Flow Hive brood inspection with Pete
Cedar’s away this week, so Pete has stepped in to do a brood inspection and take over the Q & A. He got a lot of great questions about brood inspections, swarming, bee removals and condensation in the hive.
It's a beautiful day here up in Byron bay and it's been raining a lot lately. It's just come sunny today. So the bees have actually been a little bit hungry for a little while and today they're out and about there's lots and lots of activity in the front of the hives. And it's telling us that the bees are onto something, some food source, and they're bringing it back in. So today I thought we'd do a brood inspection. Cedar is away. My name's Pete, and I'll take you through the brood box and answer any questions you might have. I'm just gonna pop the top, blow some smoke in the entrance, go down this way. And I'm just gonna take the super straight off today. I'm not really gonna worry about it. I'm just gonna take it off and put it aside so we can get straight into the brood box. So I took that rear cover off because this actually is a great handle to lift the brood box up. And I like to go in above the queen excluder. I'm guessing it'll probably be quite stuck. No, it came free pretty well.
So I like to put the super on its end. I find that disturbs the bees a lot less and it's fairly sturdy and steady. We can get in and lift the excluder off. Sometimes it's easy to flick all the bees off the excluder. So what you can try and do is just get it a little bit free and then just kind of twist it around in a circle, and it doesn't fling all the bees off. I like to just turn the excluder over and look for the queen underneath. You can see some drones underneath.
So the thing with that is if you go to put the excluder back on after you've finished and put it upside down, those drones are still on there and they'll be stuck upstairs because they can't get back down through the excluder. So maybe we'll just shake them off, just a quick shake. And that puts a lot of bees in the air, but they're not necessarily grumpy. They're just in the air.
Why would the queen only be found in the bottom box?
We use this queen excluder, we put it on top of the bottom box and that ensures that the queen can't get through this mesh, but the workers can. So both the queen and the drones can't pass through the mesh, but the workers will go upstairs. And that ensures that only honey is put up in this top box and that's what we want. We don't want any brood up in the Flow Frames.
Why can't the queen fit through?
It's just a size issue. So the queen is a little bit bigger than the workers. She has a longer abdomen, but she's also a little bit wider. And so the excluder is designed specifically with that in mind so that the workers can wriggle through, but the queen just can't fit. Every now and again, you'll get a really small queen that can actually fit through and she might get caught upstairs in the top box. And then you, as the beekeeper have to go and catch her and put her back down.
Do you catch her just with your hands or with some kind of tool?
I do. I catch her with my fingers. You can actually pick up bees. If you are feeling kind of brave, you can pick them up with your fingers just by the wings. I'll try and get a worker. There we go. And I just really gently have her, and she can't sting me and she's not hurt. And that's how I pick up the queen. But you can also use a little queen clip, a really cheap little device. It looks like a hair clip, you open it up and just catch the queen bee that way. And then you can just either let her go in the brood box or you can place her in the entrance and she'll walk in straight in the entrance.
Typically, when you're doing inspections, you tend to wear a bee suit. Can you explain why you are not wearing one?
Yeah, if you're a beginner, you should definitely wear a bee suit. Personally for me, I just don't really like it and I'm okay with getting stung. I don't react to getting stung. It's important that if you react to getting stung, you definitely wear a bee suit. I like the feeling of not having a suit. But having said that, I do get stung a lot, so definitely wear your suit. And if these bees get stingy, I will put my jacket on. It's just over there. Also it's really hot and I don't like being hot in my bee suit.
What size hive are you inspecting today and how many brood frames are in this one?
So this size Flow Hive is a six frame, which refers to the six Flow Frames up in the top box. And that's equal to eight frames in the brood box. And the other size is a seven frame Flow Hive, which equals 10 frames in the brood box. And that's the largest size. And I find the seven frame gets quite heavy to lift off. So I like the six frame myself.
So I'm just having a quick look, I'm just gonna blow on these bees to get them out of the way. I can see some pollen down here. So that's always a good sign that the bees have got a little bit of pollen, some food coming in. You want to look for pollen on bees' legs too. This is an outside frame so I don't expect there to be much on it. You can see it's a little dry. There's no honey. There is a little bit of brood down here and I'm just trying to angle the cells. I'm supporting this with my finger. When you've got naturally drawn comb like this and the bees haven't anchored it all the way, it can get a little bit bendy. I'm trying to get the sun down the cells at the moment. So I'm just supporting it with my hands to make sure that it doesn't bend away. I can't see any eggs on there. I can see a baby bee just chewing its way out. So that tells me that this brood is what we call emerging brood and it's 21 days old. So the time from the day of the egg being laid to the adult bee popping out is 21 days. I'll just lean that up there carefully and go into the next one.
If you don't want to use your J hook, once you get a little bit of wiggle room in your brood box, you can use this kick-down part of the tool here and just put it in between the frames and lever them apart. Because the bees stick the frames together quite well. Then gives you a lot of room to just grab these end bars and slowly pull them out.
So this is a great frame. I've got the sun over my shoulder, which is perfect for finding brood and eggs. A good trick with that, instead of looking for the sun and blinding yourself and then trying to see them, just look for your shadow on the comb. You can turn around until you find your shadow and then hold it up a little bit more. I'm just touching these bees to get them out of the way. You can also blow on them and they'll move. So I'm seeing eggs and lots and lots of lavae or grubs. And that's a really great sign that the queen is doing her job well. You want to look for a good pattern. So you want to look and make sure that the queen has laid in most of the cells and she hasn't left any out. If you see a pattern that's a bit patchy and all the grubs over here and that's a bit patchy, then your queen might be getting a little old or failing in some way. And you may find that the bees replace her or that you might want to think about replacing her.
Why don't you expect to see much on the edge frame?
Generally in the hive, it's not a hard and fast rule, but generally what will happen is the brood nest is kept in the centre. So all the babies are laid in here and the bees put their resources, honey and pollen out on the edge and honey is really good thermal mass so it provides insulation. But I've been told that also, they put it out there because it's their resources and they can defend it more easily if it's away from the entrance. It being in the centre also helps the bees to be able to regulate the heat of the brood, which is really important to the brood development.
And the reason I didn't expect to find much in the way of stores is just because it's been raining so much. But also around here traditionally late summer is a pretty hard time for the bees just because it's so hot and there's not that much in flower just in this area. I think they've got onto something, I'm not sure what it is.
If one of your hives swarms, do you normally recapture it? And if you do, would you requeen it immediately or are you happy to keep the queen that comes with the swarm?
The call is up to you on that. Because that swarm is really ready to get going, their life basically depends on it. They are really ready to draw comb. They'll draw out the box of comb really quickly and that queen is really ready to lay because she's focused on setting up a brand new colony. And you may find that the bees supersede her down the track. Anyway, if it was me, I just generally leave them to do their thing and see what happens. I don't generally mess around with trying to requeen a swarm.
There's a drone on my arm. The drones sound like little helicopters when they fly. They've got a lot of weight to carry around. So now we're getting into the centre of the brood nest and I can see a lot of grubs in here, all the capped brood over here. It's all looking really good. The pattern is very solid. You can see down here, that's all capped brood down here. We've got eggs over here, we've got lavae. That's really what you wanna see. It's an ideal pattern.
Will you be looking for the queen or do you know by these patterns on these brood frames that there is a queen in this hive?
I definitely know there's a queen because I've seen eggs. So I know that she's been there in the last three days because eggs hatch on day three. So I can be sure that she's been in here. Whether she's alive today, you just don't know until you spot her. So I always like to look for her and just keep an eye out for her. But if I don't see her, then that's okay. As long as you can see eggs then you're generally fine, if you can't see any eggs or grubs and you've got not that much capped brood, you may have a queenless colony. The bees tend to generally be a little bit more feisty or a little bit more kind of energised. They might be a little more defensive. It's sort of hard to explain how they are.
They they're just a little different when they're queenless. So you can sort of get a feel for it. If you see a queenless colony, pay attention to how they're being in that case. If you've got another hive nearby, you can drop a frame with eggs into the queenless colony. And hopefully those bees will make a new queen. You'll see some queen cells .Emergence for a new queen takes 16 days. So you could check around day three or four to see if they're forming those queen cells. And then you can check around day 13 or 14 to see that you've got capped queen cells. Then you want to come back after around around three and a half, four weeks to make sure that the new virgin queen has flown out to mate with drones and that she's come back and is actually laying her eggs.
And if that doesn't happen, because it's quite a big deal for her to do that, she flies out and mates with several drones. And if she gets eaten by a bird or doesn't find her way back to the hive, then your colony is now hopelessly queenless. They don't have any more eggs to make a queen. So that's something that the beekeeper will need to fix either by buying a queen and putting her in there in a cage or by giving them some more eggs and more bees to help with the resources, to be able to make another queen.
This comb is pretty black and it is pretty old, but it still looks quite healthy. The capping looks really nice if you're seeing perforations or open caps or sort of bulging caps or just anything that looks funky in the brood capping, then you might want to investigate further. I always say it's worth having a look at anything you find a little bit strange. So I'll get a stick, there's nothing here I can see, which is great, but all I'll do is just open it up with the stick.
So what are you looking for specifically?
If we find a cap that looks a little bit strange or open or perforated, which there are none, we can just open it up with the stick and just check out the colour beneath. So that's just a baby bee under there. Generally, if you're seeing something white, it's totally fine. But if you're seeing something brown, gooey or dry, hard or a a grub that's dried up facing upwards, then you might have American foulbrood or chalkbrood or sacbrood in your hive. But this is looking really good.
How often do you think is a good idea to do brood inspections on your hive?
I like to tell beginners that have just set up with their bees to get in every couple of weeks, just because it can get overwhelming. And if you don't inspect, it starts to become something that you might feel a bit nervous about it. And so you don't do it and then it just kind of mounts up and then there's this pressure to do it. And then you just never end up kind of getting in there. So I just tell people, just jump in every couple of weeks. It really helps you feel okay around your bees. You start to learn what's happening in the nest and what to look for and you get a real feel for it. But generally, you know, once a month is really a great level of care for your bees. So I try and go in once a month. In wintertime, I generally just leave them alone for a couple of months while it's cold. I don't want to really upset the heat of the hive. When it's under about 16 or 17 degrees Celsius I don't go in because it just takes the bees a lot more energy to heat up that colony again and make sure their brood is at the right temperature and all those sort of things. So I just leave them be for a couple of months. I usually check them before wintertime and then let them go and then check them as spring starts to hit.
Sometimes colonies will choose to nest in the walls of your house. Can you explain a little bit more about that and what to do if that happens?
It's a pretty big undertaking to get them out. So what happens there is a colony in the neighbourhood, usually a managed colony like this, will throw off a swarm and the beekeeper doesn't realise and just lets it go and it'll move into your roof cavity or your wall cavity or your letterbox or somewhere weird. And there's a couple of different ways to get it out. But the surest way to get it out is to actually cut into your wall and cut the hive out. There are a couple of different ways to do it, but you can use a really, really low suction bee vacuum to vacuum the bees off the comb and out of their cavity. And then you cut their comb out.
You rubber band that comb into some blank brood frames, and then you pour the bees into a box, the box with all their brood and put them in their new location. And it's quite a traumatic event for them. So you really need to take care of them for the first couple of weeks and make sure they get a good start in that next spot. You also may want to feed them while that happens, just to make sure they've got plenty of resources to get going. So I've done several of those. They're called cutouts or bee removals and they're really fun, but they're a big undertaking and they're quite stressful for the bees. There's guys I watch on Instagram, I can't remember their name, they don't use vacuums. They're just really tuned into the bees behaviours so they can get the bees to run into the box with some old comb and a little bit of queen pheromone or something. And the bees will run off their comb and into their new box. That's real bee whisperer type stuff.
A lot of the comb in my hive is quite black. Should I swap it out or just keep that comb in there forever? And if it's black, is that bad?
It's not bad to have black comb. Because comb tends to soak everything in and hold it, everything that comes into the hive will get into the wax. So if the bees have brought in chemicals from somewhere, flowers that have just been sprayed, for instance, they'll bring them in and, and that will get walked into the wax and the wax will kind of hold it. I believe things like fungal diseases, such as chalkbrood, the spores can get caught up in the wax as well. So when it's old, there's a chance that it can contain those things. So you may want to start swapping your comb out. But what happens to make it black is just the foot traffic, first of all, over the combs. But then you can see the difference in colour.
This is an outside frame, but you can see this has had honey in it at one time, you've got this band of colour change here. This section has had brood through it. So the cocoon that the bee has pupated in is left behind after the bee emerges. And once that happens quite a few times, the comb just gets blacker and blacker as those cocoons and faeces of the larvae get left behind in the cell. The bees do clean them out, but they they build up over time. And what happens is the cell walls get thicker and thicker in the brood comb. And what you can find sometimes is they're so fat that they're unusable for the bees. So the way that I would swap combs out is to either move it out to the edge where the queen doesn't generally lay, wait for all that brood to hatch out and then just pull it out.
Or if you've got another super, you can put it upstairs above your queen excluder. And that just makes sure that the queen can't lay in it and the bees will only put honey in it. And when they put their honey in it, you can actually pull that frame out and harvest it for yourself, if the bees have plenty of food. It's up to the beekeeper how long they want to just keep recycling their comb. Generally you can keep it for eight years or more.
Why do you leave the super on its side?
It's just my personal way of doing it, not saying it's right or wrong. I just like not having to put the bees onto something. When I pull the super off, I'm putting a piece of wood, basically the end of the hive down on the ground. If I was to put it this way and not put it on something, I'd leave a lot of bees behind in the grass. What can happen this way when you go to put the super back on though, is all bees have come out. So my smoker has gone out, but I just give them a little bit of smoke and it just drives them back up. What can happen also is that this inner cover falls off and that's totally fine. We can just shake the bees. I just do it that way to save the bees from the grass. Plus it's quite easy to pick up, I just put my finger there and tip it over and I've got my other handle here.
There is a large quantity of bees clustering between the screen and the pest tray. What should I do about this?
Sometimes the screen can be put in upside down. You want to make sure your screen has the slope at the front facing down. But sometimes what can happen is, there gets to be a gap on the side here that a bee can fit down, or that becomes elevated in some way. It doesn't have to be that much, just a couple of millimetres. So that may be what's happening. The other thing that can happen is when your tray is in, somehow the inside edge of this cover might not be contacting that tray. And so there may be a gap between here and here that the bees can access. So you might just want to check those things.
And just make sure that the vent cover is in correctly. You can block holes up with things like silicon, but you want to make sure the bees don't get caught on it. So what you can do is just put some silicon in and then just put some masking tape straight over it, and then it'll dry over several days. And then you just peel the masking tape off. Steel wool will block it really quickly, but it will just start rusting and leave a rusty mess. Something like the stuff off the top of the scouring pad that you use on your dishes, that can be great too, that doesn't rust. And the bees can't chew it. So that's a pretty good option if you want to block up any kind of hole.
You're wearing black. Why aren't the bees stinging you?
I know. I forgot. I put my black shirt on this morning and forgot I was doing this, but I don't know. I don't generally find that it riles them up that much, but I don't know. I just roll with it and seeing what happens, I suppose. Our friend Frewoini says that the bees like to go for contrast between a dark colour and a white colour. I haven't seen that myself. Having said that though, this colony is really cool. It's really, really gentle and nice. So it's not recommended that you try wearing black. Wear your bee suit. If the bees start attacking me or just acting defensive, then I'll definitely put my jacket on. It's just over there.
How fast should a colony grow?
It really depends on what's around for them. It's always the million dollar question. How long will it take? And I don't know what to say, except it takes as long as it takes. When there's a lot of food for them, it can go really, really fast. When there's hardly any food, they can just be in a holding pattern forever. It seems like forever and ever. Once you get your first bees, it's really exciting. And it's like, wow, this is so amazing. And so cool. And then it's kind of like, when are they gonna do something? But once they really start going, then it's actually becomes really exciting again. And once they get onto something, they can go really, really quickly.
There is some condensation on the super window in the morning. Is that a problem? (NSW)
It might be a problem. That again, depends on where your hive is. If your hive is in the sun during most of the day, then I wouldn't worry about it. But if it's gonna be in the shade for a lot of the day, then I'd probably just bump it out into the sun because a hive that's got high condensation levels that isn't getting dried up during the day is way more prone to getting things like chalkbrood and sacbrood, the fungal diseases that affect the guard of the larvae. Because it's a fungus, it likes that kind of wet conditions, the high humidity in the hive. So I'd just bump it into the sun. And maybe if you want to, when you've got your hive back together, just pop the inner cover up and chuck a couple of sticks under there. And that just gives it a little tiny bit of extra airflow circulating around and that can really help with the condensation.
I've just seen a baby bee emerging. It looks really fluffy and cute. I love to see that. There's a lot of waggle dancers going on on this frame. So bees have found something there's a waggle dance there.
What is the waggle dance?
It's the way that the bees communicate to the other bees in the colony where the nectar source is. So these bees have found a nectar source and they're actually doing this dance to tell the other bees, Hey, come and help. They're recruiting the other bees to come and help work that nectar source. So if you can imagine in the colony, it's dark. And so the bees can't really see that well. So what they do is they dance and waggle and there's this formula that someone's worked out of what that means in relation to the sun and the distance and all that kind of stuff. It's pretty incredible.
Is it too late in the season to do a split? I have a hive that's almost bursting. (Australia)
Good question. It depends on the amount of food that's in the colony, first of all. It's always risky this late to weaken the colony so much by taking away some of the bees. What you could possibly do is make a smaller split. So not taking away half the frames. You could make a small split if you have a small box. So for instance, you could make a a three frame nuc and see what happens there. But it's a tricky call. I probably wouldn't to be honest, but you can just try it and see what happens. Just make sure that if you do it, then you monitor the split and you monitor the parent hive and make sure that they're gonna make it through. And you may want to combine them back together if they're not gonna make it.
Why are there so many drones on that frame?
There are a lot of drones in this colony, which I think is still a great sign. It means that the colony's got a lot of resources to be able to keep those drones. Because drones are quite resource heavy. They eat a lot of honey. It takes them a lot of energy to fly, because they're so big and they fly out every day. So it can be a real drain on a on a colony with not many resources. There's a lot of drone comb up here. So here's a good thing to point out, is the different cell sizing. I might shake these bees off so we can get a good look at it. So I'm just going to have a really gentle shake and put a lot of bees in the air. You're getting a bit feisty now.
They're just bumping me. That's okay. They always get stuck in my beard. So here we can see a lot of capped brood, but also a lot of pollen. Now these cell sizes are important because this smaller size cell that looks quite hexagonal, they're all worker brood size cells. So the queen will come up to those and lay worker eggs in them. But over here we've got drone sized cells and you can see they've had several rounds of brood go through them. Because the cell walls are really thick, but they've also got more circular and they're a lot bigger. And just over here in the corner right here, we can see dedicated honey cells, which have a little bit of a angle upwards. And the bees will only put honey in those cells. The bees can put honey in all these cell sizes, but the queen won't lay in the dedicated honey cells because they're just the wrong shape. They've got an angle to them. So here we've got the drone drone size cells and here we've got the worker size cells.
On the other side here, you can see some capped drone brood. The drones take a little bit longer than workers to develop. So the drones take 24 days, the workers 21. It's just because they're a bigger bee. They need those bigger cells and the bigger capping to accommodate their large size. They'll chew their way out around day 24.
I'm getting a nuc this Saturday, is there enough time for the bees to settle in now and have enough food for the winter? And should I wait until spring to put the super on? (Sydney, Australia)
Yes, definitely wait until spring to put the super on. It can really depend on what is around for the bees at the time in your area. I don't really know what's happening in Sydney for the bees at the moment myself, but if you install the nuc, then make sure in that nuc, there's plenty of food for the bees in the nuc already. Because they might not get a chance before spring to build up their stores very much. And I definitely would leave the super off and just use the brood box. Pretty much whenever you're installing a nuc into your Flow Hive, just put your super away in the shed for a while until your brood box is completely full of drawn wax and bees and honey and pollen.
So these bees are getting pretty feisty. I might just put the colony back together. As I put the combs back, I like to keep the end bars together and that just lets me at the end, shove everything over without squashing heaps of bees as all these kind of get back together. I just gently push that down and then lever it across. Then I've got room to put my last frame in. Now I didn't find the queen in this inspection. So I'm pretty sure, not 100 percent sure, but I'm pretty sure she wasn't on this outside frame, but I did lean it up against the super. So there is a chance she was on here and went into the super, so I'll have to just figure that out later on.
So that's all we've got time for today. Thanks so much for tuning in my name's Pete, Cedar's away this week. I appreciate you having me. We'll see you next time.
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