Observation hive at Harvest Cafe

by Flow Hive 19 min read

We had a special broadcast today from the Harvest Cafe in Newrybar, where they have an amazing indoor observation hive. Cedar harvested some beautiful fresh honey and answered your beekeeping questions. He also announced the launch of our Pollinator house.


Video Transcription

Morning, today we're in the Harvest cafe and we're going to harvest this beautiful observation hive. Check it out, it's a circle. We've got just a small amount of frames. We've got three Flow Frames across, and then we've got two brood boxes here and another one on top. Let's have a look and see how they're going right inside the hive. Look at this, beautiful. You can see the capping they're putting on in this area here, where they've decided the moisture content is below that 20% range. And they're putting the capping on, saying that the honey is going to keep. And lucky for us, they store enough for us to have some too. So we're also going to be answering questions. If you do have questions, put them in the comments below and we'll get to answering them as we go. But here we are inHarvest cafein Newrybar Australia.

Let's just have a look around. It's a beautiful cafe. It's one of my favourite places. This is the deli part. And then there's an amazing restaurant where they do all sorts of local foods, wild foods. They forage in the local area and actually do all of these native Australian foods right in their main dishes in the restaurant, which is super cool. Okay, let's do this. So what we're going to do is just take the little caps out of the frames here, insert our little tube in here and we're ready to harvest. Now what I'm going to do is put this key into the top of the frame and we'll turn that and let's see what happens. Okay, that was nice and easy to turn. Let's go and harvest the whole frame like that. And we should start to see honey coming down this tube here and into the jar. So you might need to wait a minute as the honey works its way down into this trough area. Meanwhile, let's just take a look at what's happening because we've got an idea of what's going on in this brood nest here by just looking in from the outside. This is an edge frame, so there's a bit of a sparse brood pattern going on. But nevertheless, you can see drone brood here and, and there's some worker brood right over here in this corner.

If you watch closely, you'll see the waggle dances, which is how the bees communicate where they've found a source of nectar. Let's see if we can see one. There's another brood box down here and we're just looking in to see what's going on in here. And have a look at how they go up this tube here, they seem to prefer to crawl than fly with this size tube. Apparently, if you do a really big tube, they can actually fly up it. Here's one bringing in pollen, coming down here. Big orange pollen pants on that one, another one there. Another one with pollen, bringing in those stores.

The honey is moving super slow. We're in an air-conditioned room and the frames are quite cool. So that's an interesting thing to notice already, but it's just starting to make its way. So it'll take a little while to come down the tube. Up here, we've got some empty Flow Frames that they haven't got to filling yet. But it's amazing, they're able to get up the tube like that, all the way out and then they go out a chimney on top of the roof and away. You can see the shadows of the bees against the skylight as they take off and fly to do their foraging.

We've got a waggle dance happening down in this corner here. We've got what's called a round dance, which means there's nectar nice and close. That waggle dance there is communicating how far away the nectar is and what angle compared to the sun they need to fly to get there. So I don't knowhow they do it. Normally it's really dark in a beehive, but we've taken off these windows and somehow with the bees dancing on the frames, they're able to really communicate an amazingly detailed amount of information in order for the hive to then go and forage on that nectar and pollen.

It's moving very slow today, the honey, with these cold cold frames, but there it goes. And it looks like we've got a bit of medicinal honey in there as well. So I look forward to trying that flavour when I get this mask off.

Beekeeping Questions

How long has this hive been in the deli for?

So this hive has probably been here since Easter. So it's been about 6 months. It's a relatively new part of the cafe here. They've also got hives down the back, which they harvest from and the chefs do amazing work, collecting that honey and doing cool things with it.

What is the rope in the tube for?

So the rope is just an extra thing if they wish to climb it, but they seem to be climbing the tube quite okay. You get the odd tumble where they lose their grip and fall down. But generally they just seem to be walking out as if it's just a very long hallway to their hive entrance. If you go bigger, apparently you can get them really flying up the tube, but you need a bigger tube than this to get that flight. It's not a long way. You hear of people doing observation hives in shopping malls, and they're going right through the air conditioning ducts, not with the air conditioning, but piping through those conduits and out into the world. So we're only going a bit over three metres here, and the bees are fine to work that.

What's the difference between drone brood and worker brood?

So the drone brood are the boy bees and the worker brood are the girls. They're females, but they don't generally lay any eggs unless there's a dire situation. And in which case they lay unfertilized eggs and they can lay more drones, which isn't that useful. But the queen is the only egg layer, the bulk of the bees you see there are the worker bees, which started off just the same as a queen, but got fed plant proteins at about day three of their gestation. And what that does through epigenetics, it turns them into a worker bee instead of a queen bee. So it's quite interesting that just through what they're fed, a worker bee can turn into a queen bee and last for six years instead of four or six weeks. So that's pretty cool. But if you have a look here, the drone brood sticks out like a little bullet shape. So there's an example right there just in front of my finger. So there's a bee in the way. If I tap it, maybe it'll move on. Nope. It's amazing, just with this sheet of acrylic they're quite oblivious to what's going on in the cafe here. They just go about their business, which allows us to really look in at the world of the bees and learn. So it's a cool thing.

How would you do a hive inspection in a hive like this?

To do a hive inspection with this set-up, we can shut off the entrance, both for the bees returning and the bees coming here. And we can pick up this whole thing and take it away for an inspection. You certainly wouldn't do an inspection right here in the shop or you'd have bee chaos.

You usually use foundationless frames. Do you find you get a lot of drone brood in the frames?

I don't think it makes a difference really, which foundation you use to drone brood. The bees will do whatever they like and change it to what they want to do. That's my experience. However, some beekeepers do try and manipulate how many drones they get by giving them different sized foundation.

My favourite way to eat honey is with peanut butter. What are your favourite ways of eating honey?

I like to eat honey on its own because you just get to taste the beautiful flavours that are coming in. And often you'll get different flavours in different frames. And one of the many joys of beekeeping is being able to taste those flavours and isolate those flavours and connect them to the flowers that are out there. And you can do that by the scent of the flower and the scent of the honey and the taste of the honey. So it's a beautiful thing just to be able to taste honey. So I prefer to eat it just on its own by the spoonful. And yeah, you'll often find me in the corner tasting honey.

Have you got any remedies other than cinnamon to deteriorate black meat ants? We have a lot of them in our hive.

Ants are a bit of a cosmetic issue where they get behind the window covers and they lay their eggs and it's a bit annoying. And if you leave the caps off, these little ones up there, they can get in into those areas. But they don't really damage the hive. They're just more of a cosmetic annoyance where you go to see your beautiful bees, but you've got all these ants running everywhere. So some people will put Vaseline on the legs if you've got a Flow Hive 2. And our Flow Hive 2+ just came out with an ant guard, which is a little cup basically, and another cup that goes over the top to stop the rain. The leg goes through the middle. You can fill that Vaseline or oil and that'll help deter those ants. Of course, if you've got foliage touching the hive, they will just work their way up that foliage and find a way onto the hive. But generally go with an ant barrier. Sometimes you have to work a bit to really get rid of the ants though. There might be a whole lot of them under the roof up here and it'll take a while to brush them all out and get them gone. And then they probably won't come back for a while and then you deal with it again. 

You mentioned that the honey may be medicinal. What is medicinal honey?

I just saw like a jelly globule come out and that's athixotropic property of some of the medicinal Leptospermum species in our area. Manuka honey is one of those. If you're seeing globules coming out, then that is a sign that the thixotropic property is present. For us, that means medicinal and in other parts of the world, there are thixotropic honeys that aren't medicinal. And when you get a mix, you get it bubbling out like that. I thought that perhaps that may be a reason why this is flowing slower than usual. But it's simply just that it's cool. And it's nice thick honey as well.

What flavour does that honey have?

This has some of the spring flavours that are coming in right now. In the springtime here, we get these beautiful light flavours. And in the wintertime we get these amazing malty, dark flavours. So there's just a difference in the seasons. And then you also get red tones coming in as well in this area. But it really does vary widely, the type of honeys you'll be collecting from your Flow Hive. And you'll notice there's different honeys in different frames. But usually, the lighter ones here are very floral and fragrant, some of my favourites. We get the ironbark coming in the springtime. This could be the Guioa, which is also called wild quince, a very, very fragrant flavour.

What's your best remedy for beestings?

Time for me. Just wait a little bit and the pain goes away and on you go. Everybody's got their different reactions and thresholds to what they, what they will and won't handle in terms of beestings. Pete, who installed this hive, you'll probably see him beekeeping with no suit on at all. However, don't do that when you're starting out, give yourself a nice, gentle way into beekeeping, wear your bee suit. Work out how you react to stings and make sure you're nice and safe with your gloves and your bee suit on. Some people like to put various different things on their beestings. I don't do anything, I don't react too badly. Occasionally if I get stung on the lip or something like that, there'll be a bit of swelling, but mostly no problem. But having said that, a lot of people do have localised swelling and very rarely people can have anaphylaxis, like they can with peanuts and so on. So things to keep in mind, know yourfirst aid in beekeeping.

What's the best option if you've got a strong brood box and you don't want to split the hive. Add an extra brood box or add an extra super?

So what you're trying to do when you are doing spring management is you're checking in on your hive, but you're also trying to limit the swarming tendencies. Now the primary trigger for swarming is overcrowding. If you look at this hive here, it's not overcrowded. There's a whole box here they haven't even started on. If you look down here, you can still see areas of the comb that don't have bees. So this hive isn't overcrowded. But if you were looking in here and you could hardly see the comb at all because it was so full of bees and the bees were bunching up here and spilling out the front of the hive (in this case, that would be on the roof), then it's likely if it's springtime that they're gearing up to swarm and that's their natural division. If you want to manage that, which is a good idea because we can't sit around all day waiting to catch swarms. Then my favourite method is to get in there and take a split, which basically means taking some of the brood frames out and putting them in another box, introducing a new queen. Or getting them to raise their own if they've got eggs to do that from. Another method is adding another brood box or another super, you can go either way. Both will reduce the overcrowding tendency of your hive. But if you do add another brood box, then you might decide to move half the frames up into the next box. And that will really make new area, new pasture for the queen to lay. So that's a wonderful thing to do in the springtime.

Why are all those bubbles in the honey?

There are bubbles in the honey because the shelf is down a bit lower today. We've got a fall from the tube to the jar, which if you're out in the wind, there's a problem. But inside it doesn't really matter. And that fall is encapsulating air as it hits on the honey surface with a bit more velocity. So we've got these beautiful bubbles in there, which is not how it usually looks.


Champagne honey!

When is the best time to set up a second hive? And how far away from the first hive should I put it?

You can have them bang up against each other. Commercial beekeepers often have them on a pallet or strapped together wall-to-wall. So the bees are clever enough to know which hive is theirs generally, but you do get a bit of drift from one hive to the other. So if you're separating them for the purposes of limiting or quarantining diseases from one hive to the next, then you want to have more than 10 metres between your hives. If they're closer than that, then you're likely to get a bit of a mix sometimes of bees that are coming home. They're loaded with nectar and pollen. They're really heavy, they're flying in and they just can't quite be bothered to make it to the end of the road where their hive was. So they'll go into the first hive. So typically if you've got a run of 20 hives, the downwind end of the row will get more bees and more honey production simply because of that drift nature. So more than 10 metres, if you want to separate, otherwise as close as you like. For us, with our observation windows on our Flow Hives, it's nice to put them far enough apart, perhaps about one and a half metres, so you can easily get in there and check the windows. Also to do your brood inspections by taking the boxes off, a little bit of space between your hives is handy for that.

Look at this beautiful honey, it is such a gorgeous colour. It's amazing that in this area, which is not very far away from where we do a lot of beekeeping, we don't usually get it so light in colour. So it can really be so localised, it's amazing. Look at that.

Cafe customer

Can I have a taste?


Certainly. You can certainly have a taste of that and you can taste it directly from the hive. Why don't you come right in here and taste it straight out of the hive? It's a beautiful thing. And we want your take on the flavour.

Cafe customer

Silky smooth, yummy light flavour.


Nice description. There's no wrong way to describe honey. So describe away. We've got some kids lining up here. Can you reach all the way up to here? Can you reach up to the honey with your spoon? Excellent. Look at that beautiful honey, straight from this amazing observation hive. It's such a treat, isn't it? Here we have right here produce just flowing out from the turn of a handle. It's an incredible thing to be able to do that and to also learn and watch how the bees work and watch the amazing job they do of pollinating the surrounding area as well. It's super cool!

Can you explain what happens after a hive swarms and then another swarm happens from the same hive?

Occasionally you get some pretty swarmy genetics and a hive can swarm in spring and then it can swarm again. And in some cases, swarm again. That can be a great way to build up colonies if you're hanging around and collecting swarms or taking splits before they swarm. But in the end, if that's getting annoying, which it probably will eventually, then you may need to requeen the hive just to put some new genetics in there. So bee breeders will typically breed for bees that are nice and productive, not swarmy and are hygienic in terms of keeping their hive free of disease. So if you get yourself a new queen and swap out the old one, then those swarming tendencies should go away.

The bees are attacking whenever we go near the hive. What should we do?

If you find you've got aggressive traits in your hive, and you go nearby and they're starting to hassle you and sting people, then that can be not so fun to have around. If you can handle that and it's not somewhere where people generally go, then you can leave them be if they're a nice productive colony. But it's often nice to get back to a gentle colony that's easy to work with and doesn't tend to sting people. To do that, same thing. You'll need to get in there, find the queen, take her away, usually wait 24 hours and put the new queen in. And she comes in a little cage with a block of candy at the end, the bees will chip away at that block of candy and over a day or so. And that will give the bees time to recognise her scent. If you just put her straight in it can sometimes work, but they're more likely to ball her and kill her as an intruder into the hive. So that's the process of requeening. And of course, if you're requeening your grumpy hive, it can be quite an ordeal, it's a bit of work. You need to be in your bee suit. You need to be comfortable to do that. So if you're new to beekeeping, get somebody to help you do that because finding the queen in a grumpy hive might not be the best starting task.

How do I get started in beekeeping? What sort of hive is good to begin with?

The way beekeepers get started is a myriad of different ways. Some people are the type of people that like to go and do a bee course go and do another bee course think about it for a year. And then they go and buy their equipment and off they go. Other people will like to just jump in and get their hive and learn as they go. Other people would like to do a lot of learning online. Now, if you want to do online learning, we've got a great course calledTheBeekeeper.org, which is aimed to take you from square one all the way through to a very competent and confident beekeeper. And it's gotexperts from all around the world contributing to that. And it's also afundraiser for habitat regeneration and protection. So take a look at TheBeekeeper.org if you want to do some online learning. I'm the type of person that just likes to jump in and learn as they go. If you're like that, then go and get your gear. The Flow Hive is a great way to start. You don't need all that extra equipment of honey centrifuges and spinners and decappers and buckets and sieves and all of that harvesting process that I used to do before we invented the Flow Hive. And so it takes one big learning curve out of the equation.

I did a harvest recently and there were little bits of wax or comb in the honey. Is that normal?

Yeah, that can be normal. Sometimes you'll get a situation where, depending on how the bees sealing all the cell parts together, some little bits of wax will fall through into what we call the trough area, which is where this honey is collecting at the bottom and coming out. So sometimes you'll look in these areas in here and you'll see that there is a little bit of wax debris built up. Now that'll just come out with the honey. It's no big deal. It floats to the top and you can skim that off. If on the other hand, this area is full of fermented honey, because there's been some buildup that's been left there too long, then you might want to clean that out before you start.

What makes the colours in the honey? Is darker preferable to lighter coloured or are they different grades?

It's a personal choice, but it's the nectar from the flowers that gives the flavour and the colour. Now we've got a nice light one here, but sometimes in this area, we can get almost black honey that you cannot see through in a jar like that. And that's simply the different flowers that the bees are foraging on. And there are as many different tastes to honey as there are nectar-producing flowers in the world. So there's a lot. You'll learn some of the key ones. Around here, you'd learn the paperback, the Ironbark, and maybe the Guioa and a few other distinct big flavours that come in. But it's a wonderful thing to be able to learn and connect the flavours to the flowers. And it's an endless game, there's an endless variety of flowers for the bees of forage on.

I seem to have lost the queen from my hive, but there are lots of drone cells. Could I take a frame from another hive with eggs in it and put it into the hive that I think has got no queen?

You certainly can, that's often the way that people remedy that situation. If your hive has lost its queen, sometimes they have already raised another one you don't notice. So check back in a week or so, and have another good look for the presence of eggs down the cells and of very young larvae. If indeed it's still queenless, then you need to either introduce a frame from another hive that's got eggs or larvae under three days old or buy in a queen from a queen breeder and put that into the hive. If you introduce a new queen from a queen breeder, that will give you a headstart because it'll be a good couple of weeks ahead of the hive raising their own one.

Can you explain the setup of the hive? Obviously, it's different to the Flow Hives, with the brood box and the supers.

So what they've done here was get a Flow Hive and it's basically cut down half-size in this direction. So we've got three Flow Frames in this box. And we have probably four frames of brood in this one and four frames of brood in this one. And so it's basically grabbing an existing hive that we have, cutting it down the middle and stacking it on top of each other. So it's got the same amount of room as a standard Flow Hive that you see pictured everywhere. But it's been tiled out a little bit to give you more observation room, and there's bigger observation windows on this one as well. And they've all been clipped together, screwed together so that the bees aren't escaping. There's this great little entrance area, a bit of a zone here to collect some debris that might fall through, just to give the bees a hand because it's hard for them to carry the debris all the way up and out of the chimney. And that's the setup and it's working quite nicely. And the tube leads to the chimney on the outside on the roof, giving the bees a sheltered area to have an exit.

We've had a few dead bees on the ground in front of the hive. What does this mean? And is it a problem?

A few dead bees is quite normal. If you consider the turnover of a hive, a hive this size could have something like up to 50,000 bees. If the worker bees only last four to six weeks, you can imagine the turnover of bees every day. So bees dying is normal. However, if you get a carpet of dead bees, it could actually start to look like a carpet in front of the hive, that's not normal. And if that happens, often you'll see them there with their tongues hanging out. And that's usually a sign that there's been a poisoning issue, usually from insecticides that have been sprayed on flowers. A great reminder to spread the word, to look after our bees and not have insecticides sprayed on flowers. So, but ia few dead bees is quite normal. If you come out in the morning and visit your hive right at dawn, you'll often see dead bees on the landing board. The bees will go about their business and clean them off as the day goes on.

When will the pollinator house be launched?

That's a fundraiser we do every year, we get the offcuts of our Flow Hives and we upcycle them into littlepollinator houses, habitat for the beautiful native bee species. They're really important species, not only the European honeybee that does an amazing amount of pollination, but also the amazing little native bees. Here we have the blue-banded bee, we have the Teddy-bear bee, we have the fire-tailed resin bee and all of these amazing little bees. And the majority of them don't form colonies like this. They actually need little holes in wood or holes in bamboo. And the pollinator house project is about raising awareness of that. It's about making a little project that people can put together at home to put in their garden. It's about encouraging people to create habitat of all kinds and create safe zones for our pollinators that make our world go round. And it's also a fundraiser. We donate a hundred percent of profits and more actually to habitat regeneration and protection from that project. It's a great little Christmas present, and it's on our website now.

Do you think Flow will start producing these observation hives for other cafes?

I figured it might create a bit of interest and do let us know. If there's a lot of interest we could work on that and see if we can get some more of these going. They're quite a spectacle and it's a beautiful, beautiful thing to have people come into your shop and really engage with how the bees work and how the bees make their honey and how they raise their brood. And to be able to have a setup directly like this in the shop is a wonderful thing as well. 

Thank you very much for tuning in, let us know what you'd like us to cover next week, same time. And thank you also to theharvest cafe for having me today to harvest a little honey from their observation hive.


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