Saturday, September 11, 2010

How to move a Beehive

In an earlier post we discussed how NOT to move a hive of bees.  This is the counter to that moving experience and discusses HOW TO move a hive of bees.

While much of the nation was commemorating the fallen of 9/11/2001 on 9/11/2010, we were moving our bees.



We had studied the process under the expert tutelage of one Frank Clements, our mentor for our first year of beekeeping. He explained that when late evening arrives and the last of the bees have returned to the hive, screen them in and you are ready to move your hive. After repeatedly asking what time that might be, he repeated that it would depend on the last bee. 



We acquired another hive of bees from a former beekeeper that decided to fly off in a different direction. As a reminder, we live in a condominium and had our bees living in the backyard of our mentor, Frank Clements, the bee boss. For first year beekeepers this turned out to be of great advantage as our mentor would periodically peek in on our bees and let us know when we had stepped in some bee paddies. Our second hive of bees was an additional hour drive away. Since we would be moving the new bees shortly, this didn’t pose a huge problem but it did require some late night driving down country roads in the dark.



FRIENDS – So what do you do when you don’t own a pickup truck to haul bees and lack the expertise and equipment to make it all happen, call on your beest friends. One of our bee buddies, George Beckwith, lent us his pickup for the weekend. Oh my gosh, I cannot begin to say thanks enough. He even showed up at 7:00 in the morning to help us load our screened hives into the back of his pickup. My other friend and mentor, assisted in loading the hives into the pickup as well. My wife and I need to pay it back and forward to repay their kindness. Once arriving at Plan Bee in Liberty, NC, the new home for our bees, my son helped me unload the hives onto the nifty bee stand he and a buddy had constructed.




When things go wrong – Remember I told you that my mentor said to screen up the bees late at night. Well when it is warm, late at night turns out to be early in the morning, about 5:00am to be exact. My wife and I left the screen for hive one we are naming Aleph and our great mentor wedged in the screen late that evening just after the last bee returned home. We drove out at about 10:30 pm on 9/10 to do the same with our newly acquired hive which we called Beit. When we arrived at our second hive the bees were still bearding. (Bearding means that the bees are hot and hang on one another outside of the hive forming their version of a beard.) Now the first hive, Aleph, is a happy hive of friendly, no downright passive bees. With Aleph we are more likely to sting them then have an Aleph bee sting us. However, the Beit bees are their opposites. When approaching Beit, you better have them smoked. (Smoking is used with bees to confuse their communication which is primarily olfactory (smell)). The Beit bees are angry awnry bees which we have grown to love but as we were first getting acquainted, they were a problem. We called our mentor late at night and he answered his phone when many would not. He also offered us the loan of a handy dandy moving screen which he left on his front door step. Beekeepers usually don’t worry about thievery as most thieves stay away from stinging insects. (Me smiling)



05:00 on 09/11/2010 – We swung by the home of our bee boss and mentor and quietly grabbed the moving screen. From there we drove out in the dark to our Beit hive. The location is …. but fortunately Evelyn, our GPS, directed us in the middle of the night/early morning directly to our hive. As we bobbed and weaved over back roads in the dark we frequently questioned Evelyn. My wife got into an early morning cat fight with Evelyn, my GPS and I had to pull over to calm both of them down. As we arrived at our hive, the headlights revealed bees were still outside the hive. Our second hive was located in the back of an organic blueberry farm. Because of the location we could drive right up to the hive and shine our headlights on the hive.




Tools – So I had an electric screw driver, 2 screws and the moving screen. With my bee suit on, I carefully snuck up on my bees and gently placed the moving screen over the entrance to the hive. With two quick zips, I had screwed the moving screen into place and our prep work was basically done.



06:00 – We were on the road to pick up our pickup and drive with our driver. We arrived at our mentor’s about bee sunrise, which on this day was about 07:00. We finished tightening the two ratcheted straps we had around our hive and moved it to the pickup. It took two men and my wife to move the hives. My queen bee provided valuable adult supervision as we jockeyed the hive into position in the back of the pickup.



Straps – So I tried small thin straps that I use in backpacking but they didn’t get anywhere near tight enough to prevent the two deeps and one medium from sliding around. When moving bees disaster is spelled like this: “Separating bee boxes while driving down a highway”. So we tried another level up with no success. We finally followed the directions of our mentor and got industrial strength, approximately 2” wide straps and ratchet. The ratchet allowed us to tighten down the boxes and make sure nothing slips during transportation.



We repeated this with our second set of bees and dropped off our kind lender of the pickup and loader of beehives. My wife and I felt like kids borrowing the vehicle from our friend and tried in every way to be careful as this was his pride and joy. It is a trusty vehicle with lots of bells and whistles such as a remote sliding cover for the bed of the pickup. On the drive up we stopped to buy some sandwiches to eat while driving. We figured all of the bees were neatly in the hive, WRONG… As my wife waited for me to return with the sandwiches, first one bee and then another came out from where she had been hiding and began an orientation flight. Seems these bees didn’t get the word about staying in the hive.



Arriving at Plan Bee – We drove the pickup past our bee stand about 50 feet. My son and three year beekeeper was kind enough to help me unload the hives and place them on the stand. I was suited up and once the straps were removed from the hives, he went back to the truck while I removed the screens from the front of the hives. Can you say angry bees?? Our bees didn’t like being moved. They didn’t like being locked into their hives! They were just plain angry and our gentle application of sugar water didn’t help much. Thankfully our bee suits protected us from their wrath.




Lessons learned:

1. Friends, particularly beekeeper friends are key to a safe successful move.

2. Plan on screening in your bees EARLY morning.

3. Have your screen and/or moving screen ready.

4. Use 2” wide straps with ratchets to secure your hives.

5. You will need at least 2 beekeepers to lift and move the hives.

6. Being kind, gentle and slow moving with your bees seems to have a settling effect on them.

7. ALWAYS be in your bee suit during the move or plan on being stung.