in the summer. This distance will vary, depending on the weather and the topography, but in general they won't fly more than 500 yards or so. Of course there are always going to be occasions when they do!

In general if bees are bringing in fairly large amounts of pollen they may be going further to get it, so you need to keep an eye out on what they are doing

Moving longer distances.

Single walled hives can have the roof removed. WBCs can have the lifts reduced and leave the roof on, unless space is a problem, in which case a cloth or sheet of polythene can be tied over the top. An alternative is to remove the roof and lay some sacking or similar inside to prevent bees escaping from the cavity.

The colony will need to be secured to prevent it moving apart. Foam, grass, newspaper, etc can be used to block off the entrance if there is no other form of closure. In the winter, distances of some length can be made without providing ventilation, but in the summer the colony will be more active with many more bees and the hive can get overheated very quickly, causing the combs to melt and collapse.

Most beekeepers have OMFs and they should give adequate ventilation for a journey of half an hour or so, over that and I would suggest the crownboard is removed and replaced with a screenboard. This can be sprayed with water every half hour or so and a watering can with a rose on or hand sprayer is suitable for this.

Secure the hive by whatever method you choose, but I like the straps with no moving parts and a toggle action. If no more than a super is on the hive I would only use one strap, more supers and I would use two.

If all colonies are being moved I would prefer to close them up when they have finished flying. If not all colonies are being moved it could be done earlier, when any flyers will go into other colonies.

Placing hives.

I like to get the individual stands set up first, then place all the hives, remove straps, remove whatever blocks off the entrance, then finally put the roof on. I deliberately don't remove the entrance block last in case I forget it. Yes, I have, and so have others!

Transporting.

The journey should be reasonably gentle without violent braking. I have never had frames swing as some suggest and have never lost bees or a queen. On a flatbed truck or trailer it might make sense to rope the hives down. Don't leave items such as roofs loose.

Carrying.

This might sound obvious to a practical person, but it will make it much easier if there are two of you. You may be carrying hives at dusk or in the dark. If on your own, it's quite difficult to see where you are putting your feet with a hive of bees in front of you. Beware of any dangers such as ditches, fences, tree roots, rabbit holes, etc. Virtually everyone who has moved bees has a story to tell!

Other methods.

It's often said when moving bees within flying distance that you can block off the entrance with grass, or put some sort of barrier up such as branches or straw in front of the hive. I have tried these several times and in my experience I haven't found they work very well.

Roger Patterson.