“BEELINER” Beekeeping utilising a fully insulated air conditioned curtain side truck body

Introduction

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to transport bees utilizing a fully insulated air conditioned curtain side truck body?  Since the winter of 2004 we have been doing just that.  With this article I’d like to share with you the many benefits (including; shifting hives securely during both night and day, transporting honey supers in a bee tight and climate controlled environment). I’d also like to highlight the system’s weakness (including the initial expense, problems with crawling bees and reduced payload).

The truck body

Underneath the “BEELINER’S” floor is urethane foam, sprayed up to 100mm thick.  The front wall is reinforced to carry the air-conditioner unit; this is insulated to 100mm thick.  The rear doors are 100mm insulated panels and the roof is also fully insulated with urethane.  The curtains have an “inner” and “outer” layer.  In between these two layers is what is best described as a “bubble wrap” product designed to give extra insulation.  The Loading or Clearance height is made to order @ 2100mm and the body’s internal length is 7700mm.

“Beeliner” - the strengths

  • Ability to shift open entrance hives securely and safely.  The beeliner eliminates bees flying or falling off the truck once the hived pallets are loaded. This greatly assists with public safety.
  • Shift day or night.  The BEELINER turns day into night (it is virtually pitch black in the truck body) and a hot day into a cooler day. Therefore, we have increased our options, providing greater flexibility when shifting our beehives.
  • Transporting honey combs full.  Robber bees are no longer a problem as the curtain or rear doors can be opened and closed quickly.  Combs can be heated prior to extraction (max 27dec C) by simply dialing up the required temp with the in cab microprocessor.  The BEELINER also includes an installed three phase electric heating element inside the air conditioner. However, until now there has only been one trial of the three phase system to warm combs (which worked well), due to the need to use the truck for other purposes.
  • Transporting honey combs empty.  The beeliner’s facilities will cool combs to help control wax moth or small hive beetle.

“Beeliner” – the weaknesses

  • Upfront capital expense. Ads thousands onto your normal truck body cost, with noimmediatereturnon your investment
  • Crawling bees are a problem when shifting open entrance.  Bees naturally crawl in the darkness of the body and can get squashed if the load is shifting.  However, this problem can be minimized if extra care is taken when loading to ensure that hives and gates are secured firmly.
  • Reduces payload.  Can conservatively reduce payload by one tonne most of which is at the front of the body.
  • Restricts off road access? Beeliner has been able to get into most sites without any hassles.  The width is more restricting than the height.  However, the curtains can be removed or “tied back” to protect them from excessive branches brushing against them (we have never removed the curtains but we have “tied” them back and tucked them behind the back gates to help with extra ventilation during very hot weather);

Struggles during hot summer months.Because the hives are at their peak and hence producing maximum heat, coupled with the high ambient temperature, the air conditioner struggles with the heat/humidity generated by the beehives.  The air conditioner separates the hot and cold air, expelling the hotter air and humidity.  The hives use up the cool air as they generate heat, the new vents (front and back) help with this (see “after market” modifications).  In addition, because the bees fly very late during hot weather loading is difficult as the roof confuses the bees as they try to fly to the hives on the truck.

Examples of shifting bees:

  1. Shifting bees from Bendigo to the Almonds 300 Km during late winter is a complete joy! We normally load the hives during the afternoon and then retire home for sleep. We then drive up in the cool of the morning, arriving at Boundary Bend around 11am.

  2. Shifting bees from Paterson’s Curse to Mallee 440Km one way during hot weather in late spring; I’d load the hives just on dark 8.30pm and drive until about 10.30pm.  Every 30 minutes I’d give them a mist spray of water.  When I stop I open up the curtains to let the cooler night air pass through the bees while I slept until about 6.00am.  I would then drive the rest of the way, arriving at around 9.30am, still giving them the “mist spray”.  The hives with ventilated lids didn’t “hang out” as much during transit and they settled better after unloading. This means less stress for the bees in transit!

  3. Shifting bees from Bendigo to Batemans Bay 870Km one way has been its best test yet.  Without the Beeliner I wouldn’t have considered moving my bees this far.  It certainly makes long distance shifting a more realistic option for the beekeeper

After market modifications:

  • We Installed an electric water pump onto the water tank to “introduce” moisture directly back into the atmosphere within the truck body during hot weather.  There is a toggle switch in the cab and a series of mist sprays down the centre of the roof.  This moisture acts as an evaporative cooler, in conjunction with;
  • Introducing fresh air into and stale air out of the body while in transit. This was achieved by installing two 6” vents front and rear of the body.  This assists the evaporative cooling process as the air flow passes over the wet hives.  We have been told that 1 day old chicks are transported using refrigeration and it is crucial to have a constant flow of fresh air going over the chicks, otherwise they would smother and potentially die from the high humidity.  For one day old chicks the ambient temperature is kept at 28 degrees C.  Thus for our beehives the constant flow of “fresh” air coming in, helps reduce the “build up” of hot stale air. I also believe that the “fresh” air assists the air conditioner by giving it “new” air to cool with.  As a rule the air conditioner pulls the temperature 5 degrees C. less than ambient when transporting hives (e.g.  when shifting in hot weather at dusk it normally is between 15 and 22 deg. C in the beeliner)

Future “to do list”:

  • Look at increasing the ventilation in our beehives.
  • ·Re-design our hive pallets, so that they don’t shift during transit.

Conclusion

Overall I am very happy with how our first five years have gone with the new “Beeliner”.  The option to shift during night or day time and not worry about bees “flying” of the truck is a huge relief.  Often I load up a load of bees and sleep at home on the way to the next location (Note: I always open up the curtains when I stop). I would say that the system has been worth it alone when I just consider the benefits of carting combs (full or empty) in a dust and robber free environment!

I believe other Beekeepers will look at this concept closely in the future both though choice and necessity.  Some beekeepers will look at using semi’s to shift long distance to almonds, the good thing about the larger cooling units on semis is that they are able to introduce “fresh” air though the unit.  This “beeliner” concept could be adapted from a 1 tone ute right up to a B-double. 

I hope that my “beeliner” story has been of interest and serves to assist other beekeepers.

Author: Lindsay Callaway