How to light your smoker

In today’s livestream, Cedar covers how to safely light and use your beekeeping smoker. In the Q & A, he answered some questions about smokers, along with questions about transporting a hive, making splits and more questions on beekeeping in winter.



Video Transcription

Good morning. Thank you for sending in all your suggestions of what we should cover in our live streams. Today, we're going to cover the much-requested how to light your smoker.

So this is a bee smoker, and this is the one that comes with our hives and suit kits. Now, if you open the lid, what you'll see is there's an inner can. Not all smokers have this, but it does help keep your smoker going longer. If you have this in your smoker it’s great. If you don't, it doesn't matter. It's much the same as lighting a smoker with, or without that inner can.

Now what to put in your smoker is the first thing you're going to be asking. So what I've done is I’ve prepared some of the things I normally use. People get really stuck on what they use in their smoker, but it doesn't really matter because it's about ease really. So you can use leaves, you can use bark, you can use garden mulch, you can use old hessian sacks. You can even use paper in an emergency, but if you are going to use paper, make sure it doesn't have a lot of magazine print on it because that has chemicals in it that might not be good for your bees.

So pine needles are one of the things I use because I have pine trees right near my hives at home. I also use some Tallowwood bark because I have the Tallowwoods right above my hives. Denser material like this bark will last longer in your smoker, whereas pine needles will burn quite quickly, but are easy to light. It's not a bad idea, if you can, to choose an easy lighting material to start with like this and then put some of this denser material right on top of it. So what I'm going to do is just light this. And the first thing we're going to do is get a little fire going in the smoker.

Now, this smoker isn't hot yet, but bear in mind, it will get hot. So it’s a good idea to exercise caution around the metal parts of the smoker. And that's why it's got this grid around it. So it's less likely to touch up against your leg or something. when you're beekeeping. Now I'm just going to light this and put it into the smoker. Notice I'm not packing it down hard yet. I'm just giving it a few puffs with the bellows at the back here. And what that's doing is getting the fire going and keeping it going. So I'm just going to let it get going. If I stuff it full of materials straight away, what you'll find is that it'll just go out.

So once I've got that fire nicely going, I can add a little bit more to the smoker like this and then puff it some more. Again, I'm not stuffing it full quite yet. I'm really letting the smoker get going first and that's the secret to easy lighting. Now, here we go, adding a bit more, few more puffs. Now it's really going. We can start adding a lot more fuel to the smoker and you could add garden mulch, leaves, bark, whatever you like at this point. If I was going to be beekeeping for a while, some of this denser material from the Tallowood bark would keep it going longer. And I can just add that on top, like that.

Things are going to start getting hot now. So you might want to be wearing your gloves or just really exercising caution when getting your hand near the metal parts. As you put more in it will slow it down, you'll need to puff it for a little while to keep it going and you'll need to puff it every now and then just to keep it lit. It can be annoying when you’re beekeeping, and you've got the hive in pieces and you've got the smoker and it's gone out and you've got to put down everything you're doing, come back and light the smoker. So remember to give it a little puff every now and then, and keep puffing it till it's blowing clouds of nice, cool smoke.

Some people add a bit of wet grass on top, just to cool the smoke down further because you don't want to be blowing hot smoke right onto your bees. If there are flames coming out, then that's definitely a no-no. That could burn the bee's wings. So just be careful of that.

So we're getting good smoke now, I can then close this lid here. I'm happy with the amount of material I've got in the smoker, and you can use your J tool just to close the smoker up. And now the smoke's coming out the end. If you're going gloveless, you might like to smoke your hands at this point. And that just masks some of your mammal smells that might set the bees off. If you’re new to beekeeping, wear your gloves, because it's a good idea to protect yourself. Ease your way into it, you don't want anything that's going to be too dramatic when you first start beekeeping.

Now, once you've got your smoke at nicely going, the best thing to do is come up to your hive. It's a rainy day here, so we're going to do it on the veranda rather than in the field. It's not a great day for beekeeping if it's rainy. Pulling apart the hives is best on a nice warm sunny day, mid-morning to mid-afternoon.

In order to smoke the hive, stick the very end of the smoker right into the entrance and give it a few puffs. Three good puffs into the hive. Notice how my smoker is gone out a little bit. I actually needed to get it going a bit more first. So I'm going to puff it till it's really going. That's better. You want to see really good jets of smoke coming out and then three good puffs in the entrance. And then wait a minute and that'll give your bees time to settle down.

While you're waiting, put the smoker in front of the hive, but if it's dry and there's a chance of fire danger, then use your garbage bin lid or something metal in front of the hive, just to put your smoker on and limit the chances of any embers falling onto the dry ground. We really want to be careful about fire. Check the restrictions, you may not even be allowed to light a smoker if there’s a total fire ban in your area. So be responsible and make sure you're abiding by any rules there.

So again, every now and then just give it another puff to keep going. What we're doing is leaving it in front of the hive entrance so the bees returning to the hive get a bit of a whiff of the smoke as well. So that's how to light a smoker.


Extinguishing the smoker

Now, when you put away your smoker, there are a few things you can do. So you can either just put it in a bin like this and let it slowly extinguish. And that'll keep it safe from causing any fire danger issues. You put it in a bin and put the lid on. Another thing you can do if you've got water handy is actually tip the contents out and extinguish them with water. If you were going to travel in a car with your smoker, it's not good to leave it smoldering like that. So you'd want to extinguish it fully before putting it inside your vehicle.

Another use of your smoker is you can use it to clear bees away. So if you're doing a brood inspection and you've got bees all over the top of the frame parts, and you need to work that area, then adding a bit of smoke would just clear the bees away from that zone. So you can get in there and lift out those brood frames much more easily.

Another tip is if you're closing your hive up for moving the hive and there's a whole lot of bees hanging outside your hive, sometimes just wafting a little bit of smoke around those bees and waiting a few minutes and repeating the process will get the bees to travel into the hive, and then you can close it ready for transport. And you'd be doing that nice and early in the morning. But the main function of a smoker is to provide that calming effect to your bees, to make it easier to do your brood inspections.


Pollinator House

That’s a very busy little pollinator house, that one. We've got a fire-tailed resin bee just reversing out here. Look at that, it's a beautiful bee. We get a lot of those here. And we've got a masked bee just popping its head out of this tube here. Isn't that a beautiful thing! And look, here's a green something, not even sure what that is up here. Iridescent green one. Fantastic. Good show here today. Here's another fire tail just coming out. Lots of these tubes have been used by various different species. It's a great thing to be supporting all of the little pollinators that we all depend on.


Beekeeping Q & A - Smoker Questions & Tips

Is there anything that you should not use as fuel in a smoker?

So you don't want to put anything that's going to have a nasty chemical effect in the smoke. So don't use magazine paper because it's got a lot of chemicals, a lot of stuff in that print. You could get away with newspaper if you had to, but paper without print on it at all would be better because what can happen is whatever's in those inks is going to turn into various different gasses that might not be good for your bees. So I would steer away from them and steer away from anything not natural. What you want is just some garden mulch, some leaves, whatever you've got around. Pine needles, bark, it doesn't really matter. Don't get stuck on, it has to be one thing or another. Just try what you have around you and see what works for you.

The denser materials will last longer in your smoker. The lighter materials will be easier to light. So if you've got a bit of a choice to start with the nice fluffy light material to get it going and then put some denser material on top to really keep it going for a longer time.


Do fire restrictions apply to using a smoker?

It does. So you need to look up what you need to do. Now, there are restrictions that come in, and reading them last year when we had a lot of fires, there were some restrictions that said you actually had to light and extinguish your smoker indoors, not out in the field. And you had to rest on a metal lid like this. In some cases in extreme fire danger, you might not be allowed to light the smoker at all. So please be aware. Fire is a really serious thing and make sure you're abiding by any fire restrictions.

Do you use the smoker for harvesting?

When harvesting with the Flow Hive I don't use the smoker because the bees hardly notice what's going on at all. The honey strains out from beneath their feet and they're going about their business as usual. If you're harvesting in the conventional way, then yes, you'll need to use your smoker unless you have a very calm hive. But 95% of the time beekeepers will be using their smoker to harvest honey in the conventional fashion because they're opening the lid, and the bees clearly respond to that. They're storing their honey, it's like their gold. And they store it at the back of their nest away from the entrance because they're trying to guard it from things like robber bees. So when you come to open the lid, like you're some big bear to take the honey. They really don't like that. And you'll need to smoke them to provide that calming effect and mask the alarm pheromones of the hive.


Does the smoke make some bees leave the hive because they fear that there might be a fire?

The smoke doesn't have that effect. What more happens is the bees tend to prepare themselves in case they have to leave. So bees are quite clever. What they'll do is they'll start loading up and they'll drink some honey or fill their honey stomach in case they've got to take flight and set up shop somewhere else and they will need those resources in order to create wax and start building comb again.


Why do you have a blowtorch? Do you use it to light the smoker?

It's just because the blowtorch can be handy if your fuel is wet. So this fuel is actually a little bit damp. It's been raining recently, but because it's nice and fine, I was able to light it easily with a lighter. But some people get a bit annoyed with trying to light a smoker, using a big blowtorch is one way to speed that up and entertain yourself by blasting the fuel in here and away you go. If you start with a small amount and slowly build it up, you don't need to do that. If you're stuffing it full from the beginning, you'll need to blast it with a blow torch in order to get it going.


When putting out my smoker, I put a bolt in the nozzle to cut off the airflow.

Great tip. Some beekeepers will put green grass in the front, some beekeepers use a stick, others use a bolt, as you say, and it will help extinguish the smoker. You can also just put it in a bin like this that'll limit the airflow, put the lid on. You can also tip out the contents, bearing in mind fire danger. You'd only do that if you've got water handy to extinguish the embers on the ground. So if you are traveling in the car with your smoker, you don't want it just continuing to smoke like that in your vehicle. So you'll want to tip out the contents and extinguish it or extinguish it right in there. Although then you've got wet fuel in your smoker for next time, which isn't ideal.


I cut old hessian bags into strips for smoker fuel.

Okay, great, I've heard of that. Some people will hang their old hessian sacks on their fence for a while to break them up a bit more. And they'll use that for their smoker. Hessian is and natural substance, so that's fine. Some people even use dry cow dung in their smoker. It's like when you go to India and they use that for cooking, it just smolders away. So you could even use cow dung if you're living on a farm.


Is there any alternative that you know of that you could use when there are fire restrictions?

So there are some things coming on the market. I haven't used them, but you know how smokers are using vape smokers these days, there is a vape version of a smoker that somebody has made. If anybody's got experience with it, let us know how it goes. And that would be one that doesn't have the fire issue.


I use sugarcane mulch in my hive. My bees seem to be calmer when I don’t smoke them. Is it okay not to smoke them?

That's what this one is here, the sugar cane mulch. You can get that at the local hardware store, but again, just use what you have available. There's no point in going and buying special things for your smoker when there are lots of things in your garden that will do in terms of getting your smoking going.

So you're right, when you first smoke them, the sound of the bees and the buzz will increase and you think, “Oh, that's no good”. But actually, a minute or two later it has the opposite effect of calming. But by all means, if you're gaining experience as a beekeeper, you can start experimenting with not using smoke when you open the hive. But wait until you’re experienced before you do that. Some bees are so calm that you can inspect the hive with no smoke at all. And some bees are so calm you can inspect the hive with no beesuit on at all. But I wouldn't recommend that when you're new to beekeeping, protect yourself, use your smoker, give yourself an easy start in beekeeping.


General Beekeeping Q & A

My bees are filling the middle frames, and I harvest from them. But they are not filling the outer frames.

Okay. So that's interesting. Each hive is a bit different in what they'll do. And it's interesting to learn about your hive. And it sounds like you've actually noticed that they'll fill up the middle, but not to the extremities. And I've had a hive like that once where they’ll never fill the back window that you're viewing, but they'll fill all of the center. And mostly the bees will do what they're told and fill up the back window, so you can really see that view.

But occasionally you will get bees that for whatever reason, like to leave the extremities empty. And I'm not sure, maybe it's a genetic trait from when they would leave comb around the outside of a hive, one that's just hanging in the open. Bees will do that sometimes. And they'll just leave comb around the edge with no honey in it as insulation for those cold nights. So who knows, but the great thing is you're learning about what your bees do and learning what the hive looks like when it's ready to harvest.


For a new beekeeper, would you recommend getting started with a package or a nuc?

So a nucleus is an already going mini-hive, but it's a box half this size. It might contain four or five brood frames, just the typical ones like this, but they're drawn out and there'll be honey on the edges, there'll be pollen stores, there'll be brood. There'll be everything needed for that colony, a laying queen. So that's by far the easiest way to go because it's an already functioning little hive. All you need to do is get out your beesuit and smoker and transfer it into your brood box, add the remaining frames, look after them and they'll grow.

A package of bees is actually an artificial swarm. So an artificial swarm you can make by shaking bees from an existing beehive into a box, getting a queen from a queen breeder and putting that in the mail. And it's amazing, you can order a package and it will arrive in the mail. And usually with a bit of an interesting look from the post person, because you've got 10,000 stinging insects in a box and the holes in it for breathing, and they can hear the buzzing. Nevertheless, that's the way it's done.

And what you’ll need to do is, is similar to what you do if you are catching a swarm, which is a shake those bees into your brood box. You'd put all your frames in, in our case, they’re just like this with the comb guide at the top, or you might've waxed and wired them like this, or you could use plastic foundation, up to you. You'd fill your brood box and let's have a look at what that looks like. So there we are, inside the brood box you've got your frames, put them all together like this, make sure any excess space is on the edges.

Then you'd be shaking them in just by shaking the box of bees till they all fall in. The queen's usually in its own little cage. And there's usually some syrup in there to keep those bees alive when they're in the mail. You can take away the syrup now, but the queen cage you'll need to put in here with the queen, and you can either rest that on top of the frames like that or you can put it on the bottom board. If it's cold, keep it between the frames or on top and the bees will chew away that candy. The queen will be released into the hive and the bees will go “fantastic, we have a queen!” And away they go. So that's a package, but the easiest way to start is with a nucleus.

Another way to start is with a hive split. And you can do that by taking some frames out of an existing hive and putting them into yours. If there are eggs down some of the cells, the bees will most often raise a queen from those eggs. So that is a hive split.

We've got great training videos of this at TheBeekeeper.org. If you want to have a look there, it's free to try. It's a fantastic bee course with experts from all over the world.


We've got a fire-tailed resin bee here, going into the pollinator house again. It’s got a really different, really different sound to the European honeybee. Here they are. Look at that. It's a beautiful thing.


How can I transport my bees to my new house?

There's a little bit to transporting bees, but I'll cover it quickly. And if you want an in-depth training video, have a look TheBeekeeper.org. So basically the things you'll need to think about when transporting your hive are bees and how they geolocate to the spot. So if you're moving more than say four miles, six kilometers, then you won't need to think about that too much. But if you're moving only a couple of kilometers down the road, then your bees are going to remember the old spot and fly home. So that's one thing to think about, and there's a few different methods you need to use if you're moving your hive a short distance.

But it sounds like you're more likely to be moving a long distance. In which case, what you need to do is strap your hive up. So get prepared in the day. What you do is, you take the roof off your hive. Let's assume that the inner cover is on like this and the plug is in, there are no bees up in this roof area. Now, this box is on top like this, your queen excluder would be in between. And what you'll need to do is put to good straps right around here, leave the roof off. So you've got a really good amount of tie-down force. So get prepared in the daytime. Use those ratchet straps that really do hold down, or there's an Australian invention in beekeeping called an M-lock, which is something that came long before the ratchet straps. But it has a similar cam action in order to really tighten down the hive. So you don't want it coming apart while you're in transport. So two straps here in here is good. So you're missing the hardware on the windows, strapping right under here, back around and over the top. Make sure they're nice and tight.

Then what you need to do is, when the bees are all home, which is after sundown or before sun up, you'll need to close the entrance. To do that, there's various different methods, but basically you'll need to smoke any remaining bees on the outside. Wait a few minutes and repeat that process until all the bees run in, seize the opportunity to close the entrance. You can stuff some steel wool in there. You could use anything you like really, but make sure it's going to stay there during transport.

The next thing is ventilation. You don't want to starve your bees of oxygen while they're in transport. That's really important. And I've learned that the hard way back in the days where there was no ventilated bottom board and there were vents in the lid, but the bees had blocked them up. So you don't want to starve your bees of oxygen. So in order to, to really give them a lot of air, you'll need to either remove the tray altogether, so there's plenty of ventilation going up, or at least have these vents on the top side like that. I'd go for removing the tray altogether.

Now the best time to move a hive will be in the cooler part of the day. So either in the nighttime or move them in the early morning and that way your bees won't suffer from overheating. You wouldn't want to leave your bees on the back of your truck in the sun in the middle of the day. There's a potential there that they could get too hot and a lot of your bees could die. So that's some tips.

There are in-depth videos showing you blow by blow how to do that on our YouTube channel. Also TheBeekeeper.org, if you want to really sink your teeth into some good beekeeper training material. And once you're at the other end, it's a case of setting your hive up in the location you want it to be, and simply getting your beesuit and remove that entrance blocker and the bees will start orientating to that new position. You'll see them buzzing all around, going “hang on, this looks pretty different.” And they'll be taking in landmarks around in order to locate to that new spot. Great question.


When should I put the super on my hive? If I put it on too early, will it cause problems for the hive?

If you're in a cold climate, then really make sure the bees are ready for the super. And when they're ready is when they've filled out all of these frames. So these frames here are full of their drawn-out honeycomb and brood comb, and when they're all full and there's lots of comb in your box, then put your super on top. If you're in a warm climate, you can put it on earlier, but you’ll probably just get a bit impatient waiting, so it’s best just to wait for the bees to fill this box before you put the super on top.


My bees have started storing honey in the frames, the queen is laying and the brood box is about 80% full. Is this the right time to add the super, or should I wait for it to be 100% full?

If you're in a warm climate, you can go ahead and add the super. In the colder areas, I would wait till they fill out all the frames and there's a lot of bees when you lift the lid of the hive.


I’m going to stain my hive. How long should I wait before I add the bees?

Okay. So beekeepers conventionally use probably the strongest outdoor lasting house paint they can find. It's not low VOC and they paint the boxes inside and out and their bees are fine and their bees stay. So I wouldn't worry too much if you're transferring from a nucleus into your hive. If you're staining the outside, your bees will be fine. Generally, we advise keeping the inside perfectly natural for the bees, but again, you can stain the inside too if you want to. If the bees already have drawn-out comb and brood, they won't leave. If you're installing a swarm, then that's a different story. If you've got a really strong-smelling hive and you're shaking a swarm in, they may leave. So a few factors there, depending on which way you start. But go ahead and stain your hive. And if you're transferring a nuc or taking a split, your bees will be very happy in there.


What's happening in that pollinator house?

Yeah, we've got more activity in that. A beautiful little bee, a masked bee, and that's one of the Australian native bees. There are about 20,000 native bees in our world. A lot of them don't form colonies. They just are solitary bees like this, raising some young in a tube or a hole in the mud and going about their business. And they're really important to the survival of the matrix of life that we all depend on.


I’m going to add a second super. Do I need a second queen excluder?

No, one queen excluder is enough because the queen won't get through that excluder so, therefore, any boxes above that you don't need an excluder on because she won't get into those areas. It's a grid 4.3 millimeters wide that the queen is too big to get through. And that means she'll stay downstairs in the brood box and won't start laying eggs in any of your honey boxes.

Now, some people will go with no excluder with a Flow hive. That's your excluder. You can get metal ones, you can get plastic ones. And that's that 4.3mm grid that the worker bees can get through but the queen generally can't. Occasionally she'll slip through there when she's a young queen and you'll have to put her back downstairs, but mostly she can't get through. And that works quite well to eliminate her from laying in any of your honey supers. Some queens won't lay in the Flow Frames and you can go without an excluder. And it seems to be very queen specific. So if you want to experiment with no excluder, then go for it, but make sure you're inspecting to learn whether your queen will or won't lay in the Flow Frames.


How do I prevent the bees from building wax bridges in the brood box? Will it cause a problem if I remove one frame and leave a gap?

It definitely does cause a problem if you leave some of your brood frames out and I'll show you why. I’ll just take this box off the top. So here we are inspecting the brood comb. What happens if you leave that one out and perhaps you've even left it like this, is your bees like to build their comb with very specific measurements. And they typically like the brood comb to have just over 30 millimeters (1.18 inch) distance between comb centers. So these are 35mm (1.38 inch) brood frames, which is standard across the world. And if you leave a gap like this, they'll start building comb in between them. And if there's a gap over here that started building comb there as well, they will fill the entire cavity and they’ll often do that before building on the frames, they love a bit of empty space to build some random comb.

And the problem with that is you can't inspect the frames. And that is a requirement in beekeeping that you are able to inspect the frames for pests and disease. So if you've left a frame out and they've gone a bit random, you'll need to fix that up by cutting out that comb and getting them building nice straight lines on your brood frames. So if you've got extra space, like the Flow Hives have on the edges, you'll appreciate that as the bees build up and you'll be able to move a frame sideways in order to get the frame out, then move the brood frames together in the middle and keep that excess space evenly distributed between the two edges.


Do I need to register my hive with the DPI? (Australia)

Yes. Great question. So if you're in Australia, you will need to register your hives, and there’s a small contribution of $60 to make. That goes towards helping keep our beekeeping going in the country, helps keep services going like testing slides for pathogens such as AFB. So registering your hive, it's something you'll get a reminder email if you've purchased from us to make that registration. And there's a number you'll need to write on your hive equipment to show that you have registered it.

How far off the ground should the hive be?

So that depends on what kind of predators you have in your area. We have cane toads here, and that's why we like to get them up off the ground a bit. So if you've got our Classic without the stand, then perhaps put it up on some bricks or something like that. Or some logs just to give a bit of distance from the ground. Cane toads can't climb, they will knock on the hive in the night, the bees come out to see what's going on and they'll eat them. And if you've got lots of cane toads in your area, then you'll find the numbers would be dropping in your hive unless you get the hive off the ground a bit. So if you've got lots of cane toads, you could even lift it further than this, extend these legs out and even add a block of wood or two under, to lift it even higher off the ground.

I know in other parts of the world are things like skunks that will get to the hives. I've got water dragons at home. They don't tend to eat too many, but it’s a lizard that likes to eat bees. The birds you can't do much about, so lifting them up won't help. But there really isn't an issue with bee numbers being diminished by the birds. They'll just eat a few and I figure fair's fair. So lift it up for those cane toads and any other predators that you might have in your area.


Do you have issues with mice eating the bees?

We don't have mice issues in Australia that I'm aware of. With the Flow Hive 2, there are beekeepers in North America that say the Flow Hive entrance being smaller than a standard Langstroth actually keeps the main mice that are an issue out of your hive in the wintertime, which is a good thing. But some people will put a grid with about an 8mm size mesh over the front, just to reduce the chances of mice getting in and making a mess of your bottom box. If the bees have moved up through the hive, the mice could then take advantage of the comb in your bottom and make a nice, cozy, sweet nest.


Which split method do you prefer? The walkaway split or split to a second brood box, then move the brood box a few days later?

Good question, Peter. So what I tend to do is what we call the walkaway split. Depends if I've managed to order some queens, then that's a different kind of split. But the walkaway split is basically you take some frames out of this box, you put them into another box. You move this one over a little bit, so you're sharing the flight path between the two colonies, give the weaker one the lion’s share of the flight path. And usually, they'll make another queen and away they go. And that's typically what we do here.

If we have ordered some queens, then we would need to find the queen so we knew which box she was in. And then you could introduce the queen a day later to the colony that didn't have the queen.


Do you need to treat the hive, or can it go straight into the garden?

So with the Cedar, you can go untreated. It is naturally resistant to mildew and mold. What you'll find is it'll go through this slow stage over a year or two slowly turning silver. Once it turns to silver, that silvery grey color is quite a nice look in my opinion. But the transition to silvery grey looks a bit odd, where it's kind of patchy. It's a bit natural wood looking and a bit silvery grey. So that one, it needs a bit of time in order to look good.

The other alternative of course is you use a timber oil, the outdoor decking ones will last the longest. You can put them on the outside of your hive. And if you are oiling your hive, you will need to come back every six months or a year or so. Give it a little bit of TLC and another coat to keep it looking good like this outdoors.


How do you keep stop the ants from getting in?

Ashley's saying she puts Vaseline on the feet to stop them from climbing up.

So that's a good little tip there. Thank you. So the leg bolts of the Flow Hive 2 here, you can run them out a little bit and use this area down here to add a bit of Vaseline and make an ant barrier. If you brush all the ants away from your hive, do remove the foliage from touching the sides of the hive. Then you will probably find your ant issues will diminish. They can be a bit persistent in there, they might be coming back one way or another because they're liking the nice dry home off the ground. If you find that they're still being annoying, you can put some cinnamon powder behind the window covers, and that will make it less enticing for those ants. They're not a problem for your hive. They're more of a cosmetic issue. And they can be a bit annoying when they lay a whole of eggs over your beautiful observation window.


The dovetail end notches on your boxes are black. Have you used anything special on them?

So that's the laser cut from our laser machines. So as it cuts through the wood, it chars the ends and it gives that beautiful effect of the black checkers. It also has a bit of an effect of cauterizing the wood and limiting the moisture ingress in through that area as well, which is nice. But basically, it's from the laser cutting. So we, we using the solar-powered laser cutting plant where the sun shines on the roof, turns into laser beams and cuts out our hives for us. It's a wonderful thing.


How much honey do you get from a Flow Hive?

So that really depends on the seasons. Sometimes you get a really poor season, you don't get much honey at all. Other times, you'll get buckets of honey out of your hive. Each frame like this can be 3kg (6.5 lbs) of honey. So if you've got our Flow 6, then that's 18kg (39lbs) of honey if you have all the frames. In some seasons, you can do that multiple times. So like any kind of agriculture, you get the weather patterns lining up, or sometimes you don't.

So we had a really dry year last year, lots of bushfires. That was a hard year for a lot of beekeepers here in Australia, with very little honey crops. But we're having a much better season this time around, even though there was a bit of a hangover from the fires and some of the plants still didn't flower, we're getting some good flowerings now. So that's fantastic.

Sometimes if it's in the springtime and the flowers are dripping to the ground with nectar, then you can harvest all the frames and even a week later, they're full again. So it's really extraordinary when the bees are in full flight, a strong colony coinciding with an amazing nectar flow, you get that amazing honey crop coming in. So hopefully you get to experience that, but it might not happen for you for a few years or it might not happen. So just lower your expectations. And if you get some honey to taste and that's a win.


Beekeeping in Winter

Do I need to leave honey for the bees in winter? (San Fransisco, USA)

You certainly do if you're in an area that gets long cold winters. So in San Fran, it's not so bad there. The winters are mild, so you'll need to leave less honey available during the wintertime than you would if you're in the colder areas of North America or Europe. There are people keeping Flow Hives in even as far north as Norway. So in those areas, you’re certainly going to need a lot of honey stores in your hive for your bees to survive. It is their source of energy. What they'll be doing is eating that honey to stay alive, but also to give them energy, to disconnect their wing muscles and vibrate. And that's how they warm the colony and keep it warm during the wintertime.

So in those cold areas, you'll need a whole box or in extreme cases, two boxes of honey to survive a long cold winter. In the more temperate climates, in climates like this, we can actually harvest all year round. So in San Fran, it's going to be a bit like that. Ask the local beekeepers. You might even be able to do some in the autumn and still be enough forage around, just ask the local beekeepers and get the heads up on how much honey you should leave for the winter.


I leave my honey super on during winter for the bees. Should I remove the queen excluder? What if the queen starts laying in the super?

If you've got a long cold winter ahead, you'll need to do some preparation before that. So you're going to either remove the Flow super altogether, and the bees will be surviving on what stores they have in the honey box, or better still you might have a double box here with another box of just comb like this on top for the bees to survive on during the winter.

But if you want to leave the Flow Frames on during the winter, as you say, removing the excluder is something important to do, because what happens as your bees move from this box after consuming any honey stores in that area, as the ball of bees is bunkered down keeping warm they'll actually move up as they consume the honey stores. And if the queen can't get through the excluder, she will perish from cold and she's left behind downstairs. So you don't want that to happen. If you've got months and months of cold winter, then remove that queen excluder to allow the queen to stay with the ball of bees during that wintertime, as it moves through the hive.

Now come springtime, as you say, you'll need to put your excluder back in. To do that, you shake all the bees down to the bottom box, put your excluder back on, and put your top box back on again. And that way you'll know the queen is downstairs and laying in the appropriate area.


Is it too late to add a super? (Queensland, Australia)

Not in Southeast Queensland, you might even get some good flows depending on whether you're inland or on the coast. In the coastal regions, you will get winter flows and you might even get a good Paperbark flow on during the winter. Some people are even harvesting good honey crops in the wintertime. So it may not be too late. If you're in the inland areas, it tends to be more of a spring, summer, autumn, where the honey flow is happening and not so much in the winter. But nevertheless, here we are, and there's plenty of time ahead in the season here before it gets cold. So go ahead and add your super, as soon as your bees have filled all of the frames up, as soon as they've drawn all the comb. So get in there and have a look. If they're out to the edges, drawing their comb, there's lots of bees in there, by all means, put your super on top.


Do I need to remove my super for winter? (Gold Coast, Australia)

Well, in this area here we are in Northern New South Wales in the coastal area. And we leave our Flow supers on all year round. And you can do the same where you are. If you're getting really long, cold winters that you might decide to downsize your hive for that wintertime, give them less area to keep warm.

Do you recommend wrapping your hive during the wintertime?

So I'm no expert in overwintering hives. We've got some great training material at TheBeekeeper.org where experts have made great training videos to help you with those kinds of overwintering questions. It's a bit divided on whether to insulate your hive or not. Some beekeepers say it's great. Other beekeepers say your hive will actually consume more nectar because they're thinking it's warmer and they're going about eating some of that nectar. Some beekeepers say that it's important not to insulate. You want condensation on the inside of your hive for the bees to use as a water source. Other beekeepers say you don't want any condensation. So it's a bit divided in terms of to wrap and insulate your hive or not. I think the best thing to do is try and see what works for you.


Should I close up the entrance a bit during winter? How do you know if you've got enough air circulation?

You certainly could close up the entrance for that wintertime. So you can do that with some pieces of wood or anything really. And what that'll do is just reduce the amount of airflow, but also reduced the area that your colony has that needs protecting. So if the entrance is smaller, things like mice will find it harder to get in. If the entrance is smaller, wasps and robber bees will find it harder to get in. So not a bad idea to reduce the size of your entrance, if your colony is smaller or in that wintering state.


Do I need to clean the Flow Frames when I remove them for winter? How should they be stored?

So Flow Frames, if they're left sticky with honey will attract mildew in a warm climate. If you're in a cold climate, if you can keep your frames cold, either because it's a really cold winter or you've got a deep freeze, then that will keep them good for the next springtime. So that's probably an easy way to go. Otherwise, if you're in a warm climate and you're wishing to take your hive off and you don't have a deep freeze, what you'll need to do is harvest all the honey and try and get it to the point where there's no honey left, either by washing the honey off the frames and then you can store them. You want to store them in a tub away from wax moths and mice and things like that.

But there are a few different ways to get the honey off, one is by washing. Another one is by waiting till the bees have eaten all the honey. You could actually harvest your honey frames and leave them in the open position. And the bees will then not be able to refill them with nectar again. And they'll lick all of the honey out and leave them dry. However, I wouldn't leave them like that for, for more than several days because the bees will actually start to put a whole lot of wax and propolis in the frames. The frames can get stuck in that open position.

So a few tips there for storing your hive. If you're in a more temperate climate like this, leaving it on the hive allows your bees to keep looking after them. And then you don’t have that issue of keeping those frames for the next spring. If you can let the bees keep them it's better.


If I leave the super on for winter, can I still harvest or should I leave it all for the bees? (Australia -warm climate)

In this area, we can harvest good honey through the winter time. The Paperbarks really flower, especially when the rains come. So that's a wonderful thing to have a winter like that, but not everybody is fortunate enough to have honey flows in their wintertime. If you're inland here in Australia, there won't be much nectar flow in the wintertime, no matter where you are. If you're in colder regions, there won't be any nectar flow in the wintertime either. So it really depends where you are. You can ask your local beekeepers what they do and try and see how you go.



Thank you very much for tuning in and for all of your great questions. If you'd like to jump in and do an online course with great training videos, have a look at TheBeekeeper.org. It's free to try and it's got very in-depth training material made to take you from square one all the way through to even a deep, scientific knowledge in beekeeping. And it's also a fundraiser raising funds for our honeybees for habitat, regeneration, protection and advocacy for honeybees. And also our little pollinating friends like you see over here visiting this pollinator house. Tune in again, same time next week.


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