How to move a hive

You hear it all the time: you can’t move a hive a short distance because the field force will return to the original location of the hive and become lost. The usual advice is that you must move the hive at least two miles away, give the bees a few days to reorient themselves, and then move the hive back to where you want it.

However, it is much easier than that. You can move a hive anywhere—a few inches, a few feet, or many yards—by simply forcing the bees to reorient themselves.

Here are the steps:

  • In the evening or early morning when nearly all the bees are in the hive, block the entrance and move the hive to its new location. (How you actually move the hive is a separate subject, but I like to strap it all together and move it with a furniture dolly.)
  • Keep the bees sequestered the first 72 hours, if possible. Keeping bees locked up will cause some of them to reorient themselves the next time they go out.
  • In the meantime, place a leafy branch, a bead curtain, rags on a string, or something similar in front of the hive entrance. The object must be close enough to the hive entrance that the bees are forced to navigate around it as they leave the hive.
  • After three days, open the hive entrance. The bees will be confused by the object in front of their hive, pause for a moment, and exclaim, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more!” They will each take a short flight and reorient themselves to the new conditions and new area.
  • Leave the distraction in place for two days or so, and then remove it.
  • Your bees will have reoriented themselves to their new home.

This really does work. You can test it for yourself by placing distracting materials in front of any hive without moving it. Before the materials are in place the bees fly straight in and straight out. Within minutes after putting a distraction in place, you will see bees going through the process of reorienting themselves—circling around the entrance, hovering in front of the hive, and widening the exploratory area.

Be sure you don’t have a second entrance unless it also has distracting materials. I think it’s best to have just one entrance when doing this. Also, I like to have a distraction that is big enough and irritating enough that the bees really notice. In other words, don’t use a skinny twig. I like to use a big leafy branch with lots of leaves within an inch of the entrance.

I have had good results by leaving the hive closed for as little as 24 hours, but some people have had better luck by leaving them locked up for a full three days. If your bees have plenty of ventilation so they don’t get too hot, go for the three days. Also, see the YouTube video by LDSPrepper.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite.com

Reorienting the bees with a branch
Reorienting the bees with a branch

Comments

doug&sandra
Reply

We are waiting for a queen’s arrival and have two splits waiting. How long can we keep the hive safely closed up. They had quite a bit of stores.

Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Remember that bees are routinely closed up, put on trucks, and moved long distances over the course of many days. As long as they have food, water, and good ventilation they will be fine. I can’t put an exact number on it because there are too many variables, but I’m wondering why you have to keep the splits closed up? After a few days, nearly everyone will stay put–with a queen or without. And if a few foragers go back home, it doesn’t make much difference.

Scott
Reply

My problem is that the bees I want to move are located behind a chimney as they enter in a crack between the wall and chimney. I can’t possibly move the chimney as it is 30 feet tall. Any suggestions how to move them, we do not want to harm them but want to move them.???? Please Help

Rusty
Reply

Scott,

Probably the best you could do would be a trap-out, but it is far from ideal: What is a trap-out?

adam
Reply

Rusty,

I appreciate the insight. I am a rookie and have a few rookie questions. I need to move my bees in the next few days, and obviously with it being the end of August, it is hot. How do I ensure they have sufficient ventilation when they are locked in there for 3 days? Would mesh duck taped around the opening work? So you know, I just put another deep hive body on as they were getting cramped.

Also, I have noticed bees coming out of the top, although theoretically it is completely closed in. Is that normal, and if so how do I prevent them from doing that over the 3 days, i.e. what do I close them in with while keeping it ventilated and what not.

Rusty
Reply

Adam,

I would close up the entrance with or without a screen. Instead I would use a screened bottom board and a screened inner cover. There are directions for making an inner cover here. That gives them plenty of airflow—in through the bottom, out through the top. I don’t know how far you are moving your hives, but if it is close by, you need to find out where the bees are getting out and seal it up, otherwise those bees will go back to the original location.

Chris
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Not sure if this is affected by the bee breed. Mine is a hive of Melifera melifera that I rescued from a nest in my eaves. They were tricky to move in the first place; I had three attempts at shifting them. It only succeeded when they swarmed and I was able to capture the queen and put her on top of an excluder for a day or two.

Anyway, followed the instructions to the letter but the little bug***s came out and went straight back to the scaffolding I put up to capture them in the first place. So I hauled the hive back up and waited until nightfall. They are now at a friend’s paddock 2 miles from me for a nice 3 week holiday…

Wendy
Reply

I am a fairly new distraught beekeeper. I had to move my beehive (about 3 meters) due to work being done in the garden and thought it would be OK to move it at night when all the bees were inside and before I’d found your posts about moving bees.

Now I have lots of bees flying in the garden not being able to find their way back and I’m worried that the colony will be wrecked, especially as more will fly as the day warms up. I plan to wait till dark and close the hive off and keep it closed for a couple of days until the work in the garden has finished. Am I too late to save my colony?

Rusty
Reply

Wendy,

Three meters is a little far for them to find it easily, but some will. You may find a cluster of bees landing near where the hive was, and you can pick these up and move them back to the hive before you close it up. You won’t wreck your colony, but if you lose a lot of foragers, you will certainly weaken it. At this point, it is probably best to just collect those you can and hope for the best. Don’t be distraught; bees are very resourceful.

Hala Gherianu
Reply

Hello Rusty,

As you may recall, we just recently (June 16) got our first honey bees and things seemed to be fine.

The other day, we found a swarm of honey bees clustered around the main trunk of a young tree. Not sure where they came from but we suspect that they split from our original hive 50 feet away.

We scrambled to get help and advice to moved the swarm into a new box that was hastily bought and haphazardly placed by where they had collected. My husband was going to move the box to its chosen location almost immediately, however, our bee expert suggested we feed the bees some sugar water and move them in a few days. It’s been two nights.

By now you probably guessed my question: do we move the box in the evening to their new location and let them deal with it as our seasoned bee expert is suggesting, or do we do as you have posted in the above message considering it is a new hive?

I am inclined to use your method to be sure, however, these honeybees are new, they have no stored food or water source and it is August in southwest Missouri.

While anxiously waiting on your response, I will keep busy building a screened cover.

Thanks,
Hala

Rusty
Reply

Hala,

Although it is too late now, I would have moved the hive to its final location immediately and not waited a few nights. When the bees are caught and first put in their new home, they have not yet done orientation flights or learned where home is. By waiting to move them, they had a chance to do orientation flights, and so now they know where home should be.

So whereas earlier you could have moved them easily, now you have to go through the entire moving and re-orientation process, assuming they will be moved more than a few feet away.

Bob
Reply

I need to run an underground waterline very near our hive. I could probably move the hive 2-3 feet and be able to get the trencher through…My concern is that the work will certainly be disruptive for the hive and I’d prefer to not have the workers stung doing their job.

Would it be better just to relocate the hive? We have 175 acres with many vehicle accessible areas in full sun.

If we move the hive a couple feet during dusk/early evening, should we cover the opening or just pick it up and set it on the nearby bricks. We do not have suits etc.

Thanks.

Bob

Rusty
Reply

Bob,

If it were me, I would close up the hive during the night before the trencher arrived, and keep them locked up until the work was done–assuming it wouldn’t take more than a few days.

That way you can just move the hive a few feet, get the trencher through, and no one gets stung.

If you decide to move it, you can close them up the night before. If you decide to move it only a few feet, and not lock them up, it will take a few hours for them to reorient, but they will. But don’t let them re-orient while the workers are there; it will be scary for them (the workers, not the bees.)

Bob
Reply

We need to move our hive a few feet (2-3) to allow for a trencher to lay a water line. Should we move it further to make it safer for the workers trenching the line? We have plenty acres on our farm.

If leaving it within 2-3 feet of the place it sets now, should we mesh over the opening the evening before work is to commence to keep the bees in the hive?

In moving the hive 2-3 feet….should sequester them for three days to ensure they stay with the hive?

Rusty
Reply

You don’t need to sequester the hive if it is moved only 2-3 feet. It will look like all hell broke loose for a few hours, but they will relocate.

Lucy
Reply

I have blocked off the entrance to the hive just for the move and opened it straight after the move which was about 40 feet.

Today, which is the following day bees fly around old spot, there is much confusion, obviously I have done the move before viewing your posting.

Is it worth to sequester the hive now (24 hours after move) for at least 24h and try to force them to reorientate?

Rusty
Reply

Lucy,

You could sequester them if you could figure out a way to get them back in the hive. How will you do that?

Lucy
Reply

Good point, Rusty, however, because I am in Australia and at that point of time where we are, in Adelaide, weather is cold and windy. So true, there is confusion, but I guess very limited activity not like one can expect in sunny and warm weather, guess I will lose some bees but save others?!?

Does that sound logical?!?

Rusty
Reply

Lucy,

Yes, it does. With fewer out and flying because of the cold, there will be fewer losses.

Bob
Reply

Rusty,

Stumbled upon your website this morning and I’m going to try your method starting today. I’ve been pulling what’s left of my hair out fighting yellowjackets that are attacking my weak hive. I’ve tried all of the methods, trapping, reduced entrance etc. (can’t find the yellowjacket home base) and am hoping a move will help. I’ll let you know if it helps. Thanks for sharing your method.

Rusty
Reply

Bob,

You must be in the south somewhere. Our yellowjackets up here and dead and gone. I just love a good freeze.

Bob
Reply

Hey Rusty,

I’m in the northern San Francisco Bay area. The weather has been in the low to mid 20′s the last few mornings, hopefully the yellowjacket queen will get the message and stop laying. In the meantime her daughters walk right through the narrowed entrance after the sugar feeder. I keep putting fewer and smaller holes (5 in mason jar) but it keeps leaking. I’m afraid once I get it to stop they’ll go after the girls for a snack instead. Any ideas?

Rusty
Reply

Bob,

Yellowjackets should not be going in and out of your hive. Have you looked inside? Are there any bees left? Maybe your hive is the yj home base. But if the temperature is that low, you should not see a single yellowjacket anywhere.

Rachel
Reply

Can you move bees many miles using this technique?

Rusty
Reply

Rachel,

You can but moving hives many miles is much easier. You just lock up the bees the night before, move the hives, and then open them up . . . no waiting, no branches, no keeping them locked up. Since honey bees only forage a few miles at most, they won’t go back to their old place. They will immediately re-orient and they won’t “accidentally” return to the original spot because it isn’t within their foraging range.

Kevin
Reply

I have bees in the walls of a old abandoned building that is falling down and I want to move them. I have a box to put them in for a hive. I plan to put most of the honey comb in the hive for them to eat. I plan on moving them appox. 15 miles to a new home. Is there any problem during this during winter?

Rusty
Reply

Kevin,

I don’t know how cold it is where you are. The main problem is that while you are cutting out the combs and putting them in the hive, bees will be flying everywhere. Depending on how cold it is, some won’t make it back. Also, the brood will get chilled because the workers that were keeping it warm will fly off.

So, if you have no choice, you can try it and see what happens. You may be successful. However, if you have a choice, I would wait until you have at day over 60F. Cutting bees out of buildings can be tough and you will probably lose a considerable number of bees even with ideal conditions. Think through your process carefully before you start, have all the tools you will need, and then work as quickly as possible.

Cherie
Reply

I placed a nuc at the edge of a wooded area last fall, not noticing that it had a lot of large, dead branches. It has been a brutally cold winter, and last week, with an ice storm expected, I felt it was dangerous to leave the hive near that big oak. I sealed it up and moved it about 100′ from its previous location. It was only after that that I read the bit about not moving hives short distances (big duh on my part). The bees have only been out of the hive a handful of times all winter, and since last Sunday (four days ago) when I moved the hive, they have not been out at all. I saw a few bees during the day today, but not very many. I have put some pine branches in front of the hive, but hoping it isn’t too little too late. Is it possible, that given that they’ve not been outside in such a long time, that there is hope that this hive will not lose too many foragers once they get moving again?

Rusty
Reply

Hi Cherie,

Yes, they will be fine. Because they are not out flying around, winter is an excellent time to move a hive. The foragers will re-orient before they go far. All the admonitions about locking them down and providing diversions to force re-orientation is necessary during periods of active foraging when they are coming and going many times a day. During cold winters there is little problem with them flying to the old location.

Cherie
Reply

Thank you!! I can breathe a sigh of relief. I actually saw one returning yesterday as I was affixing pine branches to the hive!! I suppose I can ditch the snazzy hive decor. Now to just hope and pray they make it through the rest of this brutal winter.

Mohamed
Reply

Important note: keeping bees locked up for a half a day or more will result in killing bees.
Even with two slots for ventilation and considerably small colony (five out of the ten frames are new) and temperature was 25C; the bees died from suffocation. apparently bees crowded on the vents trying to get out cutting air and increasing heat inside the hive resulting sadly in the loss of the colony.
I believe the best way is to relocate few kilometres for few days, then back to new location.
thank you

Rusty
Reply

Mohamed,

Bees are routinely locked up and shipped for days on end, even in summer. The important thing is to give them adequate ventilation. What is adequate will depend on your situation. I wouldn’t put them in bright sun, I would make sure they had plenty of water, and I would give them screened bottoms and a screened inner cover. Such steps have saved the lives of many colonies, especially those locked down during pesticide applications.

I don’t think two slots sounds adequate and you don’t say anything about water supply or placement of the hive. Take reasonable precautions and your bees will be fine. I believe all that relocation business is even harder on them.

Leave a comment

name*

email* (not published)

website