Cedar harvested from a special black and yellow hive to mark our Black Friday offer. He answered questions on bees in the rain, queen excluders and keeping bees safe from pets and predators.
Thank you for joining us this morning, we've got live Q & A. Beautiful. The honey's flowing down into the trough. It's amazing to see it all streaming down out of the comb and into the tube and into the jar. It's very cool. We've dug out this beautiful black and yellow hive, and it's been in the apiary now for a year or two. And the artwork on it is amazing. If you have a look around here, Sarah's done an amazing job of illustrating, right from the first little egg. If you've ever looked down a bee cell, you see what looks like a tiny grain of rice in the bottom, that's the bee egg. And as it goes along, it gets bigger and bigger.
And we call that a grub, but it's their larval stage. And then it keeps going, keeps going, keeps going, and eventually, it cocoons itself and goes through this amazing metamorphosis and turns into a bee. It's quite miraculous. Now we've been harvesting from this hive recently, so this frame has just been harvested and you can see the way they've stripped all the wax off and they've prepared the comb and they've got it all ready for storing nectar again. Pretty clever those bees. We've got this black and yellow hive here because black and yellow Friday is coming up. Now it's hard to know whether to partake in such sales events globally. And I certainly think that if you are engaging, it's a good idea not to buy one-use, throwaway items. We don't want consumerism for the sake of consumerism. We genuinely believe that a beehive is a great long-lasting purchase, that should give a lot of education and also a lot of produce.
Why is the hive so high off the ground?
It's so high because you might've seen the video, just a couple of posts back with us doing a beautiful cascade harvest from this hive. We put it up on top of the barrel so we could do this really long waterfall of jars flowing one into the next. And it created a really beautiful image. And it was certainly fun to do. And it's on top of a barrel and the barrels on top of an old pottery spinner. So we were able to even spin the hive during the process, which was super cool.
How much space do you need in your backyard to have a Flow Hive?
The great thing is with Flow Hives, or beehives in general, is they take up a very small footprint and that means people keep them on their balconies in the city, on their rooftops, in small urban backyards, most places you're allowed to keep beehives. And it's a wonderful thing to be able to do some farming. I think humans really yearn to be connected to the environment around them. And bees are one way to do that. They're a window into the world of what's going on with the bees, really collecting nectar and pollen from often up to a 10 kilometres radius, which is an incredible distance. And that way you don't need a big backyard full of flowers, necessarily. It's nice to plant some, to give some of the native bees some extra forage. But also it's just a great thing to have a beehive in your yard and to be able to produce real amounts of honey that you can share with your neighbourhood. It makes great gifts, especially this time of year, where you can harvest lots of little jars and give them away to your neighbours for Christmas. It's a wonderful thing. So you certainly can keep hives in small backyards.
A local beekeeper has suggested that I add an extra brood box now that the nuc is settled in. They also suggest that I use the checkerboard pattern to do that using no foundation. Is that a good idea?
You can do the checkerboard pattern. If you are going to go with no foundation then you need some sort of guide. So let's say if you add another box right on top of this one and you go with no foundation, naturally-drawn comb, the bees might start building from the bottom-up, which will be complete mess. So if you want to add a box on top in between these two, then you can then swap half the frames up, and then every second frame is drawn and those frames you've got from down here, act as the guide to help keep the bees in line as they draw, the new comb in the new box. If you want to keep the brood box together, you can go the other way around and put the new one underneath, and then the bees will do a better job of hanging the comb from top-down. It's probably still a good idea to move some of the frames here into your new brood box.
You can have two or more brood boxes. So we call this a brood box. This is where the queen is laying the eggs and the brood is being raised. And you can also have two or more supers if you want to. I tend to like to keep it in this configuration. It's just a bit easier to manage, having less boxes, less equipment. And you can then basically from this very small hive, harvest an amazing amount of honey without having to have a lot of equipment, a lot of processing equipment and so on. Instead of storing honey boxes on the hive, like some beekeepers will stack these 5, 6, 7 boxes high over the season. You can continually harvest and store the honey on the shelf in jars instead. So that's the way we do it. And that's the way I like to do it, but you can add more boxes if you want to.
There are bees in my yard. How can I get them to move into my hive? Will they just move in by themselves?
Not usually. There is a thing called a bait hive where you set up a hive, usually just a brood box and you might entice a swarm of bees by putting some pheromones in there. There's a thing called swarm command that you can buy, or you can get lemongrass oil in a little Ziploc bag, but it doesn't always work. And you pretty much have to be near a whole lot of beehives to get any chance of swarms moving in. And the time of year to do that would be the springtime. So the way beekeepers get started reliably is by taking a split from another hive. And we've got videos showing you how to do that. Or have a look atTheBeekeeper.org if you want some good training material. Or you can buy a nuc from a bee breeder, and that's basically a going little hive and you get in your suit, get out your smoker, transfer them into your hive. Look after them and they'll grow from there. Otherwise buying packages or catching a swarm. And we've got videos about all of this.
Do you recommend oiling or painting the hives?
Soit depends which one you get. If you want to keep them looking beautifully, natural wood, like some of these hives down here, then I would recommend using a decking coat. A hard-wearing product that's good for outdoors. So ones from your hardware store that are built for decking, so it's those will tend to last the longest. And that's proving the test of time for us as well. Good outdoors paint will last the longest. So if you want to paint your Cedar hive, you can. If you've got out Auracaria hive, which is a wood that tends to get a bit of mildew if you don't paint it, then we recommend using a good outdoor house paint. Have some fun with family, painting your hive, making it look pretty.
Is it okay to feed my small swarm some fondant? They're really struggling with all the rain we're having. (Woolongong, Australia)
It is. I'm not an expert on feeding bees. Around here, we get a lot of forage all year round and we generally don't have to feed them. Some beekeepers will feed sugar syrup in really lean times, some people will feed sugar syrup and pollen substitutes. So ask your local beekeepers, whether that's the right thing to do in your area. And if your bees are starving, have a go at feeding them and see if it works for you.
Is that a six-frame or a seven-frame Flow Hive?
It's a six-frame Flow Hive. If you have a look down in the row, there are some examples, the blue one is a bit wider compared to the one on the left, which is a bit narrower. So the six is on the left and the seven is on the right and they match the standard Langstroth size, more or less, for 8-frame size and 10-frame size. We did that to match people's current equipment and offer both sizes. Also people in colder climates tend to like the bigger one, a bit more storage for your bees to survive those long cold winters.
Will these hives compete with native beehives?
So that question comes up a bit, and I certainly see from my personal experience that the native bees, we call them the sugar bag bees, but there's all sorts of other native bees as well, all foraging on the same flowers together. And you don't usually get any squabbles between them. I've never seen the European honey bees robbing native bees. I have seen it the other way around, where there's been a bit of honey on this area here and the native bees come for a bit of an opportune grab there. What happens, certainly in our area, is you get these big nectar flows and there's enough for everybody. And then you get a lull, where there's not much at all, and all bee species hanging around, waiting for the next flow. Sometimes you hear articles and things of people really concerned about competition between bee species. My take on that is let's not in-fight. Everyone agrees that we need to save the bees. And the real problem is habitat. What we need to do is create more habitat for all bee species and the myriad of life that supports us because humans have taken so much away. We are in this bind, where the European honeybee is now very important species to us. Humans have dragged them all around the world, wherever they go. And they're vitally important to the food chain and system.
My hive has swarmed three times in the last few weeks. And I'm worried now that it's queenless because the bees are acting a bit lethargic. I've caught one of the swarms and that's really well compared to the original hive. Any suggestions?
Get in there and have a look and see if you can spot the evidence of a queen in there, if you can't spot the queen herself. So to do that, look down the cells, in some really good light. Look for bee eggs, look for any grubs or brood in the hive. If you can't see any then it's likely that your hive is queenless, and you'll need to do something about that. Now there are a few things you can do. One is to buy a queen from a queen breeder. Another one is you can give them a frame with eggs on it from another hive. And that gives them the resources to raise a queen. A hive can raise a queen if they continue to feed that larvae royal jelly for its entire 11 days gestation. And that way it would turn into a queen.
As soon as they're fed plant proteins, which is pollen, through epigenetics it turns them into worker bees. So it's amazing, just what they're fed will turn them into a queen. And that way, a hive that has eggs can raise a queen and the hive can get going again.
Another thing you could do is decide to merge the queenless colony with the swarm that's going well. You could do that by adding a layer of newspaper on top and putting your brood box with the weak colony on top, with the newspaper layer in between. They'll chew away at that and the colonies will slowly merge. Which is a bit better than a quick merge where you just dump it on top and there might be some fighting between the two colonies.
How far do bees forage?
They fly a long way. They're amazing! They can fly up to 40 kilometres an hour, their wings beat at 240 beats per second. And it almost defies the laws of physics that they can fly up to 10 kilometres away to forage, about six miles. They collect a load that's almost as heavy as their entire body weight and fly back again. Absolutely extraordinary!
What is the best month to get a nuc and start a hive? (Victoria, Australia)
So when you can get hold of a nuc is what I would say. Sometimes there can be a bit of a wait on nucs, so get your orders in. We're still at the end of spring here now, so get in there and get going. It's a really good time of year, and you could start hives all the way through until probably autumn. But ask your local beekeepers, get some more opinions on that in your local area. And in this area, we can just about start a hive all year round. So it's when you can get hold of some bees is when you start. In the places that get really long, cold, snowy winters springtime is going to be the best to get started.
Are there any colours that are better to paint your hive, from the bees’ perspective?
So bees don't care actually what colour the hive is, they just want a good home. So go ahead, paint it whatever colour you like. If you're going with really dark colours, black, then it's going to get hotter. So consider where you are in the world before you paint your hive a really dark colour.
It's the first sunny day we've had in weeks after lots of rain and grey skies, and there seems to be a lot of bee activity in front of the hive. Is this normal?
Yes, that is very normal to get a lot of bee activity, especially as the bees have been pent up for a while. They'd been holding off on going to the toilet, they've been hanging around inside. And also what you're probably seeing is a whole swag of young bees that haven't had the opportunity to do their first flight and test their wings and orientate to the position. So you get what's called an orientation flight. And if it's been grey and rainy for awhile, when the sun comes out, all of a sudden they're all out and it looks almost like a swarm is happening because there's so many bees just buzzing around the front and coming back again. And what you've got there is this amazing orientation where those young baby bees are locking onto the surroundings and really working out how to fly and so on.
Will the bees go out during the heavy rain we're having? (NSW, Australia)
In heavy rain they tend not to, but it's amazing how they do fly in rain. And we're yet to capture that, I hope that that one day soon we'll capture bees flying in the rain and see what happens when they actually get hit by a raindrop. They're amazing fliers. And I imagine they probably would, if they got hit on one wing, they'd do a flip in the air and just keep flying. But hopefully we'll make a video about that one day.
When it's raining, do you have to feed the bees because they can't get out?
No, the reason bees store such an extraordinary amount of honey, like this is just one frame and there are six frames in this hive, they do that for stores. It's a bit like squirrels storing nuts. The bees are storing nectar and turning it into honey and they turn it into honey so it will keep a long time. And that's so the bees can last up to 6, 7, 8, 9 months of a long, cold winter in Europe or in North America. They store so much that we can share some too, but if you've got a hive that has no stores in the top, and the whole hive is really lightweight and there's no stores in the bottom either, then it's a good idea to feed them. You're better off feeding bees than having starving bees.
I have a Flow Hive 2+, and the humidity gets very high around here. Should I add extra ventilation into the roof? (Texas, USA)
In my experience, adding extra ventilation in the roof, the bees will block it up. So that's just my experience. We live in a high humidity, high heat area, especially in summer around here. And my experience is each time you put holes up here and allow ventilation, the bees can get into that area. They will block that area up. And what they prefer to do is ventilate from the bottom. So rather than do that, I would just take your tray out from under here. And that will give heaps of ventilation, allow the bees to create their circular pattern of ventilation, which tends to be up to the middle and down the edges. And the bees will fan to assist that and that allows them to control the humidity to their liking. If you've got top vents, I think what happens is you get natural flow of air through which means the bees can't control it, how they like. So that's the reason I think they block it up. However, some people do like to give extra vents and, they might appreciate it for a little bit in hot weather. And then they'll probably block it up again.
We had a lot of bees in our hive, then a week later the numbers just dropped, then all the bees died. We couldn't find the queen. Should we keep the comb for next year or throw it all out and just start all over again?
It depends a little bit what went on. There's all sorts of things that could happen. You could have an insecticide issue. If you saw a carpet of bees out the front with their tongues hanging out, that could have happened. It's really sad and a good reminder that we need to change our ways in the world and not get insecticides on flowers. It could have been that they went queenless and slowly died out. It's hard to know without hearing a bit more about the story. But what I would do is probably have a look for a bit of evidence of any of the bad diseases like AFB or EFB. So look up what the evidence looks like, have a look at your brood comb and you should see if it's still in a bad state, sunken dark capping with piercings in it and a really rotten dead animal smell. But if it's been a long time and it's been sitting there, then the evidence might be kind of a snail trail in the cells when you hold it up to the light. If you're not seeing any of that, then it simply may have gone queenless. You could perhaps pop the frames in a freezer to keep them good and reuse them. If you're using naturally drawn comb, I'd probably just chop out the comb anyway and let your new colony rebuild on those frames. With Flow Frames, store them away from vermin and things. If you've got a deep freezer, all the better. If they've got no honey in them, then you won't need to store them in a freezer. It's more about stopping the nectar fermenting, if there's some nectar in the frames. I'm so sorry to hear that and hopefully next time then you'll have better luck and your bees will live long and prosper.
I requeened last week, and since then the hive has gone quiet. Is this normal? What's your experience with requeening?
If you're replacing a queen with a mated queen from a queen breeder, then it should be pretty seamless changeover in terms of the numbers of bees in the hive. She'll get straight in there and start laying. If it's a non-mated queen, then there could be a week or two of downtime as she gets on her feet and starts laying. But what could happen is the new queen wasn't accepted and that happens a fair bit. The hive bumped her off and now your hive is queenless and the numbers are dropping. So just check for that, get in there, have a look, check for eggs, check for brood, any signs of a queen. And if there are signs, put it back together and just wait a bit longer, be patient for the hive to get back on its feet and build up.
Do your bees get confused because all the rooves of your hives are the same colour?
Well, possibly, we've certainly got a bit of gentrification going on there. But we've got the blue hive in the row. But bees are very clever at geolocating to their spot. But regardless of what colour the rooves are, you will get a bit of drift when they're this close together. So most of the bees know which hive is theirs. In fact, probably all of the bees know which hive is theirs, but if you've got a prevailing wind, let's say the wind was coming from here your apiary will get more honey in that end. Because bees coming back, they might've flown 5 or 10 kilometres. They're loaded with nectar and they're pushing back against the wind and they get to the first hive in the row and go, "this will do". And if they come loaded with nectar and pollen, then they're accepted by any hive, so in they go. But generally the bees do know which one is their hive and you don't have to worry about colouring the rooves different colours.
I was at a demonstration at a bee club and they were using two Flow keys when opening up one frame. Is that a helpful thing to do?
It can be, especially if you've taken the frames out and you're doing it on a bench and it's actually hard, if the frames aren't held well to do it with one, because the frame just wants to twist. So putting two keys in and using it like a butterfly is a good way to go. The other reason you might use that is if perhaps you haven't harvested for a season and the frames are quite stuck and it's hard to get the parts to move easier. Doing that can be a good way to get the cells to lift and the honey flowing again. But otherwise one key is all we usually use.
How long do Flow Frames last?
So we've got frames in our hives that are more than six years old now, which is great. However, we don't have a flawless record. We do have something like 70,000 hives around the world now. So we do get some issues and we help those customers out. So if you've got any problems, just let us know. Write in, phone us up and we'll help you. We want this to be a very long-lasting product and we've designed it to be so. And if you do have any problems, just let us know.
What would cause an entire hive to just up and leave? The bees were there one day and now they've all gone. There's no dead bees or any sign of dead bees.
That sounds like colony collapse disorder. We don't tend to see that here in Australia, but in Europe and in North America, you do hear of that sudden vanishing of bees. And one of the factors is said to be neonicotinoids, which are basically a synthetic nicotine-like insecticide. Which is so long-lasting that that chemical ends up in the nectar and bees go and forage on those flowers. And it disorientates them and the bees don't make it home. So that could be something that's happened. And again, probably some local knowledge on that might help, but it's a sad thing. There's been a lot of work looking into colony collapse disorder, and it's certainly a great reason why we need more beekeepers in the world, really advocating for bees and making sure practises like that are stopped. So we can look after not only the European honeybee, but the myriad of native bees in our world that are also affected by such things. Because without them, then we get collapse of the entire system that supports not only us, but all the rest of life.
What are your thoughts on removing the queen excluder for winter? And if you do, what's the likelihood that the queen will lay in the Flow Frames?
I would say it's about a 30% chance that the queen might lay in the Flow Frames if you have no excluder in the springtime,. I've got hives that I run all year round and she doesn't lay. There are other hives where she will lay. So it's a little bit of a test and measure to see if your queen likes to lay in Flow Frames or not. Now I would recommend removing the excluder, which is here, if you're in a long, cold winter. The ball of bees in the brood box, as they consume the honey, which is usually on the extremities of the comb here, they will then move up through the hive to consume more honey. Now the queen can't get through the excluder, so she could be left behind and perish. And then you start spring with no queen. So a great idea, just to make sure you remove that if you've got a long, cold winter ahead.
What are your thoughts on the queen excluder being metal or plastic?
There's pros and cons. I don't like the metal ones because they've got this ant kind of area all the way around the rim where they've folded the metal over. And it's just not nice having a big ant home on a rim around your hive. But a lot of people do prefer the metal ones because they tend to peel off in one go rather than a slow peel off. It's really a personal preference.
How often should you empty the beetle tray? I have a layer of vegetable oil, but there are always little bits and pieces and beetles in it.
I would say it's best to do it monthly, depending. Maybe you're catching a lot more beetles than that, but if you leave it build up for months and months, then you end up with a pretty grimy layer of buildup, which is not the end of the world. But if there's a whole lot of wax dry down there, then wax moth could start breeding in it and things like that.
Does the direction that the raised hive is facing have any effect compared to the other hives, which are facing the other direction?
It really doesn't matter which way you face your beehives. Commercial beekeepers will tend to face it so they get a bit of morning light straight in the entrance, it's said to get them up and working earlier. As a backyard beekeeper, we don't need to get that extra 5% of production. It's more about what suits you, where people are walking, making sure it's not facing an area where humans are likely to get bees in their hair and so on. So other factors come into play, which trump that morning light cresting right in the entrance and waking up your bees.
Is it okay having beehives when you've got pets?
It is. A lot of people keep bees and they keep pets. But bearing in mind that dogs can get a sting on the nose and they'll learn pretty quickly. Some people will fence off their hive to keep the dog away from it. I'm not sure about other pets. If you've got experience with other pets, then please chime in on the thread, help answer any questions you can see there. And the whole idea is where we're having a big conversation on a global scale about bees and helping each other learn.
I just noticed there was a little bit of honey on the landing board. Is that connected to harvesting the honey?
That's very well noticed as well. So what happened is my nephew just grabbed a bee out of the honey jar before, which can happen, and put it back on the landing board. And yeah, the bees will clean her up pretty quickly.
How much space do bees need for their flight path?
So they generally fly straight out the front, up and away. However, if you've got a fence or something like that in the way, then you can get into a situation where they are doubling back. So if you can get a couple of metres in front of them, that's fantastic because they can just fly straight out, up and away.
Do you know of any plants that naturally kill mites or wax moths?
I'm no expert on mites. We don't have them here in Australia and I haven't heard of plants that naturally kill them, but there's some great work being done with all sorts of natural methods to control the Varroa mite in other countries. As to wax moth, they don't really bother hives unless the hive is dying anyway. So I don't see wax moths as much of a threat to bees. It's just a pain in the arse if there's equipment that's left around the wax moth can get in there and make a mess of them, leave them all cobwebby and you have to clean it off next time. That's about the extent of wax moth issues, I think.
Kangaroos knocked off the roof of my Flow Hive and rain got in and now the hive is really weak. Should we feed them, and with what? (Victoria, Australia).
That's the first kangaroo damaging a hive story that I've heard. We hear a lot of bears damaging hives in the Northern hemisphere but haven't heard of kangaroo issues. Sad to hear that your hive is having a bit of trouble. So I would recommend just having a look in at your colony, see how they go. If there's a good laying brood pattern, then just a bit of patience this time of year, you'll see your bees coming good again. But if they've lost the queen or something like that, then you need to get in there and rectify the situation, obviously putting your roof back on, which I'm sure you've already done.
Our chickens are often eating the bees. We are also having problems with water dragons eating lots of bees. Any ideas on how to prevent this? (NSW, Australia)
I've got a friend actually, who's got water dragons just munching their bees to the point where the hive is getting quite weak. It's hard to know whether it's weak for another reason or whether it's this water dragon filling its belly on nice honey-fed bees. So I imagine the thing to do with the water dragon would be just to get a bit more height away from the ground because they tend to just sit at the entrance and wait for the bees to fly past. If you can get a bit of height, they're probably less likely to climb up, but let me know how you go.
Melissa's saying they have the same thing and the water dragons don't like the colour red. So she's put up red flags around the hive and it's kept them away from the bees.
No way. That's a new one, red colour for the water dragon here in Australia. Yeah. Try that out. See if it works for you. Thanks so much for all the amazing questions. And if you do want to get started in beekeeping, it's a great time to get your equipment. There's a lot of people doing shopping this time of year. It's holiday season and it's a good idea to buy something meaningful, something long-lasting. And it's a wonderful thing to keep bees and not only help with pollination, but also education. And if you've got bees, you're getting a beautiful amount of gorgeous, honey. If you want an online bee course, have a look atTheBeekeeper.org. Experts from all around the world have contributed, so it's a wonderful thing. And also a fundraiser for habitat regeneration and protection for bees. Thank you for tuning in and same time next week, let us know what you'd like us to cover.
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