THAT'S ONE WAY TO MOVE A HIVE
We decided to move one of our hives from the main apiary to a site about 200 metres away. The reasons for doing this were as follows:-
IMPROVE TEMPERAMENT. None of our hives are badly behaved. On occasions last year, a few bees did follow us further than we'd like, but nothing serious. We didn't experience any problems at all when inspecting any of the hives. However, we do have a hive on a neighbour's farm a mile or so away which is on its own and is very placid. It built up well enough to survive the winter without feeding. Do colonies prefer to be apart from each other?
REDUCE DISEASE TRANSMISSION. Thankfully, we have experienced nothing major thus far. We do see varroa at what would be deemed high numbers, but we don't treat the bees with chemicals etc. They seem to cope and build up strongly to survive the winter. This is a story to be told at some point. However, it will reduce drifting between colonies if they are spaced further apart. Detailed analysis can be found in Tom Seeley's 'Life of Bees', which is well worth reading for so many reasons.
TEST SITE LOCATION FACTORS FOUND IN MANY BOOKS. My hives have to survive high winds that blow up the Taw valley in North Devon, so I consider shelter to be an important factor. Returning to the hive located on my neighbour's farm, it is located under trees which got me to thinking why wouldn't they enjoy such a location? Most books say don't put hives under trees, but bearing in mind that feral colonies create homes in trees in woodland that directive is worth testing. As is often the case, books are often good at telling but not so helpful in explaining.
So, we decided one hive was going to relocate to a delightful spot on the edge of some woodland. It is near a stream and overlooks the river Taw with lovely views for when the bees are not on duty. It will be well-sheltered, it has plenty of trees to forage about in, but it is under trees and the entrance doesn't face South. To get there the hive had to move about 200 metres down a relatively steep hill. Not a bad spot eh?
HOW WE DID IT Research will tell you to either move your hives 3 feet every few days or take them over 3 miles away for a few weeks and then move them to the new site. The first option would take us about 3 years and some major engineering to keep the hive level on our sloping fields. No good. We didn't have the facility to do the latter (& I'm lazy) so we chose another option that we'd come across and have used previously. If we find the source we'll happily credit it, but it is not an obscure idea.
NOTE: Moving the hive 3 feet does work in our experience and we're sure the 3 miles option does too, we just haven't tried it. The rationale behind the options is that in the first instance the bees are close enough to find home and in the second instance they don't enter their previous fly zone with familiar landmarks that will guide them back to their old hive site.
Here's what we did:-
We prepared the base for the relocated hive. We made sure that the stand was as level as possible as we intend to use more foundationless frames in future (another story) and the bees are subject to gravity building their comb in empty space
We checked the weather forescasts and chose a day when the bees wouldn't have been flying for a few days. (In this case it had been quite chilly and had rained for 3 days continuously). This will help as the flying bees sat nav settings fade with time. We also selected a day when it wasn't really freezing such that the bees were not huddled in a tight cluster. We didn't like the thought of them falling away and not being able to regroup. It's not so bad if the route is close and on level ground.
The night before the hive was strapped to a simple 'stretcher' and the entrance was blocked. It was unlikely that any bees were flying, but it is good practice to make sure all the bees are back in the hive before securing the entrance. We chose to use the stretcher and carry the hive by hand as two of us would take the utmost care to make the journey as smooth as possible. A journey in a trailer on the back of the quad bike would have been very bumpy. The hive must be strapped such that the frames point in the direction of travel. You don't want the frames swinging with every step you take and crushing bees; or at least annoying them.
As gently as we could, we stretchered the hive to the new site and placed it on it's new stand. Before unblocking the entrance fern was placed over the entrance. This is intended to confuse any bees that may have memories of the 'old place'.
4. The entrance block was removed. (On this occasion we did it the following morning. The bees had plenty of stores and ventilation through the open mesh floor and we wanted them to settle straight away). The idea is that the bees come out, notice the ferns and think 'this is strange, I don't remember this. They then work through the ferns and take to the wing looking back to see what has changed. They bob up and down in front of the entrance and effectively reset the 'Home location' in their Sat Nav before flying up over the hive in ever-increasing spirals reinforcing the location before flying off to explore. A short video of this behaviour can be found on our Instagram page - @zeezbeezuk.
It seemed to work well again. One of us enjoyed the sunshine just watching this behaviour for an hour or so and lots of bees were seen coming back to the new location. There was no sign of confused bees at the old location. All good 😊🐝🐝🐝