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Relocating Bees
Relocating a colony of Honeybees can be simple.

It can also lead to disaster.

Relocating a captured bee swarm is much simpler.

Relocating a colony or a swarm of Bees
When moving a beehive from one place to another a few things need to be taken into consideration, reducing stress on the bees and avoiding unpleasant surprises.

If you follow some rules it can be quite simple. Not knowing the rules or not following them can have disastrous effects.

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

Relocating a captured bee swarm is much simpler.
A bee swarm has "forgotten" were it came from and the bees of a swarm reset their navigation system's home location once they have found a new home. Therefore, having captured a swarm, no rules apply for the new location - provided the swarm is relocated within a day from the time of capture.

A swarm can be placed close to the home it emerged from; the bees accept the new hive location as their home and will not get disorientated or confused being near to their original location, even if it is only a meter away.


General Tips for relocating bees
Avoid relocating bees during the middle of the day! Before sun rise in the morning or after sunset 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. A cool, windy or rainy day, i.e. when the bees don't fly out, allows relocation during the day as well.

Avoid relocating bees on warm/hot days! (A good temperature range is between 7°C and 16°C; the cooler the better) 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). Condensation inside the hive only builds up at low ambiant temperatures and can be used as water source; on warm/hot days the bees have to fetch water from outside.

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.

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 duct 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 and around the hive. 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 bottom board 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 an emlock or 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.



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 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. Note: Leave the old hive location vacant; i.e. do not move another hive its place as it will confuse the bees.
(For a distance of 10 meters you need 5 to 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 (between 7°C and 15°C). 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 of clustering in the cool and dark environment the bees need to "reset their navigation system" (re-orientate) 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?
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 home 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 two or three days they all will have died. If you run into such a situation, reverse the move and return the hive back to its old location immediately.


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 (between 7°C and 15°C). 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 of clustering in the cool and dark environment the bees need to "reset their navigation system" (re-orientate) 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 been superseded by then.
(For any distance you need six or more weeks to complete the move)

What happens if the bees return to their old home location?
Reportedly in some rare cases the relocation attempt has not been successful. The bees, including those who are leaving the hive from its new location, are returning to the old home location, unable to find their way back into the hive. 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 two or three days they all will have died. If you run into such a situation, reverse the move and return the hive back to its old location immediately.


Scenario 3 - Relocating a beehive by more than 3 km
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.


Questions and Answers

Q1  Relocating Bees within 3 km
I am going to relocate a hive less than 3 kilometers (Scenario 2, option 1).
What about water while they are in the cool, dark room all this time ?  
Answer:
Locking bees up in the hive for 3 days & nights in a cool environment does not seem to be a problem. In a cool environment condensation builds up inside the hive and can be a source of water. We did not experience any dead bees or had reports this regarding from others who used this method.

Caution:
On one occasion it has been reported to us that this method did not work. This relocation attempt was made when day temperatures reached 35°C to 37°C. After 3 days and 4 nights confinement in a darkened and temperature controlled caravan (set at 23°C) the foraging bees returned to their old location about 100 metres away.
Comment: Any major intervention with bees on days above 30°C should be avoided as the bees are heavily engaged regulating the hive temperature.
Assumption: An ambient temperature of 23°C is not cool enough for the bees to cluster inside the hive which could have eliminated the need to re-orientate after the relocation.

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