Relocating a beehive

Backyard beekeeping is a fun hobby for people who want to produce their own honey and have a handy supply of pollinators. The insects can be kept almost anywhere, but there may be instances when you have to move the hives to another location.

Pat Ennis is a past president of the Iowa Honey Producers Association. He says moving hives all at once can upset the colony, even if you only move them a short distance.

"If you pick up a bee hive and move it, say like ten feet, they’re going to come back to the original spot because bees see ultraviolet. When they come out, they find their location according to the sun, so when you move them, according to the bees they still live ten feet away and they’re going to come back there until they die, probably," says Ennis. "So if you live on an acreage and you just want to move them from one side to the other, the best way to do it is pick them up and move them about 10 miles away, leave them for about a month, and then move them back."

Bees forget their old home when they’re in unfamiliar territory. They’ll reset their internal GPS systems and eventually become oriented to a new location.

If you want to move them less than a mile and have the time and patience, Ennis says you can move the hives up to four feet each day without confusing the bees.

"By about the fourth-or-the-fifth day, the bees know you’re messing with them, and they’re actually going to start finding the location faster, because the last three days you’ve moved it four feet. The fourth day they’re going to find it because they already know that you’re moving it four feet on them," he says. "They’ll get accustomed to it a lot quicker."

It’s best to move bees at night when they’re in the hives and not flying around. A daytime move, especially a long distance one, would risk losing any foraging bees that return to the old location.  

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