Moving beehives

Moving beehives requires considerable strength; and at least two people properly clad in protective gear. The critters do not take kindly to being taken to a new site.

There could be 50,000 or more inhabitants in that hive; each and every one may very enthusiastically be trying to end the life of any person who disturbs the peace.

There are any number of reasons why knowledge about moving beehives is important for the apiarist. Perhaps a neighbour was badly stung whilst mowing the grass and demands that you get rid of them; or your child has become allergic to the stings.

Perhaps you are going to move house and want to take the beehives with you.

The reason for this blog is that a feral swarm arrived unexpectedly in a pile of old boxes under the eaves. Every beekeeper has hives lying around; it happens all the time. You either move them that very night to a new location in your apiary or you have to make a plan.

Beehives autumnAre those lids bee-proof?

Sound bee-proof hives

If you are moving a strong swarm it is absolutely essential that they are in a sound bee-proof hive; one that you can close up and none of the little beasties can escape.

So the first step of moving beehives is to check out the condition of the boxes. If any one is not up to scratch then you must begin by shifting them into new accommodation; that is an arduous business in itself but important if they are half-rotten.

First harvest any surplus honey

Honey is heavy stuff; moving a full hive is not recommended. The bees may suffocate and the keeper is likely to slip a disc; first harvest any surplus. In fact if possible remove one or more supers.

If it is during a honey-flow then it's best to harvest as much as possible; make the hive lighter.

Secondly prepare the new site

It's important to prepare the new site in advance. Know the layout before you approach, placing hive-stands in their correct positions; ready for your arrival in the dark.

Secure the hive

It is best to secure the hive either with strapping or short strips of wood, screwed across the different sections; especially the bottom-board. Don't use nails; the hammering will alarm the bees.

It has happened to me on numerous occasions whilst learning the art of beekeeping that one section of the hive comes adrift in transit and the very angry inhabitants come pouring out. Being properly clad during the operation is vital; otherwise you may literally take several hundred stings.

Block up the entrance

I am assuming you are moving the hives around the corner; if it's to California to pollinate the almonds then there is a whole different procedure.

Lightly smoke the entrance to the hive to chase any guards in and then fit a piece of foam snugly into the entrance. Not one bee should be able to escape, though you must assume that many could in transit; it happens.

That foam must be able to breathe. Insects need air, same as we do. For a short distance a roll of newspaper is adequate.

Two people

It is essential that you have at least two people, properly clad. On more than one occasion during my sixty years of beekeeping a hive has been dropped with disastrous consequences.

With one person on each side, carefully lift the hive and place it on a wheelbarrow. I do not recommend carrying the boxes in the dark; it's not uncommon for a beekeeper to slip or fall on uneven ground. You may injure your spine.

Many beekeepers that I know have had back operations. Don't carry heavy hives any distance; and never on your own.

A third person also fully clad as the bees will fly to a lamp is very useful; carrying a torch to light the whole operation. In fact moving hives is best done at dusk taking every alternate box; late returnees will find their way safely into a neighbouring colony if they are loaded with nectar.

One person shifts the wheelbarrow, the second steadying the hive. It is heavy and may easily topple over.

Place the beehives on a truck

Place the beehives snugly on a truck, strapping them if necessary. Drive slowly and carefully over any rough terrain. Sudden braking can have disastrous consequences.

Feral swarms

Bees swarming arriving

The reason for this short essay was the arrival of a feral swarm that moved into one of those empty boxes seven weeks ago. There were no frames. First they needed to be properly hived with drawn comb.

Best in fact is to steal two frames of brood from another colony, one with open young larvae and another fully-capped.

Ensure there is some pollen and honey; alternatively you must feed them unless, as often is the case, the swarm arrives in the middle of the flow.

Again secure the hive properly; no bees should be able to escape in transit.

How far must you move them?

Folklore is that you must move them at least a mile away. I find that is not adequate and some of the field bees will return to the old place where the hive was located. I shifted mine five kilometres; not one worker found her way back.

How long before you bring them back?

After six weeks you can bring them back safely to the apiary in your garden; not one bee returned to the original site under the eaves. 

You really do need two people to move the hive. In this instance after five weeks I checked the colony; they covered seven frames. All was well and I thought I could lift the box with ease in another few days' time.

In just one week an incredible honey-flow began. I had great difficulty lifting the hive; it weighed a ton and I strained my back.

Tomorrow I must harvest all that honey in the broodchamber; and place on a new super with full foundation wax. We are in the middle of a flow so I can safely harvest every available drop.

Here's an update; I harvested 15 bottles of the very best honey yesterday from that little hive, each weighing 500g. It is less than two months since they arrived. Now they must get a super, and probably a second before long.

On average my hives each produce about 70 bottles of honey per annum; and it's as good as you will find anywhere in the world.

Never assume that moving a beehive will be simple; frequently stuff can and does go wrong with serious consequences. I will consult my DC tomorrow and have to be very careful with my lower back for a few weeks.

Moving beehives

Moving beehives is a dangerous business; they are very heavy.

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Keep this in mind

Keep this in mind when moving beehives; how do the stingers actually work?


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