How to Sustainably Relocate a Beehive

Moving bees from an unwanted spot can be done humanely.

Honeybees (Apis mellifera) swarming in bush

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In This Article

Removing and relocating a beehive is sometimes necessary—though we recommend avoiding it if you can.

Many people have a fear of bees. But know that unless their hive is endangered, bees are not defensive and will rarely attack. If you've identified the hive and it's in a safe-enough location, the most sustainable move is to not remove it.

Yet bees can often be in the wrong place, and other factors might warrant further action. You may have children or pets who could possibly do damage to the hive and be attacked. People can have severe allergic reactions to bee stings. Your home is also an inviting structure—because honeybees build their nests in cavities, any space between walls or floors is a suitable site for nest building if bees can access it.

How can you keep bees around while discouraging them from making your home their home? Below are some preventive measures, as well as measures you can take if you need to relocate bees. (Most websites and even professionals use the phrase “bee removal,” but think of the process as relocation, not removal.)

Treehugger Tip

Before all else, know what types of bees you're dealing with. Yellowjackets (a kind of wasp) and papers wasps resemble bees, but honeybees are fuzzier and bumblebees are larger.

Preventive Measures

Old-fashioned beehives in the woods

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A bee-friendly garden is a great service to the environment, so here are some preventive measures designed to keep bees in your garden and away from your home.

  • Inspect your buildings (house, garage, shed, etc.). Make sure there are no access points where bees could enter and build a nest. Seal any access points with a small-mesh screen (such as hardware cloth or window screen) covered with tar or other sealant.
  • Create a bee hotel away from your home to give bees a ready place to move in to.
  • Bees navigate the world by their sense of smell, so you can use this to your advantage. In the spring, before bees (or wasps) establish a new nest, set up a bait station far from your home to re-direct them to another location. Bees tend to be permanent residents in a hive, while wasps start afresh each year.
  • Add crushed garlic or vinegar to water in a sprayer, then apply to areas around your house.
  • Grow citronella grass, also known as lemongrass, or a strongly scented mint, such as peppermint. Just be sure to grow mint in pots, as it's an aggressive spreader if you plant it in your yard. Eucalyptus, if it can grow in your region, also deters bees.
  • Hang mothballs near where bees are likely to build nests, as well as from trees in your yard—unless, of course, they are fruit trees and you want them to be pollinated.

Relocating a Hive

Bee Specialist Rescues Unwanted Hives

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Relocating a hive comes in two forms—structural and non-structural—depending on where the hive is located. A hive in the hollow of a tree is non-structural. A hive behind a wall or in a chimney is structural.

In either case, Treehugger does not recommend you take on the task of hive relocation yourself. There can be thousands of bees in a hive, and they can be aggressive in defending their home. While relocating a hive from a tree or bush is a simpler job, a "structural” removal can involve changes to your house, accessing chimneys, or other hazards. It's best to leave hive relocation to a professional.

Non-structural hives are easier to remove, and some municipalities and bee removal services offer free nest removals. The American Beekeeping Federation lists state organizations that can direct you to free services. Otherwise, search online for “humane bee removal services” in your area. Start with local apiaries, as many beekeepers offer bee removal services if the hive is not attached to or inside the house. It's also in their interest to sustain the lives of bees and will often relocate the bees to their own hives.

Did You Know?

Bees regulate the temperature of their hives to survive extremes of heat and cold. They also use heat to defend their hives. While the maximum body temperature of a honeybee is 43 degrees C (109.4 degrees F), a wasp's maximum temperature is one degree C lower. If a wasp invades a honeybee hive, a swarm of bees will surround the wasp and cook it to death.

A professional bee removal service that uses the most humane and sustainable methods should perform the following steps to remove a hive. When searching for a service, inquire how they will do the job. If it involves pesticides or is far different from the method below, try another service.

  1. Locate the hive. If the beehive is behind a wall or other structure, beekeepers might use a heat sensor to identify the location of the hive. Then they will poke small holes in the wall to determine entry points and mark out the area of the wall that needs removing in order to extract the hive.
  2. Smoke out the bees. Beekeepers use only enough smoke to calm, not kill, bees. Smoke calms bees by masking the alert signals they send out when detecting danger.
  3. Remove the honeycomb one sheet at a time, which keeps the bees on the comb. A special tool is needed for this part of the process.
  4. Place the honeycomb in the apiary bee box.
  5. Thoroughly clean the original location. Otherwise, rodents, ants, and other insects will be attracted to the hive's honey or larvae.
  6. Repair the structure and seal off any access points so that bees don't return.
  7. Bring the bees to their new home.

Living With Bees

It is possible to co-exist with bees, even aggressive ones. Just as a weed is a plant in the wrong place, a pest is an insect in the wrong place. Give bees a suitable place to live, and they are among the most beneficial of insects.

View Article Sources
  1. Emmanuel Delannoy. L'économie expliquée aux humains. Paris: Wildproject, 2020, p. 63.