Moving a Colony

Bee Health March 19, 2010 Print Friendly and PDF

On occasion, you may need to move a honeybee colony. The move may be small, such as to another location in your apiary. Or it may cover a greater distance, such as to another apiary location, perhaps to take advantage of a particular nectar flow.


To Move a Colony a Short Distance

Two methods may be used. The simplest method is to move the colony in small increments, about one yard each day. If a colony is moved more than a yard per day, returning foragers will be confused and you will lose some of the field bees. The second method involves removing the colony to a site several miles away for several days to allow foraging bees to “forget” the old location. Then return the colony to the new site in the original apiary where they will “learn,” and become oriented to, the new location.

Secure the Colony before Moving

Colony secured with a locking strap.

Locking straps can be used to secure the colony for moving. A strap should be placed around an entire individual colony and tightened firmly. Additional strapping to secure the colonies within the transporting vehicle or trailer will be necessary to prevent movement or shifting during the move. For ease of use, strapping is the preferred method. Stapling is another method of securing colonies for transport. All the outside parts of a beehive are stapled together with 2 3/4-inch hive staples. Drive the staples in at the four corners, fastening each part to the part above and below. This can be done during the day in preparation for moving in the evening after dark. Using staples, however, will damage hive bodies, promote wood decay and agitate the bees during stapling. Before moving a hive, remove the surplus supers of honey down to the brood chamber(s) and one empty super. Excess honey supers increase weight and make strapping more difficult.

Ventilate the Bees for the Move

Entrance screen for moving bees.

Remove the inner cover and nail a screened cooling board over the top to close and ventilate the top of the hive. A cooling board is a plywood panel the size of an inner cover with a large, centrally located, screened window. An inner cover with the center hole screened can be used for a short distance move. In cool weather, a cooling board may not be necessary. To screen the entrance for a short-distance move, plastic window screen may be stapled across the entrance. For longer distances, an entrance screen can be made by constructing a frame with 11⁄2-inch by 1⁄2- inch pieces of wood that will fit between the bottom board cleats, against the front of the hive body to cover the entrance. The bottom of the frame is made with a 3/4-inch piece to cover without blocking the entrance. The frame is covered with metal window screen wire. The screened frame encloses a screened porch on the front of the hive. Air will circulate through the entrance and out the top to keep the bees cool in transit.

When to Move a Colony

Moving at nighttime is best, because all the field bees should be in the colony. A daytime move, especially a long-distance one, would result in the loss of foraging bees returning to the old location. The bees will return to the hive at dusk or a little later. Have everything in place except the entrance screen. Attach the entrance screen with two wood screws through the two end bars and load the colony for moving to a new location. Place the colony on a base at the new location. Smoke the entrance and remove the screen. Place the inner and outer covers on the hive.

Source: Skinner, Parkman, Studer, and Williams. 2004. Beekeeping in Tennessee. University of Tennessee Extension PB1745. 43p.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.