If I were to pick one part of beekeeping that I dislike most, I would say moving bees in the dark of night, by hand. You see, bees don’t fly when it’s dark, they crawl. They crawl all over your bee suit. And when the conditions are such they will sting the crap out you. I learned a terrible, yet valuable lesson about the temperament of ticked off bees many years ago when I was stung over fifty times one night moving hives.
It was August of 2004 when I received a panicked phone call from a landowner demanding that I move my hives as soon as possible. There was a utility company that needed to install some lines right through the bee yard. I wanted to remain on good terms with this man so I agreed to move the hives that night. There was one big problem, it was the second week of August and they were loaded with honey supers.
In desperation I called my brother to see if he could make a trip to the bee yard and pull off the upper honey supers of each hive at lunch time. This would enable me to come up that evening and load the hives. He kindly agreed to help and prepared all the hives for the move. When I arrived at the bee yard that evening I found that most of the hives (which are two deeps) had one medium super on top. I thought to myself, my brother and I were young and tough and could lift these hives, three boxes high, easily on the truck.
We were able to get the first half of the hives loaded before it turned dark; that’s when the trouble started. Clouds rolled in as the sun set and it got dark, I mean really dark. The bees were agitated from being worked earlier that day. We used plenty of smoke, but this didn’t stop the bees from stinging us; even through the coveralls. Sometime around 10:00pm the parking brake gave way and the truck started to roll down the hill until it came to a sudden stop hitting a large bush. The impact of the stop sent four hives sliding off the side of the truck crashing to the ground.
The heaping pile of boxes, lids and frames was completely covered by bees. As we pieced together the first hive the best we could, I must have felt half dozen stings as the hive was loaded back on the truck. At this point I went to the cab of the truck and found a second pair of coveralls and put them on over my suit. As the remainder of the hives were put back together and loaded on the truck, I was stung many more times through both layers of coveralls.
Thankfully we finished loading the hives and made the move to another location thirty minutes away. The next day after the madness was over I counted over fifty stings up and down each arm and some at the back of my neck. Not my finest hour as a beekeeper.
The above story was the exception; I normally move hives with very few problems. Moving hives is a vital part of my bee business, which I will do at least fifteen times a year. Over the years I have learned the following strategies to help make moving bees much more pleasant.
Don’t wait until dark to start loading. The ideal time to move bees is when it is cloudy and cool with little or no rain. Too much rain makes the bee yard muddy. Even on a hot sunny day I have observed that most of the bees have returned to the hive about an hour before dark. I often get the the truck loaded in that last hour of the day. I have also noticed that hives loaded before dark are less agitated when unloading than those loaded after dark.
Load in the evening, unload in the morning. If I’m moving the hives a considerable distance I will often load the hives in the evening before sunset and unload them the next morning at sunrise. This way I don’t handle the hives at all in the dark.
Use a boom loader or forklift. As your sideline business grows and moving hives becomes a regular part of your schedule, I highly recommend investing in some type of loader. This will save you time, as well as your back. I get stung a lot less moving my bees with a forklift then by hand.
Hives permanently on trailers. Some beekeepers run all their hives on trailers. When it’s time to move the bees they just throw on a net, strap the hives securely, hitch up the trailer and drive to the new location.
Use a net. A truck full of live beehives can be a real liability. I have had a few experiences when I had truck problems and what saved me, was having the net on. It’s main purpose is for protecting other people from getting stung, not so much for keeping the bees with the hives.