Bees on the Move
By: Sandy Murray & Cyrus Nasr
Moving bees can seem like a daunting task for a beekeeper. As seasoned beekeepers with over 150 hives at Hive Bee Farm we get lots of questions like... How do you move 30-80 thousand angry bees safely? What if they have multiple boxes? How far should I move them? What if they escape during transport, and will they be able to find their home again? There are many reasons one might need or want to move a hive locally (non-commercial moves) like moving a hive to a safer location, better forage or relocating a hive to a new property or owner. The key to any beehive transportation is preparation and planning. We are happy to share our knowledge to a few of the most asked questions on bee transportation.
The following tools are key to your move:
- Ratchet straps
- Duct Tape (or other strong multipurpose tape)
- Extra hive tops (if you have a large hive you need to divide it to move it)
- Transportation appropriate for the job
- Beekeeping safety gear (full bee suits, boots and gloves are recommended) Smoker &
- Smoker fuel
When should I move my beehive?
As a general rule you want to move your bees in the evening after they have returned home from foraging. This is usually after sunset and will ensure you have the majority of your bees in the hive.
You will need to use your smoker to encourage any bees on the outside of the hive (like on our hot Texas nights) to go inside the hive so it can be secured. Plan to transport your hive(s) to the new location the same evening and plan to open their entrances once set up at the new site. DO NOT FORGET TO OPEN THE ENTRANCES. If the bees are locked into the hive during the day they can easily overheat.
How do I close the entrance?
There are a number of methods to close a hive for transportation. The easiest is to use a strong multipurpose tape, like Duct Tape or Gorilla Tape. Once you have encouraged (by smoking) any bees on the outside to go inside the hive, place multiple strips of tape across the entrance reducer. This will create a strong, secure barrier that will not easily open in transportation. If you are traveling long distances and not be able to open the hive before sunrise, consider using a combination of screen (like window screen from your local hardware store) to allow for airflow during transport. Cut the screen to fit over the entrance opening and secure with tape or heavy-duty staples to the box. This will prevent the hive from overheating during extended transports and confinement time.
Tip: Check for any holes, cracks or gaps in the boxes. If found, cover with tape to prevent the bees from escaping from another exit point - especially if using an old screened bottom board
How do I keep the hive boxes together during transportation?
Ratchet straps, (found at any hardware store) are the perfect tool for securing your hive boxes together. Once you have closed the entrance, loop the ratchet strap around the hive and lock into place. The strap will keep the hive boxes tightly bound together and prevent them from shifting in transport. If you are transporting with a trailer or truck bed it is also good practice to use straps across the hives to keep them stable on the road.
What if my hive is too heavy to move (too many boxes)?
Bee hive colonies in Langstroth or Warre boxes can get pretty tall and heavy. The brood boxes themselves can weigh 60 lbs and the honey supers can weigh anywhere from 40 lbs to 100 lbs depending on the size. Unless you have a football team to help you lift them, you might need to separate the hive into individual boxes to move it safely and successfully.
Primarily, you want to move the brood boxes together as one and then the honey supers separately. This keeps the bees with the brood so they can continue to monitor and tend to it. Use extra hive tops to enclose the honey supers (bottom and top.) Then tape and ratchet strap them together to secure any bees left inside. You will need to consider if there is enough time the evening of the move to take off the honey boxes or if it would be better to do it earlier in the day, allowing the bees time to settle before the move. The volume of bees in the hive and number of boxes should be factors in your decision.
I have a Top Bar hive, are there special considerations for moving it?
Similar to other box-based hives you will need to close the entrance as well as secure the frames and top with ratchet straps. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to divide it into smaller pieces to move so you will need enough helpers to safely lift and move it. A trailer or a truck would be the preferred transportation vehicle for long distances and additional straps to hold it down in transport. You may or may not need to remove the legs to get it to fit into a truck bed and have a safer, lower center of gravity during transport.
Will my bees get angry and be aggressive during the move?
Even bees that are usually docile can get upset during a move. You will be closing them up inside the hive, moving it and might even travel on a bouncy ride too! The jostling and movement can easily upset even the most well-behaved bees. Wear a suit and utilize your best tool – your smoker – to help keep them calm. When you open the hive at the new site, be prepared: they may come pouring out… Again, a bee suit is your best friend and very important to wear when transporting bees. When using a light at night, keep in mind they will be attracted to it. Some say a red light helps because bees don’t mind it as much. Make sure to check your environment. Do you need to ask neighbors to be inside during the move? Put up pets or other livestock in case the bees get feisty? Don’t hesitate to BEE Safe! Editor's Note: Super DFM is great to use before and after a move to help your bees cope with the stress of moving.
How do I transport a newly purchased Nuc (nucleus colony)?
This is one of the easiest moves. Most suppliers use the plastic Jester EZ Nuc or Pro Nuc boxes. The Jester box has an entrance tab that you push down to close and then use your hive tool to pop open when you get to the new location (when not placing into the new hive immediately). The Pro Nuc has an entrance that slides up to open or down to close. For either box, a few good pieces of tape will keep the lid down in transit. For single Nucs you can place the whole Nuc into a mesh laundry bag or specially made Nuc mesh bags with a zipper that containing the bees nicely.
Nuc’s are much lighter than hives so be sure to secure them inside the vehicle so they are stable (bee seatbelt). When transporting a large amount of Nucs (20+), either in a truck bed or trailer, we suggest using 2x2's and/or 2x4's to stack them, allowing 3” in front and back of the Nuc for airflow. If you are purchasing from a reputable supplier, the Nuc should be jam packed with bees and can get hot very - very fast. Again, DO NOT FORGET TO OPEN THE ENTRANCES at the new location once you have set them in place.
Does it matter how far I move my hive?
A good gauge to moving hives is the “3ft or 3 miles” rule. You can do small moves up to 3ft without much trouble. The bees will be able to find the hive and don’t require much fuss. They can still use their surroundings and internal GPS to locate it (as well as smell).
If you move a hive farther than 3ft but less than 3 miles you will want to consider leaving a Nuc box or other containment for any straggling bees to congregate on that were not in the hive when it was moved or go back to the old location after foraging. Each evening, move the temporary box to the new location and those bees will join their hive and
orient from the new location the following day. You can also change the way the hive faces and block the entrance with some branches so they have to work to get in and out, forcing them to reorient to the new location. The branch can be removed after a few days, just be sure not to close off the entrance. At 3 miles, the new hive is far enough away from the old location the bees won’t be able to navigate back to the original location – and any newly hatched bees will only know the new home.
What type of transportation is best?
Transportation (car, truck, trailer, or wheelbarrow) is primarily determined by distance, the number of hives you are transporting and your resources. We’ve moved hives in all types of “wheeled” vehicles or just a few feet away with two strong beekeepers. We’ve even moved them inside a car with us when we had to! Imagine 9 hives in a Tahoe with one beekeeper snug in the middle seat. Talk about getting up close and personal with your bees!
In all situations you do want to consider the temperature of the bees. If inside a car, keep that AC blowing. If you are moving far distances make sure the bed of the truck or trailer has enough air movement to keep the hives cool.
We all have an internal fear of being enclosed in a car with bees flying around – but with proper planning (and tape) we can help alleviate that risk. If a few get out, remember that they are attracted to the windows/lights and not very interested in the driver. Stay calm and suited up so you can get to your location safely. Safety FIRST as they say!
Last tips & tricks:
It probably goes without saying (but we will) – having a plan, your bee suit and a well-lit smoker are the best tips we can give you. Beyond that, try to limit the amount of jostling to prevent damage to the comb inside the hive and upsetting the bees. In addition, make sure the destination is already set up and ready for when you arrive with your hives. If you are trying to do everything at once (in the dark) it can be very challenging. Be careful of your surroundings. It’s not fun dropping a full double deep, a brand new Nuc with a frame feeder full of syrup, or even worse, have a heavy hive fall on you!
Be prepared to call off the move if you are not fully ready or the bees just won’t cooperate in the process. It’s perfectly ok to try again another day and not endure the sting of 100’s of bees.
Lastly, because this has happened to us and bears repeating… DO NOT FORGET TO OPEN THE ENTRANCES (did we say that enough?)
And double check you opened each one. Even as seasoned keepers we’ve gotten busy or tired and missed one with disastrous results.
Moving bees is part of beekeeping and at some point you will likely have to do it. With a good plan it can be easy for you and your bees.
Have specific questions? Feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sandy Murray and Cyrus Nasr own and operate Hive Bee Farm in Houston TX. Together they teach workshops, provide a service for Agricultural Tax Exemptions with bees, Apitherapy and a full line of honey products. Sandy is the current President for Houston Beekeepers Association and Cyrus a well respected mentor to the beekeeping industry.