Mechanical aids allow beekeepers to manage a greater number of hives by reducing the labour time required to handle each beehive. These aids also make work easier. Machinery can be used for preparing apiary sites, manipulating hives, loading, unloading and transporting migratory apiaries.
Site preparation should comply with any requirements of the authority owning or controlling the land on which the apiary is to be placed.
Apiary sites cleared of logs, combustible plant material, earth mounds and rocks are less dangerous and more practical. Initially, a chainsaw and a power mower or a tractor driven slasher are useful in clearing a site. The site can be levelled with a tractor-mounted blade. In the interest of good public relations, site disturbance should not exceed the minimum needed for fire protection and access.
Manipulating hives and equipment
Modified bag-barrows allow the beekeeper to shift a hive upright without lifting it. The frame is made of tubular steel. Wheels most suitable for hard ground are 51 cm (20") BMX-bike wheels or large wheelbarrow wheels. The ground clearance necessary for stony areas is reduced if smaller wheels are used.
Honey-super barrows are similar in appearance to a wheelbarrow with a flat tray. They usually have one or two wheels, are self supporting and act as a mobile table on which boxes and frames are carried.
Bee blowers are used to remove bees from honey supers when robbing the hive. Blowers are a reliable and an effective alternative to chemical repellents. The basic unit consists of a radial blower directly coupled to a petrol engine. Standard dust/leaf blowers are suitable, with custom made bee blowers available. The honey supers being robbed are stood on end either on top of the hive or on a rack incorporated in the frame of the blower unit.
Truck-mounted loading devices
With mechanical loading devices, colonies are more easily shifted with their entrances open and all loading and unloading can be done by one person. A range of loading devices are available. They consist of three parts; cradle, arm and power unit.
The cradle is the section that attaches to the beehive. Larger loaders have controls fitted on the cradle which operate the lifting and lowering of the cradle, levelling of the boom and travel of the cradle along the boom. For hives that have wooden cleats fitted to the ends of the brood chamber and supers, the cradle has two short, ridged arms that slide under the cleats. These may be used in the apiary when undersupering, examining colonies or removing full supers and loading onto the truck.
For hives without cleats, the cradle has forks that slip under the hive. To lift honey supers with this type of unit, the supers must be stacked on pallets.
To manipulate the hive from a truck to a selected position in the apiary, most loader arms incorporate pivot joints. The arms can be divided into three groups:
- short arms
- long arms or booms
- split booms.
Short arms lift the hive from the ground to the truck. These require constant shifting of the truck or the use of a barrow to spread out the hives.
Long arms or booms allow the operator to select a hive on the truck and place it in a variety of positions within the apiary without shifting the vehicle. Most boom loaders are fitted with a boom levelling system to allow them to operate on sites that are not level. Long booms can have power travel of the cradle along the boom. Two types of boom loaders are long booms and split booms. Split booms are useful for sites that have obstructions to negotiate such as trees.
Power units lift and lower the cradle using a winch and cable. Winches used include:
- block-and-tackle or hand winch - usually associated with the least expensive short-arm loaders
- electric motor-driven winch powered by batteries fitted to the truck - two batteries coupled in series are sufficient to load and unload an apiary of 80 hives
- hydraulic motor-driven winch - these require the truck or auxiliary motor to be running constantly to power the hydraulic pump. Dust collects where oil leaks occur in hydraulic systems.
- independent petrol motor - these require a belt and pulley or gear system with clutches and a brake and cannot be operated from the cradle.
Hydraulic rams are incorporated in some hydraulic cranes and tail-gate loaders. Truck-mounted hydraulic cranes with hydraulic stabilising legs have been modified to lift groups of four hives located on a pallet and manipulated as a single unit. The main modification is the electrification and relocation of the controls to allow one person to operate it from the cradle position.
The hydraulic tail-gate loader allows the beekeeper to use the truck for other work. A hive barrow must be used in conjunction with this device.
Other loading devices
Modified fork lifts and bobcat loaders have many advantages. They can be equipped to clear sites, work in very wet conditions and spread out the apiary to reduce drift. Hives are usually worked in groups on pallets.
Note: Equipment suppliers can be found on the internet.