Come on bees, it’s time to move

    We moved last week. Not far; the old house and the new house would sit on either end of the same football field.

    As a process, it was clunky and inelegant. Even feeling relatively prepared, I did not discover a graceful way to remove all the crap from House A and somehow force it into House B. You tell yourself along the way, with every lamp or pair of rollerblades that is humped across the street and dumped onto the new porch, at least that’s one less thing that I still have to move.

    Not so with honeybees. I started worrying about how to relocate my two hives back in January. Bees have very sensitive tracking abilities. This makes it possible for them to range for several miles in each direction and still find their way back to the hive many times a day. They can always find their way home, but they don’t have the biological ability to reorient themselves when home itself moved a short distance. The saying in beekeeping is “less than three feet, more than three miles” when moving a hive.

    A dear friend helped me out. We closed up all the hive openings when the bees had gone in for the evening, and moved the hives the next morning before unblocking the entrances. We put some leaves and branches in front of the moved hives, hoping that the impediment would make the bees pay attention to their new surroundings instead of zooming out of the hive oblivious to their location. Even still, within a few hours most of the bees wound up back at the original site, flying in circles. We put an empty hive super there, and when they went in at night we repeated the moving process.

    Some of the bees are catching on, but there are still many hundreds that won’t leave the old home site, even stripped of shelter or food. The lifespan for a worker bee is about six weeks, and it’s only at the end of their lives that they venture out to forage, so I should still have enough young bees in the hives to care for the queen and raise the brood. But there probably aren’t enough bees bringing pollen and nectar back to the colonies, so they’ll need to eat the honey I was planning on harvesting, reinforcing the fact that moving is an inconvenience to everyone and everything involved. And it’s not over yet. I still haven’t told the chickens they’re going into foster care until the new coop gets built.

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