Flow Hive inspection with Cedar
Cedar was back in the apiary today, answering your questions and inspecting some hives. First he checked the brood box of a colony that had recently requeened itself. Then he demonstrated how to open the super and inspect the Flow Frames. Among the Q & A highlights were questions on a hive with two queens, why Cedar prefers foundationless brood frames and what to do if your hive has chalkbrood.
Morning. Look at these beautiful drops of nectar coming into these Flow Frames. There's a really strong smell of honey wafting from these hives up into our office here, as these bees grab the nectar from the Melaleuca flowers, which is down here on these flat lands and they bring it back up into the hive and they're just splashing it around the cell walls to dry it out. And the aroma is just incredible. You can smell it even from a few hundred metres away from these hives, as they're really making their honey.
What we're going to do today is both a Flow Frame inspection, just for fun, as well as a brood inspection. This little hive over here, we inspected about three weeks ago, and we thought it was queenless. But we found a laying queen, luckily, and in some of these frames here, you could see the larvae glistening down the cells. And what we're going to do is get back in there, have a look, check that we've got capped brood and everything is going well in this hive. So we'll have a quick look at that.
And then we're going to show you how to inspect Flow Frames, should you want to do that as well. So we've already got our smoker going. Now, if you've got questions, please put them in the comments and Trace will read those questions out and we'll answer them as we go. Also let us know whereabouts in the world you're tuning in from. It's really interesting to us to hear where you're from.
Sometimes the smoker needs a few puffs just to get going again, especially if you've only just started it. And what you want to do is have nice, cool smoke. While you're doing that, you can smoke your hands just to mask some of your own smells from the bees. And then put this back in front of the entrance so that any returning bees will get that waft. Make sure you put on your beesuit, protect yourself. Plus, if you’re new to beekeeping, wear your gloves as well.
While you are thinking of those questions, let's get into it and pop the lid off this and just check that we have a laying queen. So pulling off the gabled roof, we'll just put that aside. Next, we need our J-tool. This is the one that comes with our suits and smoking kit. And what we're going to do is just lever off the inner cover, bearing in mind that the queen could be on this surface because there's no excluder between the brood box and the inner cover. I'm not seeing a queen there, but sometimes you do see her just wandering around on the inside of the cover, just make sure or lean that up against the hive.
Now I'm seeing a similar amount of bee numbers to before, showing that we haven't really had a boom in bee numbers yet. Over here in this section, it's pretty light, it's not looking like it's ready for a super yet. What we're going to do is take out a frame. Now what I'm looking for is a frame that's easy to get out at first. The first one's the tricky one because it has to be pulled out vertically. Whereas as soon as you've got one out, you can go sideways first. We’ll get a nice straight one. I'm going to choose this one here, adding a little smoke to get the bees away from that area.
First of all, breaking the joins between the frames, J hook goes under the end. And check for any burr comb here, you can chop that off like that. You don't want that dragging on the comb surface as you lift the frame up and being careful of any bees slowly coming up, it looks like we have quite a lot of empty cells here, where there was once brood. And we can tell by the darker patterning there, where these cells have been used by brood and that they ended up getting darker each time a layer of silk gets added from the emerging bees.
I’m going to put that aside. I've got the frame rests, which also double as the shelf brackets for harvesting on the edge here. So I can neatly just put that frame aside. Now I could even put a second frame with that one, allowing plenty of room to manoeuvre in the hive. Down in these cells, I'm having a quick look, I can't see any eggs. I’m seeing a little bit of nectar. So let's just progress through the hive. And we might just jump forward a bit because I remember that the queen was actually over this side and laying on this side of the hive. Sometimes they start in the middle, sometimes they start on an edge. So let's have a look.
There we go. We have some brood on this frame. That's good to see. So those young larvae have spun a silk cocoon around themselves, and they’ll spend about 11 days in that cocoon phase. And then emerge as brand new bees into the hive, ready to start the chores of cleaning and looking after baby bees and producing wax and building comb. And then finally moving on to foraging.
So while I'm doing this, I'm looking for any signs of things like AFB or EFB, where you might have dark sunken capping, sometimes with piercings in them. And just always keeping an eye out for brood that looks unhealthy. What I'm seeing is a bit patchy here. So that automatically makes me tune in on that area if it's all a bit patchy. But down these cells, I see glistening white larvae. So this is actually all nice and healthy here. Great. Any questions coming in?
Yeah, great. Cedar. We've got people too, like locals, people from Nimbin and then all the way to California and India all over the place tuning in this morning. So that's pretty exciting.
Fantastic. Isn't it amazing. We can learn as a community on a global scale and share the passion of beekeeping from people that are digging their hives out of snow to other ones that are in the hot, dry weather.
Beekeeping Q & A
I had two queens in my hive, and a frame full of drone brood. What happened? (NSW, Australia)
Two queens, that's interesting, but you do find that sometimes. So it's not completely abnormal. Generally, there's one laying queen in a hive, but there can be this kind of changeover period, where they do raise a new queen and they've still got the old queen. Usually there's all sorts of dynamics here. If you've got a young virgin queen emerging, she'll go around and actually sting any queen cells to make sure she's the one that gets to reign in the hive.
But in this case, they've raised another queen and the old queen is still there. There’s all sorts of reasons why that could be, and if you've got some interesting thoughts on that, you can put them in the comments. But it is relatively normal to occasionally find two queens in your hive. So well done for spotting them.
Maybe having lots of drone brood is a piece of the puzzle. There’s two reasons why you’d have lots and lots of drones. One is that the queen has run out of sperm in order to fertilise the eggs and then she can only lay drones. And the other reason could be that you've got no queen at all. And then the workers start laying eggs that are unfertilized and they also turn into drones. So they're the two reasons why you get all drones. But in this case you've got two queens and lots of drones.
So what you'll need to do is come back into your hive in say three weeks time and have a look and see whether you're getting a nice amount of worker brood. I'm not a hundred percent in your case, why you've got so many drones at this time of year. In the springtime, you usually get more drones because they're actually preparing to share their genetic material around as lots of hives are building up and trying to swarm. So those drones will be flying off to a drone congregation area waiting for a queen to fly past so they can mate.
We're seeing some more brood here, so this queen is really just getting started. Down the cels, I'm looking for eggs. I can see lots of tiny eggs, like tiny grains of rice in the bottom of the cells. But in this region here, if you look very closely down the cells, are these tiny little grains of rice being the eggs. And it's good to have a look because that also tells you a little bit about your hive. If you see multiple eggs laid in the cells and eggs laid on the side walls, you can start to assume that it's the workers laying eggs and they'll turn into drones. Or sometimes you can get a young queen that just hasn't quite got it together yet and she's dropping multiple eggs at once. But if they're sitting nice and neat in the bottom, just a single egg in the bottom of the cell, then that's perfect. That's what you want to see.
Why are there lots of bees outside the Flow Hive entrance at night?
If you've got a really strong colony and particularly if it's warm at night, then you'll find a whole lot of bees just enjoying the breeze, but more importantly, just making some room in the hive for ventilation. If the hive is packed full of bees, the temperature will get too high at that point if it's nice and warm. So a lot of bees will vacate, allowing nice circulation. It's a sign that you've got a very healthy hive.
Now, if it was in the springtime, perhaps you're in the Northern hemisphere, then they might be gearing up to swarm and divide the colony. Which is an actual tendency of some hives more so than others. They’ll be gearing up to swarm in the springtime. So if you are in the Northern hemisphere and it is that time of year when you're going to get lots of swarms, then it could be a great idea to get in there, take a split, relieve that pressure and allow more room for your bees. And that way you'll also get another hive out of it as well. And if you don't want it, somebody else surely will.
Why do the frames get darker and darker year after year? What's left in the cells after those bees emerge?
So the young larva spins a silk cocoon around itself, and there's a fine layer of silk left in the cell and it has a bit of a brown tint. So after it's been used multiple times, that will really build up. So if it has been used multiple times for brood, it'll get darker and darker. The footprints also make the wax darker as well. So the longer it's been used in the hive for any reason, it'll get darker, but particularly in the brood. Like you can see this one here is getting darker and darker. It's been used many times for brood and will eventually get kind of black.
And at some point you'll want to take it out of the hive and give them a nice, fresh start. So you can put those dark ones closer to the edge when you do your inspections. And when all the brood has emerged, you can then take it out of the hive. Or if you're using naturally drawn comb like this, you can shake the bees off and just cut it out in the field and put the frame straight back in. Bearing in mind, you want to take the old wax away in case it's got some honey in it. You don't want to have a robbing scenario where bees will go for that honey and ship pathogens from one hive to the next. But that's why the comb gets darker. It's just from use by the bees, particularly the brood.
I’m seeing a lot of pollen. Bees will use about a frame of pollen and a frame of honey to raise a frame of brood. So it gives you an idea of the importance of the pollen and honey stores. Here's some more beautiful pollen here. Some different colours and oranges and whites, and it really ranges. You can really see the colours there, of oranges and whites and creams and different flowers, you can even get blue pollen, some rich red pollen sometimes. And what they're doing is, they're scraping that pollen off their hind legs when they bring it in and they're shoving it down the cell with their head. They're mixing it in with some enzymes, topping it with a little bit of honey and letting it ferment into bee bread. Like a good sourdough, it becomes easier to digest once the enzymes have done their thing and it's turned into a bread. So bees don't eat pollen, it's actually used primarily to feed to the young larvae as bee proteins to grow from a grub into a baby bee.
I've got a couple of uncapped Flow Frames. What should I do with them over winter? (Melbourne, Australia)
Okay. There are a few things you can do. If they are uncapped, but they've got a lot of nectar in them, then you might want to put them in a freezer. That's the easiest way to go. And then you can just pull them back out in the springtime and put them back on your hive again. That's if you're planning to take the super off the hive. Beekeepers in cold climates will often take the honey boxes off the hive, especially if they've got multiple of them. Other people tend to move the excluder and let the bees just consume that nectar. So that's another thing you could decide to do. If you're running a configuration like this, you might want to leave that nectar for the bees to consume over the winter time. You might want to ask your local beekeepers for advice on that.
Another thing you could decide to do is actually harvest that bee nectar, wash the frames out and put them away, and that's a bit more work. And what you're going to get is bee nectar, not honey, which has quite a strong flavour and it'll ferment quite quickly. So it'd be good for making something like mead. That will give you something to do with that nectar, you could probably make an amazing drink out of it as well. So the other thing you could do is if you're not getting to harvest it, you could wait till the bees have consumed the nectar and then take the frames out. That's another way to go.
Is there any other option to calm down angry bees without having to get a new queen?
If you’ve got an aggressive hive, you need to decide whether that's a problem for you or not. Perhaps you're okay with that and you can wear your beesuit and it's not near where it's going to bother other people. And you can just really protect yourself, choose a nice sunny day like this when it’s not too windy, use a lot of smoke and they'll be at their calmest. And if you can work with them like that, and that's okay. If you decide that it's not workable and you'd really prefer a calm hive where you can get in there and do it with no gloves on and so on, then you will need to requeen. You'll need to take out the old queen and introduce a new queen about 24 hours later into the hive. And if you're not comfortable doing that process, particularly with a hive that's gotten a bit aggressive, then get somebody with experience to come and help you.
Why don’t you use foundation in your brood frames?
For me, there's a number of reasons. One is I'm so grateful that I don't have to go through that tedious process of wiring up the frames and putting in the foundation. The bees just make it themselves, that's what they do. So all you need is a good comb guide, a little bit of checking in the beginning to make sure they're going straight and pushing them back in line, if you need to. And then what you have is no foundation at all, just perfectly natural cells that the bees have sized. And there’s said to be some health benefits to that. Rather than forcing them into a cell size, you just let them do their natural thing.
Another thing is you're not introducing foreign wax into your hive. Wax should be properly pasteurised, but sometimes I guess there could be issues of build up of insecticides or pathogens in the wax you're introducing into your hive also. But I've done many, many years of putting foundation into hives and it's my choice now not to. I don't need to put these frames in a centrifuge, so I don't need the reinforcing in there of either wires or a plastic foundation.
Having said that, there's a few downsides. There's always a bit of compromise with every choice you make in beekeeping. But you can see here that there's nothing holding that wax in. Now, this is pretty established. They've connected it all the way down the sides. It's not that heavy with honey. I can actually tilt that over. But when it's fresh, if you do that, the wax will just fall out because it's not actually joined to the sides. So that's something to get used to if you decide to try naturally drawn comb like this.
And another one is they're more likely to go wonky. Even with foundation, you'll find the bees will go wonky sometimes, start joining two other combs. But with no foundation at all, they're more likely to go a bit wonky and you have to actually interfere and push them back in line, because you do need nice straight frames like that in order to be able to service the hive. So it's I just like to let them do it naturally, and it's less work as well.
Up here, it's quite interesting that they're making more like 6mm cells, drone size. Or they'll also do that where they don't plan to use it for brood. So this was close to the edge of the hive. You've got some big cells about the size of the Flow Frame cells, and they’ll usually be closer to the edge, because it stores more honey. And down here, you've got more of the 5.3mm cells, they’re much smaller cells that they do plan to use for brood. They will use the large ones for drone brood as well. So the bees know what they're doing. They're giving themselves choices, they're sizing the cells how they like it. And that's a good thing I think.
But pitch in, if you've got differing opinions to that, pitch in on the thread. And it's always interesting for people to get a whole lot of different opinions about beekeeping. And then you can make up your own mind as to what works for you.
Exactly. And as you say, ask a question to 10 beekeepers and you’ll get 20 different answers.
I am going to add a medium box between the brood box and the Flow super. Should I put the queen excluder on top of the medium box? (Northern US)
It depends on whether you want honey or brood in your medium box. If you want brood, then put the excluder above the medium box. Otherwise put the excluder between the brood box and the medium. You’ll just get honey in the medium and keep the queen down in the brood box.
Close the hive
I did promise that I would be inspecting some Flow Frames as well, because we do that less often, but it's nice to learn how to do that as well. And really tune in with what's going on and match what's going on in the windows to the observations from the outside to what's going on on the inside of the hive. So what I'm going to do is actually put this hive back together. I'm happy that we've got laying brood. I don't need to go and find the queen again. I know she's in there.
So what I'm going to do is add a little smoke to this hive over here, in preparation for taking some of those Flow Frames out. Now, I'm also going to just put this hive back together in the same order, unless there's a reason not to. If you're cycling frames, that's a reason not to put it back in the same order, but otherwise it's just moving back into the same order they were in. The reason being is sometimes you get a bulge of honey pressing up against another bulge of honey from another frame and the bees can't service that area. And if you've got small hive beetles, they can be a menace. And is that area really to lay a lot of eggs, which isn't much fun.
If you didn’t see the queen during a brood inspection, but you did find a queen cell, would you destroy that queen cell?
That’s a personal choice and more experienced beekeepers do tend to make that choice sometimes. If you don't know what you're doing, then leave it, allow the bees to do what they do and make up their own mind. I wouldn't just go destroying every queen cell you find, because you might find they're actually deciding to replace the queen for a reason. It's a swarm prevention method. So in springtime, beekeepers will get in there, hack off some queen cells and sometimes transfer them to other splits they're doing. At other times they’ll just destroy them and also make some space in the brood box with some brand new frames that they can then draw some fresh wax on. That will limit the swarming behaviour, because you know, it's hard to be around all day and wait for swarms to happen. So yeah, I wouldn't, unless you really know what you're doing.
What do you do if you do find chalkbrood?
Chalkbrood is a pathogen that gets in and what you'll find is down the cells, you'll see what looks like a chalky mummy of a larva instead of a nice grub in the bottom. So that actually dies and turns into like a little lump of chalk. And you'll know if you've got that because the bees will be discarding them out at the entrance. And if you get up nice and early, you'll see a pile of them on the landing board or in front of the hive. It's not a disease like AFB or EFB where you need to start again with your colony. It is actually one that you can remedy. The first thing you'd do is move the hive into the sunshine. The damp environment is more conducive to chalkbrood.
And if that doesn't alleviate the problem, then get in there and replace the queen for some genetics that hopefully the next time around you get these, that can do a better job of cleaning and kicking out that pathogen. And that usually fixes the problem. You might like to cycle out some of the old frames as well, and get rid of the pathogen load in the hive.
Some people throw a bunch of banana skins in there, and that's said to get the bees into a bit of a cleaning frenzy. It's like putting something really bad on your carpet. You decide to clean that, but you actually get carried away and clean the whole room, right? And some people will say it works, some people say it's a hoax. You let me know if it works for you.
My super was really, really busy, everything was going fabulous. But six days later there are hardly any bees in the super. The weather's been strangely hot and now it’s going into autumn. What should I do? (South Australia)
So I think what you need to do is get in and check that there's a good, laying queen still. Your bees may have swarmed. That's usually the reason why you've got a sudden disappearance. You look in the windows, there’s lots of bees and the next day, there's almost none. That's usually because half the bees have taken off and there's only enough bees to fill the bottom box. So you want to know that you've still got a laying queen. So usually they get it together to raise another queen, but sometimes they don't. So you're going to want to get in there and just verify that.
I’m just scraping off some of the wax from here. It's got no honey in it. Even so, it's a good idea not to leave it around in case it does have a bit of honey, you don't want to promote robbing. Even leaving wax around, some bees might decide to have a bit of a forage on it. And if you've got pathogens that would spread them around. So take the wax with you and keep it for making a candle with the kids or something.
Do you generally have one queen per box or does the queen go from box to box?
One queen per box? It'd be great if there were multiple queens, some people do run a multi-queen hive with a queen up here and a queen down the bottom and a couple of honey supers in between. And you can get that going if you put some effort in, with a few tips and tricks. But generally there's one queen per box and she mates in the first few weeks of her life. And then she has enough sperm to go for up to six years of laying sometimes a couple of thousand eggs a day. Now, there is a reason why she might decide to leave the hive and that's if they decide to, to split themselves and half the bees will swarm. Now, in that case, the bees will decide that it's time to swarm and they will starve the queen. The queen doesn't feed herself, she gets fed by the workers. They'll stop feeding her. She gets thinner and then she's able to fly and she will get pushed out of the hive by half the bees and off they'll go to make a new home.
If honey is really thick can it not flow out of the Flow Frames? What type of flowers causes this?
So there's two different things that will cause honey not to flow out of Flow Frames. And it's unusual, but there's what's called a thixotropic honey. So we have some of that, but not enough to really cause any issues. So when we see globules coming up, like jelly globules, they're collecting the medicinal varieties from the Leptospermums and that's like the Manuka honey you get from New Zealand. And it has this interesting property where in the jar you can stir it and it goes liquid, but then it sets into a jelly. So the way beekeepers get that out if they're harvesting the conventional way over the Flow Hive, is to prick the cells and then centrifuge them. So if you happen to get a lot of that honey, then it could be worth a lot and it could be worth your time to actually extract that and get the honey out of your Flow Frames. You then can send that away and get ratings for it. And a lot of beekeepers make their living selling those medicinal honeys.
The other reason could be candied honey. Now, if you get really cold nights and you've got a specific flower that's prone to produce nectar that makes honey that candies more easily, then that could happen. However, if you've got a situation where you've got the brood right underneath the frames, it doesn't usually go candy in the hive. It's more likely to go candy when you take the honey away from the hive and it's able to really drop down in temperature and it will set off the crystallisation of that honey.
The Melaleuca that's coming in right now, which you can actually see here, is one that candies quite easily. Now, when we harvest this honey, and we put it on the shelf, it's typically the wintertime and it will candy within two weeks usually. It will start to show the signs of the sugar crystals as it will go forming a nice candy, which is a beautiful thing. My children far prefer what they call the crispy honey, which is the candy honey, to the liquid honey, funnily enough. But other people go, “Oh no, it's gone bad” and throw it away, which is completely ridiculous. It's still a beautiful thing. And it's just got a different texture.
So getting back to your question. If you get thixotropic honey or candied honey in your Flow Frames, partially candied honey will still come out. It will just come out cloudy. Partially thixotropic honey will still come out. It will come out in globules. But if you get severe candied or severe thixotropic properties, then it won't come out. And what you find is the harvesting process will usually disturb that honey enough that the bees will get in there and chew it out. And then you'll end up with this situation where they will consume that candied or thixotropic honey. And hopefully next time they will fill it with liquid honey. But it's an issue both for harvesting with Flow Frames or harvesting in a conventional centrifuge.
Flow Frame inspection
My smoker has just run out of fuel, so we'll top that up. I did promise I'd show you how to pull a Flow Frame out. We'll do that now. So I'll blow some smoke into this hive again, just by putting the smoker right in the entrance. Now the roof comes off. Next, we're going to take the inner cover off just by levering it like this. And see the nectar glistening as they're drying it out. You can see the way they're splashing it around the walls. And it's wonderful to start learning what the back looks like here and what that means for your hive.
You can see that there's even little droplets being spread around here. And the meniscus is quite flat. It's really quite liquid and it's not standing up like when it's thicker. So that's what it looks like when they're starting to really dry out that nectar. And you'll see that during the day, then in the evening, you might see that that's all gone. They've used that surface area to dry out some of the honey, and then they've moved inwards to finish packing some of the cells. So it's a great process to watch. And it's quite different to when you see a patchwork of full cells, empty cells, full cells, empty cells, which is when they're actually uncapping and eating some of the honey away. So it tells you different things about beekeeping, just observing what's going on in your Flow Frames.
So to get a Flow Frame out, you do need to remove the rear cover here. The reason being is when you put the Flow Frame back in, you don't want this to be a guillotine as it comes down to any bees that are on that metal strip. So I'm going to choose a frame to pull out. Now there's three lifting points. One is under here. I'm just going to loosen that up. There's another one under here should you need it. And there's another one at the back here. And what you're doing for that first one, the first one's harder to get out because you have to go vertically upwards. I'm going to lift up that frame, but holding it at this end, once I've used the J-tool and getting under the lip at this end and up we come.
Look at that. Quite a lot of honey stored in that frame. That's a good sign I've got a flow coming on. And what looks like has happened is typical when the bees get a bit hungry, they might eat some of the honey out above the brood nest here. So they're busy filling it up. You can see the shiny nectar and in a week or less, this'll be complete and ready to harvest. And hopefully at the same time, they'll fill in this area showing a nice, full frame of honey for us to harvest. There's more honey in this than I expected. So that's wonderful.
Would you take any of that honey out now, even though you can't see it at the back of the Flow Frames?
If you'd seen this, you could definitely harvest some honey, if you didn't have any inside. Otherwise just wait, if you've got enough honey on the shelf, wait for them to fill it up a bit more. And for them to finish drawing out these cells. The danger is if you harvest when there's too much nectar in it, then the moisture content will be too high. And then the honey won't keep on the shelf. It might not be a problem if you're like me and the honey gets consumed quite quickly. If you need to sell it to people who are going to leave it sitting around on the shelf for a while, you do need to make sure it's nice and thick in the jar with around about 18% moisture. And that will mean it will keep on the shelf for a long time. Isn't that beautiful to see the bees do their amazing work using their honey.
If the bees decide to swarm, are there generally enough bees left in the hive to keep the colony multiplying and producing?
There is, but it's a weak time where you may need to get in there and manage the beetles, if you've got the small hive beetle. They’re a little black beetle, there were a few running around earlier. Then you want to activate the pest management tray at the bottom, put some oil in it, catch the beetles, give the bees a hand, make sure that when the hive is weak, that those are beetles aren't taking over.
Now, another thing you could do if they are really low in numbers is remove the super altogether, reduce it to a brood box. Make sure you're catching beetles and get in there and have a look in maybe in three or four weeks time. Make sure there is a laying queen and the hive is on the way to building up again, ready for you to store some honey in the Flow Frames again.
Replacing Flow Frames
So putting a frame back in, especially the last one, basically you want to end up with a nice flat wall here. If they're all here higgledy-piggledy and one’s pushed back and one’ss forward, then bees can escape between them. And it just looks a bit messy as well. So we want to make sure the frames are pushed forward. Now there's a little screw at the back here, which in this case has been wound out to make sure the frames are pushed forward. So there's an adjustment there, depending on the size of your box, you can also use a stick like a comb guide to go along the back here to adjust it. If you don't want to wind out those screws.
Now to put it back in, I find the best way is to start like that. And that way you've got the spacing right between the two frames. And sometimes you might need to lever these frames over in order to make enough space. Then you can slide down that clear face like this and drop the other end in. And once you've dropped the other end in, you can then go slowly down, keeping the frame this way to form a nice flat window. If you pull it back, it might overlap with some of the other frames. That way you can just go straight down and leave your finger under there while you make sure there's no bees at this point here, because you don't want to drop and squash a bee there. There's one just there, so I’ll get that out of the way and then I can let it fall back down into position. And what we end up with is a nice flat face here. No bees can escape and we're happy.
We bought a nuc, but the brood frames have foundation on them. Is it a problem to put them in the Flow Hive with frames that don't have foundation?
It doesn't matter at all. My father likes to mix it up and have a couple with foundation and a couple without. The reason being is that the foundation in the frames that are already built will give a nice guide and get you on the way to having nice straight frames. Whereas sometimes they will and sometimes they won't, if you just dump a swarm of bees or a package of bees into an empty box with only comb guides, they will usually draw on the comb guides, but sometimes they'll just go completely sideways. So having some foundation in there isn't a bad idea. Mix it up, see what works for you. You can use plastic foundation, wax foundation or no foundation at all. There is actually one state in Australia where the law is you need to use at least a little bit of a foundation in your frame. That's an interesting one to watch out for. But in the rest of the world, I believe you can go ahead and just use the comb guides.
What is the hole in the inner cover for?
So this hole allows you to do a few things, but one is you can pull that out and put a feeder there. So there are feeders you can purchase that are round, that fit well enough under the lid. And you can use that to feed the bees. Or you can just put some holes in the lid of a jar, put some sugar syrup in it, turn that upside down over that area. And the bees can feed through that hole.
You could also decide to pull it out altogether and the bees can then use the roof cavity. And perhaps you want to put maybe a clear baking dish over this area and watch the bees build their comb in that zone as well if you want to get some honeycomb. Some people like to leave it out and let the bees right up into the roof area. But after a while, if the colony is really strong, you'll get a whole lot of comb built randomly under the roof, which can be exciting for the first few times, but it's also a mess to clean up. So I tend to keep the plug in and limit them from building comb in the roof cavity.
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