Moving bee hives to a new location may seem daunting to new beekeepers. It takes careful planning and a gentle touch, but the steps for how to move bees short and long distances are relatively simple. If you need to relocate your bee hives, know the proper safety protocols for moving bees to ensure you, your helpers, and the colony remain safe.
Yes, you can move your hives anywhere from a few feet to many miles, if necessary. While it’s important to site your apiary in the best possible location from the start, sometimes you can’t avoid relocating your bees. With proper transport safety measures and reorientation procedures, your bees can recalibrate to a new location within a few days.
The best time of year to move is mid- to late spring. Plan to move the hives at dusk or nighttime, in temperatures 50°F or above, making sure it’s not too hot so you can avoid population loss from overheating. If it’s so warm the bees aren’t all within the hive when you want to move it, postpone. Hives should be moved intact — and they are heavy — so invite strong friends who are steady on their feet.
Gather the tools necessary to seal and secure the hives beforehand:
Transporting hives inside an enclosed vehicle is not safe: You risk injury if the bees get out of the hive or if the hives come apart while you’re driving. Instead, use a truck or trailer.
Start working around dusk and plan your move for nighttime or very early in the morning when all of the bees are in the hive. Your bees can become irritated when the hive starts moving — it’s their home, after all — so wear full protective clothing: a suit, beekeeping gloves, and a veil.
Safety note: Although bees don’t often fly at night, they do crawl. They may find openings in your suit during a hive move, so know what to do if a bee gets in your veil.
Gloves are particularly important because at night (when you hope to be sealing and moving your hive) bees will rarely fly, but they will happily crawl and sting out of the entrance. Any bees on the outside of your sealed hive, and any bees that get out through an imperfect seal, will sting your hands if they aren't protected. You don't want to drop a heavy hive on your friend because you've just been stung, so wear leather gloves when moving hives.
Bees create a “mind map” of the three-mile radius surrounding the hive. If you relocate the hive any further than three feet anywhere inside that radius, your bees will return to the original hive location and wonder where it went. Only a move of less than three feet can be achieved without your foragers needing to completely rebuild their mind map.
If you’re moving your hive between three and 35 feet, you can move the hive incrementally — no more than six feet per day, and three feet per day is often better — until you reach the new location. Your bees will likely find the new location themselves. If they seem confused, encourage them to the new entrance with a few puffs of smoke.
When moving hives up to three miles at once, you’ll need to reorient your bees after the hive has been relocated. Place reorientation prompts around the entrance to each hive to tell the bees they’re somewhere new and help them create a new mind map. Within a few days, the colony should have their new neighborhood sorted out, and you can remove the prompts.
In either case, reopen the hives before dawn — or, if you moved the bees at first light, as soon as possible — to prevent overheating. A sealed colony can overheat and die in a matter of hours in warm or hot daytime temperatures.
If you don't have a partner to help, it's still possible to move a hive alone. Watch this video from Anne Frey for how to do it on your own.
The same basic steps apply for long-distance moves of more than three miles. Seal and secure your hives, move after the sun sets, and prioritize ventilation to keep the colonies from overheating.
The longer the bees rumble along with the trailer or pickup truck, the more agitated they may become. Drive carefully at moderate speeds to prevent too much jostling of the hives. As you are unloading the hives in the new location, you might consider keeping the engine of the vehicle running to soothe the bees.
Reorientation prompts do not need to be as elaborate as with short-distance moves, since the bees will be in a completely unfamiliar environment — a small obstacle near the entrance is plenty. Once your hives are placed, open the entrances.
Be patient: It may take a few days before your bees get used to their new home. Check the old location daily, collect any stragglers in a left-behind box, and bring them to the new area.
Moving hives after the sun sets helps ensure the forager bees have returned home for the night. However, stragglers may be left behind in a move. Collect these bees in a “left-behind box” and reunite them with the colony.
You can use any old box with drawn frames for your left-behind box, but avoid using frames with honey, which can attract robbers.
Whether you’re moving a hive 30 feet across a field or four miles (or more) across town, get ready with these tips. With plenty of preparation, an eye on safety, and strong helpers, you can get your bees across the yard or across the state. Explore our Beginner’s Beekeeping Guide for more expert advice.