Many hobby beekeepers have never had to move bees before and it can feel like quite a daunting task the first time you do it. If you consider the risks and everything that can potentially go wrong and if you minimise them then it usually goes very smoothly. Planning ahead is key to success and organising a team of helpers improves the chances of a smooth transit and reduces the risk to bees, beekeeper and the public road users.
Firstly, the bees must be healthy and disease free if they are to be moved anywhere, unless of course it is to your isolated quarantine/hospital apiary far away from healthy colonies.
The biggest risk to the colony is overheating, even on a cool day. This is because as soon as honey bees are confined by having the front entrance blocked they panic and struggle to get out which generates more heat. They don’t like vibrations and you cannot take them anywhere without causing some but this also increases stress. A colony can suffocate in a very short time without adequate ventilation. If you are traveling far then the risk increases but it can be mitigated by giving plenty space such as placing an empty shallow box on top of the super, or, if there is no super, placing it on top of the brood box.
By closing the entrance after the colony has finished flying for the day, the bees can be transported in the cool of the evening. Early morning works well too in some situations.
A travel screen replaces the crown board/cover board and roof for the journey allowing for much better ventilation. If you have an open mesh floor it is best if you can raise the floor up slightly so that it is not flush with the bed of your truck or car boot/trunk and air can circulate.
Positioning Hives in Transit.
The hives need to be placed with the frames aligned longtidudinally and top bars pointing in the direction of travel. This is because if the vehicle has to make a sudden stop the frames will not concertina together crushing bees if there are any gaps between them.
In this lateral position the frames might concertina together during a sudden stop crushing perhaps the precious queen.
Bees can get very thirsty on a journey and having a water spray with fresh water is essential on a journey longer than half an hour. You can spray a little through the travel screen stopping a few times on a long journey. However, don’t overdo it and a gentle misting is good. If you douse them in water they overheat trying to dry off and warm up again in the process.
Two straps firmly ratcheted onto the sides of the hive holds the boxes together safely and the hives may be lifted holding the straps. Ideally the entrance is blocked with wire mesh but I’ve used foam sponge and Gorilla tape to block this entrance.
There is always a risk to the beekeeper of back damage when moving hives so I have transferred the colonies into poly hives and used the trolley to move from apiary to car. I’ve enlisted the help of one of my stalwart bee buddies (see above) to help with lifting and logistics. Jane starts her day really early so is happy to help move bees first thing in the morning.
Every beekeeper needs to work out the best way to reduce risk for themselves.
Accidents happen and we have all read about the big trucks in the US spilling a load of hives on the highway. A hapless hobbyist near here lost a couple of colonies off the back of his truck moving to the OSR a few years ago. I don’t drive in my beesuit but I have it handy, and a spare one should I need help on the journey. If bees do escape from the hive they usually gravitate to the window rather than fly round in a frenzy over your head. Often some are underneath the hive when you shut the entrance so they will appear in your vehicle during the journey if you haven’t checked and removed them.
I heard about a misinformed new beekeeper, not too far from Nairnshire, who was recently advised that you don’t need to shut bees in as they don’t come out of the hive on the journey. By the time the beekeeper reached her destination, having stopped briefly en route, the car was black with bees covering the windows.
My beekeeping hero, R.O.B. Manley, tells us in Beekeeping in Britain of a similar story. He describes how in America, in the middle of last century, migratory beekeepers tried moving bees in the middle of the night with open entrances so that the bees could cluster out on the fronts of the hives if they wanted to. Over here in the UK at that time, Mr Gale, one of the first commercial bee farmers, tried it. Manley reports, “Gale tried it on once; but I don’t think that he will do it anymore”. Apparently the bees travelled alright but as soon as they reached their destination and daylight came the trouble began because the moment the vehicle stopped the bees all came out to see what was going on, and Manley says, “the confusion was, I gather, rather bad”. As long as the vehicle is in motion the bees will stay put, even in daylight, but the moment the vehicle stops the bees fly out which makes that practice one to be avoided by the hobbyist.
New Out Apiary.
I’ve been needing to find an out apiary for a while because there are too many colonies in my garden and, as luck would have it, out of the blue I received a phone call from Sally offering a wonderful site in return for helping her manage two colonies. Sally lives on lush land near the River Nairn and raises pedigree Highland ponies on 40 acres of rich unspoiled meadow land around 4 miles from our house.
I went over last week with Cynthia to inspect Sally’s bees and clear the vegetation where I would site two colonies.
I’m laughing because Cynthia says I look like the grim reaper. I’m pretty certain that the grim reaper has a longer and more efficient scythe. I’ve searched high and low to no avail for my longer scythe given by Tearlich and Derek in exchange for a colony of bees several years ago. So, I use instead the one I bought at Auldearn Antiques (bought because it reminded me of the scythes used on the farm in the ’50s for small jobs). I check on Youtube how to sharpen it and get a fine blade that works well enough. I like it that scything doesn’t disturb the bees. I’ve never used a strimmer before but I can see the advantage. It’s a hot day and we wear our beesuits because it’s humid and sultry and Sally’s bees objected to the sugar roll tests. We should have prepared the site first but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Cynthia borrows Sally’s strimmer and finishes the job.
I set the alarm for 6am and shut the bees in then rather than the night before because they need to ventilate overnight and process nectar. When Jane arrives we lift the concrete slabs into the boot of her car protecting the paintwork by laying them on a bit sheet of sturdy foam and pulling them further in on the foam to protect our backs.
The previous evening when I was levering up the slabs and trolleying them along to the car I disturbed a mother woodmouse and her nest of babies. The evening air was still and I could hear her terrified breaths as she looked at me in wide eyed horror. I couldn’t return the slab without risking squashing the little family so I quickly found a wooden board to cover them. Afraid that she might abandoned her babies, I’ve been setting down peanuts close to an entrance and they disappear so I think that all is well and I feel better about it.
It all goes to clockwork. We arrive at the gate to the meadow at 09:01 (one minute late) and Sally is waiting in the drizzling rain to open the gate and direct us over several fields to the walled garden. We have a welcoming committe of ponies who come over to check us out. A flock of guinea fowl flies up out the meadow in a flurry on our approach.
Another mutual beekeeping friend, TJ Baird, is waiting at the apiary site with a trolley and spade and he digs in the slabs where I want them.
Moving Bumble Bees.
I was just getting into my stride earlier in the week starting this blog when I got an urgent call for help relocating bumble bees. Paul is the first on my doorstep when I need help so I go straight over.
I borrow Tash’s kitchen knife and carefully remove the nest from inside the mower where the accumulation of dried grass clippings makes an ideal nest. I wear a beesuit from previous experience with agitated bumble bees but they have mostly left the nest. This large bee with its head in a cell looks like a queen.
What happened next took some effort but I had to give it a go. When I went into the shed where the mower is stored I discovered a few larger bees burrowing into dried grass on the floor and a lot flying in and out of the shed. I placed them in a lidded box and started a new game of skill! It was pretty warm but I danced around catching flying bees in a tiny children’s fishing net and put them into a lidded box. When the numbers flying in and out had reduced I rearranged the nest under a rose bush with the plastic box over the top and an entrance made using a stone to prop it up. I covered the clear box with the cardboard one to shade it and hoped for the best. I will get a report soon on what happened next and if at least some of the colony has been saved. I suspect that the flying bumble bees returned to the shed but we gave them the best chance.
We found the small hole on the mower that they were entering to reach the nest and blocked it off. Paul is going to hose out the mower after each use now and keep it free of grass clippings.