Honey bee hives in a sunny field with sunflowers and lavender.

How To Move Honey Bee Hives

Excerpted from: Moving Beehives: What You Need to Know
Excerpted from: How to move a bee hive

Sometimes things change and you need to change with them and so you find yourself moving honey bee hives.

There are many reasons you might need to move a beehive. 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 (1) make sure you move all the bees in the hive and (2) make sure the bees 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.

  Before You Start - Preparations

Suit Up

Beekeeper in honey bee suit, hat and gloves.

Bees can become agitated when their home is moving around, and who can blame them? So it's important that you wear protective gear such as a full bee suit, including gloves and veil when moving your hive. Even if you've sealed the hive, there's always a chance some bees could find a way out, or there may be stragglers around that won't appreciate your efforts.

Strap Up

When moving a beehive, it's important to make sure it all stays together. You can secure the baseboard to the brood box using straps. For long distance moves, we use a couple of ratchet straps to be safe. For shorter moves, a single strap should be enough.

Shut the door! Or don't

Honey bee hive strapped for transport.

The distance you plan to travel will dictate whether or not you should seal the entrance of your beehive before moving. For moves of less than 30 feet, we recommend leaving the hive open. Anything longer and you should seal up the entrance.

The best time to do this is at night or very early in the morning while all the bees are inside the hive. This way you will avoid losing any bees that are out foraging. If there are some bees around the entrance to the hive, use your smoker to gently encourage them back inside. There's no need to blow smoke into the hive, but a few puffs around the entrance should be enough to send them inside.

When they're in, you can block up the entrance. We like to use steel wool, which can be pushed into the entrance. You can also cover the entrance with mesh, and secure it with tape or staples. Don't forget to close the roof.

Keep the Beehive Cool

Beehives can heat up very quickly, so ventilation is really important! When sealing your hive before moving it, always make sure that air can circulate. Flow Hives come with inbuilt ventilation control, so ensure that this is open.

If you've got a screened baseboard, ventilation is taken care of. If not, you'll want to use mesh, which you can staple or tape over the entrance. Also, be careful not to leave the hive in direct sunlight for too long.

  Very Short Move (less than 30 feet)

If you want to move the hive less than 30 feet, it can be done incrementally, day by day. You can move the hive less than 6 feet per day.

Make sure you suit up and secure the hive with straps, but for this method, you can leave the entrance open.

Initially, the bees will return to the original location, but the hive will be close enough that they will find their way back. Any further and they probably won't locate the hive.

The next day, you can move it another 6 feet, and carry on until you've got it set up in the new location. Then the bees can settle into their new neighborhood.

  Short Move (30 feet to 4 miles)

Once the hive is prepared, move it and set it up in the new location.

Before opening the hive entrance, put something in front of it. You could hang a towel over the entrance or rest a branch against it. This will help the bees reorient to the new location.

As the honey bees leave the hive, they will notice that something is different, and will be less likely to return to where the hive was originally situated.

Even with this step, it's likely that some bees will return to the original hive location. In this case, you can collect them in a box and bring them to the new place. You may need to do this a few days in a row to get them reoriented.

Another option is to do two long distance moves. Take the bees to a new spot more than 4 miles away, and leave them there for 3 weeks. Then move them back and place the hive in the new area, by this time they will have forgotten the original hive location, and should reorient to the new place immediately.

  Long Move (More than 4 miles)

Honey bee hives, strapped on loaded on to a truck for moving.

Use a pickup truck or a trailer to transport your bees. Transporting a beehive inside a vehicle is dangerous. If the bees get out you could be in real trouble, so we don't recommend this.

Keep your smoker at hand during transportation.

When placing your hive on the pickup or trailer, make sure it sits nice and level.

Strap the hive on tightly using strong straps. We recommend using ratchet straps as these are really secure.

When you reach the new location, set up your hive, get it level, take off the straps and open the entrance. The bees will come out and get acquainted with their new home.

  How To Help The Bees Reorient To The New Location

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 3 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.

Further Information:

 Wisconsin Bee Identification Guide
 Spring Wild Bees of Wisconsin
 Bumble Bees of Wisconsin
 Wild Native Bee Nest Boxes

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