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

Phillip
Reply

Whatcho talkin bout, Rusty?

I knew about the re-orienting branch trick, but I didn’t know I could move the hive any distance. I asked local beekeepers and beekeepers on a few forums, and everyone told me a variation of the 3 feet or 3 mile rule, but nothing in between.

You mean I could have moved one of my hives this year in one go? Man!

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

I’ve moved them from about 5 feet to about 600 feet using this technique. I get a bit better result when I sequester them overnight than if I use the branch alone. Actually, if you sequester them about three days and three nights, you hardly need the branch at all.

Picasso said, “I am always doing things I can’t do, that’s how I get to do them.” Good advice. Whenever someone tells me something can’t be done, I start experimenting until I find a way to do it. Oftentimes the conventional wisdom turns out to be right, but sometimes not.

Phillip
Reply

I moved a hive last year following the traditional method. It was a pain in the neck and it severely disrupted the bees. Ain’t ever doing that again.

I’ll follow your method next time. An important note might be to make sure the hive has some kind of screened ventilation on top. My bees would cook if I locked them up for a day or two in the summer without any ventilation.

So much conventional beekeeping wisdom is, you know, bunk. How often in the middle of some beekeeping chore do you think, There has got to be a better way to do this? Thanks for debunking this one.

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

Good point about top ventilation.

Jane Peters
Reply

I plan to move my hives early tomorrow into the apiary as bears are roaming around !!!!!. We overwintered them behind the barn which is approximately 300 meters from the apiary. Last year, I had to return and scoop them off the barn wall for about 3 days. Would you suggest I move them at night rather than early (5am) and keep them closed up for 2 to 3 days. We still have cooler days here in BC with nights at a low of minus 6C and days plus 10C. My other question is: I read that I have to rotate the supers (bottom on top) should I do this now or wait for our ‘real’ spring to arrive ???? many thanks Jane

Rusty
Reply

Jane,

Either morning or evening is fine, as long as all the bees are inside the hive. I’d leave them locked up for three days but make sure they have enough ventilation–like a screened bottom board and a screened top vent. The top one doesn’t have to be large, but on a warm day it’s really important.

You can reverse brood boxes if you want, but I don’t believe it’s necessary. Read this before you decide: http://www.honeybeesuite.com/reversing-brood-boxes-is-it-necessary/

Hello_Kitty_
Reply

Twelve days ago we caught a swarm in a trap sitting on our deck. Of course we couldn’t keep the bees on the deck, so very early the next morning before anyone was flying, we moved them across the yard. They’d only been in the box overnight, so I figured they hadn’t oriented to it and did nothing to re-orient them. Well, after we moved it, there were many confused bees. All day long there were bees trying to figure out where their box was. And I swear even yesterday, there was still a bee or two sniffing the spot where the box had been. Those scout bees must a) give really good directions and b) mark the spot with a powerful scent. Lesson learned. If I ever have to move a hive again, I will use this method for sure.

kimball
Reply

This technique did not work for me (100 metre move) and I frankly do not believe it works. You may have had a few young bees which stayed but the foragers left you. Lost a hive through sheer laziness and not moving it 4km and then back a couple days later. Stupid me.

Rusty
Reply

Kimball,

You say the technique did not work for you and then you say, “You may have had a few young bees which stayed but the foragers left you.” Please don’t tell me what my bees did. I use this technique frequently and it works. Just this year I moved a big boisterous hive about 90 meters with no problem. I even put a bait box where the hive used to be to catch any stragglers, but it didn’t pick up more than a dozen bees. If you haven’t already done so, go to this post and watch the video by LDSPrepper. I’m sorry you did not succeed with the technique but it is ridiculous for you say that I didn’t either.

kimball
Reply

Excuse my presumption, I commented in the heat of the moment. I didn’t of course lose the hive. The queen is still there with a few young bees but I won’t get much honey from this hive. But I did lose most of the foragers and despite the bait box they stubbornly returned. I followed the instructions to the letter. The bees left the hive after 30 hours of confinement, circled, oriented themselves as you say and promptly returned to the original location (100 meters). I trapped them and returned them the next morning to no avail.

Moving hives in late winter is no problem, or even 5 ft anytime (most of the bees will continue to circle up to 6 ft until they find the hive but there will be a few losses). The one metre/4km rule is best in my experience. Forgive my skepticism.

Just a few details in the name of empiricism. The hive was a swarm from my hives. They have this tendency. I have one or two mini hives which I put around the property to capture swarms and they overwinter in situ and I move them in late February/March. I live in Brittany on the west coast of France and the climate is very moderate. This swarm decided to install itself in front of my cabin where I had put out an old hive to be cleaned up and it had to be moved. I was pretty excited to happen on your site and your experience. I closed them up at night, moved them the next morning and opened the hive the next day decorated as you suggested with the result above. Originally they were oriented north and moved back facing south.

I do have considerable experience managing between 10 and 20 hives but learn new things regularly. Bees are still very mysterious for me and they don’t often read bee manuals. They surprise me regularly.

I will try this technique again because others say it works. I’ll be back.

Rusty
Reply

Kimball,

Since I originally wrote this post, I have actually increased the time I leave the bees locked up after the move. This last time I increased it to 72 hours on the advice of another beekeeper who had experimented with this technique quite a bit. His feeling was that 24 hours was minimum and the number of foragers that would reorient would increase every day for three days and then level off.

In light of his advice and your experience, I will amend the post and suggest a longer waiting time. As you say, the bees are mysterious and always full of surprises.

Thank you for your input.

Jane Peters
Reply

Would like to comment about moving hives. It is important to close them up the night before and leave them closed for at least 24 hrs afterwards… We have moved hives (just 200 metres) over the past few years successfully. Yes, a few bees do fly back where they overwintered, however, I brush them into a box and take them back to the summer pasture. Like Rusty, I also put a bait box out. Happy beekeeping everyone!!

Phillip
Reply

“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.”

Got any precise tips about that? I have to move four hives ASAP. I’ve got them strapped down and the bees sealed in with mesh (plenty of ventilation and I’ll give them water).

But how exactly does anyone who isn’t the Incredible Hulk lift a 3-deep hive onto a dolly without something disastrous happening?

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

You are so funny. At 52 kg (not exactly the Incredible Hulk) I can move a triple deep by myself. First I strap the hive together–top to bottom, all the way around–with a ratcheting tie-down so it is tight. Then I take the furniture dolly (aka hand-truck) and slide the flat metal part under the hive. Then I take a second ratcheting tie-down and tie the hive to the vertical part of the furniture dolly, tight. Then I lean the dolly back and the hive leans back with it, all connected. (If you put the dolly behind the hive–not on the left or right–the combs rock straight back and are not inclined to break.

Then you just roll the hives wherever you want them. I’ve rolled them along a path and I’ve rolled them up a ramp and into my pickup. Piece of cake.

Phillip
Reply

Okay, I see. My problem is sliding the dolly under the hive. Our hives are resting on makeshift double hive stands. If I put the dolly under the hive, it’s also under a piece of lumber that’s also supporting the hive right next to it.

It looks like I’ll have to find a way to lift the hives off the stand first. Oh, man.

Sarah
Reply

I’ve been wondering the same thing. Thanks.

Phillip
Reply

Stop the presses. I moved my four hives, but I didn’t touch my brand new heavy duty dolly once. A friend of mind came over and we simply picked up the strapped down hives. Him on the back, me on the front, all entrances duct taped shut with mesh.

That was too easy.

Anyway, just thought I’d throw that one out there for the record. Sometimes simplicity works best.

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

People always ask why I’m so crazy about hive straps. Right there is one good reason.

Jeff
Reply

I also have to move my hives as my neighbour’s back patio is in line of sight that the bees are flying to towards the pollen/nectar/water sources. I plan to move my bees to a dairy farm where there is lots of space, unless you can can come up with advise on how to get the bees not to use that flight path. For the time being I plan to move the bees into the woods so they have to fly vertical 50′ then fly horizontal from there. I hope more of the bees will not be at ground level through their yard even though the colonies are 15′ above their yard.

Rusty
Reply

Jeff,

That is exactly the usual recommendation. If you can put a fence, hedge, building, or some other obstruction in their way, then they go up first and then over, which usually takes them away from people. I have a tall hedge between my bees and the neighbor’s horses and cows and it works well. It makes the bees go up first and then out where they are far above the animals.

Jeff
Reply

Currently my bees are on a hill but it is open in all directions. So there is the opportunity for the bees to fly down the valley intersecting the neighbour’s yard. My long-term goal is to be able to keep 3 – 4 colonies in my yard again without pissing anyone off. I am in talks with a dairy farmer now for placing my colonies there.

Any suggestions Rusty?

Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Jeff,

Short of a fence, I don’t have any good ideas. Have you already pissed someone off or are you just anticipating that you might? How close are you to your neighbor? Are you in an urban or suburban area? How big is your yard?

Phillip
Reply

Well, I moved four of my hives following this method, more or less. I’ll cut to the chase: The bees from two of the hives returned to the original location, hung around on the old hive stands and died. (It was a cold day.)

That seems odd, because the bees were locked in the hives for more than 24 hours and the obstacles in front of the hives should have caused them to orient immediately.

I’m not sure what’s happened. Both of those hives were in swarming mode. If the move knocks them back a bit, in my neighbourhood, that’s not a bad thing.

If I have to do it again, I’ll either lock them up for 3 full days, or provide more solid obstacles in front of the entrances.

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

Although some people wrote to say they did fine at 24 hours, a majority did better by waiting the entire three days. When I moved a hive again last month, I too waited three days and got good results. I am going to change my recommendations in that post and say you should definitely wait three days.

Lyn
Reply

If I put a frame feeder with about 4 quarts of sugar water for my locked in bees after moving PLUS 3 full honey/pollen, and 3 to 4 brood/egg frames in my QUEENLESS box I’ve split will they be ok for the three days?

Rusty
Reply

Lyn,

They should be fine. Just make sure they have some ventilation so they don’t get too hot.

Mike
Reply

Rusty: How do you think this would work to change the entrance of a tree hive. The current entrance opens next to some steps. I would like their flight path changed to the other direction through a clear tube so they exit about 4 foot from the steps.

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

Bees in observation hives frequently use tubes for ingress and egress. Four feet sounds kind of long, but I don’t know what the realistic limit might be for a tube entrance. I would say just try it. You should get an idea fairly quickly as to whether they are comfortable with that. If not, you can change it again. It seems to me that a longer tube should have a wider diameter because with a long tube, more bees will be using it at any given moment. Since each bee has to be in the tube longer to get where she is going, it seems that a lot of bees will be passing each other in the tube. They will need enough space to do that easily.

Lizzy
Reply

I’m a new bee keeper and have had to move the hive from its original position (too close to house and neighbours). The technique makes sense to me and my intuition tells me it will work, so I am game to give this a go but, are the bees locked up without water for 3 days? If so are they ok? I think my bees have enough stores, I inherited the hive, it’s winter and have not opened it yet.

Rusty
Reply

Lizzy,

Bees stay in the hive all winter without any additional water, so they will be fine. There is water in the honey and there is condensation within the hive that they lap up. Having them locked up for three days, especially in winter, will not be a problem.

Tony
Reply

Hi, I split my bee hive a few days ago, left the old hive in its original spot and moved the new hive to my back yard. All the bees stay in their hives.

papajim
Reply

I split three hives and moved them with some scrub between them. I blocked the entrance to move them and opened entrance after move. They are doing great.

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