honey bee management

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

Before you move a hive, decide what you will do if it doesn't work. A hive with ferns in front of it.

Fern-iture: before you move a hive, decide what you will do if it doesn’t work.


  • Good afternoon, I’m new to beekeeping and wonder if you can tell the diffrent variety of honeybees by their color and marking?

    • Mary Ann,

      I can’t. If you get pure stock, Italians are more yellow, Carniolans or more black, but in the hive they are all mixed up, at least from my perspective.

      • Thank you. I really enjoy you site, a lot of great info. My son started 2 hives last year,but unfortunately he was killed in a car wreck in July. Both hives did not survive the winter here in Wisconsin. He was doing the research on them. I would like to try again , but may not be able to get any bees this year. Lesson learned about ordering early. I took about a gallon of honey from the one at my house and set 3 frames on my deck, and some freeloaders have found them. I will let them clean them and then put them back. Thank you for your blog.

  • I’m wondering if the house was in “line of sight” to the new hive? Also more foliage in the way of the entrance might have helped?

    • Craig,

      Yes, perhaps more foliage would have helped. But as far as line of sight, there’s a forest between the hives and the house. They don’t normally do orientation flights nearly high enough to see the single-story house.

  • Oh, I know I shouldn’t have been laughing as I read your post, but you really are a clever writer. That said, last fall, early fall, my neighbors were unhappy with the bees as they were going through the dearth and trying to find nectar on their children. SO, my mentor and I moved the two nucs to another neighborhood. One nuc I gave away, but after 2 weeks, we brought the younger nuc back since they had made plenty of stores from syrup. Then, the queen stopped laying. Totally. Long story short, by November, the hive was dead. SO, did moving the nuc twice mess up the queen and convince her to stop laying? I felt so bad.

    • Liz,

      You made me laugh, too: “trying to find nectar on their children.”

      In my opinion (which is all I have to go one here), I don’t think the move would interfere with laying. Migratory beekeepers move them all over the place. I think maybe it was a red herring. Something was wrong with her and it was coincidental with the move but probably not caused by it.

  • Rusty will you post what alternative to the three day that you will consider in the future…it was not funny but somehow sounds a little humorous as described. Larry.

    • Larry,

      For short moves, I have no idea other than the one or two feet a day thing which is often not practical.

  • Thanks for sharing this Rusty – we all learn by our mistakes.

    My suggestion for short distance moves is to give them a holiday instead.

    1/ find a willing beehive sitter who is more than 5 km away ( not sure of that in miles)

    2/ then after the hive has a short holiday ( say two weeks) you move them back to the new spot

    • Benedict,

      So are you going to come load them on a truck for me, and unload them too? And then come back and do it all over again? I thought not.

  • We took a class from a local bee keeper before we started keeping them. He says you should move them either two feet, or two miles. Maybe they were just too close.

    • Martha,

      The two feet or two mile rule works perfectly unless you’re trying to move 300 feet across a creek and up a hill. I can’t spend half a year getting there, and I cannot leave them in the creek or on a steep trail. Also, people who encounter neighbor problems can’t do 2-foot increments either. It sounds good on paper, but it’s not practical. This is why people keep working to devise a “short moves” method. Sometimes it actually works.

  • Just because I find it comforting that a very good and wise beekeeper (that would be you) can have more hilarious difficulty with her bees than a very half-assed and scatterbrained beekeeper (that would be me), does not mean that I’m not sorry for your unfortunate moving experience.

    But I’m pretty sure I heard it was ALWAYS raining where you are, so maybe those bees will settle down in their new location this time around.

  • So does that mean you’re giving up the 3-day method for all hive moves or just for the short moves? And if you are giving this up how will you move your hives next time (because there most certainly will be a next time)? I agree with you that the bee do suffer more casualties than we know related to moves. Any swarms yet?

    • Cyrus,

      Well long moves aren’t a problem. But so many people need to move short distances for various reasons that I would like to find a more reliable method. Like you say, there will always be a next time.

      I haven’t seen any swarms yet, but I’ve split a few colonies because I thought they were getting ready.

  • u are wonderful I laughed my butt off the way u tell your story u are just great. Thanks and have a wonderful day

    • Hi Frances. I was thinking just yesterday that I hadn’t heard from you in a while. I’m glad you’re still with us.

  • I think the only time you could move a hive this sort of distance in one step would be in the winter when they would remain in the cluster, but this would have to be done carefully to prevent too much chilling during transport.

  • My tried and trusted – and drawn out – backyard moves revolve around 2 feet – 2 days. Basically, I move the hive about 2 feet in the direction I want it to be, a little less when changing the orientation of the entrance, and leave them alone for not less than 2 days. They’re a little disoriented initially at each move, but typically find their way into the hive pretty quickly and start beelining for it after the 2 days.

    Definitely have to pre-plan the path and the contraptions to be used to temporarily support the hive on its way to their new surroundings. I’m currently about 2 weeks into moving a one-deep-10-frame box up a spiral staircase to a second floor covered balcony … I didn’t know that I had the gymnastic abilities and strength still in me for this feat, but “no bee left behind” 🙂

  • Hey Rusty,

    I wrote you last weekend when I had a swarm trying to move into an empty box on my back porch. They ended up moving in on Thursday. I was planning on moving them to the back of my two acres by doing the 72 hour lockup with debris in front of the entrance. After reading your article however I am becoming more leery of that. I do own a property about 25 miles from here where I could move them for a few days or weeks and then move them back to my house? Do you think this would allow them to forget about my back porch and be ok with living at the back of my property?

    • Brandon,

      In the “old days” I would have said yes, but recently several people have told me that when they brought the bees back, they remembered the old location. Since your swarm just moved in, though, they might not be so set in their ways.

  • Very timely post for me. I have a hive that is coming into it’s 3rd season. It overwintered well and is strong, vigorous and a great producer. It’s always been hot. They swarmed 3 weeks ago and I don’t think they have a new queen yet, I didn’t see any fresh eggs, and now they are beyond hot. I worked them Friday, it’s now Sunday and I still can’t get within 50 feet of the hive. They’ve gone after my goats, my dogs, me, the pet sitter. I can’t live like this and am looking at moving them 100′ down the driveway and into the new orchard. Considering that the hive is 5 mediums tall this is going to be such a fun project. Wish me luck.

  • I would have stuffed the entrance with grasses and let them chew their way out. I think your problem was that you had a new hive body that did not have their smell. And you moved them. And the fronds did not do the trick. Have most always had success with this method.

    • Kathy,

      The hive body was the same one they’ve been living in for the past four years. And it contained brood.

      • Rusty

        I am confused about your write up, you said “I set up the long hive—not in the backyard—and moved most of the bees and brood into it,” sounds like a different hive body.

        Isn’t this similar to doing a split where you take brood to a new hive/location and the foragers return to the original location even if the original queen is in the new location unless you go beyond their forage distance (miles).

        You said you moved it up the hill in pieces. Could you have been able to do the same to load the truck and move to a more distant location?

        Dan G

  • If I have to move a hive a short distance… I don’t.

    I move hives 5km or more and bring another hive to the new location (from more than 5km away)
    Moving a hive at night is simple enough particularly if you have planned for the possibility from the day that you first put the hive there. In other words choose your site with moving the hive as a possibility.

    I hire out serviced garden hives to home owners who wish to have a hive. They get a serviced hive for a fee without the worries of looking after them. Despite my best planning I sometimes have to move hive to a different location in the same garden. What I do is move a new hive to the new spot and the old hive goes to another apiary more than 5 km away, works every time.

  • Ouch! But such a funny account 🙂
    The only way I’ve moved hives is to place them 3 or 4 km away for 6 weeks then move them back to where I wanted them. I had to do this last year and it was a proper palaver, but I did get to keep all my bees in the right place.

  • Last year on two occasions, I moved a double deep 10-frame hive about 30 feet. I used the “expanded” two foot rule. There is no need to move a mere two feet and then wait 24 hours to do it again. Watch the bees. I moved it from 2 to 3 feet and then I watched the returning bees. Within a short while (an hour or two at most) all the bees were returning to the relocated hive. So, I moved it again another 2 to 3 feet. Then I tried moving it 4 feet. And after a couple hours moved it again another 4 feet. Maybe 5. I made the move easily during the daylight hours of one day. I have level ground, by the way, which makes moving a lot easier. TIP: Use a wheeled device. I have a yard wagon. I lift it up and onto the wagon, then moves are a breeze.

  • Do not give up on the all-at-once technique. I have locked them in for two days, but never waited as long as three. Some say bees forget their location after a couple day waiting period and have to refresh it by doing another orientation flight. The obstacles in front of the entrance magnifies their perceived need to do another orientation. I do, however, put a nuc in the old location with a frame of drawn comb in it to give those who, for whatever reason, do NOT forget. Maybe a hundred return. The bees can come and go in that nuc and within a day or so the nuc is empty of bees. I have no idea in which of my 18 hives they end up, but that small a number of errant bees really makes no difference to me. And they are never aggressive. There are some YouTube videos demonstrating the success of the all-at-once technique, and we all have large structures or large trees or large ponds, or something which ostensibly would guide locked-in bees back to their original locations, so I am not sure that it was your home alone that drew them back. Perhaps their genetics is such that you might have needed to keep your Einstein bees locked in for FOUR days in order to make them forgetful! BTW, I liked your idea of moving queen, brood and nurse bees to their new location first, before moving/locking in the foragers separately. No need to stress the nurse bees and queen with being locked in. I had never heard of that step before. I will try that the next time I do the all-at-once.

    • Dave,

      I’ve used this technique several times in the past without problems. I don’t know what the difference was this time.

  • You know, I think the best solution is to get our bees to read all the beekeeping books so that they will know what they are supposed to do! Lol, great post, I have learned a lot on your blog!

  • You are such a great writer! I wonder if your few fronds was not enough. I moved my hives about 300 feet, but it was a process. I placed blue pallets and scrap white boards on the pallets for a week before I moved them so they got used to their “landing strip.” Then I moved it all, beehives, hive stand, pallets to the new location, and added not a few fronds, but spruce tree branches, pine tree branches, old corn stalks, a couple evergreen trees, and some sticks. They REALLY had to work to get out of their home. I’ll send you pics if you want. My mentor thought I was going way too far overboard, but it worked!

  • Thank you Rusty for your response to my queen who stopped laying after 2 moves in early fall. I was feeling so guilty about that hive dying. Glad to know it wasn’t my fault.

  • We were able to move two hives–not broken up but in same configuration–30 feet. It was late winter, this year. Kept them closed for a couple of days, used a cedar bough for orientation. They went back to the old site but by nightfall they seemed to all go to their new home. I was nervous but I think the cold helped.

  • This worked like a charm for me a bunch of times. . .until it didn’t work. Like you, I met my match with a colony that would not be dissuaded from returning to the original location. It didn’t matter how long they were closed up or how much was in front of the entrance. Eventually, the queen and nurse bees stayed at the new location and the foragers were absorbed by hives near the old location and I stopped moving hives by this method.

    • Li,

      I’ve heard other similar tales. It’s hard to figure out what the difference is from one time to another.

  • Hi Rusty, you said you broke the hive into 3 parts… could that have been the problem? The part with the queen stayed put and the part without came back home?

    • Steve,

      Yes, it could have been the problem. The part with the queen was fine, but it surprised me to find the majority of bees abandoning all the brood.

  • Thanks for the heads up… I was about to do the foliage method but will instead do 2-3 ft per day (I’m still going to push boundaries at little!) as I don’t have too far to go. Amazing how they remember us and kamikaze when angry. Ouch!

  • I was taught that if you move a hive more than 10 feet, you should move it at least 2 miles, then a week later move it 20 feet (or more) from it’s original location. They are stubborn little critters or they wouldn’t still be here.

  • Thanks for all your posts, I have learnt a lot from them.

    I want to re-orient my hives, not move them I currently have the beehive in one corner of my property with the entrance facing my vegetable garden. I installed the bees last week and they seem to be disturbed when I am in the veg garden which is in their flight path. So I want to reorient the hive 180 degrees…ie facing away from my veg patch and towards the short rock wall about 12-18″ away.

    Since this is in my backyard, I can easily do this about 15 degrees every couple of days …so that over a couple of weeks, they are facing in the desired direction. Would that work? I would appreciate any inputs you have.

    • Mani,

      Yes, that would work. You could probably rotate them all at once, since the hives remain in the same position. There were be confusion at first, but they will sort it out. Two 90-gree rotations would be smoother, or you can take forever (15 degrees) if you want.

  • Rusty, my 2 cents.

    I’ve moved oh, 6-8 hives down to my “bee yard” space without a problem (knock on wood).

    I do it in the evening when everybody is home, tape the reduced entrance. Strap double sometimes triple and my nephew and I load them on my Ranger and move them 250 yards from original place. It’s dark now usually so I untape entrance and place small brush/twigs/leaves directly in front of it. Requires the bees to crawl over and/or push “stuff” out of there way. Apparently next morning they reorient as they move out the next day. I’ve been lucky I assume but it has worked for me……

  • Rusty

    You mentioned the Valkyrie long hive. I saw one the other day. The owner had put bees in it with deep frames. As we were inspecting we found ever frame to have about 2 – 3 inches of comb under the frames as there was so much room below the frames. Is this normal? The Valkyrie long hive website doesn’t say much about using the hive, if you need even deeper than deep frames, etc. Any comments would be appreciated — maybe a column/story on your experience with the Valkyrie long hive so far…

    The Average Joe Beekeeper
    Parker, CO, US

    • Joe,

      I too used standard deep frames, but I haven’t noticed anything unusual one way or the other. I will be sure to take a look.

  • Hi Rusty,

    When I got the email notification of your post “read this before you move your hives” my heart sank!! You have no idea what bad timing your post was!!

    First off the background. I’m in France. A professional beekeeper for many years, but that is not important. What is important I believe in beekeeping and understanding the bees the best I can. Years of observation, reading and experiments.

    I needed to move one of my bee yards from where it was to a new location about 300 to 400 yards away. (Sound familiar?)

    So on Saturday night very late I closed up about 37 hives ready for the next morning and the planned move.
    Got up early to start the work. The new location was all sorted, so I started to move the hives over to their new location. It was a long and hard days work and I finished just as the rains started.

    All my beekeeping life I have moved hives any distance I wanted. Within the same bee yard or further afield as needed. I have never seen it as a problem. Then I got your blog notification and this huge black cloud of doubt descended and I went into panic mode. I had the worst nights sleep in a long time and Monday morning I was a bear with a sore head.

    You see, there are not many people, beekeepers, that that I respect. (I don’t want that to sound harsh, but old wives tales or folk law makes me very tired.) You know the saying, ask 10 bee keepers a question and you get 20 different answers. They are all experts, non of them are masters.

    However my sweet little Rusty, YOU, I do respect. Thus the problem when I read your blog! If you said you would never do it again then maybe I have a big problem, not withstanding I have just moved 37 hives, and I have moved hives all my beekeeping life like this, as I have said. So what to do?

    I couldn’t move them back to the original place, as I had to move them for technical reasons. So I regrouped in my head, got my act together and continued as I have always done.

    I left them closed up for three days. Each hive had feeders, whether they needed it or not. Each feeder was full of sirop. (I think this is really important because at least they know that on the food front they are ok. One less thing for them to think about!!). Then when the time came to open the hives I did this at three in the morning. On a cold wet morning, or should I say middle of the night. That way they would mostly be all huddled together trying to keep warm. The front of the hives I virtually blocked with bush, so they would have to fight their way out and forced them into a reorientation flight.

    The day that I opened them was not a wonderful day but still warm enough for them to get out and stretch their legs, or should that be wings?

    That evening I went to check how many had returned to the original site. Out of 37 hives moved there was about a packet of bees. Old timers. Those with old habits, can’t teach old dogs (or bees in this case) new tricks. As the evening was cold I swept them up and put them into a swarm box with five frames in it. The frames I sprayed with sirop, closed them up popped a feeder on top and put them in my cellar for three days. And as with the others I then put them out in their new place and opened them up, not forgetting the branches and bush in front of the opening. Then just the other day I popped in a frame with a couple of queen cells on it and bobs your uncle and fanny your aunt, now I have another new hive with a jolly queen.

    All the other hives are doing great.

    I think what is important to take away from this is that it is totally possible to move hives a few feet or yards with total success. What is important is planning.

    I had planned this for a week with poor weather, low temperatures and rain. This is way better than high temperatures and sunny days.

    If a move is really urgent then do it in the same way but keep them closed for three to four days with plenty of feed and keep them in the dark. A cellar or garage, but with lots of air flow. This will allow you to plan better and choose a night that maybe cooler to place the hive and open it. Put lots of foliage in front of the entrance and open in the middle of the night.

    So Rusty even though you scared me to death, everything worked out. These are just my own experiences, but I have done it for years this way. So I know it can be done and that it works.

    The more we observe our bees and try to understand them the more we learn. The more questions we ask and the more answers we find.

    Thank you to you for a superb blog and your wealth of knowledge.

    Happy bee keeping to one and all,

    From me over here in France.

    • Monty,

      That’s quite a story, and I’m glad it all worked out. I think sometimes things don’t work for an unknown reason. I, too, had used this method many times in the past and it always worked until it didn’t.

      In retrospect, I would have given them syrup instead of just honey. I would have made the vegetation in front of the hive much more dense, and I would have released them at night, instead of during the day. Live and learn.

      After I recaptured the returning bees, I did much better the second time around. I lost a few bees, but not many. In any case, it was a good reminder for me and perhaps for others.

      Thanks for writing and explaining your methods and reasoning.

  • Rusty,

    Thank you for this article. I’ve learned a lot from your website.

    Recently, I moved a hive 75 feet. The result was better than I expected. I wanted to share my experience here.

    Day 1 – During the day, prepare the hive to make sure it is ventilated. When it gets dark at 9 PM, put on the bee suit, close the hive entrance completely. Move the hive to the new location. Open the hive entrance so it has an entrance small enough for the bees to get through. Cover the entrance with branches with lots of leaves. Put more branches on the ground in front of and around the hive to obstruct the bees’ flight path. Finally, place a nuc box at the old location and put some lemongrass oil drops in the nuc box.

    Day 2 – When it gets dark at 9 PM, put on the bee suit. Place a medium super on top of the inner cover of the beehive at the new location. Go to the old location with nuc box. Carry nuc box to the new location. Spray the bees inside the nuc box with 1:1 sugar water – this step may not be necessary but I didn’t want the bees to fly around. Dump the bees into the medium super and put the top cover on top of the beehive. Return the empty nuc box back to the old location.

    Day 3 – repeat Day 3

    Day 4 – remove the branches surrounding the beehive at the new location, but keep the branches at the hive entrance intact. Move the nuc box, and place it on top of the beehive at the new location

    Day 5 – clear the branches that sit at the hive entrance.

    Day 6 – fewer than 10 bees at the old location, but they are gone at night. I assume they’ve found a new home.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I have to move 4 hive to my new apiary which is about 1 km away. I am not in a rush to do this so am wondering if I wait until the cold weather hits in late fall? Usually they are confined to the hive for weeks (months actually) at a time and my thinking is that they will reorient if they do get a cleaning flight. What do you think?


    • David,

      Whenever they are not flying much would be the easiest time to make a move that’s only a km away. If you can easily wait till fall, that would be perfect.

  • Hi,

    If this method ‘semi-worked’ what do you do? My husband decided he wanted the hive at the other end of the garden having seen videos relating to this 3 day rule. As it happens, some bees have re-oriented but others don’t and keep flying around the old area where they used to be….2 mornings have passed and we keep finding dead bees on the patio…what would you recommend in this situation??

    Thank you!

    • Karina,

      At this point, all you can do is wait it out. You will manage to save most of the bees, but not all of them.

  • Well, here I am laughing out loud at your bee-moving predicament. Much easier to laugh at someone else’s pickle. So what happened when it stopped raining?

  • Hi Rusty,
    About 5 weeks ago, I had a hive that showed signs of swarming. To try to avert the swarm, I was advised to take 3-4 frames (with a couple of good swarm cells) and place in a nuc about 20 feet away. The nuc now has a mated queen with eggs and larvae. I’d like to move the nuc back to the original location where my other hives are and put it in a deep hive setup. Would I follow the same steps you recommend to move a hive for this situation? Also, when should I transfer frames from nuc to deep hive body, before or after the move?
    Thank you!

    • Andrea,

      Whenever you move a colony of bees, the foragers will return to the old location expecting their hive to be there. So yes, you have to go through a procedure that helps the bees reorient and learn the new location. You can transfer the frames either before or after, but if you need to keep them locked up, bear that in mind. You can move the nuc to the old location with the bees locked up, and then when you open them change them to the new hive right away.

      Personally, I would not have moved the nuc 20 feet away. That really doesn’t do anything useful. Actually, 20 feet is so close you can probably skip the whole lock-down step. Just move the nuc 5 or 6 feet a day until you’re in the right place.

  • Hi, I needed to move my bee hive about 30 yards due to it being near my koi pond and the bees not liking my husband. I did the 3 day lock down and placed branches over the entrance when I let them out. About 20-30 are going back to the original site so last night I got my dust pan and brush and gathered them up and put on the hive entrance… I’ve gone out this morning and there’s about a dozen back at the old spot. Do I just proceed with this? I’m a newbie so I’m learning all the time… thanks

    • Christine,

      “…due to it being near my koi pond and the bees not liking my husband.” I’m sure there’s logic in there somewhere, but I won’t ask!

      Anyway, if you had only 20 or 30 go back to the original spot, you are doing better than most. There are always those stubborn few that refuse to change their ways. You can keep repeating the dust pan thing, or just let them go.

  • So, last week I set up 2 new hives in a temporary location (due to weather and package delivery date, the final site could not be readied). The queens are now out of their boxes, the hives seem to be doing well and the final site is ready (about 30’) or so away. Is it ok to move using your method or is there something more I need to do because the hives are still establishing themselves?

  • Greetings. I have to move my hive to the other side of my yard (20′). I also have to do it one time, no incremental moves. The hive will also be facing a different direction. I’m putting wire mesh at the entrance to provide ventilation and including a syrup jar for them to feed on. I’ve read everyone’s posts and am getting more depressed. I have no other choice but to move them (neighbor problem). I plan on lots of foliage. And one last piece. I don’t think there’s a queen. Lots of empty queen cells and no brood and mites. I see heads shaking. I’d done one treatment and after hive inspection noticed the lack of brood etc. Right now there are alot of workers and drones. Very depressing. Good thing is, I’m getting a nuc next week.


  • I’ve had mostly good experiences moving two or three hives within my city backyard, several times over the years, for various reasons. I screen the top and bottom entrances with wire mesh as soon as the sun goes down, wait until dark, move them, cover bottom entrances with lots and lots of vegetation, and leave for the night.

    Very early next morning (sunrise) I sneak in and open the tiniest corner of the screen, just enough for one bee to leave at a time, then make sure the vegetation is intact for a few days. I too leave a box for stragglers (one box for each colony) and return them to their buddies in the evening, and the next day I fully open the entrances but still with vegetation. It always goes so well…

    …Until it doesn’t! Last year one colony refused to move. At the end of the day after moving, I was on my way out to dinner and just thought I’d check the straggler’s box. I had put two or three empty frames in so they’d feel more at home.

    Well, I could hear them before I saw them, and when I opened the box it was chock full of bees, thousands upon thousands, basically anything that could fly.

    I put them in front of the moved colony and went out. They all went in. The next day was almost the same as the first, and on day 3 I could still see that they weren’t learning, so I got rid of the straggler’s box, and guess what, they all went home to their new location. But, for weeks afterward, I’d see them flying into the old spot, checking it out, and flying out again. They liked that spot and really missed it. I liked it too, but it was much too enclosed by fences and a big apple tree, and with diminished air circulation, it had significant condensation issues in winter. (Manitoba, brrr).

    So it’s not a 100% sure thing but mostly it works well when you wish to move them short distances. You can lose lots of bees by moving them further, as well, I’m quite convinced. The bees do what the bees do.

    • Veronica,

      Interesting story. I’ve always wondered if the straggler’s box was a help or a hindrance. It sounds like it can go either way.

  • Dear Rusty,

    Your blog was very informative. I am a novice beekeeper working with a professional one. I found your article today because we just had to remove our hive. We have had the same colony for two years now (it survived our Chicago winter), and it was thriving, but other considerations meant it had to go. Our professional beekeeper mentor removed the hive for us to a location 2.7 miles away (I assume he properly reoriented them). The next day he left a box with comb in it to gather up any leftover foragers. There was a whole box full. He carried them off for us to their new home. Three days later we still have a good cluster of bees (100+) hanging to our AC unit (near where the hive used to be), and they are just as you described your unhappy returners. They sting without warning anything that moves. I saw in other comments that most of yours finally relocated or just disappeared. How long did that take? Do you have any advice about how to handle the stubborn, ornery ones? They “shouldn’t” be able to find their way back from that far away, but our yard is uninhabitable right now, and we have five kids and a dog not to mention allergic neighbors. Thanks for all your many helpful posts and any advice you might have.

    • Jennifer,

      He must have moved the bees while some were out in the field. Anyway, it can take three or four days for them to disappear, find another hive, or die.

  • There is a hive/nest in old box. If the box is moved a few yards to “upset” the hive, will that prompt the queen to go elsewhere? Not sure if its a bee hive or wasp nest… don’t want to get close enough to find out.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I have had a bit of a situation I hope you can help me with. I wrote to you in January about my bees leaving all of a sudden and again in May when I found a new colony had moved in just as I was going to dismantle the hive. They only stayed for a few weeks and also left, taking most of the remaining honey left from the original occupants. I dismantled the hive several weeks ago and put the parts in a number of black garbage bags. (I did not have the time to clean everything up at the time) I put the bags in a shed. I later noticed a lot of moths coming from the bags with the frames (should have froze them first). I took the bags out into the yard to get the moths out of my shed. A few days later I saw a few bees hovering around the bags. A couple of days later there were hundreds of bees going in and out of the holes made by the moths. I had a cover over the bags to keep the rain out (we had a lot of it). Even with all the rain, they are still there. Now what?? How do I get them into a proper hive and if I do, will they have time to prepare for winter? I do have frames full of honey in my freezer to get them through, but will they be around that long? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Marilyn,

      Most likely those are robber bees stealing the honey and taking it back home. When the honey is gone, they will leave.

  • Hi Rusty,

    After reading so many posts about moving a hive, I just had to write this.

    One week ago we had a tremendous storm that brought down some trees, right on my hive! I’ve only had this one hive since May and they seemed to be doing pretty well until this bad, bad day when their home was crushed. I scrounged around quickly for a replacement, ordering a new one and also picking up a number of donated used supers, complete with frames still with honey in them. They had sat for a few years I think and were filthy.

    The new hive hadn’t come, so I pulled out the best supers, scrubbed them down, and when they were dry, set them up about fifteen feet from the old location. With family members cutting branches away (they wouldn’t come closer than twenty-five feet or so) they watched while I pulled out broken frames of brood and comb and transferred what I could to new frames and carried them over to their new home. No idea if the queen is in there or if her body is with the others. Quite a sight! Bees flying everywhere and shattered pieces.

    Finally got them in, and so far they seem to have accepted it without too much problem. I took the broken box pieces that had clumps of bees on them and set them close to the landing board so they could find their way home. Next day I took those pieces away. The rest of my “donation” was in another part of the yard and darned if they, and a number of other bee cousins, didn’t find them. So now, I had flying critters everywhere eating that old honey and keeping everyone from getting to their cars. I squirted it all and then moved, stacked, and put boards on top till I can sort through it all, but they followed again the next day. Very persistent little bees are my girls.

    Don’t want to open the hive yet to see how they fared. Two questions I have if you or someone could help me. I was halfway done with my mite treatment at the time, so should I pick up where I left off? The second question, will that old honey hurt them? Any help at this time would be great. Thanks and hope I hear from you.

    • Margie,

      Quite a story! I would say, yes, pick up your mite treatment where you left off. When you’re done, do a mite count to make sure it worked effectively enough for the winter. It’s possible you may have to treat again because of the time missed.

      I think the honey will be fine. Honey can last many years, so I wouldn’t worry about that aspect of it.

  • Rusty,

    Thanks so much for your advice. I’ll finish the mite treatment tomorrow and stop worrying about the old honey frames. I just didn’t know if they could take home any possible “contaminants,” so I bagged the frames (five kitchen garbage bags full) and set them aside till I found out. Maybe I’ll put a few of them back out. Guess I can stop fretting about them now.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Thank you for your post! Alas, I did not read it before trying this method. I didn’t really have a choice though I had to move three hives quickly. It is Nov 3rd and I moved them on Halloween. Put screen at the entrances etc. It was rainy the whole next day and has been chilly here in Pa. I just went out to take the screens off this evening and to put up a bee obstacle course in front of all of the hives and there are piles of dead bees at the entrances. Probably a cup of bees at each entrance. Two hives are worse than the other. It is mostly workers a few drones peppered in and even more concerning it is 45 degrees and has been dark for a couple of hours and there are a good number (another half cup) bees climbing around the entrance trying to escape to boot. I thought maybe something was messing with them shortly before I got there. I decided to leave them for the fourth day which I am now I am worried about (too long?) These are/were very strong hives with ample stores especially this early in the cold season. This is my first crack at moving bees so any insights would be greatly appreciated.

    All the Best

  • Tried my first hive move this week. Next door. I put my old nuc at the old site and put ferns in front of the new hive location. I had added a new medium box to the hive the week before but don’t think this affected anything.

    At least 2,000 bees still came back to the nuc. And they were aggressive and angry. One stung my wife sitting on the opposite side of the house. Before this, we never saw them except for their daily flights at the hive. So passive you could stand 3′ from the hive. So I put 3 full frames (no comb; all bees) from the nuc to the new medium the next morning – where I had saved space in case this happened. The “nuc bees” at the old location flew aggressively around the whole yard and chased us occasionally. The hive bees next door were relaxed and passive (They had food, brood, queen, and comb).

    I’m moving the nuc bees again tonight. Seems like at least 1000 are there today again – maybe more. I’ll keep this up 2-to-3 more days before I just take the sealed nuc in the car for a 10-mile drive and let whoever is left find new hives.

    If I had this to do over again, I’d wait until winter. I didn’t try the 2-day closure technique. Maybe that would have worked. My way didn’t.

  • Hi,

    I moved to the other side of the state for my job (about 2.5 hours away from our old house/land). We’ve rented the old house but all of my hives are still there because we moved in late summer. I need to move the hives to our new house. I’m thinking that doing it in the winter might be best because they aren’t coming out of the hive during that time.

    I’m planning on renting an enclosed trailer and putting the hives inside so the wind isn’t freezing them during the drive. Thinking about doing it in January or February depending on weather and ground conditions. Do you have any advice or suggestions on how best to do this?



  • OMG! I’m so glad you pointed out that we should come up with a contingency plan should we find it hard to move a beehive. My neighbor has been trying to get rid of a bee nest that she found in the corner of her backyard a few days ago to no avail. I’ll definitely forward this article to her so she’ll know what to do next later.

  • How long can I keep the bees inside the hive to prevent robber bees? I saw it yesterday and last nite, I closed off the entrance.

    • Brad,

      It depends. If they are not too hot, have plenty of water, and have proper ventilation, a few days won’t hurt. If they get overheated or run out of food, you can get in trouble in just a few hours.

  • The problem is multiple fold.

    Genetics. Some bees are more likely not to reorientate as quickly and stick to their old location. They’re just harder to break in.

    Bee navigation. Bees will not reorientate well if your new location is too close to the existing site especially if the new site is using the same prominent marker like a row of trees or hedges. Bees will drop off at the old site if it’s en route to the new one. Try to place the new location off any existing prominent land markers.

    Only move them when the weather is bad. You ideally want them to remain in the hive for as long as they can.

    You can try smoking them heavily before releasing them to put them in survival instinct which would make them far easier to accept their location has changed.
    Also, you could scent the entrance with lemongrass so they become accustomed to that smell when looking for their hive.

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