Beginner beekeeping with Bija

by Flow Hive 12 min read

We’re joined today by a new member of the Flow Hive team. Bija experienced er first ever brood inspection under Cedar’s guidance, and he answered her and your beekeeping questions along the way. 




Video Transcription

Good morning. Thank you for joining us for beginner beekeeping Q & A. We're already out in the apiary doing some beekeeping and we've got Bija, who's just joined the hive this week and she's never actually been inside a beehive to see what's going on in the brood box. So she'll be asking beginner beekeeping questions, and that's the theme of today. And if you've got questions, put them in the comments below because it's all about helping each other learn. I've already lit this smoker. So you use your hive tool just to push a bit more fuel in because it's hot and then start squeezing these bellows. And when you squeeze the bellows, what happens is air gets forced in the bottom and up through the pine needles. Now you can use mulch. You can use leaves, you can use whatever you've got around. Give that a good squeeze, good puff. Don't be shy. And what you want to see is a good amount of smoke blowing out here. Now, while we're here, let's add a bit more smoke to that. So this does get hot, so wear your gloves. We're just gonna close this now and keep going with that, keep puffing it and keep puffing it till you see nice clouds of good smoke like that. And you can even give your hands a little smoke if you're not wearing gloves and that hides your smell or your mammal pheromone. I guess we are like a bear or something coming into the hive. And if we smell like one, they're more likely to get a bit defensive.

Is dry grass the best smoker fuel?

Yeah, or garden mulch, a bit of hay, whatever you've got around, dry leaves. If you've got nothing else, use some cardboard and paper, but organic things off the ground are usually nicer for the bees. People have their favourites, sometimes the bark off of a tree or something like that will keep it going longer than pine needles. You can throw a pine cone in as well, just for a bit more or some wood chip or whatever.

Is there anything you shouldn't use?

Don't use like magazines that have like too many toxins in them because that's all gonna come out in the smoke. You don't wanna blow that into the hive.

Whenever I use the smoker, I can't get cool smoke. Am I doing something wrong?

In my experience, you just don't want it hot, like flames coming out and burning the bees, wings off and things like that. You obviously don't want that. So if you want to test it. It's not gonna be completely cold. It's coming out of a fire. It's gonna be warm. So perhaps the term would be warm smoke. But one technique, if you really want to cool the smoke down is put some green grass right on top and that'll have a cooling effect to the smoke.

Put the mouth of that smoker and you can hold it right in the front of the entrance. What you wanna do is put it right here and give it three good puffs like that. And that's all we need to do now. It's a good idea to leave it near the entrance for the returning bees to get the waft of the smoke as they get home.

We're going to get straight into it by now lifting off this roof. So this comes off, like that. Next we're gonna get our hive tool and then get under that inner cover and just lift it off. Because there's no excluder here between the brood nest and the inner cover, there's a chance that the queen could be right here on the underside of the inner cover. So I'm just having a quick look for her just in case. She's bigger than the other bees, a bit longer. She's not usually up here, but sometimes. I'm just gonna lean this against the entrance here for the remaining bees to actually crawl because she may not be able to fly when she's in egg-laying mode.

So next I'm going to actually install our little brood frame rests on the side of the hives. I'm gonna get them from over here and with this little tool here we used these last week to show you how to harvest a bit of honey from your Flow Hive. If you missed that, have a look at the last video. Now next we're just going to wind out, keep going with these screws. Yeah, you can keep going in the Classic. I've actually got the wrong drive a bit, but I can make it work. I wind that out to the point at which this can latch on and turn around like that should be nice and firm not too wobbly. Adjust your screw to suit. I like to go over the keyhole like that and turn it into position. That way you can get it nice and tight like that. So it's nice and sturdy for a frame rest. Beautiful, nice double-use item, harvesting honey, and a frame rest for when you're doing your beekeeping.

What we're gonna do is start pulling some of these frames out and actually look at what's going on inside the hive. So grab your hive tool and I'll just talk you through how to do that. I'm looking for a frame that should come up and out easily. And I think this one will, so first of all, you need to put the chisel end of your hive tool between those two end-bars. So about there, push it down and wiggle it back towards you. And that will push the frame over a little bit. And now do the other end. Now once you've got that, you can just lift and grab that end-bar with your hand just under here and they slowly come up. Just slowly, gently coming up and you can marvel at the amazing world of the bees.

Have a look at this. We've got honeycomb here and we've got nectar here. So they are bringing in some nectar, which is a really good sign. The bees have been a bit hungry. We've had months and months of rain, we've had double floods here. The bees haven't been able to forage. We're so happy to see the sunshine. And so are the bees, just starting to bring in some nectar finally, which means hopefully they get on a good flow. They'll store some honey in the top box and we can share some too.

I've had lots and lots of wet weather and noticed a lot of dead premature bees, more than normal, and also quite a large amount of hive beetles. Does the weather affect the bee's strength or immunity?

So yes, there are a lot of beetles around when the wet weather comes. You do get more beetle activity. If your hive is weak, catch those beetles using your pest tray at the bottom, by putting a bit of cooking oil in there. The next part to the question was about dead bees. A hive might have 50,000 bees in it, right? And to keep up that population, the queen might need to lay up a couple of thousand a day, which means a couple of thousand bees are dying a day and that is normal. So particularly early in the morning, you'll see the undertakers, which is one of the jobs of the worker bee, dragging out any bees that have died in the hive. But if you're getting excessive bees like a carpet of bees out the front with their tongues hanging out and dead, that could be signs that they've had a toxic overload of insecticides or something like that. If you're seeing bees that aren't mature yet, as in, they're still partway through their metamorphosis and they're looking a bit white then that's a sign that hive beetles might be worming their way through those larva. And the bees will detect that and they will actually eject those from the hive. And so if you're seeing that, then get in there, start sorting out any hive beetle issues. Catch those hive, beetles, reduce the size of your hive. And look up some of our episodes on dealing with hive beetle infestations.

Is this one with its head down the cell feeding?

There's a few things they could be doing. So there are eggs down those cells, tiny little grains of rice, that if you wear glasses, you'll need glasses to see. And I can see some big eggs. So again, I'm satisfied that we've got a nice laying queen in this hive. There's no issues I'm seeing. And not sure what the workers were doing, but they could be feeding them a little bit of royal jelly as that egg is just hatching because as you've got a tiny little, little larva coming out of an egg, they need to feed them straight away.

I had a six week old nuc installed into the Flow Hive and it was going great. Eight out of the 10 frames were full, added the super a couple of weeks ago, lots of brood and eggs, everything going really well. I found the queen twice, she was looking great. I was doing the inspection today and found the workers bailing the queen and her squealing. I rescued her in a box. I also found a capped queen cell and a few empty. Do I put her back in and let them kill her?

I think in this case, leave it to the bees to, to decide if they wanna bail up the queen, knock her off and raise a new one, then they're probably doing it for a reason. And it's probably best to allow the bees to do that. I mean they may or may not be. Typically that sound you're hearing is a war cry actually. And she'll go and sting the new queen before she's emerged out of her queen cell. So what happens is she pipes, it's like a tooting noise or sometimes a bit of a growling noise. So she makes that noise. And then she waits for a response from any other queen cells around the hive. She'll chase them down and sting their queen cell and kill that queen before it emerges. So that's normally what it's about. Queens usually have an entourage around them, so that might be what you're seeing. You've seen the queen running around a lot of bees piling around her. They can behave like that if they're the escort bees.

I got a swarm eight days ago and the swarm is in the brood box and they're making nice honeycomb, the queen's laying eggs. Aat night, the bees seem to be bearding out the front of the hive. Is this normal?

It is normal for your bees to beard out the front. And that's a sign that they're really healthy. And it's time then to put another box on. And if they're building up to the point where they're still bearding, then just have a look. It might be the hot weather, or it could be that they're getting overcrowded.

Now, if it's hot weather, you'll see them bearding out the front. But when you open the side windows, you'll see, there's not many bees in there and that's normal. They're just getting outta the way so they can get the airflow going. Now, if they're crowded in there, you open the side windows and you can hardly see the combs and they're bearding out the front, then that's a sign that they either need more space or they're gearing up to swarm. If they're gearing up to swarm it'd be a good idea to get in there and take a split by taking half the brood frames out into a new box. And that way you don't have to hang around waiting to catch that swarm. So you get ahead of the curve. You take a split from that hive that alleviates the congestion and that's the main trigger that causes the bees to swarm is not enough space to lay in the brood comb. Other things you can do, if you don't want to take a split is you can actually perhaps cut some honeycomb out from the edge frames that are usually honey, move those empty frames back to the centre.

When we put the frames back, do they need to go in the exact order that they were in before?

Perfect question. Now the answer is no, but if you are putting them back in a different order, be careful that there's not a protrusion on a comb that's touching another piece of comb, because the bees then can't service that bit until they chew it all away. And that's where if you've got hive beetles in your area, they'll take the opportunity to lay there while the bees aren't chasing them around. And that can be the start of a colony, what's called sliming out where the hive beetles get a hold and start laying lots of eggs where the combs are touching together here. These combs are nice and straight. They've done a great job of drawing this natural comb. So you could put them back in a different order, but it's nice to put them back in the same order. So I remember how they went.

I want to add another brood box to my hive. Is it better to put it on top of the existing brood box or below?

The answer, like many things in beekeeping is it depends. And what it depends on is if you are drawing natural comb, and you want to put just a whole box full of empty frames on, you'll wanna put it below because the bees are more likely to hang the combs down from the frames. If you put it on top, they might come up and start building wonky comb from here in the box above, which might make it hard to inspect. Another thing you might like to do is checker-board. So get half the frames outta this box, put half the new ones back in and every second one will be a new one and shift every second drawn frame one up to the next box. If you want to go on top and you're using naturally drawn comb. Then you would checker-board. If you don't want to checker-board then the box goes underneath. If you're using foundation, either plastic or wax foundation, then it doesn't matter, could go above or below.

I recently noticed some robbing behaviour. So I put the entrance reducer on, which seems to have sorted the robbing out. The bees seem happy enough and it's been on a month. Should I leave it on?

Bees will be fine with it on even year-round, but as they get a lot more bees, it will help them a bit to take the entrance reducer off. We generally don't use them here. We don't have that many robbing issues. We don't have really cold times, but people in cooler climates tend to use them more. To reduce robbing when there's been no flowers for a long time. And the other one is just to reduce the size of their entrance, which will help them keep away things like wasps and mice. We don't have those issues here either.

When is the best time to get a nuc to instal it into my hive? Should I do it the month before spring, for example, or wait till spring? (Melbourne, Australia).

In Melbourne you're probably gonna be waiting for spring, but it's always a good idea to ask for some local knowledge there. Here, we could definitely start in the last month of winter, because the bees are really responding to the flowers that tend to flower in the last month of winter around here, lots of flowers. So we'll even be splitting hives in the last month of winter here. In Melbourne, you might have to wait till spring to do that install. Having said that, ask around, see what other people are doing.

Hive packdown

Okay. Let's put these bees together. They've been very well behaved, but it's probably time to close them up and put the lid back on. So to do that, we've gotta put our last frame in, but there's not quite enough space to do that. So we need to squash these end-bars together and the bees are in the way. So if we add a bit of smoke the bees are clear outta the way and we can start pulling those frames across. Just pulling them all across until they touch. So you notice that one's on an angle. If you have a look down from the top here, you can actually see that this frame's on an angle. Now to fix that you can do one of two things, just drop a frame down, which will push it across. Or you can actually get your hive tool down like this and lever off an adjacent frame. And that will push it back into position like that. And you need to go fairly far down to do that, and that will straighten up your frame.

So we've got that across notice. We've got some space on the edge, leave the space on the edges of your hive like that. And that way your frames are all pressed together. The spacing's right for the bees. They're really fussy about spacing. If you make it too wide, they'll start building all sorts of random comb. And it's hard to inspect later. And the lid goes back on and we're away. We can take these little shelf brackets off. It's better not to leave them in the weather. So we'll take them away and get any bees that are landing on the top away. because we don't want them stuck up in the roof. Beautiful. Just drops over like that. Thank you very much for tuning in. Let us know what you'd like us to cover next time and same time next week. See you then.

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