There are many reasons to move a hive: problems with the original site, moving to better forage, placing hives for pollination, selling or purchasing a full hive, to work on hive stands, or to expand into a second yard. Planning your move ahead of time helps the process go smoothly. Know when, where, and how you are going to move your hives. If you need an extra person’s help, line up a helper or two. Check the laws on transporting hives, especially if you will be crossing state lines. If possible, prepare the new site in advance. Check the weather for the day of the planned move, as hives shouldn’t be moved if it is less than 50 degrees. Any cooler than 50 degrees and the bees will be clustered. Any bees that are shaken off the cluster during the move will be too chilled to survive. To ensure you move all the bees, close up the entrance after dusk and move them before full daylight. If you must make a daylight move, leave an empty hive box behind to catch any returning foragers.
**A moving hive can be an angry hive, so be sure to wear your gear. The bees should remain in the hive during the move, but accidents happen. If you have a helper, make sure they have gear. Provide them with the proper attire if they do not have their own.**
Moves Greater Than Three Miles
To prepare the hives for moving: Remove excess honey supers to reduce hive weight. If the weather is hot or you are traveling a long distance remove the inner cover and replace with a moving screen. Replace the telescoping cover over the screen until you are ready to load the bees. Secure the hive parts to each other, either by using hive staples (2 inch staples) or a ratchet strap. If you use the staples, leave a small gap between the staple and the wood so you can more easily pry them off after transport. If you are using straps be sure they are tight. All of the above preparations should be done at least a day before the planned move so you aren’t trying to transport already agitated bees.
Loading the Bees: Have either heavy wire mesh or window screen and a lit smoker handy. The mesh, when folded into a V shape and wedged into the entrance, will stay in place on its own. Window screen will need to be stapled or duct taped. The screen or mesh provide ventilation during longer moves, while a solid wooden block could suffocate your hive. Smoke the entrance heavily and then seal up all entrances to the hive. Any cracks between hive bodies can be sealed with tape. As a beginning or hobby beekeeper you most likely do not have your hives on pallets and access to heavy moving equipment, so you’ll have to move your hives by hand. A two man hive carrier or a dolly cart and a ramp are good for taking some of the strain off of your back. Hives are heavy and moving them intact is a two person job. Squat down on each side of the hive and lift with your legs instead of bending over and lifting with your back. Your spine will thank you. Load the hives into the truck with the frames parallel to the road. If you have to make a sudden stop this will keep your frames from slamming together and killing bees. Once the hives are in the truck, scoot them as close together as possible and use tie down straps to prevent shifting. Before hitting the road do a final load check to ensure the safety of your bees and the other vehicles on the road. Drive smoothly and don’t slam your doors.
Unloading the bees: When you arrive at your final destination, get your vehicle as close to the new hive location as possible. Keep your truck engine running during the unloading as the vibration seems to keep the bees calmer. Remove the tie down straps and carefully place the hives where you want them. Remove the staples holding the hive bodies together. Once you have all the hives placed, smoke the entrances again and remove the mesh or screen. Replace any top moving screens with your regular hive tops. If you did a daylight move stuff a handful of grass in the entrance to keep the bees from making a mass, confused exit. Before you leave the yard go back and double check that all your entrances are open. When the bees exit for the day, they will realize they are in unfamiliar territory and will reorient to their new location.
Moves Less Than Three Miles
The main problem with moving hives less than three miles away is that the foragers keep returning to the old hive site. Here are a few methods to either prevent or take advantage of the bees’ tendency to return to the same spot.
- Move the entire hive to a new location more than three miles away and leave it there. After three weeks, move them to the new, final location.
- Move the hive two feet every three days until it is in its final spot.
- Move the hive and close up the entrance with grass. Place a cut branch in front of the entrance to force exiting bees to reorient to the new spot. Place a weak hive at the old spot to boost its foraging force.
- Move the hive to its new location and leave a new hive body with a frame of brood and some empty frames in the original spot. Give this new hive either a queen cell or a caged queen. After the queen is laying eggs you can move this new hive to its final spot.
Personally I have had very good luck with moving hives within the same yard and placing a branch across the entrance. I’ve moved them in the very early morning or in the evening and haven’t seen much difference in the amount of bees in the hive. Any foragers out of the hive during the move made their way into neighboring hives without any problems.