May 18, 2023

Bee Trailers - The Portable Bee Hive (126)

Bee Trailers - The Portable Bee Hive (126)

Anyone who's moved more than one hive, more than once in a season has considered... a simpler way of getting the job done. We've all see photos and videos of beekeepers moving around an orchard of some sort, using BobCats or other type of all terrain...

Anyone who's moved more than one hive, more than once in a season has considered... a simpler way of getting the job done. We've all see photos and videos of beekeepers moving around an orchard of some sort, using BobCats or other type of all terrain forklift, loading and unloading pallets of bees. Cool... but that's not practical for most beekeepers or those who need to move anthing less than... 400 colonies.

On today's episode, Jim invites Jeff Ott, from Beekeeping Today Podcast, to the show to talk about trailers and their use in beekeeping. What works and what doesn't? What do you need to consider when using a trailer. What kind of trailer works best.

Do you use a trailer in your bee operation? If so, what kind of trailer do you have? Have you modified it? Send us your bee trailer and we will add it to the show notes, so other beekeepers can learn see!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2023 by Growing Planet Media, LLC

Some Bee Trailers we've seen!


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 126 – Bee Trailers - The Portable Bee Hive


Jim Tew: Listeners, I want to talk about a subject today that I really don't think I've ever written about or talked about. That's using various kinds of trailers in my little bee operation. I've asked Jeff to sit in today and asked to chat back and forth. Are you okay with that, Jeff?

Jeff Ott: Jim, I am very happy to be here. Using trailers in beekeeping, I've never done that, but I've given it a lot of consideration. When I was there in Northern Ohio, Hinckley, I had was running several pollination hives, small pollination contracts, a couple orchards, and I always thought a trailer would be really handy and looked into it. This is going to be a fun topic.


Jim: Everyone should have a trailer. I'm kidding. I'm kidding. Let's talk. I'm Jim Tew.

Jeff: I'm Jeff Ott from Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Jim: We're coming to you on Honeybee Obscura where today we want to talk about how to use, when to use, want to use, what kind of trailer to use in your bee operation.


Introduction: You are listening to Honeybee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honeybee Obscura, host Kim Flottum and Jim Tew, explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a long-timer or just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.


Jim: Jeff, I must have five trailers right now, and before anybody says, oh, my stars and sounds like my wife, they're all small. I've got anywhere from really small trailers to go behind my small tractors all the way up to a two-wheel bigger trailer that I can pull behind the truck. One time or another if I had bee colonies on every one of those. It's been my experience, as an ageing guy, that on everything in my bee operation, I want wheels on it or rollers or something to help me. Just a bit ago you mentioned those pollination contracts.

Jeff: Yes.

Jim: I was just all over that, even as a younger man. Is there any way that I can use a trailer and not have to take these colonies off this truck, set them down, go back 8 to 10 days later, do the whole thing over again and reverse? It's a vast amount of work. A question immediately becomes, can we just put these things on a trailer and then just unhook it and then take off?

Jeff: Yes, it's a fantastic topic. The big guys, they have their front-end loaders and pallets and they're all set to do this kind of in-and-out type of beekeeping and pollination or whatever you're doing. Moving from one, following the bloom, so to speak. The smaller operations can't quite afford the front-end loaders or the skid loader, the bobcats and the trailer becomes a real viable option. There's a lot to consider when you're looking at a trailer. I don't think we're alone in looking in this.

Jim: Right off the bat. You almost said it, I was waiting for it - right off the bat, "Why would I use a trailer of any size?" My immediate response is because they are generally much lower to the ground than my pickup even. I don't have to pick the colony or get the colony as high off the ground. Yes, I can use ramps on the tailgate of the truck, but you want someone to make pictures of when you're trying to pull that beehive up, those ramps backwards into the truck. That foot and a half or so height difference well matters. If you got the right trailer, it may actually have ramps that are built on the back of it.

Jeff: Yes.

Jim: I find it much easier to load a trailer with bees than I do to get them up in my truck or in the old days on a flatbed truck and then get them back off. First reason, they're lower. Argue with that, Jeff. Shoot a hole in it.

Jeff: No, it only takes once or twice of trying to load a heavy beehive into a back of a pickup truck before you realize this won't work for the long haul. It's good for once or twice moving a bee yard. If you're doing on a regular basis, the trailer really comes in handy and the lower to the ground within limits, the better because you have to take into consideration where are your bee yards. Your bee yard, you have some control over that, if you're doing pollination contracts or you're following the bloom, then you have to consider ground clearances. That becomes a whole different factor in trying to decide what trailer you want.

Jim: Yes, is the yard level?  If you're going to unhitch the trailer and then back it up again. In a perfect world, the sky is always blue and birds are always singing and bees are always happy, but the reality is it’s  2:30 in the morning, the dew has fallen, the truck's slipping on the grass, you can't see the hitch, you got nobody to help you because you got no friends, Jeff. You've already been through all of them years ago. The devil is in the details.

Jeff: The only friends you have at that time is mosquitoes. They're all over you.

Jim: [laughs] They're not friends. They're just there at the same time. I do want to put this in right now. If you haven't done it, you probably go in to do it. If you've got a smallish single axle trailer and you listened to a podcast or you wrote an article somewhere and you bought a trailer and now it's time to go back and hitch it back to the truck, when that trailer is not hitched to the truck and the hives are not situated right on the axle, the tongue will fly up in the air because you suddenly your body weight on the back of the trailers and the axle serving as a fulcrum with the hives in the center and it'll tilt up, and then all of a sudden you've got your bees unloaded. When they come slidding down that trailer towards you so do all the work, loading and unloading the trailer with it hitch to whatever vehicle you're going to be using. All those years ago, that brings me to the very next point, if at all possible, and it may be too much of a luxury, that vehicle should be a four-wheel drive.

Jeff: Your towing vehicle?

Jim: Yes, your towing vehicle should be four-wheel drive because you'd just be surprised. Like I said, the world's not always perfect. Sometimes it's rainy and muddy. You've mentioned pollination work. I've moved bees most of the time not for pollination work. Just the most unusual reasons. I had a couple of hives that wouldn't stop stinging the whole neighborhood. This was not a huge move. This was just a move of two colonies. I still use the trailer because if I got bees that are stinging everyone in sight, I'm really am going to have trouble finding someone to help me move them.

I still use the trailer - massive overkill - Just removing those two genetically angry colonies to a penal location 40 miles away. The funny thing is, I got to stop this. The funny thing is a bear found those two colonies, and Eastern Ohio had not been heard of in 100 years. I almost got my name in the paper. The bear destroyed those two colonies. Another story for a different time.

The other thing about it that you've mentioned already is if you're going to take a four-wheel drive truck, perfect world. You've got a four-wheel drive truck and just a single axle trailer, maybe 15, 16 feet long, and you're going to take it to a bee yard. That yard has to be able to take that kind of rig turning around, backing up, getting out. A lot of bee yards will not work well for trailering your bees just because you're going to have to do some sophisticated driving if the yard is too small.

Jeff: It needs to be able to handle it with a loaded trailer. A lot of times an unloaded trailer sits differently than a loaded trailer. You can get in there but you can't get out or you get it loaded up, but you can't get it out or backed up. You need to put these characteristics in consideration. Jim, I was going to ask you because we've talked about it. I have always used a gooseneck trailer. When I had horses, I had a gooseneck trailer. I love gooseneck trailers. Regarding trailers for bees, do you prefer a gooseneck trailer, bumper hitch and then axles? One or two axles. Two axles is a lot more stable and you don't have that fly up of the hitch that you have a concern with a single axle. What's your experience on that?

Jim: Some guesses and some opinions and some experience.

Jeff: Sure.

Jim: The two-axle trailer is probably going to have brakes on it, so all of a sudden that really helps because even a loaded single axle trailer, medium size, 16 feet long with 15, 20, 30 colonies bees on it, it's going to really push the truck. You the driver have to realize that my stopping distance, my breaking distance is going to be greatly increased to stop that rig pushing the truck. Double-axle trailers usually has some brakes, surge brakes on the tongue, or something like that. I like that.

Secondly, those larger trailers are also heavier and it's a different concept. More pressure on you the driver, more gas consumption, but they work better but there's a limit on what you can put on that bumper hitch. I pulled a trailer loaded with good junk all the way from South Alabama to Northeast Ohio, and I didn't notice until I was backing down my driveway that my bumper had twisted downward on the truck and my bumper was at about a 35-degree angle where the nuts or something that held or hooked the bumper to the frame of the truck had shifted.

I'm home, but it was a moment there. You think of stars, what if the bumper had come off? It's a bumper hitch. Now, having gotten to this, I have not routinely used a gooseneck. I'm going to have to depend on you. We've used horse trailers and made them work for moving the equipment primarily, but I never used a gooseneck trailer of any kind. It was always a bumper hitch or a heavy-duty pintil hitch, or if you want to go to the bigger hitches above the ball hitch. You got to talk. You tell me what was involved and hooking up that gooseneck. You said it was more stable, easier to bike. What was it?

Jeff: Absolutely, it was all in all. This is regards to hauling horses, but I would have to imagine that hauling bees would be the same. It's a much more stable ride in the wind, in any situation that trailer attached as a gooseneck is much more secure trailer. Backing was a lot easier. It's more natural, more intuitive in the backing, and even lining up the hitch and hooking it up was easier because in most cases you could see it up to the final second to the hitch in the middle of the bed. I understand some of the new trucks now even have a camera looking at the center of the bed of the truck. Even lining it up with a camera is just like many cars now with a backup assist. The downside is, they're more expensive. They are heavier. Whether or not it fits into your operation, you have to take that all-in consideration.

Jim: Give me just a second to think about all this, and while I'm doing it, if you would, let's take a break and hear from our sponsor.

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Jim: Jeff, I've got a question that I guess I'll check out some later on, but right now, can you tell me, when does a trailer become a wagon?

Jeff: When you say wagon, the only thing I can think of it says a radio flyer on the side, or it's being towed behind a tractor loaded full of hay.

Jim: That's exactly where I was going. I thought I had to bring an idea. I took some of the university hay wagons and they're just very utilitarian devices. I physically nailed the bottom boards to the deck of the trailer and then built the colonies on top of them. I took them apart and whatever. It really made a secure ride. These things are staying there and all I had to do was keep the tops on. What's fundamentally wrong with this? By the time I got where I was going, I had a load of the angriest, most upset bees you've ever seen, and I realized on the trip that you can only go about 20 miles per hour.

I'm hypothesizing that the difference between a trailer and a wagon is the suspension system or the lack of it. If anybody has any interest in using a hay wagon, you're going to have to go at 15 miles per hour. Are you going to be bouncing bees all over the community because they're not enough weight to settle the trailer out, even if you run the tire's half slack?

That blew up on me. I was not able to use those simple farm wagons to use as a bee-moving device because-- I'm trying to get there, Jeff. I didn't want to have to unload them. We were doing pollination work for Ohio State at their horticulture facility, and I didn't want to have to unload the colonies. I'm just going to be right back out there, load them back up again.

Jeff: Interesting.

Jim: Go slowly with that. When you mentioned the horse wagon a bit ago, the horse trailer. You wander over into a different arena. There are enclosed trailers. Cargo doors and the whole business and you close them up. I had a shock years ago using a cargo truck with fold down doors and I want to tell you it's really, really easy, even when the temperature outside was in the 20s to overheat that load of bees in an enclosed container.

You're bouncing them, you're jostling them, they're upset, they're confined, they'll begin to work up. It was shocking to have those colonies overheat when the outside temperature were so cold. Now it was not a trailer, but it was an enclosed box truck. It'd be the same deal. It was laughable. I had to stop at one of those all-night food stores and go in and basically buy all the ice they had, all at night when it was 20 degrees outside, to put that ice on those colonies to try to calm them down. If you use an enclosed trailer, even on a cold day, you can still overheat the colonies and suffocate them because of the jostling effect that they're going through with all of that.

Jeff: Not to go off on this tangent but reminds me of the time I was in Georgia, and I did a couple of articles on Reggie Wilbanks Apiaries. I was doing an article for Kim, and I was talking to him, and he showed me around his queen-rearing facility. Of course, he does a lot of packages and he had specially designed trailers for moving packages of bees. They were temperature controlled. He can control the temperature inside that enclosed trailer for his bees, which was an interesting concept, but addresses the concern or issues that you faced.

Jim: The reason I'm on that is because same thing. A fellow here who hauls contract hauls packages every spring, has an environmentally controlled trailer with doors and thermocouples and the whole thing, because he basically says the load - you can insure the trailer and you can insure the truck and medical insurance - but you can't insure the bees. If you overheat those bee packages, that enclosed trailer he's hauling, he knows exactly what's happening temperature-wise from inside the cab of the truck.

Jeff: That's smart. Speaking of enclosed trailers, one of the things that I think you've seen, and all beekeepers have seen these days, some people and especially in Europe, they are using trailers and AZ-type hives to move bees around.

Jim: Isn't that interesting? I've only seen pictures of that.

Jeff: I look at that and what I know of AZ hives, I think, boy, that would be really a great way of doing things. I still to this day like the idea of putting beehives on a trailer and anything to make my life easier as a beekeeper, a better, and the AZ hives seem to be a good way to go. Putting all of that into a trailer would be fantastic.

Jim: I want to go a little bit deeper down this rabbit hole that you've started. [laughter] 100 years ago, it seems like it was actually probably 40 or 50 years ago, a USDA researcher designed trailers that the platform bed could be jacked up and taken off the mobile trailer frame. You put the four legs down on each corner of the platform, jack them up, raised the platform with the bees, off the mobile frame part of the trailer, and then pull that out from under and off. You did go with this strange looking, partial trailer behind you leaving the platform and the bees behind by the cucumber field.

Jeff: That's like the container trailers that we see in the Pacific Northwest all the time. I'm sure they're everywhere. You see those without the container on them. It's just a frame with wheels.

Jim: Yes.

Jeff: I like that idea.

Jim: Let me tell you where it went. Let me tell you this [laughter] why the researcher said you don't see such trailers very much. Because if you happen, when you're going back to get your trailer and its night and the truck's slipping and everything's not lined up straight. The frame, the mobile frame, if it struck either one of those back legs especially-

Jeff: Oh my gosh.

Jim: -or the front legs. It did. He had some pictures of that 40-colony load of bees on that platform, tilted to one side where he accidentally struck that leg, and he decided the risk was too great. Now there's a chapter two to this. I got to finish this because we're getting out of time. I gave this same description years ago to a beekeeping audience. To me they're all beekeepers, but in reality, they're, what is the candlestick makers, soldiers and something airline pilots. They're a blend of people. I didn't know I was talking to professional welders, and they went home, and they made that very design, just from my description. They took the rear wheels. I don't know where they got them, but they were originally Buick Riviera. That was a front-wheel drive car. One of the early front-wheel drive cars. It just had brake hubs and whatever.

You would lower pipes on either corner and raise the deck. There's ways to do that, I won't go into. Then when you pick that up, the wheels are off the ground. You pull out a pin, pull the wheel hubs off, put those in the back of the truck and then the tongue was detachable. You put that in the truck. Then in theory, you took the two wheels and the tongue back to the bee yard where you had what?  - Other platforms. Then you hauled eight colonies there. It was for a small bee operation. That's why I told you a bit ago that I thought the difference between a trailer and a wagon was suspension.

The idea didn't go anywhere. Not because you knocked out the back legs, but because the ride was so rough that we're back to 10 miles an hour again without a suspension system on the trailer. You just about can't use it to move bees because it's so rough on the colonies. This beautiful, professionally made piece of equipment, this basically one of a kind that never went anywhere. Just people exploring what could we do with trailers to keep them having to unload these bees?

Jeff: You consider the amount of brain power that's been put into that over the years by various beekeepers. I'm surprised there's no easy, readily made solution these days.

Jim: I want to finish on this note. If you have a big truck towing a large trailer and you're on a narrow back road getting to a bee yard, you better be crystal clear that that truck will make the turn through the gate that you've got to go through to get to where you're going to drop those bees off. Because one night there was no way - the geometry was wrong - to get that big truck to turn with that big trailer behind it and get through that narrow farmgate. We had to unhitch the trailer in the road, take the truck down, unload the truck, bring it back, take the bees off the trailer, put them on the truck, then take the truck down there and unload again. Lot of good it did to have a trailer behind the truck [crosstalk] loads off and on all night. [laughter]

I love trailers. I want one every time I get a tractor out or a truck, if you don't have a trailer behind that you're just not doing your job correctly. There are quirks to it. We all have them.

Jeff: I think it comes down to understanding your use of that trailer, your bee yards. Not only can you use that trailer in your bee yard or your multiple bee yards in nice sunny weather, but can you use that trailer in that bee yard on the worst possible days in the dark with a hangover?

Jim: Yes.

Jeff: It just--

Jim: By yourself now.

Jeff: Yes, by yourself. [laughter] Of course, the hangover could be a hangover from a long day of work. It's just not everything is on a flat asphalt surface and the bee yard; it's not going to be in a flat asphalt service. It's going to be on an angle, it's going to be in a wet, it's going to be in the mud and the bees are not going to be happy. We haven't even talked about how do you secure the beehives to the trailer?

Jim: That was a totally different subject. Ratchet straps, hammers, staples. Do not, listeners, think that the propolis seal will hold that equipment together. I have tried that. I have had to have really serious conversations with people standing by the road, trying to get my beehive top from under his BMW car where he hit it, doing 70 miles an hour in passing lane beside me. Don't think that the colony, because you think it's stuck together, you got to strap it. Now we're off the subject. I like trailers, I want to use them for everything. If you use them, they're going to come with some quirks and caveats, but overall, they give you a broader aspect of beekeeping.

Jeff: If you have a trailer for your bee operation that you're proud of and you move bees around on it and even leave it in the yard with your bees, send us a picture. We'll put it up on our-

Jim: I'd love to see it.

Jeff: -in our show notes for this episode. We can share some designs.

Jim: No, I'll do the same. I've got a picture or two that I'll post on the webpage of the trailering world of beekeeping. All right. I'm punched out. I'm done.

Jeff: All right. Thanks a lot for inviting me, Jim.

Jim: I always enjoy talking to you. Bye-bye.


[00:26:19] [END OF AUDIO]