Brood inspection with Pete

by Flow Hive 17 min read

Pete took over livestream duties today and he performed a brood inspection. During the Q&A, the topics included checker-boarding brood frames and making a hive split.




Video transcription

Hi, thanks for tuning in. My name is Pete. Cedar is away this week and we 're just doing a brood inspection on this colony. You can see the bees are putting some honey away. The weather's warming up here. It's been a little bit chilly and we usually have fairly short winters in this area and spring usually comes early. So spring's just about to start, it seems. We'll open the hive and have a look at the brood so we know what stage they're at. We can see in the end view here that a lot of these frames are being filled with honey. So we'll go into the brood box and check them out. Down in my bee yard, which is just down the hill from here in a macadamia nut orchard, I've been seeing drones in the boxes and I've been making splits.

So I'm just going to blow a puff of smoke in the entrance just to let the bees know I'm coming in. Okay. This colony is usually quite friendly. I don't generally like wearing a jacket or veil, but if they start stinging me, then I'll put my veil on. It all depends on your level of comfort with the bees. If you're a beginner, I do recommend suiting up, putting on gloves. I'm just going to crack the top very slowly and gently. I see some small hive beetle here. I like to squash them. If they get a foothold and start laying eggs, their maggots can take over and slime out the hive. We really don't want that. The bees are usually fairly good at controlling them. And I think what happened here was they were actually in jail here. The bees put them in jail and do guard duty over them. And when I pulled the lid off that lets them out of jail. I'll just get the smoker out.

I just want to move these bees out of my way so I'm not squashing them.

Now, I usually go for the middle frame because that seems to be the one that the bees will fill first. I'll leave the side ones until last. And that's looking beautiful, we can see that lovely capped honey. I'll just gently put it down and just move these bees out of the way. They just haven't filled this little part of the frame yet. I'm just blowing them to move them. Usually what happens when the bees eat their honey, they'll eat it above the brood nest. If you can imagine this is just above the nest and what they'll do is they'll move their cluster up and they'll eat the honey in that semicircle. So it's quite common to see this part of the frame not filled. It looks like they're getting onto it. So that's great news.

And here's the other side and the bees don't like having open honey in their hives. So you can see them all here, cleaning it up and it won't take them long, probably a couple of minutes, maybe five or 10 minutes and that'll all be gone. So I might put this back in. Try and be careful not to squash the bees. When you're putting a Flow Frame in, the part down underneath can be a little bit of a bee guillotine sometimes. You need to be careful that there's no bees there. Now I will take the super off.

I might go around the other side, I think. So the bees are just starting to go for me. I like to smoke myself, it seems to help. Like I said, if they start stinging me, I'll put my jacket on. I like to go above the queen excluder when I'm opening a hive. That's just my preference. Wow, that's heavy, that's a good sign. Also I lay it on its end and that just saves the bees under here from getting squashed on the ground or from getting stuck in the grass or anything like that. You can also put it on the inner cover, so you can put your inner cover flat on the ground and put it on that.

Here you can see another example of the bees cleaning up all the open honey. So I'll pry this excluder off. Sometimes the excluders can spring and flick bees everywhere, so it can be good to just twist it off like that and look for the queen on the underside. Can't see her.

So I can see already that the population of this colony is really good. And that's what you want to see when you open up the hive. So I generally just take out the second frame because the first frame can sometimes be stuck to the wall. Really slow and gentle.

Here you can see two bees feeding each other. You can see a group of them over here, just there. 

So I'll flip the frame over. If you're using foundationless frames, you can see this is naturally drawn. There's no wires in this frame. This started out with just an empty space and there's a starter strip up here, which encourages the bees to draw their comb naturally. If you tip this on an angle like this that comb can bend and break out. So what I like to do is keep it all in plane with gravity, swing it around like a door and then you can hold it upside down if you want.

So lots of lovely coloured pollen, which is a great sign and lots of brood, which is another great sign . It means the bees are gearing up for the springtime.

I'm seeing a lot of brood in this colony, which means these guys are really pretty bumper. Here's the little baby bee just emerging here. There's going to be a lot more bees in the coming weeks in this hive. So this hive is actually one to watch because its population is quite high. As the spring starts happening more and more and the flow starts happening, we might need to split this hive early. Just to avoid it swarming.

You can see here, actually the bees have been eating this honey. You can see the little fractures in the capping where the bees stick their proboscis in. You can see them eating it up. I'm seeing a lot of eggs on this frame as well. I haven't spotted the queen yet, but may have missed her. Sometimes you can chase her across the hive as you go.


Hi, they're a bit grumpy this morning.


Hi Mira. Mira's our bee spy. They're definitely looking crowded.

So that's the last frame and I must have missed the queen, but that's okay. We know she's in there because we've seen eggs. The other thing I would note is that there are drones, so here's a drone in here. There's not heaps, but there are a few. And what I'm seeing in my own yard down the hill is quite a lot of drones, which tells me that it's okay to try and make splits and get queens mated. It is a little early, but I like to just try things and see what happens.

I'm just going to shake bees in here so I don't squash them when I'm putting this frame in. I'll just gently push these and make some space.


Is that a queen cup?


I think it's just a cup.


Is there anything in it?


Can you see?

This is what Mira was talking about, a queen cup here, you see the light in it. So Mira is looking for an egg or a grub inside that queen cup. And if there's something in there we know that this colony would be making a new queen.

Wow, you can see these bees here, I'll smoke them and wait for them to go in.


Wow, you can hear the change in the noise of the bees. The smoke's helping keeping the bees off while Pete puts the super back down. That should be an Olympic sport maybe.


Oh, I squished some bees there. Oops. I'll save this wax, scrape it off and pick it up. It's not really a good idea to leave your wax lying around because it can spread pathogens. So we'll pick it up. I just cleaned that off so I'm not putting it on and squashing heaps of bees. See these guys here, they'll work it out. Generally the bees in the super are field bees. So they know where their colony is. They've already geo-located and they'll generally fly home.

Beekeeping Questions

The frame that you first pulled out looked like it was quite full. When do you reckon you'd harvest that frame?

You could actually harvest that now, but it really depends on what's coming in outside, how cold or how warm it is and whether there's a flow on or not. So what you can do if you're seeing a frame like that, if your other frames are full also, you can just harvest that frame and then see what the bees do. If they start filling that frame again, then you know, you're pretty safe to harvest. If they just leave it, then you know just to leave it alone. But it really does depend on the season and what's happening, what the bees are bringing in.

I've got a bit of mould on the outside of the frames in the super, do I need to do anything about that?

I don't think so. Usually the bees will clean it up. Mould on the inside of the super on the frames just means that your bees aren't getting to that spot. So the population may be a little bit low. It may be too cold and they're not going to that part of the super. And you might find that that side of the super is in the shade all the time, perhaps. So you could experiment with changing the orientation of your box to get that, get the sun on that side and see what happens there. But generally the bees will clean that up when they want to use the space.

Is it common for a frame to have both brood and honey?

Yes, it's very common. Not a Flow Frame obviously, because in the Flow system, you'd probably want to use a queen excluder on top of your brood box so the queen doesn't go upstairs and try and lay in your Flow Frames. But in the brood nest, yes, it's really common to have brood and honey. So generally if you see the brood box as a three-dimensional nest and you discount the frames, the queen usually lays her brood pattern in a half sphere like this across the box. So what you'll find is, frames will have a circle or a semicircle of brood like that. And then a big strip of honey in a kind of a rainbow pattern. And usually there'll be a bit of pollen. Like there's a little interface of brood, pollen and honey.

I'll get my jacket on, the bees are getting a little bit stingy. I just generally don't like wearing a suit because they can't really see through the veil and it gets quite hot.


Which is why we've just brought out our new clear-view hood.


Exactly. So here's a great example of what I was just talking about actually, you can see that half sphere of brood there. And just around the edge is the shiny pollen and then here's the capped honey around the top. You can see I've broken up some capping there and the bees are cleaning that up. So there's a lot of different coloured pollen that's come in, which is a really great sign because you want your bees to have a lot of different pollen. Much like us, they need a varied diet and pollen is their protein source. While their honey is their source of carbohydrate.

Do bees need pollen to raise brood?

Yeah, they eat the pollen and it stimulates a gland in their heads called the hypopharyngeal gland. And that makes royal jelly, which they then feed to the larvae for the first three days. And then they feed a substance calledbee bread, which apparently is also part royal jelly, I believe, but it's not as strong in its enzymes and hormones. So that's why you generally see pollen around the brood because they want it fairly close to their brood. And you can tell there's a lot of pollen coming in by watching the front of your hive and the landing board. You'll see little balls of pollen on the bees' legs. That way, you can generally tell that the queen is doing quite well and laying up lots of brood. I'm just blowing on the bees to move them, or i can just touch them to move them as well. So here's a really nice patch of brood, you can tell it's quite large and there's not many cells missing. I think the cells that are missing have already hatched a new bee out and then the bees have started putting pollen in those cells, you can see the colours.

Why do bees beard on the front of the hive?

The bees work really hard to regulate the temperature of their colony. I believe they have to have it from 34 to 36 degrees, I think 35 degrees Celsius is the optimum temperature that they like to keep it. And if you've got a hive that has a good population there, the warmth of their bodies actually is something that they want to get rid of. So on a hot day, they'll all go outside and just cluster on the front just to get their body heat out of the hive environment. That just helps to regulate the temperature inside the nest and keep it at that 35 degrees Celsius. So I can see lots of pollen here, it's really great. Lots different colours in this bottom, so this is a side frame and they keep their honey and pollen out on the side, generally. It's a good thermal mass so it creates good insulation out on the side, but also it's a lot harder for an invader to get at when it's out on the side of the box.

We've got some warm weather forecasted for next week. Should we check the hive or should we just leave it until after winter? (Australia).

If your days are nice and warm like this, I would say yes, it would be fine to check your hive and see where it's at. Get an idea of what's happening going into spring. If it's cold, you don't want to do that and you don't want to do it on a cold or sort of less warm afternoon. You really want to do it in the morning when the sun's out and it's hitting the hive and make sure that the bees don't spend too much time heating their hive back up after you've pulled it apart. But if you've got a nice warm sunny day with not much wind, a bit like today, I would say, definitely go in and have a look.

Are certain beesuits and fabrics suitable for warmer climates?

Definitely. This is the 3-layered mesh suit, which are great for warm weather. Having said that, I do get hot, but these suits are the best. They're really, really great. They let the air right through and when it's breezy, it provides a lot of relief actually.

Who caps the brood cell? Is it the brood in the cell or the other workers?

It's the other workers. So the workers do a lot of jobs in the hive before they even go outside at all. They spend three weeks inside the hive doing a bunch of different jobs. And one of those jobs is to check and feed the larvae. Apparently they check a single larva over 1300 times a day. And when that larva is ready to pupate, those bees, we call them nurse bees, will then cap that cell. And after the cell is capped, then the magic happens underneath it. The grub spins itself a little cocoon and completely rearranges its body and metamorphoses.

How do you check the moisture content of your honey after you've harvested it?

I don't really have much experience of that because I don't generally do it. But I believe you can get something called a refractometer and it measures the moisture content of the honey. So that's a good one to get in touch withe the team for and they can answer that question in more detail. Because like I said, I haven't had much experience of doing that. I just kind of go off generally, if the honey's capped, then it's usually good.

Can you checkerboard your frames to build new comb on empty frames?

Yeah, that's a great idea. That's what I like to do myself. Especially if you're not using foundation. If you're putting two blank frames together in a colony, the bees don't have a guide either side. So they like to fill that space in any way they want, so it does encourage them to draw crooked. So if you put a fully drawn frame, then a blank frame and a fully drawn frame, it gives the bees walls as a guide to draw their comb nice and straight. And if you put, obviously this is all depending on what's happening outside, whether there's a flow on, whether the colony's got a healthy population or not, because you don't want to leave empty space in a small colony. But if you put your blank frame towards the middle of the nest, the bees are much more likely to draw it out because they'll want to use that space so the queen can lay. They'll want the comb in there, they don't like the empty space in the middle of the nest.

If you were to split this hive, how do you know which frames to take out?

It sort of depends what you're planning to do. If you're planning to do what we call a walkaway split and let them make their own queen, you don't generally mind where the queen ends up. Because the one without the queen will then make a queen, provided the bees have got the resources to do so. So what I generally do is I make sure there are eggs in both boxes. The split box, I want to have the best chance of making it so I will try and keep both boxes very strong. Meaning I'll actually shake bees into the split box. It all depends on finding the queen and you don't really want to shake the queen into the other box.

Like I said, it just depends what you're trying to do. To go in my split, I generally pick frames that have a lot of capped brood because then I know these bees will hatch straight out and help the splits numbers. And I'll choose frames with eggs and young larvae as well. And you want plenty of these nurse bees. So the nurse bees are generally the ones that are on the brood already and they won't fly home because they haven't been outside yet. So they don't actually know where they live. So when they graduate to becoming what we call field bees, they'll geo-locate to their spot. And if we just get nurse bees in our split, then they won't fly out and fly back to their old location.

If you were making a walkaway split, would you leave the queen in the original hive?

Yeah, you can, and you can get your split to make their own queen, or you can do the reverse. Some people say that taking the queen into the split and moving her elsewhere can actually simulate a swarm. So you make those that colony think that they've actually swarmed and that can mitigate swarming even more than just reducing the population.

If your brood box is quite full, but the bees haven't really taken to the super yet, is there anything you can do? Are they likely to swarm? And if not can you do, do you still need to split the hive?

No. If they haven't taken to the super, generally that's a sign that you wouldn't need to split them. If the brood box is quite crowded and there's a flow just about to start, they'll probably go up into your super. Sometimes it can take a long time for them to go up there, just depending on the season and the strength of the colony. But it is worthwhile waiting and just keep monitoring their population. If you tuned in earlier, you could see the population in the super, we might just get a shot of that over on the super. You can see the brood box was quite packed, but you can also see the super here on the ground has got a lot of bees in it as well. So with two boxes can support quite a large population of bees. So it's a good idea just to wait and see and wait for the honey flow to start. So you wouldn't need to split your bees until they're completely packed and you might go in and see queen cells being made.

If I want to requeen my hive for next spring, do I kill off the existing queen before I introduce the new queen? (Australia)

Yes, definitely, that's what you want to do. But if you're buying in a queen from a queen breeder, you don't want to do anything until you've got that queen in your hand. Your new queen has arrived in the mail and you know she's alive and she's ready to go. Because you really don't want to kill your old queen and then the new queen gets stuck in the post or ends up not being alive when you receive her. So that's the first thing. But once you've got her, you go in and find the queen that you want to replace and you do kill her. You can put her in some isopropyl alcohol. And if you do that a couple of times with a couple of queens, you'll get some alcohol with a really nice queen smell, which you can then put into old boxes as a swarm lure. Or you can just squash the queen. It's pretty brutal, but that's just the way of it. Then you wait 24 hours for that hive to recognise that they're queenless, then you come back and pop the breeder queen into your colony. I actually made a video about that, which is a really great resource for beekeepers. Look it up.

What's the smallest size hive you can get?

It sort of depends on the system you're going for. With a Langstroth hive, people can run, we call them nucleus colonies. They're small hives. They can be anything from six or seven frames to one or two frames, even. The one and two frame nucleus colonies require a lot more management just due to the confined space. So you need to really watch the populations there. Some other hives such as queen-mating nucs. You get these things called baby nucs, which are two frame and they're half frames. So the frames are split across like that. I was actually watching a guy on YouTube called Sam Comfort, who uses cut-down Langstroth hives and he uses barbecue skewers as frame rests, they're a little like a top bar hive. And lets the bees draw natural comb straight off the barbecue skewers, which I thought was really cool. 

There are two supers on the Flow Hive behind you. Would you normally do that or would you normally have two brood boxes?

You can have either, just depends what you're going for. We put two supers on because this colony was quite strong and they wanted the room. Also, we had a spare that we sort of needed to do something with and that's been quite good for them. If you want two brood boxes, you can absolutely do that as well. It all just depends on the strength of your colony and what you're trying to achieve. A lot of beekeepers in cold climates swear by having two brood boxes because they can keep their their brood nest really strong. But generally we just use one brood box. It all just depends on personal choice really.

If you add an extra brood box for expansion, can it be put above the queen excluder later in the season? Once that brood has emerged, will the bees eventually fill those cells with honey?

Yes, definitely, that's what happens. You can use those frames then for an extra honey box. Obviously it's not going to be a Flow box and you'll have to harvest that honey in the traditional way by the crushing and straining or with with a traditional extractor. So if you do add your brood box, you can even just put frames that have brood in them up above the queen excluder and that brood will just hatch out or the nurse bees will go up to take care of it through the excluder. The brood will hatch out and then the queen won't be able to lay any more eggs in those frames and they'll eventually just become honey frames.

How many bees do you think are in that hive?

Well, the common consensus apparently is that a bumper hive can have as many as 60,000 bees. But I'm not going to count them. But that's a pretty packed colony.

When is a good time to start beekeeping? (NSW, Australia)

If you're in this area then now is perfect. Absolutely perfect, it's bang on the money. So what you want to do is try and find a beekeeper who's got a nucleus colony to sell and install it in your new hive. And the bees will have every chance of becoming successful because they will jump right into spring and there'll be plenty of food for them. The queen will lay up really quickly and you won't have to wait as long for your honey crop to come in.

So we'll just get the roof back on this colony and thanks so much for tuning in and for all your questions. Check for more in-depth lessons. Cedar will be back here next week.


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