Beginner Beekeeping & Harvest

by Flow Hive 20 min read

Cedar was back in the Flow hive apiary answering your beginner beekeeping questions. He advises on how to make a temporary setup for your bees if they arrive before your hive. 



Video Transcription

Thank you for joining us this morning for beginner beekeeping Q & A. I'm just going to open the side windows here and have a look at what's going on in this hive while you think of a few questions. So what I'm seeing in the side window here is a lot of capped honey. The bees have done their amazing work, reducing the nectar down, turning it into honey and putting their wax capping over the top. And they're doing that because they want to keep some honey for later, when the flowers may not be flowering. And lucky for us, they store a bit more than they need often and we can share some too, which is an amazing spoil. It's a bit of a neat arrangement where we give them a nice home look after and we get paid in beautiful honey. I'm looking in the back of this hive here, and you can see there's a bit of honey there and I'm looking around at the side window here and I can see this is all capped. So to be on the safe side, I'm going to harvest one of these edge frames because I can see what's going on. The view in the back of the hive is showing a little bit patchy. So these centre ones might have a bit of honey missing out of the middle. You can have a look here, ideally, they're all full like this, but the nectar flow ebbs and flows.

So sometimes you'll find the bees get a bit hungry and eat the honey out again, which you can see here in this frame, by the way, it's full, full, full missing, missing. Now when they're filling, they all seem to be a bit more even where they're filling it out and filling up the cells. So that's a sign that they're not getting a whole lot of nectar right now. So we won't harvest all the honey, but we can see that the edge frame is nice and full. So we'll go and harvest that one. I'm going to get a nice big jar so that I don't have to keep swapping jars as we're talking and answering those questions. I want to harvest a small amount of honey. I'm going to insert the key only a little way into the frame and turn it bit a bit. If I want to do a bit more, I'll push the key in a bit further and do it again. Sometimes it's nice to do it in segments as that makes it just that little bit easier to turn that key. There it is. The honey's starting to flow.

Beekeeping Questions

Can I use things like mowers and blowers and brush cutters around the hive? Are they a problem for the bees?

It depends a little bit on the temperament of your bees. When I do the mowing, I've got 40 or so hives and I whizz along with the mower. I've got a ride-on mower so I can just keep driving. And I'll notice that a couple of the hives will get agitated and start to fly around. And if I was staying there, then they might start to sting me. So for that reason, wear a bee suit when you're mowing, because your hive might have an aggressive trait towards mowing. Now, brush cutting in front of the hive is probably the place where you're most likely to upset them because you've got this whizzing thing. You've got stuff flying everywhere. You've often got the smell of burning fuel and that might agitate them. And yeah, so wear a good bee suit. And wear your gloves too if you're mowing near the hive because it's not fun, getting a whole lot of stings. If they're getting too agitated, come back a little bit later and keep going.

How long can you keep bees in a nucleus hive?

So one great thing abouta nucleus rather than some other ways of getting started is it's an already going beehive. So it takes the time pressure off and they can stay in that nucleus for weeks or even months. And it really depends on what's going on with the season. If you've got a lot of nectar coming in and your bees are building up quickly, then be a good idea to transfer them soon into the bigger box. But otherwise, they can stay in the smaller one because they're busy doing their chores, but just in a smaller hive. So a nucleus is easier for that reason because you can get it, you can take it home, you can leave it there for weeks and choose a time when it suits you when the weather's nice to transfer them into your Flow Hive brood box.

My bees are coming in a package, but my hive hasn't arrived yet. What can I do with the bees while waiting for my hive?

A package is an artificial swarm. So you've got a queen and you've got a bunch of bees, but they don't have any hive, if you leave them in the package, they will start building random comb inside that, and that'll happen within a number of days. So that's not the best because then you've got to destroy that comb or try and rubber-band it into the frames when you get your hive and so on. So the best thing you can do, if you do have a package arriving, is delay that until you've actually got your brood box ready to go. But if you can't then you'll need to get hold of at least some brood frames. So brood frames will need to be put together. Perhaps you can get some from a local beekeeping store. Then any kind of suitable box, you could even use any other type of ordinary cardboard box that's of the right dimensions and put three or four or more brood frames into that.

And then what you'll find is that when you shake your package of bees in there and put the queen in, they'll have somewhere to put the comb that's organised. And you need it organised so you can do your inspections later. And as for a roof, anything will do, a piece of building material, whatever. An important thing, if you've got a nucleus or a small package is to not let them overheat in the sun. So give them a bit of a roof to give them some shade. The baseboard can be anything as well. You just need a hole somewhere for the bees to get out. So it could be a hole in the side of the box. It could be a hole in the baseboard. You could attach a piece of plywood or anything like that to the bottom, or just sit it on top and move the brood box so there's a bit of a gap at one edge and the bees can use that. They're really not too fussy, actually bees, but if you can give them a framework of frames to build the comb on, then that's the best because you'll have them organised for when you then transfer them into your Flow Hive brood box. So apologies if your hive has been delayed due to the shipping issues. But rest assured we are working as fast as we can to get your hive to you. If you do have a choice of ordering a nucleus then order a nucleus because it comes in its own little box and it can sit there for weeks or months, and you can then choose a time when suits you to transfer that into your brood box. Look after them, and they'll grow.

I fed the bees with some sugar water a couple of weeks ago. When should we start checking the brood box?

It's a nice idea when the weather's warming up to check your brood box. It really depends on the configuration of what you've got, but it might be simply just taking the lid off. It might be taking the top box off to check in on your brood. Now the best time is a nice warm sunny day, mid-morning to mid-afternoon. That's when your bees will be the calmest and it'll be easier to check the hive at that time. If you've still got cold times and snow ahead, you might want to wait a little bit longer. In terms of local knowledge, it's always a good idea to get local knowledge andask around.

I had a decent amount of honey in the Flow super a couple of weeks ago, but within two weeks nearly all that honey's gone. So how do you know when to start feeding them? I'm a bit concerned about opening the brood box because the temperatures are starting to cool down. (Wollongong, Australia)

This time of year, we're still getting nice warm days. You can get in there and have a look. No problem in Wollongong, you could continue to do brood inspections if you want to all the way through to the wintertime.

Every time I go near the hive, the bees sting me, but they don't seem to sting my partner. Could it be the perfume that I'm wearing?

That's a very interesting question. So some people do find that particular shampoos upset the bees. I know my dad noticed that one particular shampoo seemed to upset the bees more. So sometimes there can be a fragrance that does tend to alarm the bees. So you might want to do a bit of trial and error there to see, although the error doesn't sound like very much fun in this case. But if it continues to be a problem, then genetics is really the answer. If the bees are proving difficult to look after and they have an aggressive trait, then changing the queen for some known genetics is the answer. I've got hives that I can get right up to the entrance and photograph bees on my hands and all stuff for hours. And they don't sting me. And I've got other hives there's no way I could do that with. So genetics plays the biggest part in the aggression of a hive.

What do you do once you remove the queen because she's aggressive?

Beekeepers typically squash her, like commercial beekeepers that are re-queening. Some people don't want to do that, which is totally fair enough. If you take her away from the hive you know, a hundred metres, she actually won't make it back to the hive. So you can let her go and have her freedom. Some people don't want to requeen, they prefer just to put up with the genetics of the hive and let the bees requeen themselves over time.

Have you ever considered making a medium brood box?

We do get a few requests for medium brood boxes. We'd also need the medium brood frames. And if that's something that you really want, then just let us know. If we get a lot of people wanting that particular thing, then we could consider manufacturing those as well.

I notice that you've got these hives on blocks. What size are the blocks?

So if you just measure thewidth of your base. Now, these blocks are only really suitable to what we call the Flow 6 or the eight-frame Langstroth hive. As you can see, there's not much room for the seven. This is a product called hebel block, which is basically a lightweight concrete. And the reason why we put them on blocks is just to get them up out of the weeds a bit, especially because we're on a slope here. And that means it's a little easier with mowing. You can use anything, an old tree stump, a big stone looks amazing or blocks of wood, or besser blocks, which are just concrete blocks you can stack together. So it's all about just finding something that works for you, trying a few different things. You might have to get the tape measure out.

How do you stop body parts getting into the honey? (I don't think he's talking about his own body parts.)

Well my kids' body parts get in the honey as soon as there's honey flowing, for sure. Their hands go straight in the jar. My father and I spent a decade fine-tuning our method of harvesting honey for this Flow Hive invention. And one really important part and something that was really important to me is that it was as gentle as possible on the bees. And how we achieved that was as, you know,the parts move like this and like that to harvest like that to come back. Now, if the parts meet like that, then what could happen is you open it up, a bee might attempt to get down the cell here and have its wings or legs between these areas. And then if the part comes back, then you could have a problem where that bee leg or wing is stuck. So what we did is we put a gap here in a bit of a V-shape. We've got a whole patent around that actually. And that then means the bees have to build a V of wax in each cell here to join the parts together. Now, what that means is when it moves this wax bit breaks and the honey flows, when it comes back, you've got a gap here and the bees then can't get caught in those parts. At worst, if you had a whole lot of bees down yourselves and you were manipulating the frame, the bee would then get stuck in that waxy bit there. And what happens is they can then get out of their own wax with a little help from friends. So great question. It's very important to me that the harvesting process is gentle as possible. That's one of the major inspirations was, hang on, can't we do this in a gentle, easy way to harvest honey.

Oh, look at that. A bee is jumping in the honey. You might get that little bee out. So it's a bit easy to get a bee out if that happens. And if it continues to happen, then cover up your jar with some kitchen wrap or one of those nice wax wraps.

How long can a bee survive in the jar of honey?

It can survive a long time, just floating in honey. They do breathe through their exoskeletons. So completely submerged with nothing sticking out. They do seem to survive a while amazingly, but typically if they're just sort of stuck on top, partly poking out, they can be in there all day and still survive. So I'm going to just put that right back on the landing board for the bees to clean up.

Can you explain how the Flow Frames should look when they are set correctly?

There's a few things there. There's the alignment this way, which is actually really hard to see. The cells themselves are on a 13-degree angle. So if you get yourself on that same angle looking down, then that's the easiest way to tell whether they're in line. Because when you're looking from here or there, they start to look a bit different and it's hard to tell, it plays tricks on you with your eyes. Now, the other alignment is meant to be there where the face is stepped. Now, the reason for that is the moving piece, we sunk deeper into the comb and that's because we want the bees to build their wax onto that and build out. So if you like, the moving piece, when it moves is deeper within the comb, and what that means is you get less disturbance to the capping. So as you can see here on this one, the capping is beautifully intact. Now it does depend a bit on the way the bees do it, but here you've got a complete capping that has not even perforated because that moving piece is moving deeper within the comb. And that's the step you see in the surface where the bit that stays still is more proud. And the bit that moves is deeper in.

We installed a nuc recently and the brood box is about 95% full and very busy. Do you think it's okay to add the Flow super this time of the year or best to leave it until spring? (Sydney & Melbourne, Australia)

The time when you add the super is usually when you know there's a honey flow ahead. So ask your local beekeepers whether there's going to be an autumn flow or not, because it might be advantageous to put the super on and catch a late flow. But we're now partway through autumn. So as you say, might be best to leave them without the super until the springtime comes. And then there's an abundance of nectar. And then you put your flows super on and the bees get into it really quickly. Now, if you decided to have a go and put it on now, then you might want to take that off again. If it's just sitting there empty when the wintertime comes, the reason being is if your colony is small, and they're not big enough to work the top box, you'll give them a helping hand by reducing the size of the hive to match the size of the colony. And that way it's a bit easier for them to stay warm over the winter.

How do you control ants coming in? We have an issue with our Mason bees.

We don't have the Mason bees here in Australia. That's one that you get in the USA, I believe, and they're a solitary bee. I believe they nest in little tubes, correct me if I'm wrong. But the Mason bees are similar to some of our native bees here in Australia. So you don't need big hives like this. 

There's a few ways you can deal with ants. One of the more common ways is to create an ant barrier just as these legs do. You can do it with grease or you can do it with olive oil or you can do it with water. If you're doing it with water, then you need to top up often because water evaporates. If your hive's up on bricks, for instance, you could put a bunch of white grease around that brick and that would then make it a little bit harder for ants to then get up. But you also need to get all the ants off your hive. Now you need to take the windows off and brush them away a couple of times you need to take the roof off, brush the ants away. Typically there's a whole lot hiding up in the roof cavity. You need to do that a few times before your ant barrier will actually work. And also the foliage, if it's touching the hive then the ants will just use that as a bridge. So your ant barrier won't work at all. So ant barrier is probably the most common way to go, but you can experiment with things like cinnamon. Some people put cinnamon powder behind the window covers and that's a deterrent as well.

I've got Mason bees and leafcutter bees, which are like our native bees and they love the native bee house. They have been using the pollinator house for the last three years. (Arizona, USA)

Leafcutter bees, that's neat. You'll often find when you get little circles out of the edge of the leaf, as if you've got a paper punch and punched the edge of the leaf. And that's the leafcutter bees chopping out with their pincers at the front and they then fly with that piece of leaf and then take it back. And they use it for lining typically in a little bamboo or reed tube. And they will then lay their eggs inside that. So they just like a little cosy leaf home to raise a few young. They're solitary bees. So they're not doing this colony thing. They're just raising a few young in a little tube somewhere.

How much honey is going to come out of that frame you harvested?

That's one full frame and what we've got here, if this jar was full, it'd be just over two litres of honey, which represents three kilogrammes of honey from a single frame. So it's amazing, isn't it? There's a lot of honey coming out of a single frame. I'm just amazed about how much honey there is. We have another bee species in Australia. It's called the sugar bag bee, tiny little black fly looking bees. And they actually form colonies and make honey too. But the amount of honey you can harvest is something like half a kilogramme. So less than a quarter of this jar a year from one of those hives. And we just happen to have this amazing bee species, Apis mellifera, that makes an incredible amount of honey. A hive like this could pollinate say 50 million flowers in a day. So for that reason, humans have dragged them all around the world, wherever they go, such extraordinary pollinators and amazing honey producers.

Is the tray a good indication of the health of your hive? Ours is really clean with only a few cast dead bees Can you over-inspect your hive?

I would say no to over-inspect. It's great learning, to get in there and see how your bees are going. It's fantastic if you're the type of person that really dives in there head first and learn everything they can about bees bothonline and in person. So I would say, get in there and have a look. But having said that, avoid days where it's cold and rainy as well, because brood that isn't capped can get chilled and die. If you do have to inspect in one of those cold days, then don't leave the frame out of the hive for very long, or you could run into trouble with those young larval bees dying.

How do bees keep the brood and the other bees warm during winter?

So bees have this incredible method of heating. They're amazing at air conditioning, both heating and cooling. So the heating is they disconnect their wing muscles and they vibrate to create heat. They'll even dive down cells and they call these heater bees and they'll vibrate and warm that part of the comb too, which is important if they've still got brood that needs to be kept warm. They can allow themselves to get a bit cooler if they're bunkering down for a snowy winter. And what they'll do is stop laying any eggs at all. And that way they don't need to keep it as warm. And they'll just bunker down and wait for the springtime to come. They'll actually breed a type of bee called a fat bee where the fat bodies are a bit bigger so they can survive that potentially six, seven months of that cold winter.

I've had a hive for a couple of years and it's an active hive. I put some wood protector on it, but the hive's starting to look not so good. How could I fix it up with the bees inside?

So you can paint your hive with the bees in it. If you're around your hives, getting up close, if you're new to beekeeping, just wear your bee suit. If I needed to clean this hive or repaint it, then I can easily get to these surfaces. You can just simply stand here with your brush. Now on the front of the hive, it's a little bit harder because you've got a lot of bees in that location coming out of the hive. But if you pick a time early in the morning to do that last bit, just above the entrance, you can usually find a time when there isn't any bees there to quickly do that last little bit and is complete without having to take all the bees out for that maintenance. So here, that would be the hard bit right around this area, but in early morning, there usually isn't any bees at this top section, depending on how many bees you've got in your hive. Sometimes they're overflowing and bearding day in, day out. In that case, you might need to take a split or add another box so you can fit more bees inside it.

Any tips in Australia where people could purchase queens from?

So there's multiple people that are breeding queens. So it's usually not too hard to get mail-order queens. Sounds a bit funny, but yes, they will come in the mail and they come in a little cage like this, usually with about five escort bees and the escort bees are there because they need to feed the queen. The queen doesn't feed herself. And they'll survive fine in the mail for a number of days. But when you get them in their little cage, you'll need to give them a little bit of water just by wetting your finger and wiping it on the outside of that little queen cage. And those escort bees can then suck that water, give it to the queen, feed themselves. But as soon as you can, you want to get that queen into the hive. And there's usually a block of candy at the end. And when that block of candy gets chewed away by the bees in the hive, the queen's then released. And that's given that hive at the time to get used to the new pheromones the new queen has. So it's a nice little ingenious setup of re-queening.

I have seen a few photos of our hives with little awnings over the entrances. I notice that yours don't have little awnings. Do you think it's necessary?

Look, it really depends. It can't hurt. And you can muck around with any type of design that you like. You can add awnings. I've seen all sorts of fancy things. People converting their whole hive into a whole hotel looking scene with swimming pools and everything. Go to town, the bees won't add actually mind adjustments to the form. If you want to get creative, go for it. Awnings can help. You can put this whole hive undercover if you want to, and that'll keep it nice and shady. Be ideal if it gets some sun in the morning and then some shade in the day that would keep your wood seemingly forever then. So you might like to put your hive under a pagoda. Some people make whole houses outta beehives called honey houses in Europe. So there's lots you can do. And by all means add, modify the design and see what works for you.

I'm currently feeding the bees with some sugar water. Will the sugar water attract hive beetles?

No, hive beetles don't tend to get attracted to sugar water. So You can go ahead and feed your colony sugar water without worrying that that's going to attract the hive beetles. They do like a hive. They tend to go for laying into the comb, not so much into open nectar, which is what sugar water is simulating.

I just installed a nuc last week, but have not found any brood anywhere. I finally found the queen today, what are your thoughts on the lack of brood?

So you finally found the queen today. That's a good sign. You'll need to keep an eye on that. If you've got a situation where you've got a queen, but she's not laying and there's no eggs or larva, then you've got a bit of an issue. Either that queen is a virgin, she needs to mate and start laying. Or for whatever reason, she's not performing. And what you'll need to do is then introduce a new queen into that hive or at least a frame from another hive that's got eggs on it that they can raise a new queen from. If that's what you're doing, you'll need to take away the old queen.

We might pack this up now because we're getting a few interested bees. And I didn't bring any wrapping for the top of the jar. So what I'm going to do is go through the pack up process. To close the frame, the key goes in the top and you can just go all the way until you feel that knock at the back. So that means you're closing all of the frame parts and then back to a 90. Now it's a lot easier to close than it is to open. So you can do the whole thing in one, go wait a minute or so for all of those parts to move back into position, sometimes the wax and propolis is so sticky that they kind of take it a little while to settle down. I'm just looking for that little cap. So I can simply just take this tube out and swap it for the cap like that. And if I'm quick enough then it doesn't really spill any honey onto this area, you can rest the tube there for the remaining bit. Or if you've got someone around who enjoys honey, they can clean that up. So I'm going to rescue two bees that did get in there before I put the lid on. So we had that situation here where we could have done with the wrapping. There's the two bees I'm putting that back on the landing board. And then before that bee gets in there, I'm going to put the lid on. Then we've got our beautiful big jar of honey ready to take back, which I'm sure some of the people working away answering all your questions will appreciate that honey. Look, it's got a beautiful deep red colour. Isn't that amazing? That's these coastal flowers here that tend to produce this really dark kind of red-toned honey. It's amazing.

Thank you very much for tuning in, let us know what you'd like us to cover next week. We've had a bit of a theme of myth-busting myth-busting on whether putting bananas or banana skins into a hive would help with chalkbrood. If you've got something else you'd like us to do myth-busting on, let us know because it'd be fun to check out some more of the things that get perpetuated through beekeeping and find out whether they really work or not.

Next week we're going to take you to Melbourne where we're going to have a look at the amazing sustainability showcase. They do have Flow Hive as part of that, but dial in next week and we'll be showing you something new and completely different.

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