"Two inches or two miles"
The idea of moving a bee hive can can seem pretty intimidating if you spend any time reading about the many, many details that you are supposed to be paying attention to. Fortunately, we've approached bee keeping much like we approached farming in general, by using the ' jump off the cliff and flap really hard until you figure out how not to crash' technique.
Packy did take the precaution of telling the bees about their impending move, and I'm pretty sure that's what made the difference.
We inherited our hive from our good friends the Quennell Family a couple of years ago, when they left Oregon to move to upstate New York, where they are thriving on Three Stone Farm. (We mostly forgive them for moving.) The hive is a top bar design that Roger built himself, and he gave us some quick, basic advice about moving the bees before driving off into the sunset, which basically was:
Move the bees when it is dark, or on a cool rainy day when they will not be out flying around, so you won't loose the foragers. Block up the hole with something that will allow air circulation, but not allow the bees to get out- straw is good. Know where you are going to put them, because once you let them out, they need to be able to find their way home again. If you move the hive even just a bit more than a foot, but keep the hive within their familiar area, they will not be able to find the hive's entrance again, and will die. If you are going to move it, either move it a tiny distance–two inches– or you have to really move it, more than two miles. That way the bees will realize that they are in a totally unfamiliar environment, and re-orient to their new location.
It doesn't sound too complicated, right? Fortunately the bees took their first move to Seaside in their stride, which means we did something right. We decided not to harvest much honey from it the first year, as the hive was a bit small, although we did open it up under the guidance of our friend Mark, and enjoyed a wee bit of the most delicious, sweet honey we had ever tasted. Is honey more flavorful when it comes from your own hive? I think it might be.
Mostly we just loved having the bees on the property. I would often find Packy down by the hive, watching the bees in fascination as they buzzed in and out of the hive entrance, covered in pollen. The bees, not Packy.
It seemed a good idea to know exactly where we wanted the hive to go on the new farm before we moved the bees again, given that we did not plan to ever move them again if we could help it. Finally we felt that we had the right spot identified, near where we hope to plant our orchard next winter. The Quennells– Roger, Youngiee, Romneya and new family member Avani– were back on the North Coast for a brief visit a little over a week ago, and that seemed like A Sign- it was Time to Move the Hive!
Packy and I drove down to Seaside at dusk, checked the hive to make sure everyone was still alive inside (I have to say, putting your ear up to the entrance of a buzzing bee hive is an amazing sensation),
stuffed the entrance full of straw,
Somehow, It didn't occur to us that it would be pitch dark when we got home. We found one of our emergency lanterns and set it out in the field to mark the designated spot, and then carefully carried the hive out, squelching and stumbling a bit in the dark through the boggy pasture soaked with recent rain, to the hive's new home.
After much arguing about which way the prevailing winds came from and which direction was which, (something you would think we would have sorted out before hand as it is not a discussion to be having in the middle of the night in a boggy pasture while carrying a hive of buzzing, annoyed bees) we set the hive down, unplugged the hole, said "Welcome!" and then took ourselves off to bed.
The next day was bright and sunny, and when Packy went out to check on our gang, there were bees buzzing in and out and all around the hive- exploring the new location and some even, he was relieved to see, coming home covered with pollen.
Now we just have to take some soil tests, get the orchard area sowed with cover crop (dealing with the Canada thistle infestation we've discovered in the area first), use the ten yards of compost that just got delivered to get some beds ready so that we can get our lavender finally moved, and figure out how to afford several thousand feet of fencing.
And that's just the short Farm To Do List.
Still, the Bees are Happy, and that is good for today.
All is well.