Brood Inspection with live Q & A

In today’s livestream, Cedar carried out a brood inspection, while answering your brood inspection questions. He answered some questions on queen cells and several other beekeeping queries

 

Video transcription

 

Brood Inspection

We’re just getting our smoker going. You want nice cool smoke, might as well smoke my hands while I'm at it, just to mask my own pheromones. We're going to be doing a live Q & A while we're doing a brood inspection.

I'm just going to put some nice smoke in the front of the hive. That should have a calming effect on the bees, a few puffs in the entrance and away we go. Now we're not worried about fire here at the moment because we've had lots of rain, but if it was that dry time, you will need to look up whether you're allowed to light the smoker or not. But here, I'm just going to leave this on the ground. If it is dry in your area, rest it on a metal lid in front of the hive. And while it drifts a little bit of smoke around the entrance, it continues that calming effect on the bees. 

Next, I'm going to just put on my bee suit. Sometimes I forget, but if you've got friendly bees, you can get away with that kind of thing. If you've got aggressive bees, you'll soon know about it. So zip up in the middle, then make sure you do the two sides zips. And this is the ventilator jacket, which is probably my favourite thing to wear because it's just really nice in these hot summer days with the breeze blowing through it. 

Next we're going to take off the roof of the hive. Now there's these little wing screws. We did have them done up recently because we had 100 kilometre an hour winds up this slope. So I'll make sure that’s done. And we'll just take that roof off, which will just make the box a little lighter to lift when we lift off the super. Having a quick look in the front window I can see the super won't be too heavy, because I’m not seeing any honey in there.

Next just pry the boxes apart with your J-tool. This is the tool that comes with our suits and jacket kits. So I'm putting it in. It doesn't really matter whether you go above or below the excluder, I'm going to go above, just loosening it up on all the corners. Sometimes it can be very firmly stuck if you haven't been into the hive for a while. They'll stick it together with their propolis. 

So this is ready to go now. And what I'm going to do is steady myself and I'm going to rock it back towards me. And I'm going to lift with the box in the easier direction, which is where the weight is closer to you. So your hands on the long sides, front and back, and if the box is really heavy, you might need to get some help.

What I'm going to do is just put it down over here. I'm going to lean it up against the edge of the garden. So any bees underneath don't get squashed, as they would if I laid it straight down on the ground. 

I'm looking at this hive here and at first glance, it's looking nice and healthy. There's a good amount of bees. They’re starting to build burr comb on the excluder here. I'm not seeing any aggressive temperaments. So I'm going to continue without my gloves on. If you’re new to beekeeping, wear your gloves until you really get familiar with the kind of attitude that your bees have. Some bees are: “sting first, ask questions later”, and others are nice and calm to work with. And that genetics is determined by the queen's own genetics and the males she mates with in the first week of her life.

I’m getting the smoker going again and I'm just going to add a little now to the top, notice the tones changing. You can hear the buzz and then it settles down again. And once it's settled, that's the time to take off the excluder. I'm going to do that nice and carefully just by peeling it off slowly like this. Use your J-tool if you need to. 

Have a quick look on the underneath in case the queen happens to be there. You want to try not to orphan her from the hive because sometimes she can't find her way back in again. Just in case, you can lean that right up against the hive so that if she did happen to be there, she could simply walk her way back in as she may not be able to fly very well. However, I have seen laying queens fly. So a lot of the things you hear in beekeeping aren't necessarily gospel. And you'll find that you'll see examples as you beekeep that'll go against the things that are written in the books. 

Removing a frame

So I'm just looking down now, looking for an opportunity to take a frame out. Now we've got some space on here. In these eight-frame boxes, which go with our Flow 6, there’s a generous amount of space on the edge. That's going to help us right now, when we're prying this frame apart. You can see a bit of burr comb down between the frames, and if I can go sideways first, that'll just simply break. There we go. And that will save us from getting down there and tediously pulling apart the burr comb. If you just lift when there is burr comb, the bees will get scraped and the comb will get damaged. 

So it's that first frame that's the hardest . You want to get a little bit of space first, if you can or choose a frame that doesn't have much burr comb. So yeah, lifting up, having a look, what we have on this frame. So typically you get honey on the outer edges of the hive, and that's what we're seeing here. A lot of honeycomb. In fact, you could cut out a section here if you wanted to take that away, enjoy that with your family. And the bees will simply fill it back in. Because we're using a foundationless frame, you can cut anywhere. You can cut a big shape out and the bees will fill it back in a few days usually. 

The other side too is showing all honeycomb. Look at that beautiful frame of honey, some nice stores for the bees to use when they're raising their brood. And lucky for us, they store more than they need often. And we can share some too. Beautiful! 

I'm going to just lean that up against the edge of the hive in case the queen happens to be on this frame. I'll have a quick look for her because it's fun to practise your queen-spotting. Not that we necessarily need to find the queen every time. One thing that's interesting here, they're using this for honey and they've sized the cells at about six millimetres, which is about the size we have in our Flow Frames. Also, when they're away from the brood nest and they don't plan to use the cells for brood, they will make bigger cells. They'll go even bigger if they plan to lay drones in them. Whereas the normal size cell is about 5.3 millimetres, and that's for raising all of those worker bees and they are dual-purpose. They'll use that for honeycomb also. 

I forgot my shelf brackets here, they can be used as a nice frame rest. So I'm just going to lean that frame up against the edge of the hive. Okay. We're going across ways now with the next frame. And we're just going to be digging deeper into the brood box. 

Getting stung

So while looking at this frame, I just put my finger on a bee. So I'm going to have to get the stinger out. Sorry about that, Iittle bee. So you've got to be careful not to place your finger on a bee. To get that out, I'm going to scrape sideways. If you have a look at that stinger there, I'll just put it on my nail. It's still got the poison gland right on the back of the stinger. There's like a little tiny stinger point you can see and then there's a little sack. And that sack, you can actually still see it, whole thing. And that pulsing is it trying to put more venom into you. So if you squeeze that, more venom will go into your finger. If you scrap it sideways, you'd get a bit less. So it's a nice technique. 

If you want, look up beekeeping first aid (here). That's amazing. It's still pulsing away. Kind of flick that away now. So if you're not wearing gloves, you'll sometimes get a few stings on your hands, especially if you're a bit distracted and you put your finger right on to a bee. They don't appreciate that very much. 

The tone of the hive, I'm not seeing it as aggressive. It's simply just, I put my finger in the wrong spot. Some people will say it’s good to add smoke to the area so that the smell of that stinger doesn't set off any other bees. 

So every now and then, give your smoker a good puff to keep i t going. And then, if you need it, it's there for you.

Look at that, we've got beautiful brood here. When you see a lot of brood across the frame, you can tell there’s going to be a lot of bees emerging from the cells soon. There's going to be a population explosion in this hive, which really helps for going foraging and bringing in the nectar to make honey and the pollen to make bee bread. That'll really make the hive take off.

So this is a really good sign, the brood all across the frame. Look at that side again, covered in brood. So thousands of new bees waiting to emerge there. They spend 11 days in the capped phase. There's a worker bee that's just emerged. It's moving in wobbly kind of steps across the frame. It's a little bit whiter and lighter in color a little bit furrier. And it's taking its first steps in the hive now.

We're going to continue looking through this hive, doing a routine brood inspection. We’re checking for pests and diseases while we go, looking for sunken, dark capping. Making sure we've got worker brood in there so we know we have a laying queen. A laying queen is important. If you don't have one of those, your hive will slowly dwindle unless they have the resources to raise a new queen. 

We're going to be doing it gently. We certainly don't want to get into a situation where we accidentally roll a whole lot of bees and squash the queen, which is why we put that effort in the beginning of moving gently sideways first. So here we can see lots of worker brood, which is great. 

Cycling frames out

We had a question about cycling frames out of the brood nest. So if they've been used for multiple seasons by the bees to raise a lot of young, they actually get quite dark. Now this isn't very dark yet, but they'll go black after a while. And just to relieve the pathogen load, it's good to cycle those frames out, give them some fresh comb to work with. Now there's a few techniques you can do to cycle the frames out of the hive. What you want to do is move the old back ones towards the edge of the hive. 

So we can do that with this one, even though it's not that bad yet. And then it will slowly, as all the brood emerges and they fill it with honey, become a frame of honey. Once it’s a frame of honey, you can pull that right out of the hive. And then you've got your space to add a new frame back into the center, and all the frames are moved over. 

So you certainly don't want to take that frame out and go away because what will happen is that brood here will die if they're not part of the hive. So to avoid that you move it to the edge first, let the bees fill it with honey, And then take that frame out. If it’s a foundationless frame like this, you can cut the honeycomb out. Then take it away and put the frame straight back in. That’s one of the benefits of having foundationless frames. If you've got wax and wire, you have to take it away for re-waxing. 

Today I’m noticing that the bees are a little bit more antsy. We're going to give them a little bit more smoke. We’re looking for any sunken cappings that could be a sign of AFB or EFB; or any piercing marks. I’m not seeing any, which is good. Everything's looking happy and healthy in this hive.

Brood Inspection Questions

Any advice for my first brood inspection?

So my advice would be if you're feeling really nervous, get someone who's done it before to be there with you. Take a look at our videos like this one, and also we've got TheBeekeeper.org, which is in-depth training from experts around the world. Taking you right through from square one through to having a deep scientific knowledge of beekeeping and also a practical knowledge of beekeeping. 

I would say, get in there and go for it. Make sure you protect yourself. You don't want to have an experience that's a bit scary. So put your gloves on, make sure you've got a good bee suit. Get your smoking going. Give them three good puffs of smoke in the entrance, wait a couple of minutes for them to calm down, then lift the lid off. Choose a day that's a nice calm, sunny day. Mid-morning to mid-afternoon is best because a lot of them are foraging and busy working rather than waiting for intruders.

Also don't feel like you have to do everything at once on your first food inspection. If you get the lid off and you're able to pull a frame out and marvel the beautiful world of bees and put it back again, then that's a great first step. Great to hear you're getting into it.

Is it necessary to inspect the hive? Can I just harvest the honey?

Great question. The answer is yes. Caring for bees, if you don't want to do your brood inspections, you'll need to get somebody else to do it for you. If you simply want a hive in your yard, and you want to harvest honey from it, then there's an obligation to look after the bees. Make sure there's no pests and diseases in the hive. Which means routine inspections, getting in there, looking and checking. 

There's a learning curve that goes along with that. It's an amazing thing. Often people are a bit daunted by the process, but after a bit, they're addicted to the process because it's this amazing new world you're exploring right from your backyard. Now, if you don't want to do that, then you need to strike up a relationship with a beekeeper who will come and do that for you. They will look after your brood nest and make sure there are no diseases present. 

How should I clean excess comb in the hive? 

Some beekeepers like to keep things whistle clean and others don't. And I'll explain the theories behind it as well. But in order to scrape off this burr comb, you can do it while the frames are still in the hive, or you can do it while you're holding it. But basically you use your smoker to get the bees away and then use your hive tool. You simply scrape off that burr comb. 

So I'm going to do that now, add a little smoke to that area, the bees will react by first of all, getting a bit agitated by the smoke, but then with any luck they’ll clear off the top of the frames. Then you see an opportune moment when they're not there just to scrape down the frame like this and that removes that burr comb and keeps it all nice and tidy. Which makes it a bit easier to pull off the excluder for next time. But others like to leave it there and say, it's a bit of a reservoir and the bees will move wax around and use it as a resource. So it's up to you. It doesn't really matter which way you go. Your bees will be fine.

What is the technique for inspecting foundationless frames?

So when the frame is well-built and connected to the sides and even the bottom it's you can tip that over any way you like, and it won't fall out. But when it's fresh and particularly if it's heavy with honey, you'll get this beautiful arc of comb in here. But in that phase, it's very fragile to tipping sideways and you'll learn quite quickly because it's a bit sad when a big, fresh piece of comb falls out of a hive that’s just getting started. So if you accidentally tip it up like that and you see the honey moving, just tip it straight back again. And that will stop that from breaking off. 

Now if you want to check both sides of the frame, you don't have to do any fancy techniques. It's just simply turning the fame around you, keeping it on its axis. You can put it up against the hive like that, swap your hands around again. You're looking at the other side of the frame. People do use fancy techniques of tipping it over like that. And then you can look at it upside down without going through that more demanding phase on the comb structure, tipping it that way. 

So just once again, if he wants to look at that side, you're looking at this side, then you can roll it around on its axis and then you're looking at the other side. If you've got foundation in the frames or wax and wire, you won't need to do that because the comb won’t be so delicate. And once it's built out to the edges, you can go ahead and tip it on its side.

What determines if I can go gloveless when inspecting?

So what determines it is you and how comfortable you are with getting a few stings. As you saw a bit earlier, I got a sting on my finger. So as you get going as a beekeeper you'll start to know whether you're comfortable with that or not. 

And also whether your colony is calm enough to go without gloves. I have my gloves at the ready in case I need them for whatever reason. If they’re crank, or if they’ve got aggressive genetics and I really need to put my gloves on to protect my hands. I'm noticing the tone of the hive change here, I can hear that they’re agitated. So if I start pulling frames out now, I'm going to increase the chances of getting stings. So I can put my gloves on at this point, or I could add a little more smoke to calm them down a little bit before manipulating the frames.

Can I remove drone brood to eliminate drones?

Okay. So there are some beekeepers who like to smash down drone brood because they would rather have worker brood. But I would say, don't do that, let the bees sort it out. If you've got a situation where they're laying lots of drone brood, then changing the queen will be a better idea than trying to manipulate what she lays. 

If you have a look here, you can see drones just hatching from their cells. There's a drone there that’s just hatched, you can tell by the way it's light and fluffy. And you can see these ones are just chewing their way out of the cells. We've got one, two, three, four drones, five, six, seven, eight. Amazing! What an on-topic show we're having here with these drones, just poking their heads out for the first time. 

So they're an important part of sharing the genetics around it, and certainly you don't want to go just smashing down your drone cells all the time. So if you have a look you can pick up the drones, they don't actually have stingers. So they're a good one to share around with the family there. And that drone has just emerged by the way, it's fluffy like that.  

So if you're going to hand a bee to a child to hold, don’t hand them a worker bee, hand them a drone and explain that they don't have a sting. Isn’t it beautiful watching all of these little heads poke up out of themselves for the first time? 

If you have a look at the difference between worker brood, which is here and drone brood, which is here, the drones stick right out of the comb face like a bit of a bullet shape. So you can get your eye on pretty quickly - worker brood, drone brood. Then honey up here looks different again, slightly translucent capping on it with honey.

Can I use a flashlight (torch) in my brood inspection?

Bright light won't hurt the bees. You can certainly shine a torch in and look down into the bottom cells and look for those eggs that you're probably looking for. Or you can just get the angle to the sun right. Bearing in mind, if it's new, delicate comb, you want to be careful tipping it over. But you're looking for that sunlight to shine down the cell and illuminate that little egg in the bottom.

My bees are building wonky comb. Should I replace the frame?

Wonky comb can be a bit annoying. It's something that happens in all types of beekeeping, but with foundationless frames you're more likely to get some wonky comb sometimes. So what you want to do is push it back into line and we've got some good videos showing you how to do that on TheBeekeeper.org if you want to go and have a look there. Basically you get your hive tool and push the wonky bits back into line on the comb guides. And don't be afraid to break the combs a little bit at the base. They'll fix that up quite quickly and reattach it to the frame. And then once they've got the idea and they're building a few nice straight ones, they’ll then tend to follow suit. 

But the idea is catching it early. If it's been left a long time and the bees are completely sideways or bridging from one frame to the next frame, what you need to do is cut that comb out. And in the worst case, rubber band the good sections of brood back into the frame. Just by using rubber band loops right around the whole frame to hold those comb sections in. The bees will then, while it's temporarily held by the rubber bands, they will connect it again to the comb the frame surrounds and away they'll go. So it can be a bit tricky if they've really gone wonky and you need to fix it.

How often should I do a brood inspection? 

So, that's a great question. And the answer, like most things in beekeeping, is it depends on where you are in the world. Some places are a lot more demanding. You've got problems like Varroa mites. In certain times of the season you'll need to be getting in there every couple of weeks and doing some kind of treatment, depending on your strategy, to make sure those mites don’t take over. 

Here in Australia, it's a little less demanding. We don't have those Varroa mites. So asking locals beekeepers how often you need to be inspecting is a good idea, bearing in mind that the more you inspect, the more you learn. So I'd recommend getting in there and really learning and going through your frames and just jump-starting your beekeeping. You don't want to become a beekeeper that just gets a hive and just doesn't get into it, doesn't kind of start that learning process. Certainly, you don't want to leave your hive alone and diseases such as AFB could take hold, spread to other hives, et cetera. 

So be a responsible beekeeper. Get in there, go through your hives. You want to be going through every frame properly, at least a couple of times a year. And you’ll be going in there for other reasons, just to check on your colony as well. And as I said, in those places where you've got the mites, it might be far more often.

Will my bees make queen cells annually? If so, do I just destroy them to avoid splits or do I have to add more hives?

Let's talk about queen cells for a moment. Basically, bees will often be raising a queen or multiple queens. So if the hive gets really populated and that colony wants to swarm, they will start to raise what's called swarm cells, which are just queen cells that they're purposefully making to raise more queens so they can divide the colony. So the swarm cells you'll see around the extremities of the frame. You’ll see them down here at the bottom usually. Bees won't always do what you hope they would do, or what the book said. I’m not seeing them yet. 

What they look like, queen cells, they look more like a peanut shell and if they're around the bottom, they can be a little bit smaller sometimes. And if they're raising lots of those, then they’re probably getting ready to swarm. 

If they're a supersedure cell, which they will normally draw from a worker cell that's already got an egg in it. So if there's an egg down a cell and the bees have to then draw it out from where the brood is laid in the centre of the comb, they’ll draw it out and down like a peanut peanut shell from the main frame. So the ones you see in the main frame are normally supersedure cells. They've had an issue with the queen and they need to raise a new queen. 

With the swarm cells, they make the cups first, then the queen lays the egg in there. Then the queens are raised from that in order to swarm. 

Now some beekeepers like to get in there and smash off those swarm cells as a method of swarm prevention. As a beginner beekeeper I would say, don't do that. If you're not 100% sure of what you're doing, don't go smashing up the queen cells, leave it up to the bees. They know what they're doing. As you get more experienced, you can experiment with techniques like that. 

Now the best method for swarm prevention is to get onto it early in the early spring and give the bees some space to lay some eggs. And that means putting some fresh frames for them to build comb and lay eggs. A couple of frames, one perhaps here  and one here. You can do that simply by cutting out some of the honey on the edge and moving that frame to the center. Or swapping out with an already-prepared frame. And that'll release that overcrowded trigger of the bees preparing to swarm. 

So yes, you can make more hives by moving the frames with the capped queen cells on them, so not the queen cups, so they're queen cells with an actual queen about to emerge. Then you can move that into a split. If you don't want to do that, then you can actually cut them off, but you want to be careful and make sure a good laying queen before you go cutting off the queen cells. 

That was a long answer, but it’s quite a big topic and an extraordinary part of the honeybee world is the way they raise their queens.

I have made a split and it has three queen cells? Is this common?

That is common. They will often raise more than one queen cell, which is good because they want to make sure they've got a queen to get going. You've made a split, so let them work it out, let them fight it out to let a reigning queen take over. Three is a great result. None is a poor result and you'll have to start again. So let the bees raise their Queens and decide who's going to be the one laying eggs in the hive.

If my hive is queenless, how long after I see queen cells should I inspect again to make sure the new queen is established? 

If there are queen cells in there and they're actually capped, then you have a success there. Because the hive has successfully raised a new queen. From that point, it's a 16-day cycle from egg to queen emerging. So you'll be partway through that if you're seeing a capped queen cell. 

From there, it could be up to a month before you’re seeing eggs. The reason being is you could get some bad weather, it could take a while for her to get her mating flights in. She’ll go out for a mating flight or two, before she will come back and start laying. So if you check after 3-4 weeks and you don’t see any sign of eggs at all, then you need to get in there and check in another week's time to make sure you've got that laying queen.

If there aren't any capped cells and they're actually queen cups, they're just the cup and there's no capping, then have a close look at the edge of that queen cup. If it’s ragged and looks torn, a queen has recently emerged from it. If it's nice and neat, then it is empty and have a look down in the cell to see if you can see an egg or larva in the bottom of the cell. If you've just got cups with nothing in them and the edge is nice and neat, then you need to check back in earlier because they may not have gotten it together to raise a queen. You may need to rectify the situation by providing a frame with eggs from another hive or buying a new queen.

 

I introduced a new queen five days ago. Is it too soon to check and see if she's okay? 

Five days is a bit too soon. So they say you want to leave the queen in there for a couple of weeks before inspecting it. There's there's a few theories around that. One is you don't want to provide too much disruption to the hive, because you really want the bees to accept that new queen. It’s a bit touch and go. You're introducing a queen that smells completely different to what they’re used to in the hive. She comes in a queen cage to allow the bees to get used to her smell before she is released. And even then you don't want to go manipulating the hives straight away, or it might increase the chances that they'll actually knock her off, thinking that she's an intruder. So wait a couple of weeks before inspecting.

 

General Beekeeping Questions

How many hives should I start with?

It's certainly fun to have more hives, but a lot of people just start with one and build up from there. And that's a perfectly fine thing to do. I would say two is better than one, because if you lose a queen in one, you can use the resources from the other. With some eggs in the frames they can raise a queen from. And you can get that hive going that's gone queenless. So having two hives is always better. 

But starting with one is also a good idea. It's to whet your appetite, to see what it's all about, to experience the joy of harvesting your own honey and looking after these amazing insects that are such a big part of humans and our culture. I would say you certainly don't need five to start. I would get started with one or two and take it from there.

 

Is it okay to use plastic frames in your hive?

It certainly is. So there's a long convention in beekeeping of using foundation in frames. This is a foundationless frame, where we've just let the bees draw it naturally from the comb guide. And that's one thing I like to do because it saves that work of putting in the wax and wire. Plastic foundation, I find personally, the bees are quite resistant to. I've got foundation that has been in the hive at the edge of the second box. And it's been sitting there and they haven't finished drawing it and it's been years now. 

So it's a bit harder to get them to use the plastic foundation. But if they've got no choice, they will get in and start using it and beekeepers will have their preference. And it doesn't matter. You can mix it up in the box. If you want to use some plastic foundations and wax foundation and some foundationless, by all means do it. You'll learn a lot as you go and you'll find out what works for you and your bees.

 

Can you harvest all year round in Australia?

So where we are, you actually can harvest all year round because we're in a subtropical region, which is nice and warm in the winter time also. However, a lot of places have a long, cold winter where you wouldn't be harvesting just before winter because you'd be wanting to leave stores for them and you wouldn't be harvesting in the winter time. You'll be harvesting when they bring the honey in the spring and summer. 

 

Should I supplement my bees with pollen?

In my area, I don't feed anything to the bees because there's always some kind of forage, even if it's not a whole lot. But in other areas, people find there are a lot of times where they just don't quite have enough pollen to collect or haven't enough nectar to really get the hive gang and they will feed pollen cakes or sugar syrup. So it's up to you, I’d ask that question to your local beekeepers. Around here I wouldn't bother. I just let the bees naturally feed.

 

How can I prevent wax moths?

Wax moths feed on wax, and they'll only do that outside the hive, unless your hive is really weak. The bees won't allow any wax moths to take hold inside the hive. So that means if you've taken some wax frames out, or Flow Frames that have got wax on them and they're sitting around in the shed, wax moths can then feed on that wax and make a mess of those frames and potentially a mess of the woodware. They can sometimes chew right into the woodware. 

So what you need to do, if you've got that situation, is cut out all of that comb that’s affected. The Flow Frames won’t be affected, all you need to do is brush the wax moth off and you’ll be good to go again. With the frames that are affected you can cut all the wax off and let the bees start again with that. Try and store them away from wax moths in a container or in a freezer. If you've got wax building up underneath your hive, then simply clear the wax away. If you've got a whole lot of debris in your tray, just clean it out. If there's no wax in there, the wax moth can't live in that area.

 

How do I deter ants from my hive?

Bees will keep ants out of the hive always. And when a few fall in, when you're doing inspections, you’ll see the bees really push those ants out. 

But it can be annoying, if they get behind the window cover and things like that. So what you'll need to do, if you want to get rid of those ants, is brush them away from behind the window covers. And then you need to create a bit of a barrier so they don't keep walking back on the hive. If you've got foliage up against the hive like this, you need to trim it away or the bees will just walk up the foliage. You can use the leg bolts on the Flow Hive 2 as a barrier, simply by putting some grease around them. I recommend at white grease, like Vaseline. That way, it just doesn't mark things so much. And that will provide a bit of a barrier. Other people use cups of water and things like that to experiment with. But generally if you brush the ants away and get rid of them a few times, they find a new home and the problem goes away for some time.

 

Is it too late in the Australian season to populate a Flow Hive?

It depends where you are and it depends what method of populating your Flow Hive you’re  planning to do. We're still in our summer here, so I would say generally, no, you can populate a hive this time of year and the bees will get on their feet and get going. 

If you're in the far South here in the colder regions, then you might want to delay a bit and get going in the springtime. But everywhere else you could populate in the summer, no problem. We're still doing a lot of splits now, and it's a good time to populate new hives. 

Now, if it was a bit later and you're in the autumn, then you probably wouldn't be populating new hives if you're in the cooler regions. But again in a subtropical area, you could take splits even in the winter time, but that's a bit of an anomaly case for the subtopics.

So it really depends. You can ask your local beekeepers to get local knowledge of whether it's time to start a new hive or not. Of course, if you're just taking a whole box of bees like this and transferring them to your Flow Hive, then you can do that anytime of year. They're already a going concern, they've already got lots of stores. Having said that, in the extreme cold regions, your need to have even more stores than what they have in the single box to get them through the winter. So you may need to then feed them to get another box of stores prior to the winter. So there's never one answer in beekeeping and the best knowledge is local knowledge. So by all means ask around.

 

Do you recommend using foundation for a first-time beekeeper?

It depends. Really often if you've got a mentor, that's what they'll do. I grew up using wax and wire foundation, and it's certainly the way it's mostly done in the world. And I was very happy to learn the techniques of foundationless beekeeping. The reason being is the bees get to draw the comb themselves, they get to size it for themselves. You don't need to import a foreign wax. There’s said to be health benefits by letting them size the cells and not importing the wax from other beehives into yours. 

But actually it's because I can't be bothered going through that tedious process of wiring and waxing like I used to spend late nights doing. Now that the bees do it, it's a little bit more work, just watching the bees as they grow, making sure they're staying in straight lines. But I enjoy far more being here, making sure the bees are going straight for that first few weeks as they're building, than I do tediously wiring, waxing frames. So it's really up to you. I'd recommend having a go at all sorts of things in beekeeping and seeing what works for you.

 

I've just introduced a hive to my garden. How long will it take until I can expect honey?

So that it really depends. So the recipe you need to get good honey stores is: lots of bees in the hive so that when you open the side windows at the hive, you're seeing a lot of bees over the comb surface, and that needs to co coincide with a good nectar flow. If you just get dribs and drabs of nectar, they would just consume that and use that for raising their young and you won't get any stores you can harvest.

And sometimes you get a whole season go by and your hive didn't really produce enough stores to then harvest. Other times you can be lucky and your bees breed up really fast and get a beautiful nectar flow, and in two weeks you can have honey ready to harvest. You certainly hear experiences like that. It’s most likely to be somewhere in between, where you look after your bees for maybe six months or so. And then you get this beautiful experience of getting to share some of the honey and harvest it.

 

Can I move wax from the brood box onto the Flow Frames in the super?

You certainly can and that can be fun to do. It’s something that I don't do personally. I just wait for the bees to naturally breed to the point where they're ready to use the frames. But if you want to hurry things up a little bit, you're getting impatient or you sense that the bees are a bit standoff in using the Flow Frames for the first time, it’s a good idea. Scrape some wax like we were doing earlier, right off the top of the frames. And you can just use your hive tool and just mash it into the surface of the Flow Frames. Put it in the window, enjoy watching them repurpose and recycle the wax and use it to coat those cells in wax and build wax bridges. And that can be a good way to get them going for the first time.

 

Can I move a colony from a tree into a Flow Hive?

Okay. It's a little more advanced getting bees out of a tree hollow. Getting them out of a wall cavity. You can actually cut the wall cavity apart and rubber band sections of the brood into your hive and make sure you've got the queen and so on and start that way out of a wall. Out of a tree, without cutting that tree down, you can only use a few techniques that are a bit more advanced, but you may be able to do it. 

So if you are the more adventurous type, here's what I would do. I would get a tube going from the tree, if you can get a seal around where they come out. And I would then get a brood box like this with some frames already in it, and I would make a hole for the tube right into the box. So the bees are having to use this as their exit. 

Then I'd go and get a cattle tick ear tag and throw that into the cavity inside the tree. And what'll happen is that the tag won't kill them, but it will annoy them sufficiently to vacate the tree hollow and go into your box. So that's one technique. 

Of course, if you're in Europe and that's a naturally existing wild colony, then you don't want to go driving them out of the tree hollow. In other countries, they are an introduced species and it seems like a fine thing to do to drive the bees out of that tree hollow, and into your hive. 

Another thing you can do is make a cone inside that pipe. So imagine this clear pipe coming out of a tree and you do what a bit like they do when they’re crabbing, making those crab pots. So a cone of fly-wire inside the pipe will make it like a one-way valve. The bees will be able to go through easily one way, but it will be a bit harder coming back the other way. And that means you get lots and lots of bees in your box outside and less and less inside the tree.

And so those techniques can have success, but it will take you awhile. And it will be a bit of an adventure if you embark on it, I'd love to know how you go. 



Thank you very much for asking all your great questions. If you're interested to check out some beekeeping training that's designed to take you from square one, right through to a competent beekeeper, then have a look at TheBeekeeper.org. There's experts from around the world contributing to our online beekeeping course. Thank you very much for watching. Tune in again, same time next week and we'll have some interesting things to show you and be here to answer your questions.

 

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