There are many reasons to transport your bees over a long distance – needing a new area of your property pollinated, bees aren’t doing well in a specific location, you’re moving . . . the list goes on. No matter how experienced you are as a beekeeper, transporting bees over a long distance can be an intimidating prospect.
Luckily, safe and well-known practices for transporting bees ensure a successful trip for both you and your bees. Learn how to transport bees over a long distance with this guide today.
What is Considered “Long Distance?”
While one might consider transporting bees “long-distance” to be something like across the country, the distance considered “long” is actually relatively small.
Because bees use geospatial relations combined with physical exertion to navigate an area, they can fly an impressive distance away from their hive. While experts state that it can be up to 5 miles away, this distance usually doesn’t exceed over 3 miles.
Within that 3 mile radius, however, a bee will sort out its environment by its relation to where the hive is. Because of this, if they are transported anywhere within that 3-mile radius, it’s considered to be a short distance.
These transports take special consideration because bees tend to want to go back to their original hive location.
That being said, everything over a 3-mile distance is considered long-distance for transporting bees. These distances, no matter how much longer than 3 miles, require specific care before transporting, during transport, and after transport to ensure the safety & health of your bee colony.
Important Transport Considerations
Because transporting bees is a highly stressful event for them, there are important aspects that beekeepers need to consider to lower stress as much as possible. Doing so will allow for an easier transition for the bees, and thus, a more successful hive afterwards. Below are a couple of essential considerations to review before transporting your bees.
Ventilation is the goal
The biggest concern when moving your hive will be ventilation. As you have to cover the entrance and the hive’s holes to avoid bees escaping, keeping the hive at the ideal temperature will be critical to keeping the bees safe. In addition, maintaining a cool temperature within the hive will calm the bees down – who, after having their whole home moved, will be a little agitated.
Wait for warm weather
Just like all other tasks as a beekeeper, transporting bees should be done at the right time of the year. Because bees huddle up during the winter to conserve energy and maintain warmth in the hive, moving them can disturb their natural behavior and cause some to suffer or die.
Wear your bee suit
Throughout the several steps involved in transporting bees, you will want to wear either your full or partial bee suit. Since bees are protective of their home, they will likely be agitated during the move. Having your bee suit will protect you before, during, and after the transport.
However, you will not want your mask/veil on while driving. Masks limit your sight and make it dangerous to drive. However, the rest of your bee suit, along with ventilation in your car, should keep you safe from any stings.
Inspect crates when picking up purchased bees
Of course, you will ensure that every hole, gap, or escape opportunity is safely covered if you are transporting your bees. However, if you are purchasing bees and need to transport them from the buyer, it’s always a good idea to double-check that this step was done before moving the bees into your car.
Before transporting bees over a long distance, you will need to take extra precautions to follow every step thoroughly and carefully. Not doing so can result in a sticky situation on the road.
Close the entrance to the hive
First, before transporting the bees, you’ll want to close the entrance to the hive to ensure no one escapes during transport. You need to do this during the night or early morning so that no forager bees are out gathering nectar. The best tools to close the hive entrance are tulle or other breathable fabrics.
Close the rest of the holes in the hive
Although bees do a great job sealing cracks & holes, they usually don’t get them all. To prevent an outpour of bees during transport, you’ll need to cover the rest of the holes with a breathable fabric.
Use a smoker to calm bees
The following day, before placing the bees in the car, you’ll want to use a smoker to calm them. Being trapped inside their home can be pretty stressful, and smoking them will help ease their nerves. Since you’ll need to interact a little more with the bees before transporting them, this step will also protect you from any agitated ones.
Wrap the hive up in tulle
Before placing the bees in your car, the last step is to wrap the hive with breathable fabric and duct tape to stop any escape artists from finding their way out. A large part of successfully transporting bees is ensuring the hive has airflow, so only use breathable fabrics to wrap them up.
Obtain the proper vehicle
While many cars will work just fine for transporting bees, you want to make sure you have a vehicle that will make you and the bees feel safe and secure. If you feel unweary about driving with bees in an enclosed space with you, consider driving a truck. Transporting bees in a truck will also ensure proper ventilation for the bees.
Place bees in a secure place
Regardless of what type of car you decide to use, properly securing your bees will be crucial. Not only will it protect your bees from being harmed during the car ride, but it will also protect you from being stung.
If you are using a truck, make sure the hive is stable and not going to tip over. Using ratchet straps or bungee cords will help with this.
If you are using a car, it’s best to put the hive behind the passenger seat on the floor. Placing them here puts them out of harm’s way and out of your view, which may be better for nerves. It also may be helpful to use ratchet straps to secure them in place.
Roll down the windows
Two of the biggest worries about transporting bees are:
- Accidentally killing the bees
- Getting stung by the bees while driving.
Luckily, rolling down the window significantly reduces the chance of either of these options occurring. Since the most common way for bees to die during this process is by overheating, rolling down the windows creates ventilation that cools down their hive.
In addition, rolling down the windows can both create a calmer environment for bees and create an escape route if one gets out of the hive.
Even if you feel safe with bees in your car, driving slow during transport is better. For that reason, it’s best to take side roads with slower speed limits when possible. If taking a highway or freeway is needed, go as fast as you feel comfortable, always ensuring the bees are not bouncing or jolting around.
Unless you are driving with someone more experienced with bees, it’s best to leave friends out of this trip. Bees are very responsive to our energy, and if someone in the car has any sort of fear of bees, they may become stressed as well.
In addition, it’s best only to have calm, practised people with you in the case that some of the bees do escape.
Don’t panic if one or two bees escape.
As bees are intelligent insects and very determined workers, it isn’t uncommon for a couple to escape the bundled-up hive. Do not panic if you see a couple of bees swarming around your car. If you are seriously worried, always pull over. Since the windows should be down for ventilation, the bees will likely fly out of the window.
If the temperatures are 90F or higher, your bees are at a higher risk of overheating. While it may be better to find a different time of the year to transport them, sometimes that isn’t an option. If you have to transport them in high temperatures, mist the tulle with plain water. You can also mist the entrance and holes with sugar water to feed them a little extra.
Don’t make long stops.
This should seem obvious – stopping for extended periods may cause your bees to overheat and die. Even if it doesn’t kill them, stopping for long periods can cause unnecessary stress for the bees, which should be avoided at all costs.
If there is an emergency that causes you to stop for an extended period, make sure to take the bees out of the car and set them in a shady area.
Help Bees Re-orient
Once you reach the final destination, your bees are not ready to be unleashed yet. Because they don’t have a sense of the area, they will need time to adjust to their surroundings.
Leave bees in the hive for 72 hours.
If you unleash the bees immediately after relocating them, they will likely:
- Try to go back to the original hive location if it is under 4 miles away.
- Get lost trying to forage.
- Swarm if they deem the new hive location not up to their standards.
Sequestering your bees in the hive allows them to orient to the new smells around them before they get to explore their new environment. However, make sure temperatures aren’t too high for this process as, again, high temperatures will cause the hive to overheat.
Place an object in front of the hive entrance.
Even if some bees can still get out with the item there, it orients them to their new environment. This object also creates a “landing platform” for the bees to look out for on their way home. Another way beekeepers do this is by painting the outside of the hive in different colors.
Placing other landmarks around the hive can also help the bees with their geolocation, as they need landmarks to orient themselves in their environment.
No matter the reason for transporting your bees over a long distance, it’s essential to feel calm and confident in the process. Beekeepers need to remember the important considerations and steps to follow for bee transport during the journey. If done correctly, transporting bees can be exciting and lead to many new opportunities.