Thursday, 23 February 2017

Hive goes on a road trip

Back in December we split our hive so that we could take a new hive to our country block. An inspection in mid-February showed the 5 frame nuc was pretty full and bees were starting to build comb in the roof space.  A good indication that it was ready to go into a full size box. So we decided it was time to take this little hive on a road trip.  

We had always planned to move the hive while it was still in the nuc for the following reasons:
  • Nuc base is attached to hive body - no chance of separation occurring during transit
  • Hive body has clips that securely attach it to the lid
  • Good sized ventilation hole at back of hive that should provide sufficient air when front entrance is blocked for transport
  • Nuc fits nicely in back seat of car and can be secured with a seatbelt.
  • Nuc size makes it easy for one person to lift
Our 5 frame nuc, viewed from the back

I'll admit to being a bit nervous about taking a 2 hour trip in the car with a hive. To make sure we were as well prepared as possible we created a step by step plan of how we'd go about the move and ran it by a couple of experienced hive movers.  In our plan we also had to incorporate a means of feeding the hive, at least until we could establish if it was finding enough forage in the surrounding area.  

A hive in suburbia has ready access to some sort of forage most of the time; particularly in Melbourne's leafy eastern suburbs. However our country block is surrounded by grazing farms and large monoculture eucalypt and pine plantations. Local grazing farms - and our block - at times can have areas of useful bee fodder weeds such as capeweed and wild radish/turnip. We have some clover in our pasture. There's also some smallish areas of native vegetation starting at about 1km distance, various other weeds in roadside verges and on our block some paddock trees and earlier plantings that provide some pollen and nectar. And we're planting a load more trees that all going well will eventually provide excellent bee fodder. However, what's available now might not be enough for a new hive to amass enough stores in time to see out the winter. There are wild bee colonies in dead tree hollows - standing dead blackwoods do a good job of providing this accommodation -  around the place so bees live in the area but as we were taking the hive down there at the tail end of summer, we wanted to make sure it had enough supplies if current forage was slim. 

To further complicate things, we have curious wombats (not so jokingly known as 'bulldozers of the bush") on our block. This makes attaching an external feeder more problematic as these rather large critters could easily knock it over if they decided to investigate the hive on their nightly rambles.  Any time we do anything new at the block the very next visit shows that wombats have given our efforts the once over and usually left a deposit to show they've visited. A month or so prior to the hive move we'd placed a large concrete paver in position for the hive to sit on. Our very next visit showed this has been well truly pooped on and scratched around! 

Wombat on nightly ramble - source

Okay, back to the hive move. The process of moving our hive was done over 2 days in February, as described below.

Day 1
Materials used:
Spare 8 frame box
Bee escape gear
Entrance closure equipment - piece of wood and gaffer tape
Large ziplock bag
Sugar - to prepare a solution of 2:1 sugar syrup

The nuc was going into an 8 frame box so we needed 3 additional frames.  Foraging conditions in the country are quite different to suburbia so we wanted to ensure the new hive had plenty of stores.  To do this we took out 2 frames of honey and one frame of drawn comb from our main hive and replaced those frames with new frames that had wax starters strips. To get the bees off the frames we used our bee escape gear. We placed the frames in the spare box and used the bee escape lid to enable the bees to leave the frames of their own accord.

Bee escape lid and base, box contains frames of honey

Bees starting to crawl out the mesh cones - see far left and far right cones

A couple of hours later there were no bees in the box.  We took the frames inside and securely packed them in a foam broccoli box so they wouldn't move around during the car trip.

Bubble wrap and cardboard used to stop frames from moving and spilling any of their contents

Once it was dark it was time to close up the hive in preparation for the relocation.  We used a strip of wood and lots of gaffer tape to close up the entrance and secured the hive with an emlock.

We also ensured that the car had enough petrol for the trip so we wouldn't have to stop on the way. We didn't want to make the 2 hour journey any longer than necessary.

Day 2: Moving day
Materials used:
1 8-frame box, lid and base, hive mat
1 ideal size box
large ziplock bag of 2:1 sugar syrup  
large plastic container in which to sit bag of sugar syrup
sharp knife to slit holes in sugar syrup bag

We packed the gear into the car and then put the nuc on the backseat (rear end with ventilation hole facing forward) and strapped it in using the seatbelt. Fully confident in my hive closure technique, Mr PragSust opted not to wear a bee suit as he drove. I, on the other hand, sat in the back next to the hive in my full suit - just to keep an eye on things.

We were on the road by 6.30 am and reached the block around 8.30 am. There were no escapees during the drive which was great.  The forecast was for partly sunny and 20 degrees but it was pretty cold and overcast when we arrived.  

Arriving at final destination

We put the nuc in the pre-determined location and left it closed up for 30 mins to let the bees settle.  

Nuc in position, still closed up

After around 30 min we opened up the nuc and were prepared to exit the area quickly. However there was no rush of bees exiting the hive - just a few came out.

The weather didn't improve and actually got steadily worse throughout the day with heavy rain falling on and off. This meant we were not able to open the hive to transfer the bees into a full size box.  Opening the hive when the weather is too cold will chill the brood. This can  harm and potentially kill a hive.  We had to wait several days for suitable weather to do the transfer.

Two days later was forecast to reach 24 degrees and mostly sunny so things looked promising. After an overcast and drizzly start the promised weather actually arrived about 1 pm so we got to it. The nuc was moved to the side and the full size box was put into position. We made sure the entrance was sited in the same position as the nuc's so bees could easily find their way into their new home.  A honey frame was put on each side of the box (frame positions 1 and 8) and then we opened the nuc. The frames were transferred gently into the new box in the same arrangement as they had been in the nuc.  It's important to do this gently so as not to squash the queen.  We then checked for the queen in amongst the bees remaining in the nuc box and lid but didn't see her.  Our frame of drawn out comb was then put in position 7 and the hive mat was put on top of the frames. Once all this was done we put the ideal box on top. Inside the ideal we put the large plastic container holding the ziplock bag of sugar syrup and made some slits in it so the bees could access the syrup. The lid went on followed by the emlock and all was complete.  We left the nuc on it's side by the hive so that the bees in it could make their way into their new home.

The last of the bees entering their new home. Photo taken late afternoon

We were really pleased with how the whole process went. The bees went quickly into their new home and after a bit of flying around investigating their new digs, foraging recommenced.  Lots of the bees were bringing back pollen so that was a good sign. Some of the pollen was bright orange. Not sure what that was coming from!

Spring at the block this year saw unseasonally cold weather and lots of rain - in short it has been a very bad season for bees throughout the general area. As has been the case for us in Melbourne, beekeepers in the area have had to feed their hives. lt rains a lot there, especially in autumn and winter, and bees confined to the hive can easily work through the stores they've brought in. With this in mind we decided to start this hive off with some sugar syrup. We want the bees to have the opportunity to build up some stores so they can better handle inclement weather and potential dearth of forage. Weather permitting, we'll keep a check on how quickly the sugar syrup is consumed by the bees and feed again as required.

Hive located in shelterbelt, facing east to catch morning sun and shaded from hot afternoon summer sun. Photo taken 6pm. Paddock with cows is next door's block. For those with an interest in agroforestry, the shelterbelt contains mainly silver wattle, blackwood and assorted eucalypts with smaller quantities of several other wattles, banksias, casuarinas and a few western red cedars to maintain an international flavour.


  1. Fellow Beekeeper Libby22 February 2017 at 16:26

    Love your bee escape lid. Glad that the bees have taken easily to their new home. Fellow Beekeeper

    1. Thanks Libby - yes the lid works well and fingers crossed they like their new home.

  2. Sounds like the transfer from nuc to full size block went like clock work. All in all a successful move.

    1. Thanks Claire - we couldn't have been more pleased with the way it went. Here's hoping they prosper in their new location.