The Keys to Moving Honey Bees

 

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Honey bee colonies ready to be moved! Photo Courtesy of Tama66 pixabay

Beekeepers move bees for many reasons, either for necessity or to improve colony health. Beekeepers move bees for 3 major reasons:

  1. To improve forage for honey bees
  2. To avoid a pesticide spray or exposure
  3. To move newly split colonies to a new location

These are to just name a few, but regardless of the reasons, moving bees is often inevitable for beekeepers. I have moved bees for many different reasons, but I worked for a commercial operation. As a commercial operation, we annually moved bees across the country for pollination services and back to North Dakota for honey production. Moving bees on a commercial scale is often easier than for hobbyists because these large-scale beekeepers move entire pallets of bees (4 colonies per pallet) onto a truck and ship them to these areas. This requires little lifting or effort. However, hobbyists do not have the luxury of a flatbed truck, forklift or other useful moving equipment. This makes moving bees harder and more time consuming.

Beekeepers can agree that moving bees is an uneventful event, but if done wrong, beekeepers can have a negative experience. Beekeeping should be a fun and enjoyable hobby, so I do not want moving bees to deter the experience! While moving bees can take time and effort, it is relatively easy if done right.

 

When to move bees?

Beekeepers have 2 major goals when moving honey bee colonies: 1) move the entire colony without leaving bees behind and 2)reduce colony stress as much as possible. Beekeepers can achieve these goals by only moving bees during low activity periods. These low activity periods include:

  • Temperatures below 50 deg. F
  • Evenings or early mornings
  • Cool and rainy weather

Most beekeepers move bees during the evenings because most bees are back in the colony and there is more time to make adjustments if things go wrong. Beekeepers can move bees during the morning, but then these beekeepers have less time to make adjustments before temperatures increase honey bee activity. If anything goes wrong, then a large mess could arise. Thus, I recommend moving bees in the evenings until experience is gained. Beekeepers can move bees during cold and rainy weather, but ensure temperatures are below 50 deg. F. It not, then moving colonies can be more difficult and messier than intended.

One last thing to note about moving bees during the evenings and morning. If beekeepers move bees in complete darkness, which is often the case during evenings and mornings, then beekeepers should be aware of the possible dangers. It is often easy to lose balance, drop a colony, lose equipment during darkness, so be prepared and aware of the surroundings!

What to wear?

“Always be prepared” is a motto beekeepers should abide by. Beekeeping can be painful and injurious if not properly protected. Unlike beekeeping during daylight hours, honey bees crawl during in mornings, evenings and rainy conditions. These small crawlers will find openings and crevices, which may results in unpleasant stings. I believe these night time or rainy stings seem worse, but this may be just me! Anyway, beekeepers should be aware of this and be prepared by using proper beekeeping attire, such as a bee suit, veil, gloves, heavy socks, and boots. Beekeepers should also consider elasticized cuffs to mitigate crawlers into unwanted areas. Beekeepers may bring friends or inexperienced beekeepers to help move colonies, which is great! Always have a helping hand because nothing is worse than getting injured in the bee yard. However, these helping beekeepers may be inexperienced, which may increase a chance for an incidence. Because of this, keep these beekeepers well protected and informed about the moving process. You want these people to help again, right? (unless this is some pity revenge, then I think you need help..) So make it a good experience for everyone.

General guidelines for moving bees?

Moving bees differ depending upon distance, but there are general guidelines for moving colonies.

Ensure bottom board is attached to rest of the colony

The beekeeper needs to secure the colony before moving, which means the bottom board needs to be attached to the bottom brood boxt. This can be done a few different ways:

  • Bottom board is banded or strapped to the brood boxes
  • The bottom board is cleated
  • The bottom board is stapled to the bottom brood boxes (2″ staples are preferred)

Oftentimes, the colony is stuck together because of propolis. However, if colonies begin breaking apart when they are moved, then disaster could ensue. It is often a great management practice to attach bottom board, or even strap the entire colony together. If staples will be used to attached the bottom board, do so several days in advance of the move.

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Handle with care

Honey bees are living organisms that can be easily stressed. Because of this, handle the colonies with care! Beekeepers must reduce stress as much as possible for honey bee colonies so they do not suffer long term. Beekeepers should practice good management technique before moving colonies. For example, beekeepers should practice smooth and slow movements over quick and jerking movements. Smooth movements reduce stress, keep the propolis seal attached, and ensures an enjoyable moving experience. Remember, always handle with care!

Use a smoker!

Beekeepers should never be afraid to use a smoker because smoke keeps bees calm during a stressful situation. I often push new beekeepers to use more smoke when they help me move colonies. I do this because new beekeepers often perceive smoke as bad. Smoking colonies does more good than harm, so use generously, especially if bees become roughed up.

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Always use a smoker!

Close all entrances

Beekeepers can close all colony entrances, which makes sure bees are kept within the colony. Beekeepers can use entrance reducers, grass, duct tape, corks, or really an material to close entrances. While closing entrances is not always necessary, especially when moving colonies long distances, closing entrances can be a great management practice for new beekeepers. Closing entrances reduces crawling bees, makes moving bees easier, and limits bees left behind. All positives in my book!

Bind colonies within vehicle

Beekeepers and personnel need to ensure colonies are properly binded to the vehicles. If not, the beekeepers risks losing equipment, but more importantly, their bees. Also,  most regions and States have thorough transportation policies, and many require equipment and bees to be properly binded to the vehicles. Bind to avoid a fine.

Keep bees close together during transportation

Beekeepers should also keeps bees close together when moving, which improves the transportation process. If bees are further apart, then they tend to move more. This adds more stress to the colonies and decreases their attachment within the vehicle.

 Moving colonies Short distances

Beekeepers may want to move colonies short distances, which I consider 5 feet to 1 mile. These short distances are tricky because bees want to return to their original location. When bees are in a location, they orient themselves in a way that attunes them to a certain location. This orientation helps bees find their way home after a long foraging flight. Because of this, it is difficult to just move a colony 5 feet to a mile away. Bees are attuned to their original location, and have a high propensity to go to that original location. No one wants disoriented bees! Beekeepers are fine moving bees less than 5 feet because bees can easily find their way home. However, beekeepers must move bees a certain way if they want their colonies in a new location 5 feet-1 mile away. They have two options:

Option 1: Beekeepers can move their colonies a few feet at a time several days apart. If colonies only need to be moved a few feet or across the yard, then this is a great option.

Option 2: Beekeepers can initially move the colonies 1 1/2 miles away for at least 10 days, and then, move the colonies to their intended location. This requires more work and time but it is an effective practice. Moreover, it ensures all bees orient to the right colony. Win Win!

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Moving colonies long distances

Beekeepers can easily move colonies distances over 1 1/2 miles. Beekeepers across the nation successfully do so as they transport colonies to pollination orchards in other regions. Basically, these beekeepers strap colonies to a flat bed semi (a truck would work for less colonies) and put a net over the colonies. They may cool the colonies with water, but in reality, there is nothing to it. Hobbyists can do the same thing. If bees are moved long distances, place the colonies on a truck, properly strap them, and move them to their new location. These colonies do not need to have net or their entrances shut. I have moved bees these distance by simply strapping them to the back of a truck and driving to the desire location. Obviously these colonies were smoked liberally, and binded together with straps, but it worked sting free! I should not that vehicles must follow traffic requirements and regulations. Also, make sure everything is strapped down. You do not want to lose any equipment!

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I hope you enjoyed

Cheers!
Garett Slater

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