How much honey should I harvest from my Flow Hive?

by Flow Hive 22 min read

The bees were a bit hungry at Flow Hive HQ, so Cedar just harvested half a frame of delicious honey. He fielded questions about condensation in the hive, the medicinal properties of honey and the difference between wax and propolis.  



Video Transcription


Good morning. Thank you for joining us here at Flow HQ. We're just having a look at this hive here and seeing if it is time to harvest some honey and how much. Now looking in the window, it's an interesting sight. What we've got this morning is some condensation and it's something a lot of people do ask about. When we first took the window off 10 minutes ago, the condensation wasn't there, but what happened was this surface cooled down. And because we've had weeks and weeks of floods and rains, there's so much moisture around that when moisture comes in contact with the cool surface, the moisture in the air will condense and form a little water droplet. So that's the condensation you see, and it happens on the windows because they get a bit cooler than the wood, which is more insulating.

That's a perfectly normal thing to see if you've got cooler nights and days, along with a lot of moisture in the environment. But this frame, if you can see through that, you can see the bees have eaten some of the capping off and taken some of the honey away. Now that's a sign that they're a little bit hungry and that's no surprise because we've had so much rain. The bees haven't actually been out to forage, despite some flowers being in bloom, the rain has set them off, but the bees haven't been able to get there. So today the rain has just actually stopped 10 minutes ago, which is nice timing for us. And hopefully we'll see the bees deciding it's a good day to get out and do some foraging.

But what I thought would talk a little bit about today is how much honey to harvest from your Flow Hive. So the thing to look for when deciding whether to harvest or not, and how much is whether the bees are bringing in good nectar. And you're also taking a guess at the flowers ahead. So here you can see there was honey in these frames, but they've started to eat them out. When you see a chequered pattern like this, where it's full, full, full, full, empty, empty, full, full, full, empty, then that's a sign that they're actually getting a bit hungry. There's a good example of it there. It was all full and they've eaten it out. When they're filling, you see a general filling pattern in all of these empty cells where they're bringing it out like this. So what we're seeing here is hungry bees.

So what we don't want to do is harvest too much honey from this hive at the moment. But the Flow Hives are versatile and they allow you just to harvest a little bit, if you want to. So the bees won't miss it if we just take some of one of the frames and leave the rest for the bees. Now around here, you can see that condensation again. This is a frame we harvested a couple of weeks ago, and you can see they have stripped it all back. They've used the wax, recycled it to join all the frame parts back together, but they haven't filled it up with nectar again. So that's showing us that there's not a nectar flow on. They're not bringing in enough nectar to really store honey in the Flow Frames.

So what we're gonna do is set up our little shelf. We're gonna get a key here and we'll use that to open one of these frames. If I get a jar here, I can put that on the shelf and all we need now is this little tube to go in. So I'm gonna pick a frame here. This one looks like it might be might have a bit of honey in it. And what we can do is just harvest a small amount.

So what I'm gonna do, if I just wanna harvest half a frame is I'll insert the key just halfway. You should get a few jars of honey out of just doing half a frame. So I'm turning that now to that 90° position. And what we should see is the honey starting to flow down and out this tube. And we're just going to leave the rest for the bees. The pattern in these frames shows that the bees are a little bit hungry. They're eating some of the cells away. So it's a good idea not to take too much honey. But you still can take a bit if there's honey in the hive and leave the rest for the bees.


Trace:

I like your little set-up there Cedar with your double jar.


Cedar:

Yeah, we just piled up some jars so it's close to the tube. It's good to put it closer to the stream. Otherwise the wind blows the honey around.


Beekeeping Questions

Would the condensation create mould in the hive and is mould a problem in the hive?

If you get excessive condensation for a long time and the bees aren't using that part of the hive. Let's say there's not a big enough colony to use the Flow Frames and you've got condensation that's there for long periods of time. Yes, you can get mould. The bees will have to put some effort in to clear that out later, but generally bees are pretty good at fixing up an old hive and making it their own again.

Do you ever think that you should paint the inside of the hives?

You don't need to paint the inside. Some beekeepers do. Conventionally commercial beekeepers will paint the inside, they'll paint the outside. They'll make it last just as long as they can. But what we tend to do is just leave the inside perfectly natural for the bees. So you can do either, but we tend not to.

Do you ever paint the inner cover in the hive under the roof?

It's not a bad idea to paint the upper surface of the inner cover, or you could paint the whole inner cover if you want. That would, that would actually keep the moisture out of it. Sometimes they do swell when they get, get wet. So not a bad idea to paint the inner cover. We generally don't, but that's probably out of just not getting around to it.


I've removed the Flow super for winter. The Flow Frames have some mould on them. Is it okay to leave them like that and then pull them back out in the springtime? And the bees will clean up that mould or should I clean them first?

It depends how bad it is. I guess if it's looking really rough there, then you might want to get out the hot water gurney, which is about the only thing I've found toclean Flow Frames. Now, hot water gurneys, if you buy them purpose-built for that, are an expensive machine. But you can use just a cheap one you get at the hardware store and use a hot water supply that needs to be about 70 degrees or so, because wax-melt temperature is 63 degrees C. And then you can spray with nice hot water. Be careful when you're doing all of this, but that's the way if you really want to strip the old wax off a Flow Frame. But otherwise, as you said, you know, simply let the bees do it. If it's not too bad, just leave it as it is, put it back on in spring and see how they go.


Will mould affect the honey?

It doesn't seem to, because bees won't store in those cells until they've given them a good clean out. So they'll make them their own. They'll coat them all in wax again and store their honey in their own wax.

Trace:

Fantastic. Maybe that's what we need in our houses. A beehive to clean all the mould in our houses.

Cedar:

That's right. Everyone needs beehives under their pillow, under their bed. You know, some people breathe bee air. Have you seen those photos that look a little bit like a 50's sci-fi film where they've got pipes and things connected to their beehive and a gas mask and they're actually sucking air outta their beehive. Obviously you need some sort of filter to make sure you're not breathing in bees. But apparently it's therapeutic to breathe the air from inside a beehive.

Trace:

Well Cedar, you might have to add that, like a snorkel sort of set up onto the next Flow Hive 4+!


I want to take off the Flow super for winter. The Flow Frames have some capped and some uncapped honey in them. Will it be okay to store them in an airtight container and put them back in spring to give the bees a kickstart? Or should I drain the honey and nectar and clean the frames up before spring? (NSW, Australia)

So the very best would probably be to stick them in a freezer. If you have a deep freezer with enough space in it, you can put your Flow Frames in the freezer and that will preserve them as they are. And you can put them back on in the springtime and they can pick it up from there. If you don't have a freezer, then as you say, might be a good idea to harvest what's in them. And then wait a few days for the bees to clean out the remaining honey out of them, and then take them out of the hive, put them in a tub away from vermin and whatnot. And then you can put them back on in the springtime. What you don't wanna do is leave honey in them and leave them sitting around. Especially if you're in a warmer climate, you will get mould and manky honey, which you'll have to then clean up come the time to put the Flow super back on again.

I've got a brood box that's about 75% drawn-out, lots of larvae and a seemingly active queen. Am I getting close to putting on the Flow super?

Okay. What you wanna see before you put the Flow super on is all of the combs drawn out. So you wanna see the combs actually full with wax all the way to the bottom. And then a lot of bees. Now we put a super on with my son on his hive a few videos back. Have a look at that and you'll get a good idea of what it looks like when you go to put your super on.


If you are harvesting a half-empty Flow Frame is there a possibility of bees being in the empty half? Would it kill the bees if you harvest?

So we are harvesting one that's full, but to answer your question, we put a lot of work into making sure that the process of harvesting was as gentle as possible on the bees. We made hexagons that move like this in some of our first prototypes. What we found is if you did, like you're saying, have a whole lot of bees down some empty cells when you move the comb parts that move it like that. And that was fine. And the honey would flow down. But if a bee was down there, it might put a leg or a wing through this point here. And then when you put it back, it could get trapped in the moving parts. So what we did, and we've got a whole patent about this, is we puta gap in between to allow the bees to bridge the area between the moving parts. So what that means is when you move them this bit of wax, that they've created breaks, and then when you move it back, there's a gap. So they can't get caught there. At worst, a bee might get caught in a bit of wax, and the other bees will help it out to get out of its own wax. So we put a lot of attention into that. So having said that, it's still best to harvest when the frames are full or close to being full. That is so you've got a lot of capping on the frames and your bees have gone through that process of dewatering the honey getting down below that 20% range, and then it's ready to store in your jar on the shelf. If you harvest early and you've got honey that looks quite liquid in the jar, then you'll have to consume that before it starts to ferment, unless you're making honey mead.

I installed a 3lb package of bees in late April and used the Flow Hive entrance reducer, as I'd read that it was best to protect a small colony. Now the temperatures are getting high and it's getting pretty hot. Should I remove the entrance reducer or wait for the colony to grow? (California, USA)

Generally I don't use the entrance reducers unless I've got an issue of robbing. But when you're in a colder climate, generally when the hive gets up and going in the springtime, you'd be taking that entrance reducer away.

I have Irish black bees and they don't seem to be doing much with the Flow Frames. They're walking around but not really filling the cells. Any tricks to get them started storing into the honey super?

We haven't heard any troubles with Irish black bees. So I think what you are probably seeing is something that a lot of people do experience and that's that annoying time where you're waiting for the bees to build up enough and for that to coincide with a nice nectar flow and then they will store honey in the Flow Frames. If you're getting a bit impatient, you can scrape a bit of wax off your brood box. If your hive is ready for the super, then they'll probably put a whole lot of wax on top of the brood frames. You can scrape some off and just mash it into the Flow Frame surface. Do it on the window side so you can enjoy watching them, recycle that wax around that local area. And that'll speed up the process of them getting up there and getting started a little bit. But really you won't get much honey stored till you get a good nectar flow and a lot of bees when you open the side windows and you're seeing a lot of bees in your hive, and sometimes it's a bit of a patience game. Sometimes one hive does amazingly well and other hive's really slow. So it can be pest issues, disease issues, genetics issues there as well. But generally patience is what will get you there.

How many hives do you currently have in your apiary?

So there's about 20 or so here in this apiary and I've got another 40 at home. My sister's got another 20 or so, and that's just over the hill over there. So there's another 60 over there. Then my father's got some down the valley a little bit here. My brother's got some and so on. So I've got a lot of Flow Hives in the area, but right here at the office we have about 20.

Do bees talk to each other? How do they know where everyone should go to get the flowers?

They do! They don't actually talk, but they dance mighty well. And it's an incredible thing. And humans have studied honey bees more than any other insect on the planet and actually managed to decode their language. And their language is adance language where you can actually see the patterns and work out which direction they're going and how far they're going to the flowers. And there's a few other things we've worked out as well. No doubt, we can't understand their complete language yet, but we do understand that if they move in a figure of eight pattern on the comb service waggling their tail, when they waggle about one second equals close to a kilometre in distance. So if they waggle, then stop, waggle for a few seconds, then stop, that'll be two kilometres away they're going. So somehow the other bees in amongst 50,000 bees in the dark hive can see that dance and know exactly where to go and the angle of the figure of eight pattern they're doing tells them the direction relative to the sun. So amazingly, yes, they can tell the other bees exactly where to go and how far to go and probably a million other things in bee language. But they don't talk. Well, that's not quite true. The queen will use trumpeting sounds so there's an audio message. And she'll do that for a few reasons. One is a bit of a war cry. If there's a fight to be had between two queens in the hive.

What is the difference between propolis and wax?

So wax is excreted from the bees' wax glands, just like we have wax glands in our ears, a bit different. They can excrete wax and then with their mandibles, they use that to make the bulk of the comb. Propolis, on the other hand, has a high content of tree resin added. So they'll go and collect tree resins from any tree they can find that has some weeping tree sap and bring that back in. And they'll use that for a few reasons. One is to create a different consistency of stuff that they can use for blocking up the corners of the hive and any little gaps they have. And the other one is they use it as a high-antimicrobial substance so that they in a log hollow, they'll use a lot to coat the inside of the hollow to keep away things like mould. Some people are experimenting in the world, Seeley's done some great work on it, where you rough up the inside of your beehives to promote the bees to smooth it out with their propolis. And then you get some of that antimicrobial work, keeping your beehive with less pathogens in it, I guess, and said to be health benefits. I've tried it a little bit, haven't had that much success. Genetics plays a big role in how much the bees will cover the inside of the hive with propolis.


When you're harvesting the honey, do you have to sterilise the jars?

No. Unlike preserving jams and things, honey actually is amazing stuff in that it hasantibacterial properties. So much so that it gets used in medicine for healing wounds that can't actually be healed by anything else. So there's countless stories of people at a loss with all of the all of the arsenal of everything the hospitals can throw at it. But then honey was the thing that actually saved their leg or whatever they were having trouble with their wound. It will sterilise the jar for you. So you don't need to go through a sterilisation process.


What's the shelf life of honey?

So that's an amazing thing about honey. So this jar, if the lid was good enough, and the moisture content was low enough, which it looks like it is, could last thousands of years without going off. And they know that because they've found honey in pots in the Egyptian tombs. So honey was used back then. It was a very revered product and it was used for embalming. It was used as a gift to the gods and things like that and left in pots. And they've, they've found 3000-year-old honey that is still good. Now it will go candied, but that's still good honey. And it's important to know that it doesn't always look like this. And eventually old honey will go candied, which means it forms sugar crystals and it sets, and that's beautiful honey, too. It's just a different experience. My kids love it and they call it the crispy honey. So another amazing property of honey, not only does it have amazing healing properties, but it can also last for thousands of years.

What does the honey taste like this morning?

Oh, it's a nice, it's a beautiful, how would I describe that? It's almost got that beautiful waxy texture. It's getting more and more well-known that people love the taste of their Flow Hive honey, compared to the conventional honey or store-bought honey. There's a few reasons for that. One is the zero processing here. It hasn't touched any form of machinery to get into your jar. It's only gravity that's managed to get it out of your hive and into the jar. So as we know, the more process your food, the more flavour you lose. The other one is it hasn't been spun in a centrifuge and been in contact with so much oxygen. Oxygen is known to actually dissolve some of those fine floral essences, and you lose the sort of upper palate flavour bursts of your honey.

And the other one is you are isolating frame by frame. If we harvest this frame over here, we might find that it's a completely different flavour. And if you mixed all your ingredients in your kitchen together, then you would get something that was a bit average in flavour. It might still taste okay, but it's a bit of a blend of everything. It might be more enjoyable to taste the different flavours. So we get sort of rave reviews on Flow Hive honey for those reasons. And here we've got that beautiful flavour that is hard to describe, but it's like when you crunch into a fresh piece of honeycomb, somehow it tastes like comb honey.

Do you have any plans for a long Lang Flow Hive?

Long Lang Flow Hive? So some people are experimenting with going sideways instead of vertical. The advantages of that are once you lift the lid off, you've got access to your brood and your Flow Frames. I've experimented a little bit with it. Haven't had that much luck, might need to experiment more. Let me know how you go if you want to go stack your boxes sideways instead of vertical. The main advantage is you don't have to lift the honey super off to get to your brood. Disadvantage is it's less like a tree hollow, the bees are often naturally more in a vertical column. Also your honey frames might get a bit cooler and more prone to candying in the hive because they're not sitting above the brood nest like this, where they're staying warmer. And there's probably a bunch more advantages and disadvantages. But I definitely promote experimentation. If anybody wants to make long hives and put Flow Frames in them, let me know how it's going for you.

How many supers do you always have on your hives?

I generally just put one on top, but some people like to put more supers on their hives. Some people like to put more brood boxes. There's a few reasons why I do one. And it's partly because the nectar flows in this area tend to just come and go throughout the year. And we don't really need to have massive sized colonies. So it's just a bit easier to manage when you have one super and one brood box. By all means, if you wanna buy another super or another brood box, you can.

And in some areas where you've got a really long season where for instance, perhaps up in Canada where the season is compressed. So you've got a long winter and then maybe four months where everything's flowering at once, they tend to stack many boxes to allow the bees to build up to a really large size colony because everything's flowering at once for months and months in a row. And that allows the bees really to build up bigger. So in those areas, you might decide to add more supers on your hive, or maybe more brood boxes as well. So go for a bit of local knowledge. There's a little bit of a difference with Flow Hive harvesting. Now in conventional beekeeping, you'd add more supers because you wanna batch process the whole lot. It's so such a lot of work and such a big sticky mess to clean up and all of that, that when you go to do it, you just want to get a lot of boxes done at once and get it over and done with.

So what you tend to do is store the honey on the hive in boxes, and then take all those boxes off and process the whole lot together. Now we can do it a bit differently here. We can store our honey and jars on the shelf and allow the bees to keep going, because it's so easy just to harvest as you go, you can then keep harvesting, store the honey on the shelf in jars, instead of in boxes on your hive.

In two years my hives have produced about 70 gallons of honey, all from full frames. The water content is always between 21 to 23%. It won't go below 20 very often. Is that normal for hone to always produce above 21% moisture content?

Well done on your honey production, by the way. Be interesting to know a few things. One would be to cross-reference with another refractometer to really make sure that you haven't got a calibration issue. But normally no, the bees will get it down below the 20% range. You will get bees that get a little bit lazy and they just can't be bothered getting that last bit down and bees that do that. You sometimes even see fermentation starting in the frames in the hive. But I'd be interested to know if you get another refractometer, whether you are still seeing the honey above the 20% moisture content. Now the danger for everyone about this is if you store honey, that's got a too-high moisture content, it can start to ferment in the jars. So I'd also be interested to know whether any of your honey on the shelf has started to ferment. You should see little bubbles forming in it and that sour taste, if you do get fermentation occurring,

Is it true that bees will kill their queen?

It is true that bees will kill their queen. Now, one of the reasons they might do that is if she's not performing. In our language, queen means the ruler and you certainly wouldn't be killing the queen. In a beehive, she gets called the queen, but she's not the ruler. She's the egg-layer. And if she's not doing a good enough job, then for the survival of the colony, the bees might bump her off and raise a new queen. So that's I guess the brutality of it. But it also brings about an interesting question and that's who makes the decisions in the hive? And it seems that it's kind of a group consciousness, if you like, where decisions are being made collectively as a superorganism. Not any one bee making the decision.

What is the main difference between genuine Flow Frames and the cheap versions that can be bought online?

Since the beginning, in fact all the way from crowdfunding and even just before we delivered our first hive, there wascheap knockoffs coming out of China. And it's something that's been an issue I guess, all the way. And also a lot of people and it's still happening today will sell Flow Hive copies and take your money and not even deliver the hive. So there's a lot of that going on as well. And we're constantly working to shut those down. It's a sad thing, I wish they'd stop targeting us. So it's a lot of work we put into trying to clean up the space from the cheaper, nasty knockoffs and the scammers who are just basically collecting your credit card details to then sell on to other people. Now when you talked about the differences, we have actually ordered some of the knockoffs and we've tested them. And in some cases, we've not even been able to use them. The mechanism wasn't built well enough to actually harvest honey at all. So we've sat there and gone, well, it doesn't work so we don't have to worry about it. But we do worry about it because we don't really want people out there with all of these copies of our invention. We've got our patent in place and all of that, but it's, it's hard to stop coming out of China. So what can you do? But we do work hard to try and stop the scammers and the knockoffs.


I have been trying to catch a swarm but haven't had any luck. How long before I should buy a nuc? (Pennsylvania, USA)

So well done for wanting to catch a swarm, but it's something that may or may not happen. If you are right near a hundred hives in an apiary and it's springtime, then you'll increase your chances dramatically. But if you're just waiting for a swarm, it could take many months. You might not find one that season. Getting on the Facebook groups and things will help. Somebody might alert you to a swarm and you can go and catch it. But generally the easiest way to get started in beekeeping iswith a nuc. You can also buy a package, which is like an artificial swarm, and you can also take a split, which is a where you take half the frames out of a bottom box here and transfer them to another box. So that's another way to get going. If you know somebody with a hive, especially in the springtime, you can actually be doing them a favour by taking some of their frames out, reducing the likelihood of that hive swarming. There's a few different ways there to take a split. If you have a look atTheBeekeeper.org, there's an amazing course there made to take you from square one, right through to even a deep scientific knowledge in beekeeping. It gets rave reviews. It's also a fundraiser. This year, we'replanting a million trees from the funds from TheBeekeeper.org. We're very excited about it, experts from all over the world, tuning in, a really good online course.


End the harvest

So, so we've got a pretty textbook harvest here. We usually get six or seven jars from one frame and here we've filled up three jars from half a frame of honey. And something you can do with the Flow Hive easily is just harvest a little bit and leave the rest for the bees. So that's what we've done today. We've just harvested half a frame by inserting the key just halfway in. And we're doing that to illustrate the point that you can do that, but also that the bees are a little bit hungry at the moment. And we can tell that by looking in the windows and seeing what's going on. So we could pack up this harvest now, we've got our three jars of honey to take home to the family and it's a beautiful honey, too.

I'll just show you quickly what we need to do to end the harvesting process. There's two slots here, there's an upper one and a lower one at the top of your frame. So we were harvesting by putting the key in the bottom one. Now we move it to the top and just push it all the way until you feel a knock at the back and then move it to a 90. That's all you need to do to reset the frame parts. Now, good idea to leave the key in there in that 90 degree position for a minute or so. And what that does is make sure your parts are getting pushed down in the proper position to form hexagons. If you just do a little quick close and move on, you might find the propolis and wax is kind of springing, and those parts will bounce back up. And then you'll be in the situation where your parts are out of line and that could cause problems and spillage inside the hive downstream. So just leave your key in for a bit longer like that after harvesting, when you're closing up to finish off.


Trace:

I just wanna give you a little positive feedback story to end on from Graham. Who's never been able to join live Facebook before, but having now got covid is required to isolate and is loving actually watching all the lives and having his question answered. And just thanks for all the support that you give to new novice backyard beekeepers, and saying he would never have ventured down this path without the invention of the Flow Hive, Cedar.


Cedar:

That's excellent. Great to hear your stories and excellent that the Flow Hive has inspired you to get started. I had covid recently too. So my thoughts are with you there as you go through that isolation, and hopefully you don't get too sick. That was a few weeks back and I'm all good again now. So hopefully you will be too and the best of luck with your bees going forward. And thank you very much for tuning in. And if you do have anything you want us to cover, we're always up for talking about new topics. If you dial back to last week we were inside a hive, checking out this and that in there and having a look at what was going on inside the hive. So often it's a show and tell about how to do something in beekeeping. Other times it's just more general Q & A. And it's a great thing that we see is people helping each other. So you might notice a lot of comments in the thread below. Scan through, if you know the answer, then chime in, it's all about helping each other get started in this wonderful pursuit of beekeeping.



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