Moving the apiary

Today I look back at how we moved the apiary from our old house to our current home and what we would do differently next time. If you are going to move your hive/s in the future hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. I consider our business a micro-beekeeping company that focuses on quality over quantity and our move involved just 12 hives. We had 11 langstroth hives and 1 top bar hive with colonies plus several empty hives to move.

The method

Like all hive movements I completed our apiary move in darkness. I used a car trailer and needed to complete the move in two runs. Due to the distance between the old and new sites it was easier to complete each trip on a separate night. 

Once the sun was down I went around and closed up all the hives. I used cloth tape and scraps of wood to seal up the entrances to all the hives that didn’t have entrance reducers on them. This worked almost without issue.

I purchased a hive lifter and enlisted the help of a friend in the hope of making life easier for us. I couldn’t change the timing of the move so we were going to be lifting hives with honey in them. The lifter worked great on the hives that it fitted over. I tested the lifter on all the different types of supers I had and it worked on them all BUT I didn’t check the lids. This particular lifter didn’t fit over the foam EPS lids for 9 of the 12 hives. We had to lift those 9 hives without assistance. Purchasing the hive lifter felt like a waste of money. 

My friend and I loaded half the hives onto the trailer, tied them down with ratchet straps (tie-downs) and proceeded to drive very carefully to the new location. The roads were all sealed although not all of them were in great condition. In addition to towing the hives we were mindful of the kangaroos that graze the roadside along our path.

DIY apiary relocation.

The trailer loaded with hives and hive stands, ready for transportation to the new apiary location.

We arrived at the new address with some unimpressed bees buzzing all over the trailer. The tape covering one hive entrance had partially come away at some point during transit allowing some of the bees to escape. Not fun. We unloaded the hives as fast as we could. A later check of the exposed hive confirmed the queen had remained inside. We had placed the hive stands for 4 of the 6 hives the day prior to make our lives a bit easier in the dark. The bees were still using the remaining stands at the old apiary. After unloading the first 4 hives and stumbling in the dark over rocks and tree branches we placed the hives without issue. Placing the remaining hive stand and leveling it out in the dark was extremely tricky but we made do and got it sorted. The second trailer load of hives did not go nearly as well.

On the second trip we had the top bar hive and a mix of wood and EPS foam langstroth hives onboard. All went smoothly until we arrived at the new apiary. We unloaded the top bar at the first site with the other hives we transported the day before. Walking the top bar through the rocks and branches would have been difficult in broad daylight. At night it was somewhat treacherous. Leveling the hive was very hard but we got there in the end. On inspection the next day 2 full bars of honey had collapsed from the bars. The bees only had 4 full bars to begin with. While the bees had sealed the wax up, the damage was irreparable and I had to remove the wax and honey. It was bittersweet to be enjoying the delicious honey, knowing the bees could have used it for their winter stores.

We drove from the first new site across to the second new site with a trailer full of hives, minus the top bar. What we failed to consider was the top bar hive and ratchet strap we removed had been a big part of securing 1 of the 3 box hives in the trailer. Almost as soon as we started driving up the hill the 3 box hive crashed to the floor of the trailer. My heart sank. The hive stayed together thanks to our efforts in securing all the boxes prior to loading each hive onto the trailer. However during inspection 4 frames of honey had split and 2 others with a mix of pollen, honey and brood and sheered clean off of the frames. Another repair job later and the hive was cleaned and the bees ready to keep bringing in supplies.

A third hive had about half of a frame of honey snap off during transport as well. This has been the only time I thought I would have been better off with wired frames. As I do a lot of crush and straining of our honey I prefer not to wire up the frames. This has never been a problem except during the apiary move. 

As we approach winter I am pleased to say that all the hives survived the relocation. Unfortunately the hive that produced the largest amount of honey this season lost the queen less than 8 weeks out from winter. I didn’t have any spare queens and with no signs of a queen after 4 weeks and the temperatures starting to drop I decided to combine the hive with my weakest hive to ensure the bees made it through the winter and hopefully turn my weakest hive into a productive hive in spring, thanks to a healthy dose of bees and honey frames just before the winter shut down.

The new site for our apiary

The new apiary site overlooking a beautiful sunrise.

What I would do differently next time

Moving hives is always tricky. Here are a few examples of what I’d do differently if I had to move the apiary again.

  • I would still use the cloth tape and scrap wood to seal the entrances however I would put a final piece of cloth tape on the entrance and wrap it around the entire hive to give it the most chance of maintaining its position blocking the entrance.
  • Test the hive lifter on an empty and complete hive (Lid, super and base) to make sure it worked on the hives I had and so I knew what I was doing before needing it for the real job.
  • I would strongly consider hiring a van or truck to move the hives in the hope that the suspension springs reduce the impact of all the road bumps compared to the non-existent suspension in the trailer.
  • I would set up a better light system at the new apiary site. As this was unfamiliar ground, decent, advance set up lights would have made life much simpler.
  • If I knew with enough advanced notice, I would add wired frames to my honey supers in the lead up to the move to ensure maximum strength in honey frames during transit. I could have removed all the honey frames prior to transporting the hives but this was too cumbersome and I didn’t think it was necessary in this instance.

Thanks for reading, enjoy your journey!

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