Beginner Beekeeping Q & A - January

Topics covered in today’s livestream, included where you can keep a Flow Hive, swarming and requeening, and some questions on hive maintenace. Cedar harvested a fast-flowing frame, and we got some great questions about harvesting honey.

Video transcription

Look at them making their honey. It's a beautiful view through the cross section. The end frame view gives you this cross section of the honeycomb and the bees down the cells using their tongues to deposit nectar, doing the amazing work of making honey. And here we've got something interesting today. We've even got some pollen in the cell. You can see here, or actually bee bread. And you can see by the way it's layers of pollen mixed with a little bit of honey. Usually that happens in the brood box, in the box below where they're using it to feed to their babies. But right now we've got a little bit of pollen there, very unusual.

We might even harvest a little bit of honey while we answer questions. This week's livestream is dedicated to asking those silly questions. Sometimes people feel a bit shy. There's a big world out there of beekeepers who often are very opinionated. Here, ask away. I'll be happy to answer any question, no matter how silly it is. The idea is we all started off as new beekeepers once, and it takes a journey of learning to get there and to understand the basics to get started. So the idea is to ask those questions, put them in the comments below. Also let us know whether you're a beekeeper or not yet, really interested to know that. So put that in the comments too.

So while you're busy thinking of your questions and putting them in the comments, I'm going to harvest a little honey. So to do that, I've got the door that came right off here and I'm putting it on the shelf brackets, forms a nice little shelf here. Then I can get a jar and put it there, just like that. And I'll also get a little tube and put it into the end of the frame, so the honey can come right out and into the jar.

Now all I'm going to do to harvest the honey is put the key in. If I wanted to put it in a little way, I could just harvest a small amount of honey like this. If I wanted to harvest more honey, I could put it in all the way like this, give it a turn. And then we'll be harvesting more honey into the jars here. Look at that. It's a beautiful light colored honey today, which will be full of those floral bursts. Usually the lighter ones have the floral notes of the flowers in them, which is a special thing to have - all the different varieties. You can see the different colors, often corresponding to different flavors. And there's as many different flavors as there are flowers producing nectar the world.


Getting a Flow Hive

How much space do I need for a Flow Hive?

That’s the wonderful thing about beekeeping is, it's a very small footprint. This is the area a beehive takes up. So people will even keep them on city rooftops, on balconies in Berlin, in all sorts of places. So it takes over a very small amount. And while the bees are just here, they're spreading out over perhaps a 10 kilometre radius. If they're hungry, they'll forage that far to collect that nectar, bring it all back into your hive. So this honey here is the flavor of your surrounding area. And depending on what is flowering will determine the color and flavor of your honey. And sometimes it has medicinal properties as well, depending on what they’ve foraged on.

Can I keep a hive in my vegetable garden?

I certainly keep hives in my vegetable garden and so to a lot of people. Of course, it's up to you. In terms of, keeping a beehive does increase the risk of stings. Of course you can get stings, just walking in your backyard, if you step on the clover or something like that.

But having bees around, depending on the nature of your hive, will increase the chance of stings. Sometimes you can get a hive that's a bit more aggressive. And if you find a hive like that, then it can be a good idea to replace the queen and get back to those gentle genetics. In the end, if you have those gentle genetics, then you can be around the hive and they won't be trying to sting you. But having said that, it's always a good idea to look up first aid. We've got links on our website to look up first aid about bee stings and beekeepers, just so you're well-educated.

Can I keep a hive in the suburbs?

You certainly can. There are some places which have restrictions on it, but really mostly not. You can have beehives in your backyard, you can then harvest the honey. And ironically often bees do better in suburbia than they do in the forested regions. And the reason is that people plant all sorts of flowers, and that gives them a really long foraging season compared to out in the natural wilderness. You'll often get a lot of things happening in spring and summer, and then not so much the rest of the season. Depending on where you are in the world of course.

So suburbia is a fantastic place to keep bees. My sister was keeping them in Suffolk Park, which is a local suburban place here. And she was far outdoing me in honey, and I’m in a rural area, in the forest over there. So it just would keep coming in all winter or summer because you've got not only some forest around, but also the things that people plant in their yards.

Does the Flow Hive work in cold climates?

Absolutely. So there's a bit of a myth that's been propagated through the internet about Flow Hives not working in cold climates. But we've got plenty of videos, plenty of people, even as far as Norway keeping Flow Hives. So a lot in North America, London, Canada, and in Europe as well. So thousands and thousands of Flow Hives in cold climates. Your harvesting season is when it's warmer anyway, so the honey still flows out. And then it's just getting your bees through the winter. Just like any other conventional beehive, you need to make sure they have enough stores to get them through the winter.

How far from your house can you keep a hive?

So we're very close to the house here with a lot of hives. It's up to you and how comfortable you are. You might like to keep them further away to begin with, get used to the idea of beekeeping and then contemplate the idea of bringing them onto your veranda or into your bedroom with the pipe going out the window. That's sort of the extremes. But it really depends. Like you can get a cranky hive that you don't really want by your doorstep, and you can get a really gentle hive that is nice to have by your garden. And so as you get used to beekeeping and learning about that, you can then experiment with shifting them closer.

Do you ship Flow Hives worldwide?

We do. We have warehouses in key locations around the world, so there'll be one near you and it's quite quick usually. Sometimes there are COVID related delays, but mostly it's still working quite well. And we can get hives to you very quickly.

Requeening & Swarming

Will replacing the queen each year prevent swarming?

Not always. If you're buying a queen from a queen breeder, then you can ask for genetics that are less swarming and you might be able to go for years without them swarming like that.

Having said that, it's a good idea to do what's called spring management, and that's the best way to prevent swarming. And that's simply by making sure the bees have enough room in their hive for the queen to lay eggs. To do that, you get into the bottom box here, you're in your bee suit and your smoker. You can take out some honey frames from the edge to make some space and insert some new frames towards the center. So that's what people often do in the springtime, just to make sure there are fresh cells for the queen to lay in, because that's the major trigger for swarming.

Another one is that if the hive is full of honey and there's no more work to be done. So if you can harvest the honey, free up some space, then the bees will actually have more room. And that's another trigger for swarming.

The other one of course is adding more boxes. So to get back to your question, you can introduce a new queen if you've got particularly swarming genetics, and you want to change that to less swarming, then you can introduce a new queen. Personally, I wouldn't do it every year. When you’ve got a good queen and you're onto a good thing, just stay with her.

Check out TheBeekeeper.org for more in-depth information on requeening and swarm management.

Should I requeen every year or second year?

The answer is no - that's largely coming from commercial beekeeping, where they are after that extra 10%, 20% of production. If you're keeping bees at home, you're just keeping one to 10 hives, then you're probably not after that extra bit of production. If you were, you'd be bundling up your hives and taking them to where the flowers are, like the commercial beekeepers tend to. If you've got a healthy hive and the queen's going good and the numbers are good and you're happy with the temperament, then I would just leave the queen be. That wasn't supposed to be a pun.

The hive right outside my door at home, I've taken that queen onto the TEDx stage about three years ago now. And it's still the same queen and she's still going strong and I certainly don't want to lose her. So I'll be hanging on to that queen. She's very productive, very gentle natured, and I will just stay with that queen until one day, she might sadly go.

I want to requeen, what should I do about the queen cups in the hive?

If you want to introduce that new queen, then you'll need to destroy the queen cells. Otherwise, what may happen is there'll be a fight and you'll likely lose your new queen that you're trying to introduce. If you've purchased a queen with specific genetics then you might want to hang onto them.

So you can either destroy those queen cells or depending on what stage they're at, if they're capped with a queen in it, you can actually cut that out and use it to take a split or transfer it to another hive that needs one. So beekeepers will often do that. They will take a couple of frames out and they'll take a split using those queen cells. They could take the frames with the queen cells on it, or you can cut the queen cell out and put it onto another frame in another hive, all sorts of things.

But to answer your question, if you want that queen to survive that you're introducing, then tear down the queen cells in the hive, just by knocking them off with your hive tool.

How do I identify queen cells?

So they are really quite different. They look like a peanut shell hanging down off the frame. So if you notice the comb surfaces or hexagons, and then all of a sudden, there's this protruding peanut shell hanging out and down, and that's simply to get a long enough bee in those cells. The queen is a lot longer than the other bees, so she needs a longer cell and a larger cell.

How long does a queen bee live?

Queen bees can live for up to six years, which is really different from the other bees in the hive. So the majority of the bees in the hive are worker bees, which are all female and in the foraging season, they might only live two weeks. So that's very different from up to six years for a queen. The drones on the other hand, the males, will live for about six months. So there's a bit of an indication of the different lifespans of the bees. The queen actually started off just the same as all the worker bees. It's only that she was continuously fed Royal jelly and due to epigenetics, she changes into a queen. So it just goes to show what you eat can really change how long you live.

Hive Maintenance

How do I treat the wood in a Flow Hive?

This is the Western Red Cedar. It's very popular in North America and it's arguably the best beehive wood, because it resists mildew and it resists rot. Yet it's also very light and nice to work with. So that's a very popular wood type and being resistant to mildew means you can also experiment with using timber oils. Now, the oils that are going to last the longest to give you this beautiful look of oiled wood are going to be your decking products. They are made for oiling timber and keeping them outdoors. So if you use a decking product, that'll give you the longest lasting. However, they often come tinted, so be mindful of that.

This isn't a decking product. This is a linseed oil and it tends to soak in. That's actually one with a solvent in it and it actually needs another coat. So if you're wanting to keep your hive looking beautiful, natural wood like this, then you will need to give it some TLC from time to time, every six to 12 months, a little rub back, a little more oil. This is overdue for this hive, as you can see, it's drying out a bit and that'll keep it looking good for longer.

The other wood types, Araucaria and Paulownia, should be painted. If you have a look up here, you can have some great fun with your family, painting your hives. And I don't know if you can see in the distance a hive there with mountains on it that's been painted for years now, and it's still looking good.

So the other types, if you oil them, they will show some mildew in the first six months or so, if you don't want to have that look, it doesn't actually bother the hive. It just doesn't look very good. So you're better off with the other wood types using some house paint and you can have fun with that too, getting artistic.

Are any colors unsuitable to paint a beehive?

I probably wouldn't go black just from the sheer heat absorption. But if you're in a colder climate, then you could go black as well I guess. But generally paint them any color. The bees don't really care. So go ahead and have fun. You can paint it rainbows. You can paint it blue or white or black. Conventionally, bee boxes out in a paddock in Australia are white, and that's just the heat reflectivity. So that's another factor to think about as well. We've got a gabled roof on top of an inner cover. So we've got a lot more insulation than a conventional white box hive out in the sun.

Should I dip my hive in hot wax?

So hot wax-dipping I have tried, and it didn't work out very well for me. I think the wax was a little bit dirty and the finish just wasn't that great. The other thing that happened on some of the panels is they changed size a little bit, and that just created some issues with the fitment. So for that reason I don’t recommend the hot wax dipping. Cedar itself will last a very long time. Just using some decking oils on the outside will keep it lasting. However, if you've had success with the hot wax dipping, do let us know maybe some tips and tricks that we don't know about.

Is condensation on the windows a problem?

Generally not. Although if you want to, you can pull out the tray down the bottom, just to make sure a whole lot of water hasn't filled your tray. You could leave the tray out altogether if you like to give a lot of ventilation and that condensation could clear up.

Harvesting Questions

How does the Flow Hive cope with high humidity?

Well, one thing when there's high temperature for sure is the honey flows really fast. So it's pretty warm here today. I'm sweating and look at that. We've already got a full jar of honey. Now, sometimes you can get bees that get a little bit lazy in the high humidity and they'll actually not reduce the water content enough. So you can keep an eye on that. If the water content is not low enough and the honey is still running, once it's cooled down, it just means you need to consume it before it ferments. So that's one issue with high humidity. Otherwise bees are so resourceful. They will go and collect water and they'll cool the hive, they’ve got amazing air conditioning skills.

Look at that. Another jar already. It's just pouring out. This is incredible. So look at that. It's a beautiful thing to just watch these jars fill up the honey's perfectly ready for the table. And this is just one of actually 12 frames in this hive. We've gone and put a second box on top here, which they haven't filled yet, but they're just getting started on it.

Why is there a high moisture content in my honey?

That can happen sometimes and you can get a situation where the frames are filling up nicely, when you're seeing a beautiful filled pattern here, and the bees have gotten hungry and they've started to eat a section just above the brood nest. Sometimes they'll eat a bit of an arc out because they're using that honey to feed to the babies. And it does take a frame of honey and a frame of pollen to raise a frame of brood. So if there's no nectar coming in, they might get hungry and eat some out. Then what could happen is the bees then start filling those cells with nectar again. So you could get a mixture of ripe honey and nectar coming out occasionally. If you see that, it’s not the end of the world, it will still be beautiful in flavor.

You should consume that before it ferments, or you could take the opportunity to make some honey Mead, or you could keep it in the fridge, which will make it last longer, even if the moisture content is high. Alternatively, if you want to be really, really sure, then you can get in there and pull out the frames first and have a look. Personally, I don't do that. I just really start learning and looking. And after a while, you can get a good idea of how ready the honey is going to be by watching the window.

So I can already tell here in this hive that they're not completely full. You can see by this pattern that they're not. And although they've got some nice frames, we can be pretty sure that they're not full just by the way there's a whole lot of missing honey here. This one as well, it's a bit checkerboarded. You can even get cells that have been eaten out that were full before. So once you get your eye in, you'll get to understand without having to take the hive apart, by using this window and the side window, what that means on the inside of the hive. And then you'll rarely have the issue of honey being too high moisture content in your jar.

Can I harvest before all the frames are capped?

So you certainly can. If you're looking in the windows and you're seeing that there's a lot of capped cells, I would go ahead and harvest. See here, you're seeing a lot of honey in the cells and even the wax capping that they're putting over the top. If you look carefully, you can see the bees are walking on their wax capping. And that means they've decided the honey has a low enough moisture content to keep and then put the wax capping on top.

So it's ready to also keep in your jar on the shelf. So you can go ahead and harvest them when they're full. Quite a nice way to do it is to checkerboard it, when some frames are ready you harvest them. Any remaining honey in that frame, they'll move to the next frame along and so on. So it really is quite a good way to go about harvesting, just as the frames are full, fill up your jars.

My super is filling slowly - is this due to too much rain?

If there's a long period of rain that really limits the bees foraging, but it'll also set off flowers for the next round. So the flowers will certainly come and go. And it's exciting when they're there and you see a whole lot of honey coming in and it's very patience-testing when it's not. And some seasons you don't get any honey at all. And that's, I guess the life of beekeeping and also many types of farming where there just isn't the seasonality to line up to give you the crop.

Although I do imagine it's better to keep multiple hives because sometimes it's also your hive that actually isn't doing a wonderful job of foraging. And if you have multiple hives, then that will give you your answer of really how the season is going. And one hive to the next can be starkly different as to how quick they pull in the honey. So yeah, a little bit of patience there. Hopefully you'll get a nice autumn flow there when the rain stops and the flowers bloom.

When is the latest time to add the honey super? (Victoria, Australia)

That is a good question. So we're still in our summer here, so you could certainly still be adding supers now, if the nectar flow is continuing. Ideally in those colder regions, you want a good box of honey before winter. And if you don't have a box full of honey for them to survive on, then you might need to feed the bees to build up some stores. Just to increase the chances of them surviving a long, cold winter. So it’s a good idea to add them now.

As to what the latest would be, that question you should ask your local beekeepers, who will know what's flowering in the area. Sometimes you can get autumn flows that are really quite good and it's worth capturing those. So ask around, ask some beekeepers and once you've got a few opinions, make up your mind and give it a go, and that's the way we learn.

What are the bees doing on the frame that is being harvested?

Let's have a look on the side, so you can see the bees are busy already tearing down those cells. They're tearing away the wax capping and they're starting the whole process again. Now here, you can actually see the bees already starting to do their work in the end frame view. And if I turn the key a bit now, I can turn it back to the cell-formed position, just by inserting the key in the top. So the key is inserted all the way, turning it, and that's putting all the cell parts back into their position. All of those bees are starting to poke their heads down the cells and work on those cells and start the process of joining the parts together, waxing them all up, putting the nectar in and away they go again.

It's amazing how quickly a busy hive will tear down the cappings and reform those cells. But another hive might actually leave them capped for some time and get back to it when they're ready. So that depends on the nectar flow and also the number of bees in the hive. A really busy hive, if there's an active flow, they'll tear off those cappings and get into it straight away.

It was a real win when inventing the Flow Hive. We didn't really know what was going to happen. And I had all sorts of contraptions inside the hive prior to this model, where the capping section would actually get pulled off inside the hive. It was quite technical, and I'm glad we didn't have to do that. It was a real win to have the bees notice underneath their feet that the honey's gone. They set about rectifying the situation by chewing away the capping, repairing the cell and filling it with honey again.

Can you have different types of honey in the same Flow Frame?

If I line them up here on the roof, you'll see that the honey in that frame is pretty mono-floral, meaning it's all from a similar source. Sometimes you can get the situation where you've got a dark honey and a light honey in the same frame, and you'll get two-tone honey jars, but generally not.

But if we're going to harvest a different frame, it can have a different color and different flavor from the same hive. So you could expect at least six different flavors from this hive, from these frames here. Not always, sometimes you've got massive flowering of one thing and they'll fill the whole box with that.

But in this area, it's generally bits and pieces of honey flows. The Ironbarks would go, the Melaleuca will go, and then you'll get some macadamia flowers down here in the valley start flowering and so on. You just get them filing as they go, different colors and flavors. And it's such a wonderful thing to be able to share those with your friends and family.

My Flow Frames are stuck. Have the bees waxed them closed?

Sometimes the bees will stick them together really well. Sometimes they'll use propolis, so that'll really gum the parts together, especially those parts that are moving like this on the inside of your flow frame. So the secret is, you've got your key and you can just harvest it in segments and it'll make it a lot easier. To do that, you'd be inserting the key in the bottom. I don't want to open this one again, so I'll just insert it in the top for the purposes of the demo, but you'd insert that in the bottom slot and you can go one cell at a time if you want to, but just put it in a little way and turn it back to 90° and turn it again, and that'll make it a lot easier. And you can just harvest the frame like that.



More Beekeeping Questions

Can I inspect my hive on a windy day?

The best time for pulling apart hives and doing your brood inspections is mid-morning to mid-afternoon on a not too windy, sunny day. And that's when your bees will be the calmest. However, it's not always possible to sync up with your schedule. And we do often do beekeeping when it's windy and when it's cloudy and grey, your bees will just be a little bit more grumpy about it. So the other thing is the temperature, if you're pulling frames out of the hive and it is cold and windy, don't leave them out too long because the young larvae can, can get chill and die. So here we don't really have that trouble in a subtropical region. We can beekeep all year round and it's always warm enough. But in those cold areas, that's something to be mindful of.

Have you got any tips on natural or organic pest control?

There's a tray underneath, so let's see what's going on in this hive here. You've got a pest management tray down the bottom. Somebody cleaned it out recently and we're actually experimenting with detergents. Now, this hive has a total of zero beetles in it. I have been fine that urgent has been working quite well as a pest management solution there without having to put insecticides in your hive. But oil is the typical one that people have been using. So you can just put some cooking oil in that tray. And the beetles can go down through the screened bottom board, but the bees can't.

So you can catch a whole lot of beetles using cooking oil, or you can experiment with water and a little bit of detergent will also kill beetles. I wouldn't do that in the colder areas. You don't want to have a whole lot of extra humidity fogging up the inside of your hive. As far as counting mites go, I'm no expert, we're probably one of the only continents without the Varroa mite, but basically you can use the tray as a mite counting board to keep an eye on the level of mites in your hive. You could turn it over and use the bottom if it's nice and clean and count how many mites drop through onto that tray surface.

We've got detailed lessons on pests and diseases in our online beekeeping course.

Is it better to have a double brood box or a double super?

It's really really up to you. I find if you count the cells in a brood box, that is enough to sustain a few thousand eggs a day being laid if the queen is in peak production. However, some beekeepers like to keep a double brood. And what usually happens is they spread the brood nest out over two boxes with honey on the edges. Alternatively, you can just keep the one brood box and if you're wanting to add multiple boxes for more space in your hive, you could add another super. So the answer is you could go either way, either way is fine.

There are ants in my hive. Is this a problem?

Ants are just a cosmetic issue, really the bees will keep the inside where they're working ant- free. they're very good at that. But they will get behind the covers and be a bit of a nuisance. In fact, early this morning, I noticed that one of these (harvesting caps) had been left off and ants are making a home inside there. So that's not so good.

To get them out, take the cover off again, throw a little bit of cinnamon powder in there, and that will annoy them enough to drive them out. Then you can put your cap back on. And the same thing goes for behind the covers. You can use a bit of cinnamon powder to deter them.

Some people create an ant barrier and you can do that with the Flow Hive 2 legs, just by greasing the leg bolt here with some Vaseline, and that'll create a bit of an ant barrier as they try and crawl up that leg.

Of course, it only works if you've removed the foliage from touching the hive. If you've got foliage, like we have around here that is touching the hive, then ants will go along that. So if you're using that barrier somewhere, we use little tubs of water that the feet sit in. Others use the grease on the bolts. Then you'll need to chop away all of the foliage. And usually I find even if you do nothing, but brush all the ants away a few times, the ants would go away. But if they're persistent, then there's a few tips and tricks to do something about it.

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