Flow Hive Classic Flow Frame inspection

by Flow Hive 22 min read

Today Cedar pulled apart a Classic Flow Hive and had a look at the Flow Frames, before moving into the brood box. We saw fresh wax and bees festooning. Questions included moving a hive and cycling out brood frames.



Video transcription

Thanks for joining us today. It's National Pollinator Week in support of pollinator health here. So we're celebrating these amazing little bees that make the world go round. Not only the European honeybee, but all of the native bees in the world and other pollinators - bats, butterflies, you name it. We need them to do their amazing pollination, which really does connect all of the species. It does the really important work of spreading the DNA around and without it, we'd lose one-third of our food types. And not only that, we would lose a whole lot of species being able to reproduce. So thank you for joining us. Today, we're having a look at the hive we harvested last week. And if you look in the window here, this is our Araucaria hive, and this is our Flow Hive Classic.

And you can see in the window, the frame we've harvested, the bees have actually chewed all of the wax capping away. They've recycled that wax they've reformed the cells. And as soon as there's a good nectar flow, they'll be ready to go again. So it's amazing to be able to watch that experience, but what we're going to do to even get a better look at that. So I'm gonna show you how to inspect the Flow Frames. So what we're going to do is pull this roof off, pull the inner cover off and just pull that frame out. Not because we need to, but just out of interest to see what's going on in the hive. So I've got my smoker here and I've been filling it full of pine needles this morning. Pine needles are not a bad thing to light a smoker with.

Look at all those bees coming home. Isn't that beautiful? They're just kind of hovering there. I think the smoke is something different and they're just pausing in the air before they land. If you watch carefully, you'll get to see them coming in with pollen on their hind legs. They do this amazing pollen-collecting effort where, as they come to the flower, the pollen grains actually jump off them because the bees are statically charged and the bees are covered in little hairs. Even their eyeballs are covered in hairs. Then what they do is they scrape all that pollen down to their pollen baskets on their hind legs.

And they'll fly back to the hive, usually with pollen and nectar almost equal their body weights. It's an incredible feat. Sometimes they'll be flying 10 kilometres or six miles. I don't know how they do it, but they do. They seem to defy the laws of physics to do that. Now, when they get back to the hive, they fly in the front and they will actually scrape the pollen off their hind legs and then push it into the cells with their heads and they'll pack it down, add their special sauce and ferment it into a beautiful bee bread. It's like when humans ferment things like sourdough bread, it's easier to digest for us. It's the same for the bees.

Next, what we're going to do is take the roof off this hive, and then we are going to take the top box completely off. Next we're going to open this rear window now. I don't think there's a lot of honey in there at the moment, as you can see, because the bees are a bit hungry right now, hoping for a bit of a flow of nectar soon. Now we can take that roof right off like that, put that aside, and we're going to take the inner cover off. Here we go. But first of all, we're gonna have a look at one of the Flow Frames, and then we're going to move on to the brood. We're pulling out this frame is just out of interest. This is the one we harvested last week. So let's just for fun. Have a good look at what the bees have done to it in one week after the honey's been harvested. So I've got a bit of smoke down between the cells and now we're gonna get a hive tool and I'll show you where the lifting points are. There's one here under the frame is with the J there's one here under this end. You used with the chisel end and there's one at the bottom here. So it's about just loosening it up. If it's the first frame in the hive, things can be a little bit tight with propolis and wax. And you'll just have to chisel it out a little bit so we can get under the top here and just lift it a little bit.

So look at that, the bees have completely stripped all the capping off. Last week, this was full and you can watch that harvesting video. They've gotten down there, they've reused the wax they've pulled off for the capping. They've joined all the cell parts together. Pretty cool.

And that was a real win when we were inventing the Flow Hive, because what it meant was we didn't have to build in hive decappers. If you're familiar with the conventional way of harvesting, you take the frames out, you take it to a processing shed, you get a hot knife and you slice the wax capping off. Now we were trying to build contraptions to do that in the hive, but luckily we actually didn't need to because the bees are so clever. They notice once the honey's drained out from the frame that the the cells are empty and they will take the wax capping off and reuse it. So that means it's much less complicated mechanism. I did have all sorts of capping pieces that would move from the front and all sorts of designs at at one point.

Can you show us why the cells in the Flow Frames are not flat? People often think there's a problem because they're not level.

So what they're talking about, there's this step here. So you've got in, then out, then in, then out, then in and out. If you look back to last week's video, you'll see that this was a flat area of beeswax with the hexagon imprints. And that was their capping over the top of the cells. So what they typically do is they attach to these Flow Frame pieces and they build their wax cells out further. Then they put their capping on. So the reason why every second one is stepped in is that's the one that moves and we wanted to have the moving one deeper within the honeycomb. So there's less disturbance to the capping section the bees are standing on. So that's the reason for that step.

So let's have a look at this next one, which is actually full of honey. Despite the bees have removed the honey from the end here, the next one is full. So that's another reason to check if you're twiddling your thumbs and wishing you could harvest some honey, then maybe just check in case. Actually the majority of the frame is full. When the flow comes back on again, they'll fill up this window and give you a much better indication of when the hive's full and the flow is there. But if you're getting impatient, you really want some honey. Then you can just pop the lid and just have a little bit of a squiz in here to see if indeed there is some harvestable honey. So let's just have a look at this and see what's going on. Typically when they're hungry, what you'll find is in the centre, they'll start eating some of the honey away. So when they're a bit hungry and you know there's not much of a flow, you're actually better off harvesting the ones towards the outside of the hive.

What I'm seeing is one beautiful frame of honey here, look at that. They've not filled the extremities here, but all of the rest is nice and full with honey. It looks like it has been for a while, judging by the colour of the capping. It's whiter when they first put it on and then it gets darker with all the bee footprints. You'd think they'd wipe their feet on the way in the door, but no, they bring in dust and things from the environment and walk all over the surface of their wax. And it actually changes the colour of it.

The next one it looks like has got honey as well. So what we're seeing here is quite a bit of honey in the middle of this box, which is a great thing, considering we're in our winter here. What I'm gonna do is put this back together. And I'm just gonna show you some tips on getting your frames back in. Now, if you just put your frame in like that, you want to slide it across and you want to slide it forward. So you make a nice flat window here and pull in the bottom. What we're trying to get is all of the frames themselves make up this nice end-frame observation window. And there's an adjustment screw at the back to help push it that way. Or you can just push it that way and the bees will sort of set it in place with their wax. So the last frame can be hard to get in. So the way I usually do it, I might just shake these bees off. Most things in beekeeping are nice, slow, gentle movements. But if you're trying to get bees off something, then you usually give it a good whack and that will actually get a lot of bees off it.

If you've got a whole lot of bees and you're pushing down between frames, you can sometimes damage the bees. So I find the best way is to put it up on its end first, put this here like this and just roll it into place. And that way it holds the position between the two frames. If you find it's getting tangled up and won't go down, just pull it out and try again. So that's pretty good. At the back here, I'm hitting this side rail. So move it over a little bit and then push it down. And now you can see it's got a nice flat window, which is important. If they're too far out of line, bees can escape there and so on.

So that's how you do your Flow Frame inspection, not something you need to do every time before you harvest, but you can do it as a learning tool to find out what the observation windows on the side and the back look like and what that means for your bees and your honey. It does differ a bit, some bees don't like filling the edges and other bees really like to fill it all out. So occasionally you get a hive that this observation window isn't as useful to know when to harvest, but mostly it is.

How often would you inspect this hive through winter?

So here where we are, we don't really get a winter, as far as the European honeybee is concerned, because we don't have snow. We don't have that long, cold winter, and you can even see where we're in our winter now. And there's things flowering everywhere. So we actually get good honey flows in the winter. But if you are in a place that does get long, cold winters, there's no flowers, then refrain from doing your brood inspections in the winter. What you want to do is look after your bees just prior to winter, if they don't have enough food, then you'd feed them. Let them build up a bit of stores because they need that to last for a long time with no flowers. That's why they store honey. So you might also pack your hive down, if you've got multiple boxes to a smaller hive, that's more right sized for the colony. Taking the excluder out, which sits in between these two boxes is a good idea. Allows the queen to roam free, which is important. If the brood nest is moving around the hive to consume the honey, you don't want the queen stuck behind and perishing. So a few things there for, for winter, but it really does depend. Ask your local beekeepers what you need to do to prepare for winter. But once you've prepared the colony, you just leave it. And when you get some sunny, warm days again the first ones heading towards spring, then you can open up and see how they've gone.

Any tips on moving your hive?

So moving your hive, it depends a little bit on how far you're moving it. The thing you're dealing with moving the hive is the way they geo-locate. These bees know that this is their hive and that one's not. On a windy day, they can get a bit lazy and can't be bothered flying all the way down the row. And they might go into that hive. But generally they'll stick to this one and they know that this is their hive. So if you grab this hive and move it over there, the bees will get quite confused and they'll come back to this spot going, "where's my hive? Where's my hive?". And they're so accurate that if you do want to just move them little bit by little bit, then you can only move them a metre or two at a time. So you'd shift it just a metre and then wait a day and shift it again and wait a day and you can creep it across your yard like that. So for a small move, that's a good idea. You might want to put it on a trolley or something, so you can easily move it each day and you can get it to the other side of your yard. And the bees will slowly follow. If you want to move it further than across the yard, then there's two techniques. One is to move them so far away that they can't remember where they are. So that would be six miles, 10 kilometres away and they won't actually then remember the spot. You leave them there for enough time for the foragers to change over. And because they're the ones that really know where the location is, the ones that are flying. So you leave it there for, for a month and then you move it back to the new location, which might be a few hundred metres away.

And that's conventionally how it's mostly been done. However, there's a hack if you want to move it across the yard without doing that double move. You can just pick it up and move it. What you do is you block the entrance early in the morning, so most of your bees are home. If you strap up your hive, you load it onto a trailer or the back of a truck. And then you drive it to the new location. You unload it, you and then you open the entrance. Now, if you just open the entrance, what will happen is a whole bunch of bees will go foraging and go and recognise the landmarks and fly back to the original spot.

Even if you've moved it, say four kilometres away, a whole lot of the forager bees will come back to this spot here. Say the hack is before you open the entrance, you put an obstacle in front, which could be a t-shirt taped around the hive. It could be a whole lot of foliage that you've broken up and put there something. So when those forager bees race outta the hive, they crash into the foliage and go, hang on. Something's different, something's changed. And that triggers them to do a reorientation flight. So that can be an easier way to move them shorter distances. However, you'll still get 5% of the bees returning to the old spot. So you can either, if there's other hives nearby, you can just let them find other hives. Or you could put any box here, collect those bees and ferry them to the new location every couple of days. We've got more in-depth videos on how to do this at TheBeekeeper.org. And there's a whole online training course there. It's also a fundraiser and we're planting, we're halfway through planting a million trees this year from that fundraiser. So we're pretty excited about it.

Since putting a Flow Hive in the garden, we've noticed so many more native bees setting up in our garden alongside our European bees, especially the leaf cutters. Is this common?

Well, it's very common that people really start noticing bees when they become a beekeeper. Not only that, we get these beautiful stories of people really noticing what's going on with the pollination and what's going on with the seasons and noticing that trees flower, that they didn't notice flowered before. And running around the block, converting the place into a bee-friendly zone. So it's a wonderful thing to really tune in and see what's going on. As to whether putting your beehive there has attracted more native bees, not sure. I haven't heard that happens so much, but it could be that you're really tuning in and looking at what's going on in the flowers in your garden.

What we're gonna do now is take this box right off and we'll have a look at the brood. It's National Pollinator Week here. We want to get into the brood nest and see what these extraordinary pollinators are up to. A hive like this could pollinate 50 million flowers a day, and that's why humans have dragged them all around the world, wherever they've gone.

So the chisel end goes under like that. And once you've got it loose, you should be able to lift it. Now, this has still a fair bit of honey in it. So it's going to be heavy. If your back's a bit frail or you're not that strong, then get a hand. And that'll help to lift a box full of honey. You could harvest the honey before lifting that would help. Or you can take some of the frames out, which will make it a lot lighter as well. A full frame will be roughly four kilogrammes. So it does add up in weight.

How heavy do you think that box is?

Well, I'd say, Hmm. 13 kilogrammes. About as heavy as my daughter.

I'm just gonna put that on its end like that. If you put it down face down, some bees will get squashed because there's a lot of bees underneath. I could add a little smoke there because I'm noticing they've just changed their tone and got a bit more erratic in their behaviour. And we haven't added any smoke for a while. So I might just calm them a little with some gentle puffs. At first it'll agitate them, but then they'll calm right down.

There's been some spring management here already, even though we're in our winter. Some fresh frames have been put into this hive here and here, I can see by the different coloration. But also if we pull one of those frames out, there's not much going on on those frames yet. So we'll probably find that as the the months head towards spring here, they'll really pick up pace and start to fill out these frames. So that's what a brood frame looks like when you've nailed it together and first put it in. And this is what it looks like when they're just starting to do their natural comb. So the way we often do it here is just with this starter strip that we supply. You put that in and you can see the bees doing a beautiful job of festooning, it's called, where they hold hands and feet like this.

And what they're doing is a scaffolding so that they can build their comb. And if I just move them off this little piece of comb, there's the very start a bit of comb there. That's where they start. And they build out from there and hopefully they build nice and straight on this frame. If they don't, you gotta get in there and push them back in line if you're using naturally drawn comb. Now I'm looking at that wax, it's not bright white. So that means they're recycling wax, which also means they're not getting enough nectar in order to make new wax. So they bring in the nectar and they will actually use the carbohydrates to excrete wax. So they have a wax gland and they'll like discrete the wax, grab it with their mandibles and form it into these amazing hexagons. Which is a miracle, in a way, that they can do that. So we'll put that one aside on our frame rest here.

So out of interest, let's pull out the next one that has also been put in more recently. Now I'm just going to move some bees off just where I want to work, because that way I won't squash any as I lift it out. I can see that they've started building on this and I don't want squash their work. So I'm gonna make a little bit of space here so that when I, I bring this up, it'll come up nice and clean. Also, if you don't prise the frames apart, sometimes you'll pull out the nails. So this one, the starter strip wasn't glued in and it fell right out. It's always good to remember to glue your starter strip in, but it matters not with this frame. They're still building nice and straight, probably because it's in between two other straight frames. So it's a nice thing to do. If you're putting in fresh frames is put them in between two other ones, if you can. And that way you don't have to worry too much about keeping them in line. So we don't need that strip anymore.

What you can see here is they've built a bit of comb in this area, and they've been using it for brood, and it's been through a number of brood cycles because I can tell the colour of the wax is already darkening. So what you've got here is brood. You can see that colour capping, and then you've got honey over here, brood, honey. And then in between, you've actually got pollen. You've got a few colours there and that's the fermented bee bread we were talking about earlier. Over here, you've got the white wax that we're also talking about. So they are bringing in some nectar. So they've been able to create this new white wax here. It can be bright yellow or bright white, generally bright white when they're using it for the first time. So that's virgin wax. Very cool.

My hive swarmed and about 15% of the bees stayed. How will the new queen feel about the hive? Will she stay in the hive now that a lot of the bees have gone?

Well, I'm not sure how the queen feels, but the bees will raise a new queen and that'll be their queen. So they'll know the pheromone and the queen won't know any different because she'll be a new queen and her job will be to build up that hive. So if the nectar allows, she will emerge out of her cell and in the first week or two, depending on the weather, she'll go on the mating flight. And she'll mate with up to 30 drones and maybe a couple of flights in that week. And then she's got enough sperm to last for six years of laying and she'll lay up to 2000 eggs a day. And when she's in full swing that will mean there's a lot of new emerging bees into the hive and your hive will really build up. So hopefully the new queen that they raise will be a good layer and with some good genetics with any luck. It's a bit of a wildcard. A hive with good genetics will be nice and gentle to work with and hygienic bees that keep the hive clean and free from disease and things, and also good production. So the bees will just raise a new queen and she'll take over the old queen's job.

How many seasons do the Flow Frames last until they need to be pulled out and cleaned? Or do they need to be cleaned? And if they do, what would you recommend cleaning them with?

So Flow Frames, we've found they're pretty hard to clean deeply. We've tried all sorts of solvents and stuff and a lot of them, you wouldn't want to put on your frames anyway. So I wouldn't bother with using solvents. What I'd do if you really want to clean them, and it's really people have had them in their hive for five years or so start asking that question. You could take the frames out and use a hot water pressure washer, and temperature's really gotta be up at that above the wax-melt temperature of 63 C. So you want about 70 degrees or so. And the combination of the pressure washer and the heat will strip a lot of that wax off. And you can go again. Now the bees generally look after the frames in the hive, but you can get into situations where perhaps the cells aren't closing properly anymore, or perhaps the cells are sitting up a bit and there's a bit of a gunk buildup.

Also, you might be missing that beautiful window. That can get a bit clouded over and you can't actually see what the bees are doing as well. So you can give the clear window part a really good clean as well. The bees generally will just keep using them and using them if you just leave them in the hive. So if you're not bothered by the clarity of that back window, then you can just leave them in there. And the bees will just keep using the frames. Unless you've got any issues you might as well just keep using them and keep harvesting honey as the seasons go on.

We've got a beautiful show of pollen there. You've got an orange pollen, then you've got a whiteish one, up here you move into reds and brown tones, just depending on what the bees were collecting from the flowers at the time. So different flowers have different colours of pollen. And it's really important they collect a variety because pollen is their protein. And like humans, if they eat one source of protein, day in, day out, they'll get sick. So you gotta mix it up. Different sources of protein for a balanced diet. And that's why it's so important to plant that habitat for the bees. We're in this situation with humans in the world where we've taken away so much habitat, we need to be putting it back for all of our pollinators, for all of our species to survive. There's countries where bees can't survive anymore in some parts and they're pollinating flowers with feathers by hand. And that's not where we want to be. We want to keep our pollinators alive, save some species from the brink of extinction by planting the habitat. And that's why we've started TheBeekeeper.org, to raise those funds and plant a million trees this year. Because that's what the bees need.

Can I take just a jar or so of honey from the hive if the frame is not full?

You can. So if your hive isn't full with honey and you're a bit unsure whether you should be harvesting, then the Flow Frames are quite versatile like that. If you want to harvest a small amount, you just insert the key in a little way, turn it. The key in all the way will harvest one frame, one sixth of the hive. So you might just want to go in a quarter of a frame, turn it and collect yourself a nice little jar of honey and take that back and leave the rest for the bees.

Is this a standard amount of bees for a hive like this?

The numbers aren't a lot in this hive, actually, even though they look a lot here on these frames, this looks healthy and normal. But you'll find in the springtime, when the flowers are really kicking in, the numbers will actually double in this hive and they'll be spilling out the front. And that's the time when you want to be taking your splits or adding more boxes.

Will bees move honey from the brood box to the honey super to make more room for brood?

They will, they generally do that. Unless there's no space to move honey. And that's when it's called honey bound where there's not enough room to lay new eggs in cells because their bottom box is filled with honey, top box is filled with honey, it's taking up all the room. So good idea in springtime to harvest a bit of your honey, if your hive's full, to allow them to move some of the honey up from downstairs here and free up some space for the queen to lay again.

Are you hoping to spot the queen today in the brood box?

I haven't been thinking about the queen a whole lot, but she could be here in the centre. Hillary Kearney has a great book called queenspotting, which really helps people hone their eyes. Kids love looking at it and spotting the queen. It's like where's Wally or where's Waldo, it gets called in the States.

We've got quite a lot of honey on this one, which is a surprise. I think these frames have been muddled around last time it was inspected. I didn't do the inspection, but this is a honey fame that's towards the middle. I was expecting brood here. So this wouldn't be a bad one to put out by the edge. This has been used for brood a lot and see how the cells are waxy and dark. They tend to put honey on the edges so we could let them consume the last bit of pollen there. We better check the other side, looks like there might be some brood down the cells on the other side, just in the very early stages. So we wouldn't want to take it away now or that brood wouldn't get to live. So let's transfer this one to the edge of the hive and that way we can cycle it out, come springtime. We want to make some more room. We can just simply take this frame away or just chop out the wax and put the frame back in. And that way you've given them some fresh new area to create brand new wax on when the flow's on and got rid of some of the old, darker wax.

How do you swap out frames with foundation for foundationless frames?

You could simply chop the wires out and use them as foundationless frames, or you could simply just cycle them out towards the edge. Make sure there's no brood in there, take it away and replace it with a fresh one and the bees will start building foundationless. So you can mix it up. It doesn't really matter. My dad likes to mix it up a bit. He likes to put some foundation in and it's just to help get a nice straight start. I tend not to do the foundation thing.

Is keeping the brood frames straight the main reason why people use foundation?

There's another reason. And that's the wax foundation typically is set into some horizontal wires. And what they do is they heat up those wires using some jumper leads from a car battery. The wax sheet that you buy from a beekeeping store then melts into those wires. And then what you've got is wire reinforcing in the comb, which means when you take that frame and put it into a centrifuge in conventional beekeeping and spin it around at super high speed, it's less likely to blow apart. If you go and put foundationless frames in centrifuge and crank it up to max then the wax and comb is gonna fly everywhere. You can spin foundationless frames, but you've gotta wait till they've drawn it all the way out to the edge and connected it to the edge. And for that same reason, some people use plastic foundation sheets and that's quite common as well. You can buy completely plastic frames where there's no wood. That's also very common. So try it out, see what works for you. I find the bees like the naturally drawn the best out of anything. Next they would favour wax foundation and last plastic foundation, they really don't like as much in my opinion.

Do you have an estimate on time saved for the bees not having to initially build the cells when putting your Flow Frames onto your hive? This must save them quite a considerable amount of time.

It takes, they say about seven kilogrammes of honey to make a kilogramme of wax. So there's a savings there. However, I found when there's a flow on bees are pretty enthusiastic to make wax. So I'm not sure that that comes into play in terms of saving time or not. The bees will make an incredible amount of wax if there's forage available. It's made out of carbohydrates and they've got to take all the water out and so on. So they're using the carbon chains in the sugars to make, what's almost like a fossil fuel like substance with that wax. Parafin wax is made from the petroleum, bees are doing it from sugar, pretty amazing. But we do it in our ears through our wax glands.

Now I think it's time to start putting this back together. I was tempted with that question about the queen to go searching through all of the frames, but I think we'll leave it for today. I'm very happy that there is a queen in here because I can see the very young larvae and the brood is in good shape. So I know there's a queen. Thanks for watching.

Want more? Watch past videos, and get notified of livestreams as they stream on Facebook here


For in-depth training, check out our online beekeeping course at TheBeekeeper.org.

Also in Livestreams

Does mint work against hive beetles?
Does mint work against hive beetles?

by Flow Hive 3 min read

Read More
Why is there brood in my Flow Frames?
Why is there brood in my Flow Frames?

by Flow Hive 4 min read

Read More
How do I move my bees to a new hive?
How do I move my bees to a new hive?

by Flow Hive 3 min read

Read More