Moving Hive Location

"Less than three feet, more than three miles"

Worker Bees when they become old enough (21 days after becoming an adult) they can leave the Hive and become foragers. Before the Bee can leave the Hive, they make sure they know how to return without getting lost.

To do this, the Bee completes Orientation Flights. These Orientation Flights allow the Bee to make a "mental map" of the location of the Hive, noting landmarks, patterns and other defining characteristics. This is why if there is more than one Hive close to each other, Beekeepers sometimes paint bright coloured marks on the Hive to aid orientation.

The Bee takes several of these flights, moving further from the Hive each time, until it is confident that it can find its way home again.

The video below shows Bees taking Orientation flights:-

These processes of completing orientation flights has evolved in Bees to successfully find their own colony again and in the Wild, unless swarming, these colonies never move.

Because of this, if a Hive is moved more than ~3 feet, even it it is still in sight, the Bees will not be able to find it. They will instead cluster at the old site, and die of cold overnight. This is why when a colony is split to create a Nuc, all the foraging workers don't stay in the Nuc, they return to the old Hive. Only the Hive Bees stay, then when they come of age, their Orientation Flights memorise the Nuc's location.

This Orientation can be broken, however, if enough distance is put between the old and new location. As Bees can forage up to 3 miles from a Hive, if the new Hive location is further than this, the Bees will have no location understanding for the area and will have to learn to orient again, this time for the new location.

This is where the rule - "Less than three feet, more than three miles" comes from.

Moving a Hive : Following the Flowers

The location orientation that foraging Bees use means that a Hive can be moved to access new foraging as the seasons change, as long as the distance is greater than about 3 miles. This can be done by commercial Beekeepers to allow pollination of crops or by amateur Beekeepers simply to give their Bees access to new foraging during times of the year that the original apiary cannot provide.

An example of this is that in the Stirling area, after the end of July there is a drop in foraging flowers. This is not true on the higher moorland which surrounds Stirling, due to the widespread Heather in the area.

Due to this (with permission!) many Beekeepers choose to move their Hives to the moorland in order to access this foraging and produce substantial quantities of Heather Honey.

Another example of this is farmers hiring Hives to be placed within Orchards in order to pollinate fruit trees. Apple trees in particular require insect pollination, with Bees providing ~90% of this. The issue of lack of pollinators is so severe in some locations that some pollination in Orchards has to be done by hand, at huge cost in both wages and man-hours.

Pollination by Hand

Hand Pollination Tool

The video below shows an in-depth documentary on the consequences of loss of Pollinators on the Food Industry:-

How to move a Hive

A full Hive even without Supers will weigh at least 40kg, so they are not easy to move between locations, especially for one person. It really should only be attempted with two people, using a Hive Carrier:-

Stage one : Preparations

The day before it is to be moved, the Hive should be prepared for travel. There should be enough stores in the Brood Box in case the weather turns bad for a few days. An super with frames is then added to the Hive and the crown board is replaced with a Travel Screen.

A Travel Screen is simply a wire mesh that is placed over the top of the open Hive. The Travel screen allows complete ventilation for the Hive, but prevents any Bees at all from escaping.

Travelling Screen

Screen on Hive

The Travel Screen is vital as inside a moving vehicle, the disturbed Bees can overheat quickly and can in fact it can get so warm in the Hive that the comb begins to melt. This will destroy the colony and cause a lot of mess within the vehicle.

The boxes then should be strapped together securely so they do not shift in transport, releasing the Bees.

The image below shows a Hive ready to move with straps used to secure the boxes and a Travel Screen:-

Once the strapping and Travel Screen are in place, the Roof should be replaced and the Bees can be left alone until the next day.

Stage two : the move

On the day of the move, once the Bees have returned to the Hive for the night, the Hive entrance should be sealed and the Roof removed to allow ventilation through the Travel Screen.

The Hive can then be loaded into a vehicle for transport to the new site:-

It is usually ok to wait until the following morning to move the Hives to the new site. This is useful as it means the Beekeeper can work in daylight as opposed to in complete darkness with torches.

Once positioned at the new site, the Roof is replaced and the Hive Entrance should be reopened, allowing the Bees to orient themselves at the new location.

If the Bees are at a new permanent home, the Travel Screen should be replace with a Crown Board. If the Bees are only moving temporarily, (for example at an Orchard for pollination) then the Travel Screen can be left on as long as some insulating material is placed into the roof space to reduce heat loss.

Safety precautions

Obviously when moving a Hive, many important safety precautions must be taken.

The following are examples of good practice when moving Bees:-

Potential dangers:

  1. When shut in their hive and vibrated in a vehicle, Bees become stressed and are in danger of overheating/suffocating and their wax combs melting and collapsing. Therefore the roof should never be in place in transit, instead a Travel Screen should be used.

  2. Beekeepers and other people may be in danger of being stung if bees escape from hives during transit, therefore it is good practice to wear Beesuits when transporting a Hive.Driving safely is clearly paramount. If in a vehicle, veils should not be worn, but should be close to hand in an emergency. This ensures that you can see clearly and remain in full control of the vehicle at all times.

  3. Hives are heavy. To reduce the risk of injury, consider removing excess honey before the move to lighten the load. Also asking another beekeeper to help you with lifting and carrying hives, with the use of a Hive carrier seen as best practice. Beware of trip hazards too, especially if working on your own.

  4. When loading onto a vehicle, it is good practice to have the frames running in the direction of travel. This helps prevent the frames swinging about and squashing bees. Also ensure hives cannot slide about whilst in motion.