When it comes to moving your hive, there is an old rule most beekeepers follow – either move your hive less than 3 feet (about a meter) or more than 3 miles (about 5 kilometers). This is because bees generally forage up to a radius of 3 miles from where their hive sits. They use landmarks as a way to orientate themselves and find their way back to their home.
If you only move your hive 1 mile, bees will still know the area and use the same landmarks to guide them back to where their hive used to be – but when they arrive, they[ll realize their home has gone, and they won’t know where to go. Some may eventually find the hive’s new location, but many will die.
If you move the hive more than 3 miles, on the other hand, your bees won[t recognize any landmarks and be forced to reorientate themselves.
Some beekeepers ‘trick’ their bees into reorientating themselves by moving the hive to a new site (that’s within 3 miles) and placing branches in front of the entrance. The bees are forced to navigate their way through the branches to exit their hive and, as such, realize that their home has been moved.
Personally, I have never tried this method, so I cannot say how effective it is. If you decide to give it a go and find a lot of bees still return to the original hive position, you can place an empty nuc box there and wait for enough bees to cluster, then close it up and return them to the hive’s new spot.
If you’re like me and prefer to play it safe with the traditional method, you can simply move your hive by following this simple, 4-step process:
Step One: Prepare The New Site
Once you’ve decided to move your beehive, the first step should always be to prepare – or at the very least, choose – the new site. You need to put some thought into the decision because you don’t want to move the beehive halfway there, realize you’ve changed your mind, and have to move it back again.
I wrote a separate post on choosing the perfect site for your beehive which you can take a look at here. If you’d prefer the abridged version, it comes down to this: choose a spot that is easily accessible, receives sunlight in the morning and isn’t subject to a significant amount of wind. This will protect your hive from extreme weather conditions and ensure your bees remain active. You should also alert your neighbors if the hive will be close to their property, and check your local council regulations so you can adhere to any siting restrictions.
Once you’ve chosen your spot, you’ll need to level out the ground and ensure there is enough room for the hive. My hives tilt slightly forward – this prevents a buildup of water in the event of heavy rain, as a damp hive can result in mold or disease.
I also raise the hive by placing it on top of a stack of bricks. This can make it more difficult for ants or other insects from entering the hive. Plus, it makes it much easier on your back during hive inspections!
Step Two: Secure The Hive
Your hive is made up of a number of separate parts stacked on top of each other. Before you move, you’ll need to secure each section together to prevent it from falling apart. Otherwise, moving the hive could cause serious harm to your bees.
Using a ratchet strap, you can temporarily turn the many moving parts into a uniform hive. You’ll need to lift up the hive and place the strap underneath first. Once you’ve done that, you can slip the strap over the top of the hive and tighten it.
You may also want to block the entrance to your hive to prevent bees from coming in and out during the moving process. Personally, I don’t bother to do this, because I only move the hive about a meter (3 feet) at a time. However, if you are moving the hive further – for example, to a friend’s place – then you’ll definitely need to do it.
Block the entrance with something that prevents bees from getting out, but also ensures the hive remains well ventilated, such as a small panel of wire mesh.
Step Three: Move The Hive 1-1.5 Meters (3-5 Feet)
The best time to actually move your beehive is at night, once all your bees have returned from foraging. Hives are heavy, so you’ll need to enlist the help of someone else to help your lift them. When moving our hive, I usually lift one handle and my husband the other.
To make things a little easier on you and your lifting partner, it’s a good idea to place some wooden boards on the ground about a meter away from your starting point, then move the hive to sit on top of the boards.
On the second night, when you come back to move the hive a little further, you can place another set of wooden boards on the ground about a meter closer to your destination. Once you lift the hive onto the new set of boards, you can move the first set of boards about a meter closer to your destination, ready for the following night.
The boards not only help stabilize the hive and ensure it sits level, but they also ease the stress on your back and prevent you from having to bend all the way down to the ground to lift it up.
It’s important not to move the hive more than 1-1.5 meters each night, as it gives your bees time to gradually reorientate themselves every day. You will likely notice some bees flying back to the previous day’s position – but, because the hive has only moved about a meter, they should be able to find it before too long.
If you want your hive to face a different direction once it reaches its final destination, then you’ll also need to slowly rotate it each time you move. This will give your bees time to adjust as you progress towards the new site.
Repeat this process of moving your hive 1-1.5 meters each night until you eventually reach your new site.
Step Four: Arrive At Your New Destination
After many nights of slowly moving your hive 1.5 meters closer to your destination, you will finally arrive. If you’ve done it properly, you won’t have lost any bees along the way!
I usually perform the final 1-meter move during the day. This is because, as explained earlier, I raise my hives a few feet in the air by stacking them on bricks – and lifting an entire hive up that high is too heavy for me to handle!
Instead, I dismantle the hive into separate parts and re-stack it together in the new spot. I do this when the weather is warm enough because I am separating the parts and exposing the colony to the weather. This also gives me a chance to inspect the hive and ensure everything has gone smoothly. Once I’ve set the hive up again, the bees are able to get to work instantly, without the need to reorientate themselves in their new home!