Travel screens

Stressed bees trapped inside a hive generate large amounts of heat which can result in the comb melting and collapsing. If you are moving colonies any distance, for example between distant apiaries (or even nearby apiaries if it’s a warm day), it is really important to provide ample ventilation to the hive.

Abelo hives in transit ...

Abelo hives in transit …

The usual way to do this is to use travel screens. These consist of a wooden-framed metal mesh which is used in place of a crownboard. With a sealed entrance, an open mesh floor and a travel screen, the hive is securely and safely closed up for transport, but air still can circulate freely. On long journeys or particularly hot days (which can be avoided by moving bees at night) water can be poured or sprayed through the mesh travel screen to further aid cooling of the colony.

Moving day

Late evening in the apiary

Late evening in the apiary

I often end up moving colonies in midsummer, either distributing splits to new apiaries or taking my strongest colonies to good areas of forage to exploit the summer flow. Colonies are strapped up during the day and moved either very late in the evening or very early the following morning. This timing ensures that all the flyers are back before sealing the hive and that colonies are moved during the coolest part of the day. In June in Fife this means after 10pm or before 4am if the weather is good.

Nevertheless, despite my moving hives annually, the travel screens would only be in use for a few hours a year. The rest of the time they are simply in the way.

Be flexible

For this reason I don’t use wooden-framed travel screens. I’m not prepared to pay the £15-17 the commercial suppliers charge for something that will languish on top of a stack of supers in storage for almost the entire year.

Instead of framed travel screens I use fibreglass insect mesh (search eBay for that phrase and choose the cheapest – I bet they’re all the same). This is very strong and hardwearing, relatively inexpensive and available by the roll or in a range of sizes. It’s easily cut with strong scissors and you can therefore prepare customs sizes for full hives or nucs. I cut the mesh a few centimetres oversize to allow it to be securely attached to the hive.

I bought mine from eBay a few years ago. Current prices work out at about £1.25 a hive depending on the quantity ordered. It’s usually cut for you from a 1.2 metre wide roll and sold by the metre. Each metre gives you four National-sized travel screens and some offcuts.

Straps or staples

Colonies in transit should be securely strapped – both together and to stop the hive moving in the event of an accident. For full hives I use straps and an eke to hold the mesh in place.

Travel screen mesh and eke

Travel screen mesh and eke …

For nucs, or when I run out of ekes, I staple the mesh in place to keep it secure.

Mesh and staples

The mesh is similar to the stuff sold by Thorne’s to collect propolis (at over £3 a sheet). If left in place for a long period the bees will start to seal the holes up. If you want the propolis put the mesh in a bag in a freezer and scrunch it up to release the frozen propolis.

Foam blocks

While we’re on the subject of transporting hives it’s worth mentioning that the frames must be aligned with the direction of travel. If they’re not, there’s a danger that bees will be crushed as the frames move with the acceleration and deceleration of the car.

You also need to prevent the frames from moving laterally. In a National box, unless heavily propolised, there’s usually space for 11 frames and a dummy board. However, that still leaves a bit of additional space.

On a long journey or on rough roads these can shiggle apart. This causes two problems. Firstly there’s a chance that bees will be crushed as the frames swing from side to side. Secondly, since you won’t be opening the top of the hives immediately upon arrival (the bees need to reorientate rather than have their roof unceremoniously whipped off after the long journey) there’s a chance the bees will build brace comb in the gaps.

Foam block ...

Foam block …

I use closed cell foam blocks wedged tightly into the gap between the dummy board and the side wall – one on each side in line with the side bars of the frames. This keeps everything stable and the blocks can be removed when you first inspect the colony after moving. With nucs, where there’s less to move about, or with very inflexible dummy boards, you can get away with a single block wedged tightly half way along the top bar.

Nuc prepared for transport

Nuc prepared for transport …

If you use Langstroth-sized nucs with integral feeders (like the Thorne’s Everynuc) to allow National frames to fit then it helps to also nail a cross bar over the feeder to stop the frames shifting backwards and forwards during transit.


8 thoughts on “Travel screens

  1. Mick Smith

    A very interesting Blog as always, the Late Evening picture looks suspiciously like DHL

    1. David Post author

      Well spotted Mick … it’s one I’d taken almost exactly two years ago (and used before) when I was preparing colonies to move to Scotland. I suspect the WBC in the foreground might belong to you. It feels like a lifetime ago now …

      Bees busy with the lime here (or they would be if it was a little drier) and I’ve – again – missed the chance to take any to the heather due to work commitments.

      Hope things are all good with you.

  2. Chris

    This topic always makes me wonder. In Australia and the USA bees are moved in large numbers, in hotter climates, without travel screens. In fact the upward air-flow through a screen is thought to be desiccating, and remember too that mesh floors are rarely used in Australia or by commercial beekeepers in the USA.

    In general the hives are moved on pallets after dark. Entrances are left open and the hives are left undisturbed for a few days beforehand so that propolis helps keep everything in place. Hives are stacked up to 3 pallets deep (4 hives per pallet) with the top bars parallel to the direction of movement to help stop them swinging. The whole cargo is covered with bee-proof mesh for safety, and that’s pretty much it. Where possible the journey is made by night, resting in shade during the day if necessary, and hives may be sprayed with water periodically. Unloading is again after dark.

    While it seems contrary to British practice, they do it this way because it has proven to be the most successful method. They are not just moving bees once or twice a year, they are doing every few weeks. Bee colonies are valuable and the beekeepers I know would do things differently if it gave better results.

    1. David Post author

      Hi Chris
      I think the difference is the scale of the operations … commercials in the US are moving hundreds of hives at a time huge distances on large trucks (juggernauts) whereas most hobbyists are moving small numbers between local apiaries or, at this time of the season, up to the moors for the heather.

      I’ve regularly moved bees overnight, for example bringing nucs down from Scotland to the Midlands for work. However, the small numbers of hives mean they tend to go in the back of the car or van, rather than in the open. Travel screens provide ventilation for the bees and protection for the people in the vehicle. I’m sure they’d have been fine on a trailer, unsealed, with bee-proof netting over the top, but that would have made the journey take about 50% more time 😉

      For small numbers of hives, which are the expected numbers readers of this site are likely to be moving, travel screens are probably easier than getting a trailer and wrapping the entire thing in netting.


    1. David Post author

      Thanks Emily
      With the state of many of the roads, never mind the rough track down to the apiary, it all helps keeping things secure. Of course, if a colony hasn’t been opened for a week or so before moving it they’ll probably stuck everything together with propolis anyway, but it can’t do any harm.

  3. Jain

    Very informative and helpful thank you. I am transporting two national hives next year from Suffolk to Scotland in a van with my chickens, both needing to be securely in or mayhem! When you are transporting your bees do you have the hives on their stand or without a stand?

    1. David Post author

      Hi Jain

      As long as everything is securely tied down it shouldn’t make a difference. However, hives tend to be quite heavy, so if you can keep them low i.e. on the floor of the van, rather than on their stand, there’s less chance of an upset in the event of a sudden stop. You do need to ensure they have good airflow, particularly if the day is warm. I often put a couple of wooden battens underneath them.

      Hives, stands and wheelbarrow all strapped down tight

      In the picture above the hives are all at the front of the van. Each hive is strapped and the other equipment – including a stand and half a dozen empty hives – are all held tightly together with ratchet straps to the sides of the van. It was a very hot day – mid July this year – and we had no choice but to move them during the day. We sprayed them with water before and during the trip and they were absolutely fine.

      General driving – accelerating, braking or cornering – isn’t the issue. The hives need to be secure enough so that in a sudden stop, like a crash, they remain sealed. That way there’s one thing less to worry about …

      Finally, on a long journey with bees – like Suffolk to Scotland – I’d advise travelling at night if you can. It’s cooler and the roads are much quieter. I’ve done Scotland to the Midlands (or vice-versa) with bees lots of times and it’s a doddle at night. The last thing you want is to get stuck in a 4 hour traffic jam on the M6 as the temperature peaks.

      If it’s a permanent move – Suffolk to Scotland – congratulations and welcome!

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