Beginner Beekeeping May

by Flow Hive 18 min read

Today Cedar has an exciting announcement about our partnership with Bee Friendly Farming, which we’re delighted about. He also tackled a bunch of beekeeping queries, about queen excluders and drones in the super and extra brood boxes.

Video Transcription

Morning. We're just in the apiary here and having a look at the hive. It's beginner beekeeping Q & A this morning, which means ask your questions. Sometimes as we start out in beekeeping, we're a bit afraid to ask questions because there's a lot of strong opinions out there. Here, it's a safe place to ask any questions you like. If you've got answers to people's questions, chime in and help answer them, otherwise we will read them out and answer them as we go. So questions in the comments below. Also let us know if you're beginning in beekeeping or not. It's really interesting to us to hear where you're at, whether you've got one hive, two hives, no hives, et cetera. And that would be wonderful. 

So here is our Flow Hive, and I'm just looking in the window this morning to see what is going on in here. And you can see we've got some capped honey, which is this area here where the bees have put wax over the top of their honeycomb cells in order to preserve that honey and keep that moisture content nice and low so that they can reuse it later. You can see this area there’s actually a few cells missing, where the bees have gotten hungry, taken the capping away, and then used that honey to feed to the babies, to feed themselves. And you can see they've started filling some of those cells up again with some nectar glinting there in the cell. So it's a constant process of the hive really responding to the environment. And here we've got a beautiful area with a lot of flowers, but right now there's not a whole lot. So that's why the bees are consuming some of their honey.

And this window here lets you see what's going on as well. So this was an invention by my father and I six years ago. And this rear window view is really interesting because it tells a bit of a story about what's going on. Before this, you pretty much just had to lift the hive up and feel how heavy it was to sort of get an idea of how much honey there was. This window actually changes on a daily basis with the honey or the nectar being deposited and getting turned into honey. And you'll see these lines here expand and contract as the bees respond to what's around and flowering. Now I can already see there's not a whole lot of honey in this hive and it's this patchy kind of arrangement where there was honey and then they ate it and there was honey and then they ate some out.

So today we're not going to harvest very much honey, but we might just harvest a little bit. Just because that's one thing we can do with the Flow Hive is just harvest a little bit of a taste to show you what it's all about.  

So this little window cover is going to become the shelf, although we've got the wrong shelf brackets today, so this shelf isn't actually going to fit. We've got a few different models of the hives, so Trace's going to go and get us the right ones. Let's just take a look in the other window of the hive and see what is going on. So if you have a look around here, we've got a healthy number of bees in the hive.

So the side windows really help you as well. Because if you see no bees in the window, or few bees, then you know that something's up, the population's diminished for some reason. Which could be your hive responding to the environment or it could be because the queen lays less eggs when there's less nectar coming into the hive or it could be that the hive has some issue. In which case you'll need to take this box off, get in your beesuit, get out your smoker and inspect the brood frames down here to make sure that you've still got a laying queen and everything's looking happy and healthy. And it's a wonderful part of beekeeping is really learning, but looking not only from the outside, but inside with the bees. And if you dialback a few live streams, then you'll see what that is all about by pulling out the frames and doing your brood inspection.

And it gets quite addictive after a while because you want to really know what's going on inside your hive and make sure everything's happy and healthy. And it also it's just a never ending learning process. So we've got the right brackets on now and this rear window cover slots on here and becomes a shelf. So what we're going to do is take out this little top cover up here and the little cap at the top. We can use this key to just open the frame a little bit. Now, the reason why I'm going to choose this edge frame, even though you can see they've taken some of the honey out of the very corner here. If you look in the side window, we can actually see that the honey is capped and mostly ready to harvest in this frame. But like I said, we're just going to harvest a little bit because we don’t want to take too much away when the bees are hungry. So I put the key in just a little way. Then we'll just turn this handle. And you'll see his honey starting to flow down and into this tube. 

Beekeeping Q & A

When feeding a sugar syrup to your bees, is it possible to tell which cells contain the honey and which contain the syrup?

The answer is no, they will mix it up. So generally if beekeepers are feeding, they are usually feeding because the bees are really hungry. The bees are going to use that in order to stay alive through what's called a dearth, where you've got not enough nectar around in the flowers, in the immediate area for them to use. So if you're feeding, generally you would stop feeding as soon as the nectar flow comes on. The bees will have used up the sugar, and you really don't want to keep feeding it at that point. Or as you say, you will get sugar stored in some of your honey frames.

I’ve got a queen excluder on the Flow Hive 2, but drones are getting into the super. Is that normal?

No, if you're seeing drones in the super something's not right. The most common cause of that happening is a hive going queenless and the workers laying eggs all around the hive. When workers lay eggs, they're not fertilised and so they become males, or drones. The queen can choose to fertilise an egg or not. So she'll lay drones sometimes, but mostly the female worker brood. So if you're seeing drones up here, you may have that scenario going on. And you'll be able to see that if you look for the eggs stuck to the cell wall. They look like a tiny grain of rice. The workers can't get their tail end down to the bottom of the cell, they'll lay an egg on the side walls and sometimes multiple eggs. So have a look out for that. 

The other thing to do of course is to make sure you've got brood in your bottom box. Another reason why you might get drones up the top is perhaps the queen when she was small, somehow squeezed through that excluder and ended up in the top box. Now, you'll need to take apart your hive in your beesuit, smoker, et cetera, take the lid off, pull out some frames and check for brood in the Flow Frames. And if you do have brood in the Flow Frames, what you'll need to do is also check for brood in the bottom box. If there's worker brood in the Flow Frames, but none in the bottom box, you could have a situation where the queen is in the wrong department. She's upstairs here above the excluder. In which case, all you need to do is shake all the bees or brush them off all into the bottom box.And if you can find the queen great, but you don't have to, all you need to do is shake them all down and put your excluder back in place. And that will rectify the problem. After a couple of weeks the brood will have emerged and you'll be good to go again. 

If you don't have a queen, you'll need to rectify that by either shifting a frame from another hive that has eggs on it, so the bees can raise a queen from that. Or buy in a queen from a queen breeder. The latter is preferred because you get a jumpstart on your hive if it doesn't have a queen.

Should I remove the queen excluder during winter? (Sydney, Australia)

That's a great question and whereabouts in the world you are and how cold it gets and how long, what will determine that answer. And it's always a good idea to consult your local beekeeperson this. Some people do, some people don't if you and it depends how cold it is. So in your area, it could be a really good idea to remove the queen excluder for the winter so that the bees can come up and consume any honey in the Flow Frames. Of course, other beekeepers like to reduce the size of their hive for winter, which means taking the whole box off. And you could take the queen excluder away at the same time and reduce the size of your hive for the winter. It really depends on the size of your colony with that. 

If you had more boxes, reducing it down to something like this size for the winter could be a good idea. If you're running in this configuration, you may like to remove the queen excluder and let the bees consume the honey in the super, and then come spring time, go back and put the excluder back in place after moving the bees downstairs, make sure the queen's in the bottom and away you go again. Long answers, but sometimes it's warranted just to really explain what's going on. If somebody has got different opinions, by all means, chime in. And the idea is we help each other learn.

Does the queen normally lay the drones toward the outer frames?

The normal pattern of a hive is in the centre here, you have the brood nest. Now, you do get lots of different variations when it comes to bees. But normally in the centre, you've got a pattern where you've got a lot of worker brood in these centre brood frames which are the old conventional wood and wax frames. And then towards the outer, you've got the pollen stores and drone cells and drones. The male bees have slightly larger brood cells that poke out a bit like a bit of a bullet shape. And then towards the edges, you have honey stores. That's a typical arrangement in a brood box, but they can do anything as well.

We get about 20 dead bees at the back of our house each morning. The house has got big glass doors and the hive is about 12 metres from those doors. Is that a natural attrition or do we have a problem?

What's happening there most likely is the bees are getting a bit confused and going for the light at nighttime. So if you've got an outside light and you've got the ability to turn that off, then that will help because what bees will do is they'll just buzz around the light and wear themselves out and they may not make it back to the hive again. The other thing you could do is provide a little bit of a barrier, so that from the entrance of your hive, the bees can't see that light. If you don't have a veranda light and they're just coming for the inside lights, then it's probably a case of even shifting the hive a little bit further away, if you can. Or providing a little bit of a shadow, so you get less confused bees coming for the light.

I've got three Flow Hives and they have beautiful egg patterns and plenty of capped brood. But also some queen cells are being formed. Should I remove these?

That’s probably in the Northern hemisphere considering we're less likely to get queen cells here at this time of year. So in the springtime, you normally get the queen cells, it's that natural buildup of hives and the natural process of dividing. So when you get queen cells, the risk of that in the springtime is you may get swarming activity, depending on the genetics of your hive and how crowded the hive is all dependent on whether you'll have swarms and also whether you intervene. So like you said, should you do anything about it? If you're new to beekeeping, it may be best not to hack off all the queen cells because they might be creating them for a reason. If you're more advanced, or if you've got somebody who you can consult, then it is a technique beekeepers use as a swarm control technique where they'll get in there and either take some of the queen cells and take them to other hives to make splits, or just to destroy them as they're being made, so that hive is less likely to swarm. 

The danger of a hive swarming is half the bees go and find a new home and you're left with a weakened colony, right when the honey seasons at its peak and you don't get any honey. If you're in a suburban area, you could get into the situation where the bees go over the neighbor's fence. And often that's fine, you can go and collect them, but sometimes you can get some neighbourly concerns happening there. So my thing that I like to do, rather than getting in there and hacking off the queen cells is just take splits. So take some of those frames out that have the queen cells on them, put them into a new box with some of the frames in the bottom box with bees as well. And you've got a great start to a new hive. 

Now I'm going to have to just change this little jar here because it's almost overflowing. Look at this beautiful honey. We only have just a tiny bit of this frame today, but we managed to harvest a bit more than one sixth of the frame. One of these jars is about a six or seven of a frame.

What flavours are you tasting there, Cedar?

Now last week we had the flavour of the Paperbark, which was coming in really strongly. And that's not what this is. This was stored earlier in the season and it actually has the beautiful flavours of the Ironbark, slightly mixed in with some of the heathland flowers that you can see down here by the ocean. It's a beautiful thing to start matching up the taste of the honey with what's flowering around. And it's this endless game of joining the dots. And after a while, you can really start to nail some of the flavours. But there's so many because this has many different flavours as there are types of flowers producing nectar. So you'll never guess them all, but it's a fun game, really trying to work it all out.

Do you recommend the Flow Hive in cold climates?

Absolutely. So the question in the very beginning was will this work in cold climates? Or this won't work in our region. But of course people hadn't tried it at that point. Well, that's not quite true. One of the very first Flow Hives we sent out from Australia was to someone called John Gates, a very experienced commercial beekeeper in Canada, a very cold region. And he was raving about it, the flavour of the honey, the incredible experience of harvesting it in a completely new way. So from the start, we did have a very cold region hive. Nonetheless, particularly from Europe, a whole lot of people were saying it won't work in our region, but of course we have lots of people with Flow Hives in Europe. We have lots in North America and even as far as Norway.

So yes, it will work in cold regions and cold regions have a different beekeeping cycle than we do here. We can leave the top box on all year and we can even harvest a little bit of honey all year round, whenever we see there's enough to share some as well. And in the colder regions, the flowering season is compressed into this short window where everything flowers at once, and it's this massive, exciting boom where you hear these stories of boxes filling up in 24 hours. Everything's flowering at once, nectar's dripping to the ground from the flowers, but then there's nothing for six, seven, eight, nine months. And the bees need to have honey, maybe two boxes of honey to survive that long, cold winter. So how you beekeep in that area, it will be different to the way we do it here. And there's lots of experience to be gained from people local to you. We also, which is an online training programme with lots of training material from all around the world, from colder climates as well, to help you get started in this amazing world of beekeeping.

My Flow Frames are five years old, do I need to take them out and replace them or clean them?

Thank you for being one of our early, early supporters and really helping us get going. So many of you around the world were here in the beginning. Now, I've certainly got Flow Frames from that time that are going well and haven't needed maintenance. However, if you find that you do want to clean them, this area down here can sometimes do with a clean-out, especially if there's been a lot of honey buildup in there. You can put a cloth on this key and get in there and clean it out. If you've taken the frames out for a while and vermin's gotten on them, you might need to give them a good dusting off and a wash out. And the bees are actually best suited to get down each cell, clean it out and coat everything in wax again. You will get buildup down the cells. So this view here, you see these frames have been used for just a couple of seasons and over the seasons, it will get darker and darker as the bees have used it. And that wax and propolis builds up on those surfaces and that's quite normal.

On my last inspection I couldn't see any brood or eggs, but the bees were really busy in the brood box. Is this normal coming into winter? (Australia)

If you can't see any capped brood and there's no eggs down the cells, then you have a hive that may not have a laying queen. So you need to get back in there and verify that. Have a really good look. Sometimes you miss that there's eggs down the cells and they're there on a changeover. But if there is again no sign of brood, either capped young larvae or eggs, then you'll need to rectify that situation by either getting another queen from a queen breeder or getting a frame with eggs on it from another hive and putting it in. Otherwise your colony will just slowly die out.

Is a second brood box for honey storage or is it more for the bees and the larvae?

So this is the brood box down the bottom, and this is what is called a super and in our case, it's a Flow super because it's got our invention in it. But any boxes that are being used for brood are called brood boxes, any boxes that are storing honey are called honey supers. So the question is, why would you put a second brood box? Now I prefer to be in this configuration because it's easier, less equipment to maintain, easier to find the queen when you need to, because there's only this amount of frames to look through. However, some people would like to run a bigger colony, which does limit swarming. If you swing the camera around, you'll see there's a taller hive up there, which is actually two supers. And it's another way you can go. You can run two supers on your hive to give the bees more space, but you can also run two brood boxes.

Now it's typical in the colder regions. Beekeepers will recommend two brood boxes and in colder regions, there's a rapid expansion in that springtime when the nectar flow really kicks in with everything flowering at once. And you can get colonies really wanting to expand. If you count up all the cells, I find that there is enough room in a single brood box for the queen to lay those 2000 eggs a day when she is really in full flight. But nevertheless adding another brood box will allow some more space, but the queen will usually go vertical and they’ll just store honey on the edges, which is okay. And that honey then becomes storage for the winter. So it's two things, allowing more space for a bigger colony that can forage further or forage more. And also there's a level of honey storage in that next brood box, which if you've got a long cold winter ahead, we're really aid your hive in survival through that long, cold winter.

Does the Flow Hive work with native bees?

No. Well, it depends where you are. If you're in Europe, yes. These bees are native bees to the European region. What we beekeep with all around the world, primarily is the European honeybee, which produces an incredible amount of honey and does an incredible amount of pollination. And for that reason, humans have dragged them all around the world, wherever they go. So important to our food system, and incredible honey producers. So if you're in Australia and you're referring to native bees, you're probably referring to what's called the sugar bag bees, which are a tiny little bee that look almost like a black fly. And we have lots of them around here. Fantastic little pollinators too, but you really can't have as much honey from them. And they have a completely different structure when it comes to storing honey as well. So the answer is no for those types of bees. 

There are other species of bees in the world, likeApis japonica from Japan where you can get them to use the Flow Frames, but the Flow Frames are usually shortened and the box is a bit smaller for them. And there's also the Cape honey bee, in South Africa, which is another one again, which has successfully been trialled in a Flow Hive as well. We've got a bit of rain here, so we're going to shorten it up and answer a few more questions,

We should talk about the fantastic new project that we've just launched today, Bee Friendly Farming.

So the Bee Friendly Farming initiative is something that's been going for a long timein the USA, and we've been supporting it over there. Farming is one of the biggest impacts we have on habitat in our environment. And it's really important that we change what's going on and do the best we can. Obviously we need to support farmers. We need to support food production. That's what's keeping us all alive, but we also need to support the habitat, which is diminishing at an incredible rate. So Bee Friendly Farming is designed to to certify farmers to change their practises in order to support the pollinators that we all depend on. 

So it's a process of the farmers having a look at what they're doing, planting forage for the bees and really looking towards phasing out insecticide use. And change over towards farming practises that are supportive for our pollinators and the insects we all depend on. 

It's very alarming, there's reports in Germany of 70% insect loss. And that is completely frightening if you consider we are a global system and we depend on the system working in order to survive. So it's really an important part of what humans are doing is to transition into ways of farming that are supportive to our pollinators. 

And that's what Bee Friendly Farming is all about, where we've donated $50,000 from the project that we started. Thank you to all of you that have joined that and gotten a whole lot of education about beekeeping as you go. But you've also helped fund initiatives. And the Bee Friendly Farming is one of them and we'll have a whole lot more information coming about lots of other initiatives too. 

It's just one of them to create a habitat and advocate for our pollinators we all depend on. It was developed in the USA, and what we're doing is just really assisting that to come to Australia. TheWheen Bee Foundation is behind it and what we've done is throw some support their way.

When should I add the super to my Flow Hive?

So when the brood box, which is the box down below, if you swing the camera around, you can see our hive just right up the end of the row here, which is a single brood box. We've got one little hive without the top box on. So that's generally how you start. If you're starting with a nuc or a package or a swarm of bees, start out small, let the bees build up. It's an advantage to the bees to have the hive a bit smaller when they're starting out, it's easier for them to keep it warm. And the time to put your super on is when the bees have drawn all of their wax in all of those wooden frames in the bottom box. And when they've drawn it all out and they're using all the frames and you can see a lot of bees, then it's time to put the super on. If you're just coming into a winter, you might not. But if there's a foraging time ahead, and that there's flowers that are going to flower, then put your super on and enjoy the process of watching them get in there and make it their own, cover it all in wax and start storing honey in the Flow Frames. 

Thank you so much for tuning in and same time next week, tune in. We'll have something interesting to show you.

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