From Point A To Point Bee
Some advice for those wondering how to move the hive
By Ed Dane
When I sell bees to a new beekeeper, the question of moving bees often comes up. I get questions like, “Why do you move them after dark?” or “Can I move them again once they are set?” or “Why do they have to be moved at least two miles away?” These and other questions about the subject are not easily understood and can be very confusing to beginners. Yet, the more we learn about bees the easier they are to understand.
The first thing to remember about bees is that you cannot make a bee do anything. They are programmed to be a bee and do what bees have always done. But you can sometimes manipulate them into doing what you want them to do if you understand a few basic things about them. So let’s answer a few of the questions about moving bees and why we do it the way we do.
When a bee first emerges from the comb, the first thing it does is clean its own cell. For the next couple of weeks it’s job is to take care of the brood; what we call a nurse bee. Next, it might graduate to a honey processor or a wax builder. Then it moves up to the position of guard bee and guards the entrances. The last phase of its life is as a field bee. Bees only live six or eight weeks during the summer months when the honey flow is in full swing because they work themselves to death in that short time.
A bee doesn’t need to orient to the hive until it starts foraging. This is why you can make a split from an existing hive and leave it setting in the same yard and not worry about all the bees going back to the original hive. The field bees will return to the original hive but the nurse bees will stay with the brood. If you make sure you have enough nurse bees by shaking a couple extra frames of bees into the split, you will usually be successful. You’ll want to keep checking to make sure that you have enough nurse bees to keep the brood warm and possibly shake more bees if necessary for a few days though, just in case.
However, if you want to move the whole hive to another spot in the yard, you may have a problem because the field bees will all go back to the original spot unless you move the hive at least two miles away. That is why the rule is to move bees less than two feet or more than two miles.
Bees have an exceptional ability to orient on the spot where the hive sits. They use the angle of the sun and also line of sight of prominent features of the land to help them locate their hive. So if you set a hive of bees in your yard and then decide that you don’t want them there but would rather have them in another spot in the same yard, you first have to move them to another spot at least two miles away for a few weeks until they have reoriented on that spot and then bring them back to the new position in your yard. If you bring them back too soon, the foragers that were foraging when you moved them will remember the old spot and ago back to it and you will have defeated your purpose. You want to leave them there long enough for the old foragers to die off before you move them back. So I always tell new beekeepers to make sure that where they set the bees is where they really want them to be, permanently. Yes they can be moved, but it isn’t that easy.
Another of the frequently asked questions concerns why we move the bees after dark. The main reason for this is so that we don’t leave any bees behind. If you were to move the bees to another spot during the day, all of the foragers that were out collecting nectar and pollen when you moved the hive would be lost because the hive would be gone when they returned. If there was another hive within a foot or two of the spot where their hive sat, they would most likely assimilate into that hive and survive. If not, they would die. This could amount to several hundred bees if the nectar flow was in full swing. At the price of bees today, you don’t want to lose any of your precious bees if you can help it.
Several things to remember when moving bees are first, not to close the hive up completely. The bees will need ventilation so they don’t overheat and die on the trip to their new location. The best way to assure this is to use some screen to cover the entrances. This keeps the bees in the hive and also gives them ventilation. Be sure to remove this screen as soon as the hive is set on its new location otherwise they won’t be able to get out of the hive in the morning.
Another thing to remember is not to shine any light directly at the hive entrance. Bees don’t fly at night but like any insect, they will be drawn to light. One of the beekeepers I sold some bees to learned this the hard way one evening when we were moving his bees. I told him not to shine his flashlight at the hive entrance but he just couldn’t help himself because he was so interested in watching the bees. The next thing I knew, he was swatting himself and running for the cab of the truck. I had to chuckle because I learned that lesson the same way myself many years ago.
One more thing to always remember is to staple or strap everything together before you try to move the hive. If it’s been a week or two since the hive has been opened, the bees will probably have it glued together with propolis, but why would anyone want to take a chance knowing what could happen? It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
I hope this answers some of the questions that you may have had about moving bees. As I said before, the more we know about bees, the easier they are to understand. Happy beekeeping.