One of the more daunting tasks a beekeeper may face is moving their beehives. After all, how do you move your bees entire home without upsetting them? Luckily, most beekeepers don’t have to move their hives much, if ever. But in case you do have a reason to relocate your apiary, here’s a guide on how to move beehives.
Reasons to Move Beehives
Professional beekeepers are accustomed to moving their entire beekeeping operation across the country. Migratory beekeepers, for example transport their colonies across the country to pollinate different flowering crops.
They do this by keeping their many beehives fastened to pallets. Each pallet typically holds 4 beehives. When they are ready to move to a new location they use a forklift to pick up the pallet and load it onto a large flatbed truck. These trucks can hold hundreds of bee colonies at a time.
For most beekeepers, moving beehives isn’t as extreme. Sometimes they want to move their hives a few feet away to a better location. Perhaps you’ve found an area in your yard with better windbreak, or you’d like your hives farther away from your neighbor’s fence.
Sometimes beekeepers need to move their hives several miles. An example of this would be if they are moving to a new home and would like to bring their colonies with them. I’ve also heard of beekeepers moving their colonies several miles away to keep their bees away from pesticides being sprayed nearby.
Either way, it is important to know how to move beehives safely for the wellbeing of both the beekeeper and the bees.
When to Move Beehives
The best time to move beehives is during the winter, because the bees will all be clustered inside the hive. But it is possible to move beehives during any season. It would also be easier to move your hives after dark. That is because by nightfall, most foragers will have returned to the hive.
If you are unable to move the hive during the night you can instead close the hive up when it gets dark. Then move the hive the next morning. It is best to do this as early as possible to stop the hive from overheating. It is important not to leave the hive closed up during warm weather.
The best time to move beehives is in the winter, when the bees are all in the hive. You can also move beehives at night or early in the morning, before foragers leave the hive.
3 Feet or 3 Miles?
There is an old beekeeping rule for moving beehives that says you should move a beehive less than 3 feet or more than 3 miles. The belief is that if the hive is moved more than 3 feet the bees will not be able to find it and die. But if the hive is moved more than 3 miles, they will see that everything is different and reorient themselves.
While some beekeepers hold this to be true, others say they have had no problem moving their hives any distance. The trick is that you must help the bees reorient themselves. More on that below.
Either way, just be aware that moving beehives any amount of distance is bound to cause confusion, so it is best to plan ahead to avoid losing bees.
How to Move Beehives
- Close the hive entrance. This is best done when most bees are in the hive, either at night or early morning. You can use a block of wood or a screen for this. Check for any holes or cracks in the hive as well. The last thing you want is a bee leak. Remember, bees need ventilation. So if it is hot, or if your hive will be closed for longer than an hour, use a screen, a beehive moving net, or another breathable material like tulle instead of wood.
- Make sure the lid and boxes are secure. You can do this by strapping the hive together with ratchet straps.
- Move the box into the back of a vehicle. If your hives are heavy use a hand truck or dolly. Try your best to keep the hives as level as possible to avoid damage. Be sure to secure your hives in the vehicle so they won’t slide around.
- Drive to the new location. Or, if you are moving the hives a short distance, walk them over there. Another method of moving beehives is to place your hive in a wagon and move it 3 feet per day until it has reached it’s new location.
- Carefully unload the hive and set it on a hive stand. If you used a moving net or tulle, remove it now.
- If the weather is cool and your hive has good ventilation you may leave the hive entrance covered with a screen for 72 hours. This will force the bees to reorient themselves the next time they go out. However, in warm weather this can be stressful for the bees. If this is the case, continue with the following steps.
- Place a leafy branch in front of the hive entrance. You want it to block the entrance in such a way that the bees will have to navigate around it as they leave the hive. The object in front of the hive will confuse the bees as they leave, and will make them take a flight to reorient themselves with their new surroundings.
- Leave the branch in place for 2 – 3 days.
- Remove branch and resume hive activities as normal.
Helping Bees Reorientate
Bees fly 2 miles away from the hive each day to forage. How do they find their way back? They use landmarks to navigate back to their hive. They also have an internal honing device, like a GPS that they use to orientate themselves. That way they know exactly how to get back to their hive.
Bees use landmarks to navigate back to their hive.
This works great, until you must move their hive. When their hive suddenly goes missing they don’t know how to find it. They will continue to fly back to their original hive location, not sure of where to go.
That’s why it is important for beekeepers to help bees reorientate themselves, so they can find their new hive. Placing a branch in front of the hive entrance triggers the bees to reorientate because they will realize that something is different.
Sequestering the bees for 72 hours does the same thing. Being locked up for that long is unnatural for them, so they realize that something has changed and they must reorientate.
While it is best to not move beehives as much as possible, sometimes it must be done. In that case you must know how to move beehives in a way that is safe for the beekeeper and the bees. When moving beehives keep in mind that the bees will need help reorienting to their new location.
This post was originally posted on 3/3/2020 and updated on 7/26/2021.