Last Updated on January 24, 2022
Moving beehives can be a character-building experience. In this article, we look at how to move beehives. Moving a wild beehive is not the same as moving a managed beehive in a box. There are tricks needed to make this process as painless as possible. Once you learn how to move beehives, you can start to concentrate excellent wild genetics into your apiaries.
Moving bees can be a crazy experience. I remember once I fetched wild bees that were in some barrels from a very dry arid region in South Africa late at night. The bees in this area are the most unpleasant African bees imaginable. We needed to move them to a rainy place in some mountains a few hundred miles away. We loaded the bees onto the pickup at sunset and then drove hours and hours in the dark.
There is something magical about driving at night. We saw owls, lynx, jackals, and countless wild antelope. And a drunk guy at an intersection. This guy tried to jump on the back of the vehicle to hitch a lift – I never saw him jump on, but I did see him jump off. We stopped and went back and asked him what his plan was. He said he was going to just jump off the vehicle when he got near home, but he didn’t like bees. Funny memories.
First lesson – when moving bees at night, make sure you are wearing protective gear. Bees get angry at night. And if you crash your vehicle…..you can at least get away.
This article shows you how to move beehives, specifically, we will look at how to move wild swarms that have moved into moveable boxes, crates, etc. We will have a look at how to migrate a beehive – this is the act of loading a beehive in one spot and relocating it to another site a few miles, or a few hundred miles away.
Ok, time to put your bee suit on, and let us move some bees!!
How To Move A Wild Beehive?
I will not go into how to move a wild beehive into a managed box in this article. What I will look at here is how you can relocate a wild hive that is in a container to a new place, so that you can later re-hive it into a managed beehive.
Why Do We Sometimes Have To Move A Wild Beehive?
There are many times when bees decide to take up residence in containers. This is far better than when they take up residence in a wall for example. I have moved many hundreds of swarms in my life and the funny places bees can move into are quite amazing. Let me list the most memorable one.
I once had a couple who were very conservative-looking accountants who came to me and asked if I took out bees. They had gone away for a few days and left their bedroom window open. A swarm of bees had moved into the wooden “toybox” next to their bed. I cannot go into detail about what the bees had built their nest around other than to say that the contents of that box would make many people blush. In this case, I took the whole box away, removed the bees, washed my hands a lot, and returned the box. I disposed of the honeycombs from that particular removal – I still chuckle at that memory.
Bees will often move into dog kennels, compost makers, lawnmowers, post boxes, and various other easy-to-remove items. These bees normally also sting the landowner or terrorize them a bit, and hence you get a call “hi, you don’t know me but somebody told me you may be able to help with bees….”.
Inspect The Hive
The first thing to do is to inspect the hive to ascertain what state it is in. If the hive is a new hive, and all the combs are fresh white combs, when you move the hive, these combs may break and fall. If the combs are dark and brown and old there is less chance of the combs breaking. There is however still a likelihood the combs will break. We plan for this in the next step. Take note of the alignment of the combs. Later when you load the hive, you need to align the combs so they align from the back of the vehicle to the front. The combs are strongest in this alignment.
Preparing To Move The Wild Hive In Its Container
Normally what I do is to take a large piece of shade cloth netting and place the back of the pickup truck adjacent to the hive.
Place a strong tray on top of the middle of the shade cloth. Take your bee suit and smoker and get suited up. Wild bees can get pretty riled up when you move them, and if you do not know the provenance of the genetics of the bees you also do not know their temperament. It is best to plan for the worst when we plan how to move beehives. It can go well, but it can go wrong! Plan for the worst, hope for the best.
Put on your bee suit and gloves. Light your smoker with good smoker fuel that will burn for a long time. I was once fortunate to receive a full bag of old burlap bags. I keep this for special removals such as these and use cardboard as fuel for everything else. Jute smoke is very effective for moving bees at night and really calms the bees. Smoke the bees just before sunset.
Moving The Bees
After you have smoked the bees, work quickly. Lift the hive and place it on the tray on the back of the pickup truck. Lift the shade cloth up and tie it off with rope or tape so that the bees are largely enclosed in the cloth. Place the smoker in front of the hive, so that when you drive, the smoke will blow backward towards the bees. Ensure the smoker is in an open metal box so that it does not accidentally set the back of your vehicle alight, or burn a hole in the shade cloth.
If you get this wrong and do not work quickly and efficiently, the bees will educate you on how to move beehives. That education is painful and memorable and within a very short period of time, the bees will train you.
Driving With The Bees
When we consider how to move beehives the most important consideration is how we drive so as not to damage the bees. Drive slowly try not to go around corners rapidly and avoid bumps. You will remember earlier we spoke about aligning the combs so they face in the direction running from the tailgate of the vehicle to the cab. If you hang a piece of string with a weight from your rearview mirror it will give you an indication of the forces the vehicle’s movements exert on the combs. You will see how as you round corners, the forces exerted on the comb are quite great. Hence the slower you round a corner, the smaller the chance of the combs breaking.
Offloading The Bees
When you have reached the target apiary site park as close to where you will offload the bees as is possible. Smoke the bees and very quickly offload the bees. Untie the mesh and allow it to fall to the ground. Leave the bees and let them clean themselves up overnight. Inspect the hive in the morning, and ensure you move it into a new box within a day or two of relocating the bees.
I hope this article has helped you to understand how to move beehives. Relocating a beehive is a challenge. Once you learn how to move beehives from the wild to the apiary you do however gain skill in terms of sourcing good disease-resistant genetics. Wild bees have proven they can survive with less help from us. These are the best bees for your area, as they are locally adapted and have proven they can thrive. If you enjoyed the article, please share.
Read more about: How To Move A Bee Nest?
Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.