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Relocating Bees

Beekeeping Tips


Moving a beehive is one of the more sensitive tasks associated with beekeeping and requires preparation to be carried out successfully. When moving a beehive from one place to another a few things need to be taken into consideration to reduce the stress on bees and to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Everything valid about relocating a beehive is also applicable when relocating a feral bee colony after the nest has been transferred into a hive.


Quite different, a bee swarm has "forgotten" were it came from and the bees of a swarm "reset their GPS system" once they have found a new home.
Therefore, having captured a swarm, it can be placed close to the home it emerged from; the bees recognise their new hive location as home and will not get disorientated or confused being near to their original location, even if it is only a meter away.


Scenario 1 - Moving a beehive by a few meters
When you need to shift a beehive by a short distance, e.g. from one side of your backyard to the other, these are some of the options:

Option 1: Move the hive by a maximum of one meter a day towards their new location - this way the returning bees get slightly disorientated but eventually find their hive entrance. You can slightly increase the distance per step, probably to 1.5 - 2 meters if the hive has a large and easily visible landing platform in front of the entrance. We use a ceramic tile (30x30 cm) in front of the entrance. This one-step-a-day move can be carried out at any time of the day.
(For a distance of 10 meters you need 10 days to complete the move)

Option 2: When all bees are in the hive, i.e. before sunrise or after sunset, close the entrance of the hive, ensure they can get air, and store the hive in a dark and cool room (don't let the hive out in the sun). After three days, move the hive to its new location and open the entrance. After three days in the dark the bees need to "reset their GPS system" and will do that from their new location.
(For any distance you need 3 days to complete the move)

Option 3: When all bees are in the hive, i.e. before sunrise or after sunset, close the entrance of the hive, ensure they can get air, and relocate the hive to a location more than three kilometers away. After a minimum of six weeks return the hive to its new location; those foraging bees that could remember their original location have died by then.
(For any distance you need six or more weeks to complete the move)  


What happens if you just take the hive and move it from one side of your backyard to the other?
New and unexperienced beekeepers might just take the hive and move it to the new spot, and there are numerous cases where this has been done. The bee colony will survive this but at a great loss of bees. Foraging bees, including those who are leaving the hive from its new position, will return to the old location, unable to find their way back into the hive, even if it is just a few meters away. Those disorientated bees will hover around the old hive location and then, exhausted,  cluster on an object nearby (a branch, rock, wall or on the ground) - after a maximum of two days they all will have died.


Scenario 2 - Relocating a beehive within a radius of 3 km
When you need to relocate your beehives within a radius of 3km, these are some of the options.

Option 1: When all bees are in the hive, i.e. before sunrise or after sunset, close the entrance of the hive, ensure they can get air, and store the hive in a dark and cool room (don't let the hive out in the sun). After three days, move the hive to its new location and open the entrance. After three days in the dark the bees need to "reset their GPS system" and will do that from their new location.

(For any distance you need 3 days to complete the move)


Option 2: When all bees are in the hive, i.e. before sunrise or after sunset, close the entrance of the hive, ensure they can get air, and relocate the hive to a location more than three kilometers  away. After a minimum of six weeks return the hive to its new location; those foraging bees that could remember their original location have died by then.
(For any distance you need six or more weeks to complete the move)   



Scenario 3 - Relocating a beehive to a location more than 3 km away
When you need to relocate your beehives to a location more than 3km away, it is straight forward:

When all bees are in the hive, i.e. before sunrise or after sunset, close the entrance of the hive, ensure they can get air, and relocate the hive to the new location. Don't forget to open the hive entrance again.




General Tips for relocating bees

  • Avoid moving bees during the middle of the day. Very early morning, after sunset at night are the best options because bees are less active during this time and all of the bees are in the hive. You lose many foraging worker bees if you move the hive during the day, during the peak of foraging activity.


  • Before moving the hive, make sure that none of the bees will get out during transport. You have two choices when it comes to closing off the hive: Use adhesive tape to close off the entrance; recommended only if the hive is relatively well ventilated and the weather is cool. If not, use flywire screens.


  • When installing a hive in a new location, always use a hive stand to elevate the hive and separate it from the moist ground. This is done to preserve the wood and also to improve the air circulation in the hive structure. Moisture is one of the biggest enemies for bees.


  • When installing a hive in a new location, always make sure that the hive is tilted to the front. Should any water be getting into the hive it can run out of the entrance, rather than flooding the floorboard and drowning the bees.   


  • The Langstroth hive is not a fixed structure; it can fall apart during a rough ride to its new location. Using ratchet straps is an effective way to secure the various parts of a Langstroth hive. Alternatively, you can use "hive spring clips" to keep the entire hive assembly together at all times.


  • Avoid relocating bees on hot days. Bees have to find water at their new location and they need plenty of it on a hot day (up to one litre a day).


  • When the hives have been placed at their new location, spray a mist of water around the entrance before opening it; if the bees are desperate for water after a couple of hours being locked in, they find a few drops immediately.

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Questions and Answers

What happens if you relocate a hive in the middle of the day?

New and unexperienced beekeepers might just relocate a hive during the day, when a large part of the bee population is not in the hive, and there are numerous cases where this has been done. The bee colony will survive this but at a great loss of bees. Foraging bees will return to the old location, unable to find their hive. Those homeless bees will hover around the old hive location and then cluster at an object nearby (a branch, rock, wall or on the ground) - after a maximum of two days they all will have died.  



Relocating Bees within 3 km

I am going to use option 2 for relocating a hive less than 3 kilometers (Scenario 2, option 2).
What about water while they are in the cool, dark room all this time ?
Arthur Mueller - enrich@idx.com.au


Answer:

Locking bees in the hive for 3 days & nights in a cool environment does not seem to be a problem. I guess there is always the evaporating water from the fresh honey in uncapped comb cells. We did not experience any dead bees and reports from others who used this method did not either.


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