The Cottage Smallholder

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How to move a hive of bees

Photo of a honey bee on our rambling rector rose

Honey bee on Rosa Rambling Rector

At lunch time I stood and worked out the logistics of moving our new colony. It’s sitting on top of the old colony at the moment. The flights of the worker bees distracted me and I watched them flying in and out of the hive.

Imagine the biggest airport in the world and then multiply it by 100. Without the help of Air Traffic Controllers, groups of bees are taking off and landing constantly. There are no mid air collisions even when there are new worker bees bobbing up and down in front of the hive.

This first flight of worker bees is called their orientation flight. Testing out the aeroplane, so to speak, and practicing take off and landing. It always makes me sad to think that these bees will be dead within a matter of weeks. They work so hard.

By the time this happens, new bees will have moved up the ranks to replace them. In her prime a Queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day. At the height of the summer the hive will contain about 50,000 – 70,000 bees.

The queen bee can live for two or three years but honey bee workers only live for six weeks in the summer. They start as cleaners, preparing the vacated brood cells for the Queen. to lay fresh eggs. After 4 days the worker bees feed the older larvae with honey and pollen. They progress to feeding young larvae a few days later.

After two weeks they are processing the nectar into honey by evaporating the water. They are also making wax and packing the pollen that is brought in by the foraging workers. At 19 days they become guards and begin to make orientation flights to establish the routes back to the hive.

Within three weeks they are out foraging. Eventually they die out in the fields when their wings simply wear out. That’s why winter bees can live for several months. They don’t fly about so much.

We chose the spot for our bee hive with great care, as moving a hive can be a bit of a palaver. Bees need a reasonable flight path to the entrance of the hive that does not cross over busy paths or where you sit in the garden. Early morning sun is a good idea as it will warm the hive and get the bees up and out. Some afternoon shade is beneficial, so they don’t waste too much energy fanning to keep cool in the summer.

We divided the colony using the Snelgrove board and this is the final week that the two colonies will live on top of each other. The colony with the old queen is at the bottom of the tower. Their entrance is the normal front door at the front of the hive.

The new colony living at the top have their entrance door at the back of the hive. This arrangement makes it easier for the bees to differentiate which colony they belong to.

The bees would be happy to live in the tower block but it’s too high for me to lift off the boxes safely. So the first step in the move is sideways and planned for next weekend.

It is advisable to move bees over three miles or under three feet. If you move them over three miles they will be out of their flying area. This avoids the possibility of them emerging from the hive and spotting a significant landmark that will guide them back to the spot where the hive used to be. If the environment is totally new the worker bee will reprogramme to return to the new home site and will not try to return to the previous site.

If you move a hive over three feet any flying bees that are out foraging will return to the location of the original hive. They cannot search for the hive and will die.

Initially we will set up another hive stand beside the existing tower. The normal position for a brood box is on the top of the hive stand. But this would mean a big drop in height so we are going to jack up the height with a beer crate. We will try moving the bees a foot down and a foot along.

Each week we will move the colony gradually towards its final resting place, a foot or so at a time. We want the front door to be at the front of the hive so we’ll gradually rotate the hive a little each week so that finally the entrance will be at the front of the hive. This operation will take about six weeks.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hello What the

    You need to wait until dark when the bees are all at home.

    After dark put a length of sponge in the entrance hole so bees don’t wander out at dawn before you have got up.

    Some beekeepers also put a special lid on the hive. Like an old fashioned meat safe door so that the bees have air. This is probably only important if you are moving them over a long distance.

    No the entrance doesn’t have to face the same way. But if you have to move a hive within your garden it’s a different story. It can be moved a foot a week and gradually turned. It’s best to try and get it right first time!

    Move them early morning. Between 6-8am.

  2. what the..

    But how do you *actually* move the hive?

    do you do it at night?

    do you shut the bees in first?

    does the entrance have to face the same way?

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Kit

    Let’s hope that your bees stay with you! Perhaps it’s different in London!

  4. I’m hoping I’ve proved the rule wrong, just started bee keeping with a swarm from the park, and have hived it just under a mile from the swarm site.
    All ok so far – not sure if swams are different or because it’s London they’re just so many landmarks.

    Still there in over a week, just giving them a dose of Apiguard / Thymol before they seal the brood cells.

    This bee-keeping is fascinating

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Julia

    You need to prepare the day before. Replace the crown board with a screen (you can probably borrow one from your local beekeeping association). This will enable the bees to breath when you block up the entrance.

    After dark block up the entrance to the hive with some sponge.

    The next morning fit a good, strong strap around the hive and check that there are no gaps for the bees to escape.

    You probably need two people to carry the hive to the car.

    At the other end remove the sponge and some bees will fly out. As they will not recognise the territory they will immediately orientate the new position of the hive to the sun. Replace the screen with the crown board.

    Don’t forget to wear your bee suit when moving the hive, just in case.

  6. Julia Waters

    I would like to move my two hive’s (the new position is over 5 miles away) what is the best way to move them and can I let them forage in their new envirmonment straigh away?

    Many thanks,

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Desiree

    Moving a colony of bees from the wall of a house is a specialist job. You need the assistance of an experienced beekeeper who will have the equipment to remove the bees.

    Are you a UK resident? If so the police have a list of beekeepers who are willing to collect swarms in each area of the UK and will put you in touch with someone who can help. Contacting your local beekeeping associations would also be another avenue to pursue as they would know local beekeepers with the relevant skills.

    I do hope that this is useful.

  8. Desiree' Viator

    help!~ a hive of bees has moved into the side of an old house. I want to try to move it to a hive box and have no idea where to start or how to go about doing this. the bees have been here only a few days so the hive may not be very big yet.
    thank you
    bee lover

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sara,

    We wear protective clothing when we are moving the hive or opening the hive. When we are just near the hives we don’t bother. Our garden table is about nine feet from the hive but the bees have not been a problem as yet. They tend to be intent on their task so unless you disrupt this they will generally ignore you.

    I’ve heard that local honey can be good for asthma as well. Beekeepers in my association seem to be divided on whether this is true. All honey contains traces of pollen.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  10. Hi Fiona,

    This is fascinating. Do you have to wear the full protective gear when moving the hive or even when you are near the hive?
    Another farmer has a beehive on our land and we buy the honey from him. Apparently honey from your local area is good for hayfever suffers.
    Sara from farmingfriends

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