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How to transfer bees from a traditional beehive to a modern hive

It is possible to transfer a colony from a traditional hive with fixed combs to a hive with movable frames. The operation is delicate, but good results are obtained with a little experience. The beekeeper moves the traditional hive from its original position at nighttime, when the foragers are all in the colony, starting by giving a little smoke around the hive to calm the bees.

Traditional hive
Traditional hive
At this point, it may be a good idea to wrap the hive in a sheet so that the bees stay inside. The beehive is then taken and set up on a stand in the exact position and orientation where the new hive will be located, so that the bees get used to their new situation. Some bees return to the old site if it is less than a few miles away, but they will make this mistake less if an obstacle such as a little grass is placed in front of the hive's entrance to force the bees to reorient themselves.

Using smoker on a traditional beehive
Using smoker on a traditional beehive
After a few days, before sunset, the traditional hive is generously smoked and placed at the foot of its stand, if possible on a white sheet. The new hive is then installed in its place. A wooden board is then placed between the two hives, forming a bridge along which the bees can climb to their new home. Smoke is then emitted behind the old hive towards the new one to encourage the bees to walk along the board. We can also encourage bees to leave their hive by tapping or drumming on it.

We can then open the old hive, remove the combs one by one and shake them to make the bees fall on the board, or directly in the new hive. Two or three old solid combs with uncapped brood are then attached to the new hive. They can be cut straight to fit under a bar, attached with natural fibers or strips of newspaper attached with tape. The easiest way is to hang them with a drawing clip through which you pass a thin, strong rod, or to attach them to a bar with wire. All the other combs must be discarded and the old hive removed as soon as the bees have left it. Sometimes you have to shake the hive to drop the last ones.

How to attach brood comb with natural fibers

Brood comb attached with natural fibers
If the queen is seen during the operation and is headed in the right direction, it is best to let her enter the new hive on her own. If it seems disoriented, it can be transferred to it by grasping it by the chest with your thumb and forefinger or, better, by lifting it up on a twig or feather. Once the queen is in the new hive, the other bees follow her without delay.

bees in the modern hive
The bees in the modern hive
Finally, the hive is closed and the colony left in peace. Some beekeepers feed the colonies they just transferred, but it is safer to refrain from it for a few days while they settle in, to avoid having looters entering the hive. As their name suggests, these bees steal honey from other colonies instead of collecting nectar from flowers. Looting is only observed when honey or sugar syrup appears in large quantities in a weak colony. Syrup drips or broken pieces of combs are sometimes enough to trigger this behavior.