All our friends are posting on social media about moving their kids into college dorms. Doug and I did some moving of our own last week. We moved two bee colonies to a new home on a horse farm.
We started beekeeping last year with 2 nucs. We originally planned to have one hive of bees, but then we read that it is better to have two hives because it is easier to troubleshoot. Now we have 8 colonies and keep expanding. We ask ourselves frequently, “How many hives is too many?” We don’t have a good answer yet to that question.
Recently a cousin who lives about 2 miles away from our hives expressed an interest in beekeeping. His family has a beautiful farm with rolling pastures, and he thought it would be fun to have bees on the farm. It was too late in the year for him to buy bees and start new colonies from scratch, so we offered to take of our established colonies and place them on the farm.
It was really exciting scouting out the new spot. As we walked through the pastures, butterflies and bumble bees could bee seen all over the field. I was especially exciting by the large number of monarch butterflies. This was going to be a great spot for honey bees. Wildflowers and red clover are everywhere. A stream and a pond are within about 100 yards of the hives. The best way I know to describe the new home for the bees is this way. Imagine if you were allowed to build your house inside the buffet restaurant at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. You would just roll out of bed every morning, step out your front door, and then gorge yourself on wonderful food all day long. That’s what it is going to be like for these bees in their new home.
Here’s how we moved the bees:
- About 1 week before we moved the bees, we cut the grass around the new home. We set up the cinder block stands and set the new 10 frame hive boxes on the stands. They sat there for 1 week before we moved the bees.
- Early in the morning while all the bees were still inside the nuc boxes, Doug plugged the entrances with burlap so bees couldn’t escape. You need to move bees very early in the morning or very late at night. If you move bees during the day, you will lose many of the foraging bees who will be outside of the hive.
- Doug strapped the nuc boxes into the back of the truck. We learned the hard way not to move bees inside the cab of the pick up truck. This is bad. Don’t do it. You may think bees can’t get out, but you could be wrong. Driving with honey bees circling your head is very distracting.
- Doug set the nuc boxes on top of the new hives and left them there for a few hours. He didn’t want to transfer the bees from the nuc boxes to the new hives while all the bees were inside the nuc boxes. It is easier to work when there are less bees in the hives.
- In the middle of the day, we transferred the frames of bees from the nuc box into the new hives. We also installed top feeders on both hives and filled them with 1:1 sugar syrup to give the bees a boost.
- Doug left the nuc boxes propped up against the new hives. Some of the bees were still in the nuc box, and we figured they would eventually leave and crawl inside the new hive to be with the queen. By evening, all the bees were in the hives.
In hindsight, we pushed the envelope by moving these two hives the way that we did. Honey bees can fly for a couple of miles to forage. If you move the hives within their normal flying range, they could try to return to the old hive location. You want the bees to re-orient. There are several ways to do this. Some beekeepers will place grass and leaves in front of the hive entrance. This forces the bees to crawl out of the hive and re-orient themselves. We didn’t do this, but the bees seemed to figure out that they had been moved. We could see them re-orienting. The bees fly in a figure eight pattern around the hive when they are trying to orient their new location.
We heavily debated what to name the two hives. We like to name the hives because it makes it easier to keep records and to discuss what we are doing. I can tell Doug that I checked the Delta colony for mites instead of having to say that I checked the 4th hive from the left as you are facing the back of the hives. See how much easier it is if the hives have a name? Some people use elaborate names based on foreign languages or characters from Lord of the Rings. Congratulations if you can remember all that, but I need something simple. For our bee yard, I just use the NATO phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, etc). It is easy to remember and doesn’t require a lot of thought. For our new location, we decided to use names of the planets. Thus, our hives are Mercury and Venus. If we do a split, the new colony will be Earth. It’s not super creative, but it is highly functional. I never name hives after people because bees die… a lot. I could have named the hives after our relatives who own the farm, but that would make for a really awkward conversation if one of the colonies dies over the winter.
If you read my last post, you know that we have measurable levels of varroa mites in our hives. We will be treating all our hives soon including Mercury and Venus.
If you ever thought you wanted to have bees but don’t want to spend the time to learn how to be a proper beekeeper, reach out to your local beekeeping club. There are many beekeepers who want to start more colonies but are constrained by the amount of land they own. You can create win-win-win situations for the beekeeper, the interested property owner and the bees.
Look for my next blog post all about invasive species that are threatening Kentucky. While the politicians keep talking about “the wall” they may want to spend some time talking about other non-native organisms that are posing a critical threat like bush honeysuckle. More on that in a week or so.