Before you move a hive, read this
It all began last fall when my husband announced that the hive in the backyard had to go. Truth is, I too was tired of it. Although the bees had a sweet disposition most of the time, there were moments when they lacked restraint. The hive was close to the house, tucked under the eave, and right next to the hose bibb, which was sometimes a problem.
But I didn’t move the hive last fall because I figured the colony might not overwinter. And if it didn’t overwinter, moving it would have been a wasted effort. No one moves bees for fun.
It overwintered splendidly
Fast forward till April. The closer spring got, the more sugar that colony devoured. By last week the hive was oozing bees and the backyard was getting scary again. And I was getting the look, the one that says, “You promised.”
As luck would have it, I had a brand new never-been-used Valkyrie long hive, just itching for a colony. I set up the long hive—not in the backyard—and moved most of the bees and brood into it. In the backyard hive, I left the rest of the brood nest and, of course, all the foragers. Easy peasy.
That evening, under the cover of darkness, I locked the remaining bees inside the backyard hive. I carefully taped the entrances and strapped the hive together with tie-downs. The next morning the two of us moved the hive up the hill, about 300 feet from the house. Piece of cake. All I had to do was wait.
Checking on protocol
In the meantime, I found my old post on moving a hive. I had written it a number of years ago after I had good success with the method. Basically, you lock up your bees, move the hive to the new location, and leave them there for three days. Before releasing them, preferably just before dark, you place diversionary foliage in front of the hive opening. In theory, this detour confuses them enough to force reorientation.
After locking them up, I went back to the original location and moved everything bee related from that area. I left nothing they might recognize or smell, such as hive stands, boxes, tools, or feeders. It was all gone. Nada. Except for the house and, ultimately, I think that was the problem.
Three days later
Toward the end of the third day, I taped fern fronds to the front of the hive, making sure they covered the opening. It looked confusing enough to me. I mean, if I walked out of my house and got knocked on the head with fern fronds, I would at least stop and reconsider.
But not my bees. Not for a heartbeat.
When I pulled the tape off the hive the bees foamed out of the entrance. No one hesitated. No one asked, “What’s with the fronds?” Instead, the bees seemed to vanish.
I left quickly, balling the used duct tape as I walked through the woods and back to the house. But as I entered the backyard, there they were. Thousands of them circled the yard, waiting for me. Thousands more clustered on the gutters of the house. I could hear them mocking me: “What took you so long?”
As mean as they can be
Maybe their home being gone torqued them off. Or maybe being jailed for three days did it. Or maybe they don’t like ferns. Whatever the reason, those puppies were mean. They started head-butting right away. I pulled my jacket up over my head but I couldn’t get away fast enough. I got stung through the sleeves.
I walked around to the far side of the house, but when I opened the front door, some of those meanies flew inside. The dog, who was sleeping on the kitchen floor, got stung for no reason. The cat got stung as she walked outside, then disappeared for 24 hours. Meowing, Whining. Barking. Buzzing. Cussing. I don’t ever recall such pandemonium. Meanwhile, my husband—the one who insisted on this move—was in Virginia. How clever is that?
I can tell you this was not a genetic predisposition to meaness. The original hive had been broken into three parts. The part in the long hive was relaxed and calm. Several times I opened it just to watch, and no one paid any attention. The second part, which contained brood and the bees that didn’t fly back, was also sweet and unruffled. But the part on the gutter had its mind in the gutter. I couldn’t garden, chop wood, or sweep the patio. It was deja vu, only this time I was the one under house arrest.
Collecting the meanies
With so many things to do, I couldn’t allow this. Somehow, I had to get those bees out of the backyard. I thought of doing drastic things, which I won’t mention. But in the end, I decided to set up a hive where the old one had been. It was just a box, a bottom board with no opening, and an escape board on top. Whoever went in couldn’t get back out. It took three whole days and two very cold nights, but I finally cleared the backyard of bees.
After three days, I took the box back up the hill and added it to the hive it escaped from. Luckily, it was raining. Luckily, it’s still raining. What will happen when it stops raining? Unfortunately, I have a pretty good idea.
Think twice before you move a hive
But I can tell you this. I believe that the old foragers used the house itself for navigation. Even though I removed all bee-related items from the backyard, the house remained and that was their sign post, period. Nothing was going to change their minds. Why does this method work sometimes and not others? I don’t know. It could be the age of the bees. It could be nectar conditions. It could be something I’m clueless about.
Looking back, I think we lose more bees than we think when we move hives across short distances. If other hives are around, maybe some find a home. But other bees, I think, just keep circling back like homing pigeons. Who knows? I for one will never try the three-day method again.
Honey Bee Suite