Bee colonies are less active in winter, reduce in size, and become more vulnerable. Is it a good idea to move your beehives to a new location during winter, or will this move in the winter season compromise the bees? We will answer these winter beekeeping questions so you know your best course of action in the dearth season.
Moving Bees And Beehives In The Winter
Bees can be moved in the winter, but you should use different methods depending on the severity of your weather. Bees in cold climates can be moved short distances to a warmer position during the day. Beehives kept in mild winter conditions can be transported using summer moving strategies.
Moving bees and beehives in the wintertime may be possible if you live in a climate with mild winters. Still, it may be a “no-no” for beekeepers in regions that experience extreme cold.
Beekeeping is a seasonal activity. But seasonal variations are different for each region around the world… Therefore, there isn’t a one-rule-fits-all approach to beekeeping.
And transferring hives to new locations can be a delicate operation.
After all, you don’t want your bees to get lost!
In this article, I’ll examine the different possibilities…
Should You Move Bees To A New Location During Wintertime?
Many beekeepers move their bees to new locations in the wintertime. This provides bees a warmer environment for winter. Or the bees are transferred to an area with more forage at this time of the year.
For example, beekeepers in temperate climates with mild winters may move their bee colonies to areas where winter flowering plants are more abundant. This relocation will give the bees enough food for the end of the year and, in some cases, allows the beekeeper to harvest a winter honey crop.
Bees require as much warmth as you can give them in the wintertime. For beekeepers that live in regions where daytime temperatures are below 50°F or 10°C, moving beehives from shady locations to warmer sunny areas will help the bees better survive the winter cold.
Can You Move A Beehive In The Winter?
It is possible to move a beehive in the winter. Some beekeepers also take this opportunity to relocate their bees in preparation for the spring nectar flows.
In colder regions, the bees cluster during the winter and do not go on foraging flights. This makes it easier for the beekeeper to move the hive since it can be done during the daytime and not at night. (Typically, summer beehive-moving time is after dark).
Will The Bees Still Find Their Hive?
Where the bees are not foraging due to the cold temperatures, hives can safely be moved short distances in the wintertime. However, the bees are in the hive for long periods and will perform orientation flights if they leave the hive for a cleansing flight.
Beehives in temperate climates where the bees still forage in the winter should be moved according to summer beehive moving principles.
Standard summer beehive moving methods are as follows.
- Move the bees at night. This avoids losing bees that are out foraging.
- No more than 6 feet for short distances. Moving a beehive at a distance of more than 6 feet, or 1.8 meters, will cause the bees to become disoriented. When they leave the hive, they will return to the original hive position.
- For long distances, the 2-mile rule should apply. Long-distance beehive moves should be more than 2 miles or 3.2 km to force the bees to reorient themselves and prevent them from returning to the original hive location.
- Don’t change more than one position axis at a time. Do not simultaneously change the hive entrance orientation or height when changing the hive position. This increases the bees’ confusion in finding the hive when they return.
Best Location For Bees During Winter
Beekeepers like to position their bees in the summer months to ensure the hive is shaded during the heat of the day but receives morning or late afternoon sunshine.
In winter, we want hives to have more sunshine throughout the day. This keeps the bees warmer and prevents them from working hard to maintain internal hive temperatures.
Moving the beehive to a sunny location with direct sunlight during the day is a great solution. A warmer hive means fewer bee fatalities due to cold exposure. Also, bees will not use as much of their winter resources (honey stores) to keep the colony warm.
Moving Bees Indoors During Winter
In regions where the extreme winters are experienced, the best option is to keep your bees indoors in a sheltered location. This protects them from very low temperatures and harsh windchill factors.
The shelter could be as simple as a windscreen or as elaborate as a shed or a barn that will keep the icy wind at bay and offer the bees some respite from the cold conditions.
A shelter with a roof prevents snow and ice from forming on the top of the beehive and chilling the hive. The extra few degrees of warmth a structure provides can make the difference between a colony struggling to survive and one that emerges from winter strong and ready to work!
For more advice on preparing hives for winter, read my winterizing beehives guide…
Can You Move Frames Around In Winter?
Frames in a beehive should not be moved around in winter. In fact, you should not open your hives at all during wintertime other than replenishing food stores if you feed your bees during the cold season.
Opening a hive in winter allows all the heat the bees have generated to escape. The bees will have to work harder to re-establish the internal hive temperature once it is closed, which causes them to use more of their winter resources.
In addition, frames should not be removed from the hive in winter since any brood in the frames will become chilled and may die.
Avoid opening hives in winter other than to give the bees more food, and do not move things around.
On the whole, moving beehives in winter is possible, but only in certain weather conditions. It may be necessary to keep the colony strong and give them a better chance to survive the cold.
Hives can easily be moved short distances to warmer spots in cold climates where the bees are not active.
In temperate climates, where the bees are still actively foraging in winter, follow standard summer procedures to avoid losing your bees!