With the flock now occasional grazing in the field, there was the added incentive of needing a barrier between the sheep and the hives that is more secure than a few hurdles. It's doubtful the sheep would ever be stung, a more likely outcome being defensive bees dying tangled in a woolly tomb or an entire colony finding itself upended into the grass. In my experience, a fat fleecy sheep isn't always aware of her own dimensions, and that awareness drops off considerably when said sheep is in deep in ruminative contemplation. The new apiary is enclosed by sturdy fencing, with just enough distance between hive and fence to ensure that no matter how far a greedy sheep stretches her neck in search of the greenest, sweetest blades of grass (you know who you are, Babette!), her nose won't (or shouldn't) reach the bees' front door.
The general rule is to move a hive a distance of 3 feet and under or 3 miles and over. A flying bee, absent on a foraging mission while her home is moved, will still find her front door if the shift is within 3 feet. Move it further than that and a bee on the wing, and even a bee leaving after the move, may return to the old spot logged in her navigation system as being home and not be able to find where her front door now is, with lost bees eventually giving up the search, clustering where the door should have been, ultimately dying. If the move is over 3 miles, whilst any still on the wing at the time the hive entrance is closed will be lost (minimised by closing up at the end of the foraging day), those still inside somehow know to reset their inner satnav on first leaving the hive at the new location and learn how to recognise their new environment instead. As we were moving our hives within that 3 feet to 3 miles danger zone, I decided to make that move during winter, at a time when the bees are foraging rarely and have not been flying at all for 2-3 weeks. With their hedgeline position having become so shaded and damp, I didn't want to wait any longer than necessary, but while we waited, and waited, and waited, for winter to arrive we prepared the new hive sites. Digging a level square out of a sloping field is an exercise in frustration, for what the spirit level says is a level patch of mud is strangely no longer level when a paving slab is placed onto the same patch of mud. Dig out a bit more mud here, add a little bit more mud there, wedge some stones in that corner, jump up and down in the other corner.
Whether you're moving a hive by hand across a short stretch of field or by car for miles, the risk of slipping, tripping and dropping is the same, and thus the precautions taken are the same. It's all about strapping and balance, keeping the hive level at all times, minimising disturbance so as not to break up the cluster. All of which is made trickier when your field is a hummocky mole hill minefield, one of the carriers has a dodgy back and the other is inexplicably prone to inappropriate fits of the giggles when moving heavy awkward objects.
|As Dave prepares the strap for the move, Steve slinks off to avoid helping|
|The last hive in its new muddy but level location|