Moving the Warré beehives

Ever since we did our Warré apiary design, we’ve been waiting to move the hives to their new hive stands. But we needed to wait till the depth of winter to do it, when the bees have stopped flying and are safe and warm in their hives. So last Sunday was the day!

Together, Tim Malfroy and Nick carefully prepared and then moved moved both our current warré hives to their new hardwood stands… and this is how they did it: Before moving each hive, Tim double-strapped the hive together tightly, and placed a screen across the entranceway to prevent any bees flying out in the unlikely event of the hive being dropped during the move.

While this isn’t the ultimate technique for closing off the entrance, it’s good enough, especially as we weren’t moving the hives far and no bees are flying at this time of year in our climate.

All packed up, double strapped, and ready to move.

We placed a long, thin strip of wood under the back edge of the hive (about 5mm high). This ensures that the hive tilts forward very slightly, which means that any condensation that pools in the baseboard will drain out the hive entrance, and not pool in the hive to create potential problems caused by too much moisture.

The last step in the process was to strap the hive TO the stand… this ensures that the actions of passing humans, animals etc won’t cause the hive to shift position, ensuring great stability for the hive and the colony within.

Once the first hive was sorted, we started on the second and repeated the process…

Two hives moved to their new stands without incident. Yay Tim!

Just to reiterate, the reason we could move the hives like this is because our winters get sufficiently cold. Once the daytime temp consistently drops below 13-15 degrees Celsius, the honeybees stop flying, and stay in their hives until warmer weather (ie early spring).

Bees navigate to and from their hive via a series of processes which pinpoint the hive location precisely in space. Move the hive’s location a meter left in a day during foraging season, and you will seriously affect the ability of the majority of foraging honeybees to find their way home.

Moving the hive at night doesn’t get you out of jail either. The spatial territory map in the foraging bees’ head will still mean they get very confused if you move ground zero (ie their hive) too far, too fast.

If you do need to move the hive during foraging season, the rule of thumb for natural beekeeping is no more than a foot per day. This ‘rift in space’ is apparently the maximum you can make and expect all the bees to find their way home.

However, in a climate as cold (or colder) than ours, in winter the bees stop flying all together for a period of months. Over this time they go broodless (don’t raise baby bees) and generally hang out in the hive, staying warm and living off the vaulted ceiling of honey above them that they’ve stored for this time of year.

After such a winter, each spring the colony sends out scout bees on a series of navigation flights before the main foraging core of honeybees start regularly leaving the hive. This in effect ‘re-sets’ the position of the hive for that season, as far as the navigation of the bees are concerned.

If we didn’t have such cold winters, we’d have to step the hives across to the stands, moving them at about a foot per week, always making sure the new interim position was level, with good drainage etc. It would be a long and tricky business, hence our decision to wait till winter and do it this way.

The hives on their new stands, facing N/E to catch the morning sun, protected by earthworks and plantings from the south to the north, as per our Warré apiary design.

The hive stands are going to be great come spring, when we’ll split these two existing colonies to create 4 hives, with two per stand. The middle space on the stands will provide workspace for placing boxes during hive checks and harvesting.

Thanks to Tim Malfroy for making time after the Mudgee Field Days to come to Milkwood Farm, help us move the hives and talk bees for 24 hours straight. I’m still buzzing!

If you’d like to come a learn the craft of Warré beekeeping, either at our apiary or in Sydney, you can!

Or if you are far away, check out our natural beekeeping resources for heaps of good books, hive plans, forums etc on this subject.

9 Comments

  1. Posted July 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I was beekeeping with a Warré system two years ago and I found it quite difficult to lift the whole system (to nadir, for example). One box alone filled with combs and honey tended to weigh about 20 kgs, so three boxes were almost too much for my two helper guys. How do you manage that weight? Do you always have strong helpers at hand? Do you take the whole hive apart to nadir?

    • Posted July 19, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink | Reply

      Yep you are right, they can be heavy! Generally, if we are harvesting, we’re also nadiring, so we take honey off the top, then nadir beneath. The exception to this would be in late spring on a honeyflow. Sometimes, if we’re doing a hive check, we nadir at that point, while some of the boxes are removed.

      Our plan this year is to build a winch-powered forklift type thing as detailed in Warré’s book, so that we can easily nadir without disturbing the hive…

  2. Liesel
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I wonder, can you use a Warre hive to keep native stingless bees? Not so much for the honey but just to support a local population of native pollinators.
    And… how on earth do you predict a colony’s flight path? We back onto a primary school so would have to be very careful about siting a hive.
    Love the warre posts, a lot of food for thought :) Liesel

    • naturescookbook
      Posted July 19, 2012 at 3:06 am | Permalink | Reply

      When the bees exit their hive, they like to just go in a straight line at top speed. So either you site the hive on an incline, so any paths are below the hive (like they seem to have done at Milkwood) or you place the hive so that the entrance faces a hedge/wall/etc. (maybe a couple meters away), so that the bees are forced to spiral up soon after exiting their hive.

    • Posted July 19, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink | Reply

      Liesel Native bees build comb in a completely different way (upwards in a spiral, rather than down in plates like euro honeybees), so Warré boxes wouldn’t suit. With flightpath, a rule of thumb is to point the hive entrance away from any thoroughfare, as the bees fly straight forwards from the hive for a number of meters. If you want to point them at a fence or whatever to lift their flightpath above head height, leave 6m between the hive and the fence/hedge

  3. Liesel
    Posted July 19, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink | Reply

    Interesting about the native bees having different building styles. Will have to rethink where to put a hive. Ta.

  4. maid
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink | Reply

    How do they move hundreds of hives (in the middle of the night – on the back of semi) to the middle of Almond plantations without disturbing them or / and with success of them actually polinating and returning to their hives….?

  5. Jenny
    Posted September 7, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Yes, it can be really heavy. I think I’ll take the advice of one of the commenters above, and hire a forklift.

    • Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink | Reply

      We’re actually building a little forklift like thing for nadiring the boxes this season, but this job was a one-off, we won’t be moving full hives again!

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