Fall Bee Rescue

August 24, 2019

When I started keeping bees nearly 20 years ago, I was told "Honeybees cannot survive Alaskan winters", "It's cruel to try to keep them alive", and that the best practice was to wait until fall, shop vac them up, and take every drop of honey. I'm happy to disagree! While it can be challenging and sometimes very frustrating - it is possible! I encourage every beekeeper to at least give your hard working girls a shot at survival. For many reasons, however - some folks are unable.

If you aren't planning to winter over your colonies, please pass them on to someone else who is willing/able. This is the easiest way that I've found to transfer bees. Remember that bees will travel 3-5 miles as they forage. The spot that you're planning to move them to must be a greater distance away than this, or you will risk them returning to their original location. Please suit up fully before attempting this!

Bring an empty hive to the donor site. Remove the donor colony a box at a time and place it a short distance away from its original location (10-15ft if possible). In the exact original location, first place a ratchet strap, then a bottom board and single deep box with frames. If you have frames with honey or pollen stores, these will be very helpful! Pull frames from the donor colony one at a time and gently brush all the bees into your empty box. Keep an eye out for the queen! If you happen to spot her, you can cage her for safety if desired. Many bees will end up in the air, but they are oriented to the original location, which now holds your hive. Continue brushing bees from the donor frames and all hive parts. I always bring a 2nd deep box with drawn frames just in case the population is very large. Place your inner and outer covers on, and tighten up the ratchet strap. It can be helpful to have a wagon on standby to load the donor hive parts into. If the owner of the donor hive is willing to part with any frames containing brood, this is a bonus. Some folks are willing to trade either new or drawn frames for these, or sell them to you. Once you have brushed the donor hive free of bees, remove it. You may have to pull the wagon a fair distance away and brush off stragglers. In my experience, it takes the colony a few hours to settle down after this disturbance. I prefer to leave them until late in the evening, or very early the next morning to move the hive off of the donor property. A precut piece of screen and hand stapler is all that you need. Quietly and quickly place the screen over the entrance and staple away! It's best to transport in a pickup bed if possible. When you load your hive up, place it so that the frames are parallel with the length of the vehicle. This will keep the frames from "rocking" into each other as you drive and is safest for your new bees. If you're transporting inside a vehicle, consider wearing your suit for the drive. If you "spring a leak" burning down the highway, things can get interesting quick! Make sure you have the colony placed where it will remain for winter before you remove the screen. I prefer to let them settle in for an hour or so after physically moving the hive before pulling the screen, as they are pretty ticked off at this point. Feed 2:1 syrup like crazy, as they have some catching up to do!