When you first got interested in starting beekeeping, I know you did tons of research and thinking about where to put your hives. But sometimes things change and you need to change with them. And so, you find yourself moving beehives.
There are many reasons you might need to move a beehive. Maybe you have new neighbors and they are leery of your bees so you decide to move them across the yard. Or maybe your bee farming is doing great, and you decide to split a hive and give it to a new beekeeper. Or maybe an organic farmer asks if you would like to put some hives on his property. The reasons for moving beehives are varied but the procedure is pretty much the same regardless of how far you are moving them.
The two most important things you need to do are to make sure you move all the bees in the hive and make sure they can find the hive once it’s moved. Fortunately, the queen is safe deep inside the hive so you don’t have to worry about accidentally harming her. If you’re wondering what happens when the queen bee dies, the whole hive can die.
How to Move a Beehive
The best time to move a hive, even just a little bit, is at night when all the bees are home. If you try moving beehives during the day, you risk leaving the foraging bees behind and that’s not a good idea.
Once the bees are all home, close any openings so the bees cannot get out. Some beekeepers use duct tape, which is fine as long as there is some other ventilation for the hive. A better option is to staple #8 hardware cloth over the main entrance which will keep the bees in and allow for ventilation. Once you get the hive to its new location you can uncover the entrance.
If you are moving the hive just a short distance, like across the yard, you can probably just carry it. If it’s large you might need some help or you might need to put it on a platform and carry the platform.
If you’re moving the hive to a new property you will need to take it on a truck or trailer. Since hives are not one solid piece, it’s best to use some cargo straps to strap the hive together and keep it secure. It would be terrible to get to your new location and find that the super shifted and the bees escaped.
Unless you moved your hive less than a couple of feet you will need to help the bees re-orientate to the new location.
How to Help Bees Get Oriented to Their New Spot
There is an old saying that you can move a beehive less than three feet or more than three miles without having to worry about the bees going back to their old home. So what do you do when you need to move them more than three feet but less than three miles? You have to help them get oriented.
Here’s the logic behind that saying. Bees are pretty smart and when they come home, they look for familiar sights to find their hive. If it’s only moved a foot or two, they’ll see the sights and find the hive. If the hives are moved more than three miles, the bees realize they’ve been moved and naturally reorient.
The very first time a bee leaves the hive she orients where she is and will always come back to that same area. Any time after that, she just leaves the hive and pretty much relies on her memory to get back—without really thinking about it; kind of like how we drive home from work at the end of the day.
Unless she’s been cooped up in the hive for more than 72 hours, or something is very different when she leaves the hive, she has no reason to change her orientation.
One way to help bees reorient is to keep the hardware cloth on the main entrance for 72 hours and keep the bees inside the hive. This option might be good if there is adequate ventilation and it’s cool outside.
Another option is to create a new “neighborhood” for the bees. This can be done by simply stacking branches in front of the main entrance. You don’t want to completely block the entrance, just block it enough that the bees notice something has changed and their hive has been moved. This is a great solution if you are moving beehives across the yard or moving beehives miles away.
Once a bee leaves the hive, she’ll notice the branches and it should trigger her to reorient for her new location. However, this might not happen with all bees and some may come to the old hive location that evening. If the new location is just a couple of feet away, she will find it. However, if the new location is further away and you see a lot of bees looking lost and disoriented, you can put an empty swarm box out for them for the night. Once they are all safely in the box, you can move it to the new location. You might need to do this for a couple of evenings but eventually, the bees will figure it out.
Moving beehives isn’t something you will probably do very often but just like knowing how to make fondant for bees, it’s a good skill to know.
Have you ever moved beehives? How did it go?
Originally published in 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.