Tips On Moving a Beehive

I moved one of my hives yesterday. More accurately, I cracked off the top deep and placed it on a new bottom board about 10 metres away (around 30 feet). Here’s the video:

I should have mentioned the “3 feet or 3 miles” rule for moving hives, but I forgot. Check out my How to Move a Hive for more on that.

A branch obstructing the entrances to the hive and thus reorienting the bees to the new hive location. (April 09, 2016, Flatrock, Newfoundland, 12°C.)

A branch obstructs the entrances to the hive and thus reorients the bees to the new hive location. (April 09, 2016, Flatrock, Newfoundland, 12°C.)

The general rule for moving a hive is move it either “3 feet or 3 miles” but nothing in between. Otherwise the bees can’t re-orient to the new location. Sometimes that rule is true. Sometimes it isn’t. I know beekeepers who move their hives 50 feet without any concern. They just pick up the hives and move them. It’s argued that if some of the bees go back to their old location, they’ll eventually find their way back home or will find shelter in the nearest hive, easily mixing in with a new colony. I’m not 100% behind that argument. It’s also argued, “Forget about the distance. As long as an obstruction is put in front of the hive entrance, the bees will automatically re-orient to the hive.” That’s true in my experience, but again, none of these rules seem absolute. Generally, though, when I move a hive, I wait for a cold day when the bees aren’t flying around much, preferable just before some bad weather that will keep the bees stuck in the hive for a few days, and I always (unless I forgot) place an obstruction in front of the entrances so the bees will re-orient to the new location. I emphasise “generally” because every time I move a hive, my method and the conditions under which I move the hive are slightly different.

Leaving behind a super with some frames in the old location is a smart way to catch any stragglers who keep going back to the old location, but I’ve never done that. Just a personal preference. I’d rather not give the bees any reason to home in on their old location. I want them to completely say, “What the…?”, when they go to the old location so their re-orientation instincts kick in instead. If the hive isn’t too far away and there are other bees flying around anyway, the stragglers will pick up the scent of the other bees and find their way home.

Another trick is to move the bees to the new location, and then shake a frame of bees in front of the hive (hopefully not a frame of brood) — shake the bees off the frame and dump them in front of the hive so they all land on the bottom board where they usually come in for a landing. These suddenly-disoriented bees will begin scenting and that scenting will, with luck, waft over to the old location and the stragglers will find their way home to the new location. Sometimes the shaking of the bees in front of the hive doesn’t do anything. The bees fall on the bottom board and just march right into the hive like it was nothing. But most of the time there is a fair bit of scenting afterwards.

But when in doubt, I stick to the “3 feet or 3 miles” rule. Everything else can get a little complicated, which isn’t really the name of the game for most backyard hobbyist beekeepers.

2 thoughts on “Tips On Moving a Beehive

  1. Question: what about hiving a swarm caught in a swarm trap. Does the new hive need to be 3 miles away from where the swarm was captured?

    • Excellent question. I think probably not. I’ve caught swarms and then set them up in hives well over 100 feet away and it worked every time. My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that a swarm hanging off a tree branch hasn’t homed in on a specific location yet because it hasn’t begun building comb yet (i.e., making itself at home).

      If the bees are building comb in the swarm trap, is that enough for them to home in that specific location? If so, does matter as long as an obstruction is put in front of the new hive entrance?

      I’m not sure.

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