The Basics of Moving Hives

At some point every beekeeper will need to move hives, whether it’s a beginning hobbyist bringing home their first colony or a seasoned professional moving an entire operation across the country. Here at the NorCal Bee Informed Partnership “headquarters” in Oroville, we recently relocated 4 rooftop colonies about a half mile away because some of the maintenance staff felt did not feel comfortable working on the AC units near the bees, and we wanted to avoid any issues before they happened! In this blog I would like to go through the basics of moving colonies and some lessons learned from our recent experience.

Step 1: Preparing the hives.

The night before the big move is a good time to get the hives ready, but for morning people, before dawn on the day of the move also works. If the hive is closed up during the day, any foragers out in the field will be left behind. Close up the hive by stapling a piece of #8 hardware cloth over the main entrance. Make sure it is the correct length and bend it 90 degrees so that it fits snugly in the entrance. Smoke the bees as needed to keep them calm and in the hive. Inspect the hive for other entrances such as gaps between boxes and cover these with duct tape or screen. Good ventilation is crucial, especially in warmer weather. Entire truckloads of bees have been lost to overheating. For long trips in hot weather it would smart to leave the outer cover off and replace the regular inner cover with a screened cover.

Staple the screen securely so bees can't squeeze out.

Staple the screen securely so bees can’t squeeze out.

This would also be a good time to secure the hive to prevent it from shifting in transit. If the hive is well-propolized you may get away without securing it, but this can be risky, especially if the hives will be jostled at all during the move. The hive bodies, covers, and bottom boards may be fastened together with 2” staples, but many find it easier to use ratchet straps to keep the whole unit together.

Ratchet straps are convenient because they can be removed quickly and easily after the hives are in place.

Ratchet straps are convenient because they can be removed quickly and easily after the hives are in place.

Step 2: The move.

Moving hives is stressful for the bees (and beekeepers!) so it’s best to get on the road as soon as possible after the hives have been sealed and secured. Try to recruit a friend or two and use a dolly—you will be less likely to throw out your back or drop a hive. Every beekeeper seems to have a story of relocation gone wrong, mostly caused by dropping or tipping over hives. Bees are especially crawly and defensive at night, so suit up and take extra care when handling them. If possible, pack the hives in closely or wedge them in tight spaces in the truck or trailer to minimize shifting during transit.

Loaded up and ready to go!

Loaded up and ready to go!

Step 3: Reorientation

When bees are moved shorter distances (about 2 miles or less), foraging bees returning to their old location can be an issue. If the hive is only moved a few feet or over 2 miles, the bees will normally adjust with no problem. Otherwise, they may clump up on the ground where their hive was or fly around confused. You can help bees reorient to their new location by trying one or more of the following tricks.

–Sequestration. Leave the entrance screen in place for up to 72 hours after the move. This will cause some of the bees to reorient themselves next time they go out. This does stress the bees somewhat and is not recommended in hot weather.

–Move hives in rainy weather/winter. This works like sequestration because most bees will not be flying.

–Place an object in front of the entrance. This method seems to work fairly well as long as the bees have to crawl through an obstruction as they leave the hive. A leafy branch or similar object will cause the bees to reorient themselves because the view from the hive is unfamiliar.

To conclude, moving bees can be a daunting process, but with a little preparation and forethought you can definitely master this skill.

mission accomplished! Bees are settling in to their new location.

mission accomplished! Bees are settling in to their new location.

Written By: Ben Sallmann

Ben Sallmann has written 7 post in this blog.

As part of the Northern California Tech Transfer Team, I work closely with beekeepers and breeders in the region and assist with inspection, sampling for Varroa and Nosema, and testing for hygienic behavior. My interest in bees began as a child working on our family’s apiary/organic vegetable farm in Wisconsin, and I joined BIP in the summer of 2013 in order to be more involved with hands on research that benefits beekeepers in a tangible way, and am currently based out of the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Butte County, CA.

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  • Sean

    Awesome post. Thanks!

  • Tina

    Hi – I’m considering moving our top-bar bee hive from Durango CO to Madison WI – about 20 hour drive split between two days. I’m considering removing the roof and covering the bars with a screen, stapled and duct taped on, and screening the entrance as well.. What do you think? I’m considering either putting it in the back of my Honda with the windows cracked as I drive or putting them in the U-haul but am afraid they would overheat. Your insight would be helpful thank you!

  • Gary Wardell

    My understanding is bees like apple blossoms; is it possible to move a hive into the orchid during the blossom season and then return them to their original place?

  • Samantha

    I realize that this is an old post, but why would one want to move bees (other than you’re moving yourself as well) I’ve discovered a lot of “local” honey producers, move their bees for various seasons and keep them in California only for Winter. Is there a reason for this?

    • Annette

      The reason people have to move bee hives. My rather crazy neighbours have only just noticed after five years, that I have two hives in the garden. They have complained to the police, who have told me to move them this weekend. 3 days notice and if not, a fine. It’s a bit tough as we are having nasty weather.
      I have taken out a couple of fullish frames to make the move lighter, but the weather isn’t helping.
      My daughter has helped close them up. poor thing got stung several times. I am just pleased that I have found someone so quickly that is happy to have them at their place. their land has loads of niaouli trees, so I’m going to have really tasty honey. I’m just going to miss those bugs though. I just love to watch them during the day zooming to and fro pollinating the local lychee tree and avo trees.

    • Katie Anderson

      They’re likely moving them between farms in other regions where they’re being paid for pollination services.

  • Chris

    What if the hive itself is so old it could break apart in transit? Is there a good way to get them into the new hive before transporting?

  • BlackStar269

    Thanks, good info!

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  • disqus_RRD0AHUzQX

    I’m moving mine about 20′ across the yard. I now have a concrete pad to set them. It’s 48 degrees and cloudy..I’ve put mess wire in entrance to lock em in. Tomorrow morning I will put several dead bush limbs in front of entrance and remove screens. I done this before and seemed to work fine. If any stragglers go to old area I put a sugar water soaked sponge on brick. Then hand carry them back to hive location. Did two hives last summer and it worked as planned.

  • Lindy

    Hi, We just wanted to give you some feedback about sequestration – which I know is presented as safe on other websites. We tried this method to relocate our hive – this is what we did and the outcome. We live on 5 acres in Australia with about 500 acres of bushland around us. We wanted to move our hive about 100m into a different part of our garden. We shut our bees in their hive at night with the mesh over the entrance and placed their hive in an airconditioned caravan with all the windows blackened (black plastic taped inside and outside on all caravan windows, reverse cycle airconditioner set at 23 degree C). The bees were shut in the darkened air conditioned caravan for 4 nights and 3 days. We put the hive in the new location and opened their hive entrance predawn on the fourth day (outside temperature about 18 degrees C) and by 7 am they were pollen laden and circling their hive’s ORIGINAL site. None of the pollen laden bees returned to their hive at the new site – they had retained their memory even after 80+ hours in a pitch black climate controlled environment. The undertaker bees were the only bees active around the hive at the new site – they were dragging out dozens of dead bees. By mid morning we couldn’t stand watching the pollen laden bees circling their old site any longer so we moved the hive back to its original site, even though it was broad daylight. Within seconds of putting the hive back we had desperate bees coming from every direction fighting to get back inside the hive. I don’t know how many bees we lost because we followed the confinement-in-the-dark method, but our hive is definitely weaker and we are still not sure if we will lose the whole hive yet. Perhaps the confinement method works for the Northern hemisphere or for some bee species but we wanted to let you know that it didn’t work in Western Australia. We hope you will modify your article to warn other visitors that they may experience bee losses. I’m letting you know what happened because when we were searching for information about how to move our hive 100m, Google directed us to your site as one of the top choices. Since our hive losses I have further researched hive relocation methods and have found dozens of people reporting the confinement/sequestration method doesn’t work and that the bees go back to their original site.