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. ipswich pest control

    Moving a hive of bees is a job for professional only! do not attempt the above on your own. not only will you put yourself in danger but others too if the bees decided to swarm. Call the local bee keeper.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Beekeepers would view this comment as a bit silly as this is a post for beekeepers. How to deal with and move a swarm of bees is a different matter. That does need the help of a beekeeper and most of these are non professional in the UK.

      Why would a non beekeeper want to move a hive of bees?

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Phil

    Leave a week in between each move. It’s a long process 🙁

  3. Phil Salmon

    I am wanting to move two hives about 100 metres from their original position. I have moved them 5km away. How many days do I need to leave them before moving them back.

  4. Jim Gill

    I captured my first swarm this summer. I placed the new hive 10 feet from the swarm. Could I relocate this hive 100′ at night in the dead of winter? Thank You, Jim

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Karen

    Caring for bees is totally addictive.

    It’s easy to move a colony of bees into a hive but you would need the help of a bee keeper as they will have the right protective equipment.

    Bee keeping courses are now really popular in the UK. It’s a great way to learn how to look after bees.

    Hello Pamela

    That’s terrible. A hive of bees is quite valuable. Approx £100 minimum for the hive (if you build it yourself. A bought complete hive costs in the region of £250.00) and at least £100 for a swarm. Most beekeepers belong to a local society so have access to free bees.

  6. Pamela

    I heard very recently on Radio 4 – possibly this morning, but definitely in the last few days – about the rise in thefts of hives of bees. It was concluded that the thieves must know what they are doing and are presumably dressed for the occasion as I can’t imagine anyone just picking up a hive full of bees on a whim. Are they being stolen to order? What kind of bee keeper would be sourcing their bees from such people? Can you imagine a random knock on the door? Bee thief “I notice you have a large garden, would you be interested in buying a hive of bees I have buzzing in the back of my car?” The bee situation is dire enough just now without thieves helping themselves.

  7. Karen

    This is so interesting! I have always wanted to have a bee hive. Just last week I was telling my husband and what a shock, when I saw a swarm of honey bees starting a hive in my back yard. It is so amazing to watch them. I watched them for hours. Reading everyones comments, I guess I had better call someone to see how to get the bees with the hive they are building to a box. Is this possible? Would love to be able to get them in hive box!

  8. If i keep a new hive right next to an old hive, will the bees start living in it too?

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi AK.
      No the colony likes to stay together.

      If the colony swarms – splits into two – the swarm might take up residence in the empty hive.

      You can split the colony using a Snelgrove board

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Natasha

    If it was me, I’d move them in the spring. But that’s just my opinion.

    The queen should be laying again and the colony much stronger than in the winter.

  10. I have several hives I need to move. I know where I am moving them, and have flexibility on the timing. Do you think it’s better in the winter, or spring to move them?

    Thank you,


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