I love the philosophy “turn your waiting room into your classroom.” Philip has always embraced this in everything that he does! Since I met him, he has dabbled in a variety of homesteading projects. Using the time while we are in transition to make mistakes and grow. If we make a mistake now and kill our entire garden, we have the resources to purchase food in other ways. Eventually, as we embrace a more self-sufficient lifestyle, killing our garden might have greater consequences. Building the Kowalski Apiary has been a time of experimenting and growing. Moving the honey bees to Kowalski Mountain is a huge step forward as we continue to experiment with our beekeeping skills.
Moving Honey Bees Cross Country
You may be surprised to know that moving honey bees across the country is not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, since honey bees are so important for the pollination of the nation’s food supply, honey bees move long distances frequently. Commercial growers use commercial pollination services in the beekeeping industry. Honey bees are brought in by the semi-truckload for the pollination season to optimize crop yield. Right here in our local area, during the winter months Florida bees are transported to California by experienced truck drivers for the pollination of the almond trees.
Moving our small apiary is a much less complex process. Like commercial beekeepers, we are bound to the statutes that govern moving livestock. In the state of Florida, The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers’ Services is the governing entity that governs the movement of honey bees within the state of Florida and any honey bees moving across state lines.
Certificate of Inspection
Prior to moving our honey bees, Philp scheduled an inspection with our chief apiary inspector. She came to the house and inspected the entire apiary. Our local inspector was looking for signs of contagious diseases, the establishment of honey bee pests. and unwanted bee species, such as Africanized honey bees.
I’m happy to report that we passed the inspection without any issue. Philip was issued a Certificate of Inspection that we were required to carry with us. The health certificate indicates the number of hives we would be transporting and any empty boxes of frames. We will also be required to stop at the Agriculture Inspection station and present our certificate of health prior to leaving Florida.
Preparing the Honey Bees for Moving Day
Prior to moving day, Philip carefully prepared the bees for the move. Here Philip is in the hives frequently. He monitors their behavior and watches for signs of swarming or maybe lack of activity in a hive. However, in Kentucky at their new location, the honey bee colonies will be on their own for long periods of time.
Philip wanted to ensure that he moved only strong hives that were queen-right and had adequate resources to make the transition. Strong hives include fresh eggs, good brood patterns, and adequate space. The bees needed adequate honey production to sustain the colony as they get settled in. The entire apiary was previously treated for varroa mites and the colonies were recovering well from treatment. He prepared boxes of frames to give the bees extra honey supers. He wanted to ensure they had adequate space to grow.
Philip considered taking 4 to 5 colonies to the homestead. However, after carefully considering his options, he opted to take four. The four hives that remain in Florida contain two of our strongest colonies and two of our weakest. Since moving bees to the homestead is an experiment, we wanted to ensure we have enough colonies of bees here in Florida to rebuild our apiary should something go wrong with our Kentucky apiary.
We’re confident that the bees will be fine, however, we can’t guarantee that. Just like here, a natural disaster could destroy our colonies and we would depend on the Kentucky apiary to help us rebuild.
Containing the Honey Bees
In order to move the honey beehives to a new hive location, we first have to contain the bees. The best time to do this is when the bees are home! Bees are active at all times of the day, but at night they limit their activity to within the hive, as they don’t see well after dark. Most foraging bees will return to their hives about an hour before sunset. Sometimes they linger on the outside of the box but they can be coaxed inside with a bit of smoke.
When it came time to contain the bees Philip and I discussed the options. The first option was convenient for us. We could lock the bees in their hives the night before we were leaving for the homestead. We travel at night, so that meant that the bees would be contained for almost 40 hours. They would spend a full day locked in their hive in the bee yard waiting for us to load. The heat was certainly a consideration in that option. Honey bees that are moving cross country spend many days contained in their hives, so it’s not an unheard-of option but one that neither of us preferred due to colony stress.
The second option was to wait until after sunset on our moving day and then contain the bees. Option two was less convenient for us, sunset is currently about 8 pm. Waiting meant that we would leave later than normal. Ultimately though, we both felt that waiting until after sunset to load the bees was the best option for the honeybee colonies. As it meant less time being contained in their bee hives.
An Unexpected Reason to Wait
It turns out that option two was a good option in a way we had not considered. The bees were contained for a total of 15 hours by the time we released them. What we hadn’t considered previously is that the bees might find a way out on their own. Philip used fine hardware cloth to cover about 80% of the hive entrance. The hardware cloth allowed for ventilation in the hive. The final area was closed using a wooden block that acted as a gate. Philip screwed it in to close the hive off completely.
When we stopped for gas in morning, I peeked in at the bees and could see them at the hardware cloth trying to get out. At that time, I didn’t see any bees flying around the truck. After we arrived at the homestead, we first took care of the canopy issue, and then we were beginning to unload the pickup truck of necessities, like coolers. Our plan was to set up the apiary properly from the very beginning. However, as we were unloading the truck, we started seeing bees flying around. Time was up! We needed to offload these bees before we had to deal with an angry swarm of honey bees!
Had we chosen option one of containing the bees the day before, I suspect we would have had problems on the road with loose bees. I bet we could really clear out a gas station! Bees chew through things like drywall. We never took time to figure out how they were escaping, but they certainly had to have chewed along the edge of the block just enough to find a way out.
Hasty Set Up
One of the reasons Philip opted to carry the bees in the bed of the truck versus in the enclosed trailer was for exactly this reason. With the bees in the truck, we could unhook the trailer and move to the apiary site. Had the bees been in the trailer, we would have had to move them to the ranger first and then move them. All the while, additional bees would be making their way out of the hive. Philip was concerned about the soft ground on the hillside from recent rains, but with a little persistence, we were able to make it up the hill where we would set up the apiary.
Once we made it up the hill, Philip first prepared the site with a base to place the bees at ground level. Philip is very much about recycling and reusing, so we used a recycled political sign and the shelves from a shelving set. This set the bees on level ground a few inches off the ground, ensuring the hives would be out of the water if it rained.
Once the shelves were in place, it was time to move the hives. One by one, we moved the beehives out of the truck. We carefully set them on the shelves and made sure they were level. Once the basic setup was in place, it was time to release the bees! Philip removed the wooden blocks, and the bees began to pour out of the hives. The video is really cool to watch as they pour out you don’t want to miss it! The bees immediately started doing orientation flights to orient themselves to their new home.
Join Us for the Entire Process of Moving our Honey Bees
The location the bees are settled was not our original location for the apiary, but now that the bees are settled, we’re happy with the location for a variety of reasons. We’ve discussed several options for the apiary location.
Our first thought was in the garden area. However, that part of the farm is very close to the property line. On the other side of the fence, the neighbors grow soybeans commercially. I was concerned that the bees might be exposed to chemicals that the neighbors spray in their fields due to the proximity. While we can’t control what is sprayed, we could limit the bee’s exposure by creating a larger buffer.
The next option was in the upper field. This area would better protect the bees from direct exposure to anything sprayed in the fields. The area in the upper field is relatively flat and cleared, it’s prime real estate on the farm. It is in the area where our future barn will be built. This part of the farm will be busy with activity and will be used for a variety of things once we settle in.
Kowalski Apiary II
The official location of the Kowalski Apiary is on a hillside just below the building site of our home. While it’s certainly a useable portion of the farm, it’s not prime real estate such as the upper field. The hives are facing the tree line and will catch the morning sun as soon as it crests the trees. The bees will get full sun all day until the sun sets behind them at the end of the day.
We planted a field of wildflowers directly behind the beehives to ensure they have a plentiful supply of pollen close by. The wildflower field will be guarded from mowing unlike the flowers that grow wild in the upper field. The wildflower field will be visible from the front porch of he house too which is a bonus. Once the pond is built, I plan to plant the entire berm with wildflowers that will require less maintenance. It’s close to the apiary as well and will provide a dependable water source. The one downside to the location is the wind, however, the location in the upper field would also have been exposed to just as much wind.
Final Set Up of the Kowalski Apiary II
Since we hastily set the apiary up, we took time later in the week to properly set it up. Philip used the large metal crate that the sawmill was shipped in as the base of the apiary. It’s about 12 inches off the ground and is a solid metal base. It has a shelf at the bottom as well that is a convenient place to store the covers when the feeding jars are on the hives.
To set up the permanent base we would first need to move all the hives. Since bees orient themselves so specifically, moving them even a short distance can completely disorient them to their location. We moved them all forward just enough to work. Then we put the metal crate in the exact place that the hives previously sat. Once Philip was satisfied with the levelness, we moved the bees back into their exact spot, just a little higher.
Philip went ahead and did a check on the bees, and we gave them some sugar syrup water to help them build out their honeycomb. Since one of the hives was already producing honey, he opted not to give them sugar water to water down the honey. If they needed it, they had honey for themselves.
Prior to leaving Kentucky, Philip would do a final hive inspection. We filled the sugar water jars one more time. He secured the beehives with straps to prevent any animal issues. Philip added larger hardware clothe screen across the entire front of the beehives. This will hopefully prevent mice from entering the hives.
Future Apiary Experimenting
One of the reasons Philip wanted to move the honey bees to Kowalski Mountain was so that we could get a feel for the challenges of beekeeping in Kentucky. We will be looking at the best options of overwintering bees in a colder climate. Half of the hives will overwinter in Kentucky. The other half will make the journey back to Florida to overwinter in Florida. As always I am looking forward to the sweet fall honey! It will be interesting to see how they compare in production of honey and quality. As always we will keep you updated on the status of both of our apiaries, it’s amazing how far we have come n such a short time!
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.