How to move a hive without disturbing your bees

Moving a beehive isn’t the easiest task, but sometimes it’s necessary. If you’re introducing new hives, changing the layout of your garden, moving house, selling a hive, or you simply feel that your bees would be better in a new position, you may need to make a move.

Because foraging bees leave the hive and travel great distances before they return, moving a hive has the potential to confuse them. Bees form a ‘mental map’ of the area around the hive and use it to find their way back. If the hive isn’t where it should be, they will struggle to find it.

That’s why the prevailing beekeeping wisdom has been to either move a hive around a metre (three feet) at a time, or more than three miles (4.8km) at a time. The idea is that three feet is close enough that the bees will find their way back. If you move the hive more than three miles while the bees are inside, they’ll be forced to reorient themselves to the new environment and won’t try to return to their old position.

As it turns out, there are ways around this rule. As long as you’re careful and considerate of your bees, you should be fine.

Here’s our guide to moving short, medium, and long distances:

One Metre Rule (Three Feet)

If you’re simply moving your hive across a relatively flat garden, following the one metre rule is probably the easiest way to go. Make sure to wear your full bee suit, as the bees will not be happy about the move.

Moving during the day means most bees will be out foraging, so the hive will be lighter. Avoid moving hives at night without blocking off the entry, as this can make your bees angry and aggressive – particularly in colder weather.

Using a furniture moving trolly, lift the hive carefully, and reposition. If you don’t have a trolly, get a friend to help you lift the hive – but take care to hold the levels together when you do.

Move roughly one metre towards your new location, leave overnight, and repeat for as many days as you need.

Moving across your property

Moving hives across your property in one metre increments isn’t always practical – particularly if steep or rough terrain is involved.

In that case, or if you want to move your hives further, do the job in the evening, when the majority of your bees will be in the hive. Again, wear your bee suit in case of irritable bees.

Start by strapping the hive together with ties, and close the entrance, use tape or wood. But don’t cook your bees – if needed drill extra ventilation holes or use a mesh robbing screen to block the entrance if you’re concerned about them overheating.

Once the hive is prepared, lift or wheel it to the new location. Leave the entrance blocked for 72 hours if possible (but make sure they’re still well ventilated).

The trick to getting around the one metre rule is an obstruction. When you do open the hive, use a leafy branch or bundle of grasses to partially block the entrance. By obstructing the entrance, you force the bees to reorient themselves to the new surroundings. Because the landscape isn’t the same when they leave the hive, they should create a new ‘mental map’ and return to the new position when they finish foraging.

Long distance relocations

Moving house or selling hives can mean major relocations for your beehives.

If you’re moving more than five kilometres, you don’t need to worry about bees finding their way back home, but you do need to take care that your bees are safe in transit. As always, wear your bee suit during the process.

As with medium distances, it’s best to move in the evening so your bees are inside the hive. Start by securely strapping your hive together, so it can’t fall apart on the journey. Seal the entrance with a piece of wood or a mesh screen, and check for other access points where bees could escape – holes around the roof or joints, for example.

Once the hive is strapped, lift it into your vehicle and secure to prevent shifting – you don’t want it to fall over when you brake.

When you reach your destination, lift the hive into its new position and leave for a few minutes before opening. Your bees should stay in the hive overnight, then reorient themselves the next morning.

As always, when it comes to beekeeping, a bit of preparation, patience, and care goes a long way.

Want to find out more about moving a hive? Talk to the experts at Ecrotek for advice.