All about pollinators

by Flow Hive 17 min read

We’re in the new garden today and Cedar’s talking all things pollinators! We’re celebrating the launch of our pollinator house run for this year. Cedar also harvested a huge jar of honey and answered your beekeeping questions on candied honey and aggressive bees.


Video transcription

Good morning. We're here talking about pollinators this morning, and this is our little pollinator house. It's a project aimed to raise funds that has the upcycled pieces from the offcuts of the Flow Hive. And what we do each year is we do a round of them. We collect all the offcuts, we do a run and we use all of those funds for habitat regeneration and protection. So it's a fun little project and it's helped a lot of projects around the world with their bee corridors, with their schools and all sorts of things. And each year we come up with a new thing to donate it to. So it's a great little project that upcycles the waste and ends up with not only a little bit of habitat here, but also supporting habitat regeneration and protection for our pollinators. So most pollinators are not colony-forming ones.

So our honeybee, which you know an amazing amount of honey gets produced by our honeybee. But there are 19,000species of bee in the world and a lot of them don't form colonies. They just need a tube, like this, or maybe a hole in the mud, or just a little bit of unkept space in your yard. So the whole project is about raising awareness about these pollinators. Here, we have things like theblue-banded bee, the fire-tailed resin bee, theTeddy-bear bee and all sorts of funky little pollinators that get around in your garden. And they're really the unsung heroes of our world. They're absolutely important to all of the native species that we have, and it's great to support them. So the idea is to encourage people to get out in their yard, put away the sprays, get out the habitat. And even by just leaving a corner of your yard unkempt, that will help create stepping stones across the urban landscape for these pollinators to then flourish.

Some of them only go maybe 200 metres. So think about if you create some habitat in your backyard, you're then extending the range of some pollinators that might be on the brink of extinction. So a fun little project, there are a few left of the run. We ran a few more this year, which is great. There's a couple left if you do want one of those, but otherwise get out and make your own. It's a fun thing to do. We're going to go down and harvest some honey here in the garden and also have a look at a couple that we've painted. Because this year we've made it with offcuts from our Auracaria hives, which does need painting, just like the Flow Hives. So if you have a look here, this one's an Auracaria one and we've painted that for a long-lasting finish. The cedar, you can get away with doing all sorts of deck coats and things on your hive to make them last longer. This is some beautiful artwork my sister did with some stencils on the side of the hive, which is super cool. It's a fun thing to do yourself and make stencils. Or you can just go to town, painting your pollinator house. These ones are just freshly put there. In fact, this whole garden is freshly put here. It's a new garden we're building and the pollinator houses haven't got any pollinators in them yet. I find the best spot to put them is actually under a cover. If you go on the wall on the eave of your house, they seem to love that. And they get a lot of traffic here in our area. Sometimes there's a lot of fire-tailed resin bees coming in and out, masked bees, all sorts of little native pollinators in these to raise their young.

Meanwhile, let's harvest some honey because I can see here that these bees are nice and full. You can see in the side window that they've capped those frames off. Look at that beautiful capping, the bees have got that moisture content down below that 20% range, they've done their amazing work, getting the nectar, reducing it down, mixing it with their enzymes, creating something that is an amazing thing full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients. And lucky for us, they make more than they need most of the time and we can share some too. I'm going to take out this little cap here and put in a tube. I've chosen a frame that's nice and full. You can see, even through this end-frame view that the bees have capped those cells. The one on the left of the screen there, you can see there's a few uncapped and the one on the right is quite capped, but you can see from the side windows and the end windows that this hive is quite full of honey. So it's a really good one to harvest. It's always good to have more than one hive because one hive will do really well and they're really pulling in the honey while another might not. So if you just want to harvest a bit, you can put the key in a little way and give it a turn. But if you want to harvest more, then you keep going. We're going to harvest straight into a big jar like this, mainly because it's raining and we can just cover that up and walk away if the rain showers get too much. So I'm just turning that key and pretty soon we should see the honey coming down into this area. You might even get a view, if you look right down that tube, of the honey flowing there, there it is. You can see it down there dripping into the trough at the bottom and starting to come down the tube already. It's exciting to me to taste all the different flavours as the season changes as the things that flower change. Sometimes you get dark honey. Sometimes you get light honeys. Sometimes you get a bit of a mix in one frame, but the beautiful thing is you can isolate quite different flavours from each frame often. And that's a beautiful thing to share. And it tells a story of what's going on in your surroundings. And there's nothing better than honey from your local area because that's the flavours that surround you. That's the blossoms that surround you in up to a 10-kilometre, six-mile radius. 

We're talking aboutpollinators. And the European honeybee is the best pollinator in the world. A hive like this can pollinate 50 million flowers in a day, which is absolutely extraordinary. And there is no other insect or species on the planet that can do that for us. And that's why humans have dragged them all around the world, wherever they go to support the pollination of many of the things we find on the supermarket shelf today.

I'm just mesmerised by this honey flowing in. I never get sick of watching it. It's such a beautiful thing to watch. And I'm just going to do a sneaky little taste here. Oh yum! This flavour is such an interesting one. It comes in every now and then. It's like a lolly shop, the flavour that comes with chomping into a fresh piece of honeycomb. Many people say the Flow Hive honey tastes better and it's not something we set out to really talk about or even do. But just by the fact that it's flowing out unfiltered, untreated, the flavours are preserved more so. And you're also isolatingdifferent flavours per frame. It's an amazing flavour. I love that one. Haven't tasted it in a while, so I'm not sure exactly which flower it comes from, but I like it.

Beekeeping Questions

Why does honey get candied?

All honey will candy eventually. It's a natural process and how quick it candies depends on the ratios of sucrose and glucose in the actual honey. So depending on what the bees brought in in the beginning, would depend on how quick it candies. So we have a species down here, Paperbark Melaleuca, and it candies really quite quickly. It's often wintertime when we're harvesting that as well. So cold is another thing that makes it candy more quickly as well. So don't be concerned if you get some candied honey in your jar, it's still beautiful. You hear these stories of people saying, "it went bad so I threw the honey out". And they say "well, the honey kind of went all chunky". But that's just candying, that's the natural process. We're not used to seeing that because in the supermarkets, they pasteurise the honey, so it won't ever candy. And that is a heat process that destroys a lot of the beneficial properties of the honey. So honey being candy is a wonderful thing. Enjoy the different textures. Some beekeepers will actually put a nice, fine candy into their honey jar and let that crystalline structure take over if they're going for that beautiful candy texture. My kids prefer candied honey, they call it the crispy honey.

I harvested three frames of honey a couple of weeks ago and I've got three frames still full of honey. Should I leave them for the bees or is it alright to harvest all of the honey?

So it all depends. If you can see honey coming in, then you can go ahead and keep harvesting. If you know what's coming up ahead is a time where there might not be many flowers, then it's a good idea to leave some for the bees. And as you say, you can just harvest one frame or even part of a frame if you're worried there might not be enough honey for the bees. After all, it is their food. It's their carbohydrate that they need to survive through those times of no flowers. And that's why they store so much honey. The honeybee is a European bee, in some cases, they're going through 6, 7, 8, 9 months of winter with no flowers. And for that reason, they need to store an enormous amount of honey, like they have here. But if you know there are flowers coming up, ask local beekeepers if you're not sure, and that way you can go ahead and keep harvesting. Ask them how much honey you need to leave and what they should expect through the season to come, whether it be the winter or perhaps you've got a dearth, which is the name for where there's not many flowers flowering. Sometimes a drought can do that where there's not enough rain to really get the flowers to set.

I caught a swarm last week and haven't had a chance to check the hive yet. There has been a lot of rain here recently. When can I expect the queen to start laying again? (NSW, Australia)

As soon as the bees have built some comb for her to lay in. It's the old queen that leaves the hive and she gets pushed out by about half the bees and away they go to find a new one. And luckily for you, you've managed to intercept that process and give them a perfectly good home. And they've stayed by the sounds of it, which is great because we don't trap the bees in, they're free to go if they want to. So we give them a good home and they stay. As soon as they build comb, which they usually do very quickly. Within a few days, they would have built some comb and the queen might even start laying within a few days. You should expect to see some eggs or even young larvae down the cells within a week or two of catching that swarm. A small swarm might be a lot slower, so bear that in mind. A big swarm can sometimes fill a whole brood box like this full of comb in a day, which is extraordinary that they can actually build that quick. And when you check for eggs, if you're using foundationless brood frames just make sure they're building straight along the comb guides. If they're not, just push it back in line. Once they get a few straight ones going, they'll usually be following suit and you're off to a good start. If you do nothing and a few months go by you come back and open the hive, you might have had good luck and they're straight, but they might've gone wonky. In which case you'll need to use that rubber band technique I showed youa few weeks back of pushing that comb back in place. So that's the main reason I'd be inspecting often. So inspect that maybe four days after you've caught the swarm. If it's a big one, then another week after that and so on just to make sure that they're building straight. And as soon as you see they've got a laying queen and they're building straight, you can let them go for a while. Up to you, whether you want to get in there often. Some people like to learn more by opening the hive all the time. Other people like to let the bees be a bit more and do it with a little bit more time in between. Up to you, as long as you do some inspections to check for pests and disease, it is a mandatory requirement.

It's a great thing to support the pollinators in whatever way you can. We do have some of these left. We did a bit of a bigger run this year, so if you do want to get one of these as a great little project at home, then go for it, there's still a few left on our website. And look at that beautiful, big jar of honey coming in. And I just love watching it fill the jar like that. That's one single frame, so you can see how much honey you get from just one single hive. On a good season, you'll be able to harvest them multiple times. On a bad season, you might not get to harvest them at all. Like anything in farming, it depends on weather and the seasons.

How quickly can a Flow Hive fill up?

A Flow Hive can fill up really fast if the season aligns with a really strong colony of bees. We get experiences where people get their hive and they set it up and within a week they're harvesting, and then they harvest all of the frames. And then within a week, they fill up the frames again and harvest again. But that's really an anomaly. You have to have a really strong colony, a virile queen laying lots of eggs, lots of bees aligning with the nectar flow, where you've got nectar in the flowers dripping to the ground. The bees can really go and get that nectar and bring it back and create beautiful honey. But more often it's months before you'll start to see honey stores. And sometimes you'll go through the entire season without any honey at all. And that's quite normal as well, depending on what's going on in the season and with your colony. It's always a good idea to have multiple hives. And that increases your chances of getting beautiful honey flows coming right out of the hive. 

My bees swarmed last week, I caught the swarm and they’re now starting the new hive. But they are quite aggressive. What should I do with aggressive bees?

Best thing to do with when bees get a bit aggressive here is change the genetics. The genetics really do set the tone of your hive whether they're nice and friendly or whether they they're agitated and like to defend the colony. So what you need to do, and you might need some help from an experienced beekeeper, it’s a bit of a challenge. Get out your smoker and bee suit, get as well protected as you can. And it's a process of going through the brood nest and finding the queen. When you find her, you'll take her away, wait a day or so, and then introduce a new queen to that colony. Ideally, you're introducing a new queen of known genetics from a bee breeder where they breed specifically for bees that are nice and gentle and easy to work with. And after about four weeks, you'll notice the whole mood of your hive as well as of the those guard bees would have changed over. And there's a whole new genetic trait in your hive.

I just harvested one frame. Should I leave the empty frame in the same position in the super, or move it to the end so the bees start filling it again?

No, just leave it. It's made to be able to harvest honey and the bees take care of the frames inside the hive. So you will need to go through thereset process. This honey has flowed out quite quickly, and we might even show you how to reset that shortly. Because you do need to put the key in the top slot and turn it, but that's all you need to do. The bees will look after the frame inside the hive. They'll go through that process of tearing off the capping and then waxing up all the cells and the whole process starts again.

I found some capped brood cells in the Flow Frames. How do you think this happened?

There could be a couple of reasons why you might get brood in your Flow Frames. That's not the ideal thing. What you want is honey up here and your brood down there. And that's the reason why we put the excluder, which is this little black line you see between the super and the brood box. Now you've probably got your excluder in place. And what's probably happened is one of two things. You might've lost your queen and what can happen when there's no queen is the workesr start laying and they'll lay all over the hive, wherever they like, including in the Flow Frames. And you'll get drones out of that. You'll get drone bees, laying workers can only produce drones because they’re unfertilized eggs. So that could be one reason. So check that you do have a laying queen down here.

The other reason is a young queen is sometimes skinny enough to fit through the excluder, which is this black line is a grid through here. We aim to keep the queen down in the bottom box because she can't fit through, but on a rare occasion, she slips through and then she's stuck in the top box here and she'll start laying her eggs in that area. So either way, you'll need to pull the hive apart. So you're in your bee suit, you've got your smoker out and see what's going on, shake all the bees down the bottom in case the queen is in the top. Make sure you've got some brood down the bottom. If you don't and there's only brood up here, then still shake all the bees down to the bottom. So your queen ends up in the brood box, where she should be. Put the excluder back in place. Then only the worker bees will come up through the excluder and where they should be, working on your honey and the queen should stay downstairs. If you don't have a queen, you'll need to reintroduce one. So good luck with that. And well done for noticing that you've got some brood in your honey super.

Close Flow Frame cells


Fred Dunn has tuned in with us again, and he’s saying how Flow honey tastes better than a lot of other honeys. But he's also mentioned a point about several beekeepers with Flow Hives have contacted him over the past summer and said that their bees weren't working the frames. He'd noticed that they hadn't actually closed the frames and they'd left their frames in the open position. So he's just sort of putting that out there for any new Flow Hive beekeepers.


Yes, that actually can cause some problems if you put yourFlow Frames in and let's say the parts have moved in transport and the Flow Frames are left in the open position. Because if you imagine you've got the cells like this, but when we harvest they move like that. And the bees won't use that for storage of honey, unless it's put back intothis position. So I'll just show you how to do that now. And this jar is almost full. It'll probably overflow this jar if we're not careful. You see these two slots here, so when you install your Flow Frames for the first time, notice this one's down and that one's up. So you want them all pushed down. And that pushes the parts into that nice hexagon shape for the bees to use for storing the honey.

So all I'm going to do to do that is insert the key into that top slot there, and then just turn the handle to 90 degrees like that. Now that is what you need to do when you install your Flow Frames for the first time. Makes sure all of the parts are in that true hexagon pattern for the bees to use. So if they get stuck in the open position, what you can do is lift those frames out, put a key or two in the top slot and turn them and put that in the sun inside a black plastic bag. They'll get nice and hot and what you find is all of those parts will sink back down into their correct position and you'll be able to put them back in the hive and the bees will be able to use them. Also a good idea when you're finished harvesting is just to leave the key like that for a minute or so, just to make sure all of the parts pushed down into their correct position. Sometimes, if you just do a quick close you'll find a whole lot of cells that don't push all the way down, which create some problems later with those cells not being able to bring honey and things like that. 

I’ve bought a couple of pollinator houses. Are there any specific colours I should avoid, like dark colours, black because of the sun?

So it really doesn't matter. You can go to town. I don't think the bees mind too much, what colour you paint it. Often the purple flowers actually do bring in the blue-banded bees, so you could go for a purple like this. So this is really only the start of creating pollinator habitat. As you say, really dark colours might get a bit hot, but I think it's a good idea to put them actually under the eave of your house, put them on the wall. They get a bit of shelter there. 

Should the pollinator house be up off the ground? These ones you've got in the garden. Should they be lifted up a little?

They should be lifted up. I've just put that on a brick there. In the back of the house, if I lift this and show you, you've got a keyhole there, so there's a long screw that comes with it to put into your wall. And then that screw down the bottom is actually just to set your angle so that it doesn't hang like that and hangs nice and true. So you can mount them on the wall, which is a great way to go. 

I have a gentle hive, but I got chased by some bees after doing an inspection. Would they have been guard bees?

They would be the guard bees. They're the ones that generally guard the entrance and chase you. So, all beehives will be a bit territorial, especially around their entrance. It depends on the genetics how aggressive they can be. So monitor that, just check that they settle down. If they end up staying aggressive, then like we spoke about earlier, it might be good idea to change the genetics, change the queen and really change the temperament of your hive. 

Finish harvest

I'm going to show you how to close this up. Now there's been a beautiful honey harvest. There's still more coming out, but our jar is full. So what I'm going to do is just swap this cap quickly for the closure cap like that. And that's all we need to do there.

And somebody can enjoy the spoils of the honey in this tube here. And now we can go ahead and put the lid on our jar and we've got one beautiful jar of honey from a single Flow Frame. Look at that. Isn't that just special? It's such an amazing thing to produce honey locally, to produce it from your surrounding area and to be able to enjoy and share that. All the while, you're also helping with pollination and helping the genetic diversity of our honeybees, which we do need. So I've just taken that key out now, remembering that we did put it in the top slot and turn it and we left it there for a minute or so and this cap goes in. If you've forgotten to reset the frame by putting it into the top slot and turning it, then this little tag here is meant to remind you. Because if you put it in this one here, it just doesn't go in. It doesn't go in all the way. So that's made to remind you that you need to go through that reset process. That's all you need to do. You put the top cap in, you can then close up your hive. Now each time you put the tube in, it clears that leak-back point. You can see the honey building up in there. That's going back into the hive for the bees to reuse.

They’ll be quick to lick that up and move it around to some empty cells. They'll already be going through the process of chewing away the capping. I'm already starting to see flakes of wax come off as the bees do their thing, stripping the capping off, waxing it all up and the whole process starts again. Beautiful thing to be able to witness. Thank you so much for watching and talking pollinators and for all your great questions. If you've got anything you'd like us to cover, we're all ears. Put it in the comments below and hopefully same time next week we'll have something.

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