Beginner Beekeeping and floods

by Flow Hive 15 min read

We’ve had some extreme weather here lately which has caused devastation in the local area. It’s caused some disruption to our operations and customer support, but today Cedar is back in the Flow Hive apiary answering your beginner beekeeping questions. 



Video Transcription

Good morning. Thank you for joining us for this week's live Q & A. The theme of this week is beginner beekeeping. Apologies to those that were tuned in last week, but we couldn't do a livestream due to the internet connection that was down. In fact, there was widespread disruption in our whole area. We had a huge amount of rain, that's been called a rain bomb. Some places reported 700 millimetres overnight, an incredible amount of rain that led to widespread flooding. 40,000 people were evacuated in Australia. So it's been an incredibly hard hit in this area. Some people's houses washed away completely. So there's a lot of need for homes and a lot of need for recovery efforts in the area.

We've had electrictiy problems, internet issues, roads washed away which meant no fuel into the area. Anyone that's been trying to contact support, we hope you haven't been waiting for too long. Customer support is thin on the ground because there's a lot of people that are flooded in and can't actually get to a good internet connection to answer all your questions. So please be patient with us.

Okay. So if we have a look what's going on in this hive, they're quite thin on the ground in terms of honey, there's a lot of bees though, which is good. You can see down between the frames,there's a lot of bees, which is neat. But you can see this pattern here, we've actually harvested a lot from these frames. You can see these ones are almost empty, whereas there's one that has still got some honey in it. But because you can see full cells and suddenly empty ones, it means they are actually eating some of the honey away. Now I happened to be here yesterday afternoon and all these cells were being splashed with nectar and the whole surrounding area smelled like the paperbark. When you get a lot of rain like we've had here, the paperbark flowers, and they tend to do these pulses of nectar.

I expect them to be bringing that in today as well. And in the afternoon, you'll see all the nectar that they've splashed around the edges of the cells as they dry it out and condense what is quite liquid nectar down to somewhere around the 18% moisture content. Adding their enzymes and special sauce to create the beautiful thing we call honey. Lucky for us, they often make enough so we can share some too. Look in the side window, you can see that the cells that we harvested from this recently live on camera and you can see they have repaired them all, and they're ready to go again. There's not enough nectar just yet to start filling those cells. It's a beautiful thing to be able to look in and watch what the bees are doing. And it gives you a bit of a gauge of what's going on in your hive by using these observation windows on the sides, and also the tray down the bottom here.

Beekeeping Questions

What's in honey?

Honey's an amazing product. It's just nectar collected from flowers, but what flowers they collected from will determine the type of honey it is. And it can be from highly medicinal, incredibly expensive, honey, like the Manuka styles in the world. Or it can be thixotropic like jelly, or it can be prone to going candied very quickly, or it can be very liquid. It can be really light or really dark, but it's full of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, and all sorts of healing properties for us. So it's a wonderful thing. Good idea to just harvest it straight from the hive and not do any pasteurisation or processing because that can spoil all of those good benefits in natural honey.

Sometimes in Manuka honey, you see thick globules. Does it have any thixotropic qualities?

Yeah, so the thixotropic properties in some nectar mean that the honey will form into globules, which you can actually witness coming out of your hive. Some of the Leptosperm species around here are the ones that are highly medicinal and also often thixotropic. There's one that gets called jellybush, the Manka in New Zealand is also a thixotropic honey. And if it's 100% thixotropic then you may have trouble getting it out of these frames, just like you do any beehive frame, because it sets like jelly. But if it's a partial comb of the thixotropic honey it'll tend to come out in these globules and you should keep that honey for medicinal purposes to put on wounds and things.

How do you traditionally harvest thixotropic honey?

So the way that commercial beekeepers harvest thixotropic honey is they get what's called a pricker. First, they get a heated room and then they prick all the cells. It looks like a big rolling comb thing. And that stirs up the thixotropic property and makes it temporarily liquid. And then they will use a centrifuge to spin that out.

I have wanted to pick up a nuc for over a month now, but have been deterred by all of the wet weather and predicted storms. We are first time beekeepers. What do you suggest? (Gold Coast, Australia).

Yes. There has been some wild, wild weather here, as I was saying earlier. We've had a natural disaster here. 40,000 people evacuated with widespread flooding along the east coast. Sadly 21 fatalities and a massive, massive cleanup effort going with volunteers right now, friends, family, part of our team is all out, are cleaning and helping people. So as you say, it might not be the time to order bees as a lot of beekeepers have lost hives in the floods. I've been out helping beekeepers with their flooded hives and it's a mess to clean up. We've had bee hives washing up on the beach. We've had cows washing up on the beach still alive. We've had horses on rooftops. We've had people waiting to be rescued for days on the peak of their roof in the flood. It's been an absolutely extraordinarily devastating time for this east coast of Australia area. And you might be lucky and you can get a nuc now. Hopefully there's a lot of beekeepers that aren't affected and can still supply you with some bees to get started.

Are there different types of bees that you can keep in the Flow Hive?

There are, but it's basically similar bees to these. So Apis mellifera is the European honeybee that humans have dragged all around the world with them. They're an incredible part of our food chain. We need them for pollination and they make an amazing amount of honey. However, in Japan, they've been experimenting with Apis japonica, which is an Asian honey bee. Which with a few modifications in size, they were able to use the Flow Frames as well in their hives. Also the Cape honeybee in South Africa has been known to work with the Flow and also the African honeybee.

Cedar look at this over here on the landing board.

Look at that. I'm just looking in the side and I can see that that there isn't that many in the window. So the primary reason they're getting out is because it's a hot day and they need the ventilation. You can see there's a lot of bees there hanging down from the front and it's a good sign that they're nice and healthy. And it's relatively normal when you get a very hot day like we have here today.

How can you check that the hive has the right ventilation set?

So I was just looking at that and I can see that we could give them more ventilation here turning these vents up the other way. So the vents up provides more ventilation, because air can now flow through these vents up under the tray and ventilate the hive. Or we could pull the tray out altogether for even more ventilation. But this had the vents closed, which typically we would do in the colder. So let's turn that around and give them some more ventilation. Okay, more bees in this side. When you see it thick like that, and you can hardly see the comb that's when they might need some more space. Or typically I like to take a split is my preferred method to solve a crowded hive because you give fresh frames in the brood box, which is something you need to do from time to time. And also it's a wonderful thing to take splits and you can either increase the size of your apiary or you can give that split away to somebody in need.

Can we have a look at another hive?

We can, we'll see what's going on around the apiary. And there we go, there's a little bit of nectar in this one. You can see the nectar glistening, which is probably the paperbark. We can watch it come in and watch that nectar being converted into honey.

Are there any things we can do to help the bees during this incredibly damp time? Does it affect the bees?

It's a good idea to put your hive in the sun if it's not already. You can get issues like chalkbrood from damp conditions and you'll need to put your hive in the sun and perhaps check it for signs of chalkbrood, which this hive actually does have. They're getting back on their feet and I'll show you what it looks like when they've got chalkbrood in here, you can see these mummies. And look at these beetles crawling around. We need to put some oil in there. But these dollops here are like little chalky lumps and that's a bacteria that spreads through the hive and our bees can usually get on top of it as it usually affects weaker colonies. But if they don't, there's a few things you can do.

One is move your hive into the sun. Another is clean out some of the old frames from down here. And another is a new queen, new genetics that are more hygienic can help get rid of chalkbrood. But it's around generally everywhere in nature. And it's a pathogen that they can pick up and bring in. You can also empty that tray. Like if it's been raining a lot, then you want to tip any water because it'll come in the entrance if you've got driving rain, like we do coming up the hill here and fill up this tray. So you can take it out it out and give it a bit of a clean and put it back in. Also a good idea to catch the beetles. I might put some oil in there and we'll catch some of those hive beetles we saw running around. Because when hives are a bit weak and you've also got very humid, damp conditions and you're in a continent that has the pesky little black small hive beetles, they will attack weak colonies and turn it into a beetle nest instead of bee nest, which is not much fun to clean up.

How much do you need to know to get started in beekeeping?

Well, people get started in different ways. Some people like to do a course. We have a great online course Some people like to read a few books and they like to really find out a lot about it before they get started. And other people like to just jump in, get the equipment, get started and learn as they go. But the best thing to do is get started because it's a wonderful pursuit. You can produce a real amount of produce from your backyard and you get to take part in this extraordinary thing that bees do with pollination in the area. And just being able to watch and learn. It's one of these pursuits where the more you learn, the more there is to learn and it becomes a never-ending fascinating journey.

Do you have any tips to easily retrofit ant guards to an established Flow Hive 2?

What they're talking about is these ant guards at the bottom here. Now we've got a situation here where the flowers are consuming the hives, rather than the bees consuming the flowers. We've had so much rain, the flowers are really doing well here. So if you have a look down here now, clearly we're not using them at the moment because the ants would use a foliage bridge to get onto the hive, but there's an ant guard down here. You can use this ant guard here and put some oil or grease in this lower area and also underneath if you like, and that will limit the ant traffic. Now to fit those on, we contemplated making them in two parts, but we couldn't actually get them to seal around the leg. So you do have to take that leg bolt out. So what you simply do is lift one side of the hive at a time. So make sure you're in your beesuit and things like that, but basically you lift it like this, and then you put a prop here. So if you can imagine you've got that propped up like that, and then you can undo this leg, put the ant cap on, make sure it's the right way up on both parts, screw it back in, and then you can lift it off the prop and put it down again, do the same to the front. And you're done.

What's the process to remove old frames if they all have brood them?

So the process to move old brood frames. The wax, after it's been used for brood multiple times over, gets really brown and dark and the cells start getting smaller and smaller. So a good practice is to cycle them out sometimes. Now there's a few ways of doing that. My favourite way is totake a split because what you do is you are introducing half new frames each time you do that. So you take half of them away. You put half new ones in, you've got a whole lot of new area, you've cycled out half your frame. And that also helps you with other issues like overcrowding in your hive and preventing swarming in the springtime and so on. Also gives you another colony. However, if you don't want to do that and you just want to cycle out some frames, then the thing to do is move the ones from the centre, which are typically the ones that are getting old and dark. So any old dark frames that aren't looking too good anymore, you can move to the edge. Bees typically fill them with honey on the edge. You wait until the brood has emerged. And then you can remove that frame. If you've got naturally drawn comb, you can simply just chop it out then and there take that comb away to enjoy, put the frame straight back again, and you've cycled out that comb. They will draw new comb in there quite quickly. So typically you'd then put the one you've just cut the comb out of, back in the centre. So you're cycling the old comb towards the edges and out. If you you're doing wax and wire and foundation, then you'll need to prepare a frame to swap with the one or the ones from the edges. If you find you've got a comb with just a little bit of brood and you're impatient to wait, you can swap it out right then and there. And prop the frame up under the roof here with the plug out of the inner cover. And that last remaining bit of brood can emerge up there and join the colony. And then you can take it away.

When requeening, what do you do with the old queen that you remove?

So you've got two options there. Typically the beekeepers will just kill them. And if that's not what you want to do, you can just take them away and let them go. And they won't get back to your hive.

In your opinion, would it be best to wax-dip a cedar Flow Hive or simply stain it year after year to weather protect it?

I haven't had much luck with wax dipping. When we tried that we had some issues with the sides changing size and then fitment. So if you are going to wax dip perhaps make a big enough wax dipper that you can have the box already assembled for you dip it. And the finish didn't look that great, but it could be possibly we had dirty wax or something, but we reverted back to using the decking products. Now the outdoor decking products are made to keep wood looking like wood for as long as possible in the harsh elements. So they're the ones that you should use if you've got wood, you want to keep looking like this for the longest time. Now you'll always be fighting nature a little bit because it wants to turn it back into the earth. And so it'll need some TLC over the years in order to stay looking like this. Alternatively, you can paint it like this hive here. And it'll last many years as a painted hive, if you use some quality outdoor house paint.

I live right next to the beach and the relative humidity is very high here. I've noticed there is moisture building up inside the hive. Do I have any reason to be concerned about such high moisture buildup? (Santa Cruz, California)

So if you've got a lot of moisture in your hive, you might want to check the roof is sealed or you might need a little bit more attention on the ceiling of your roof panels and also check your inner cover is still okay because that's another protective layer under the roof. It is typical to get a lot of moisture inside hives, and it will typically condense on any cool surfaces, like the window and the wall and that's okay. Bees will actually use that as a water source, but what you don't want to get is wet bees. So as long as you're not getting wet bees from a whole lot of condensation dripping onto the top of your bees, then that's okay. But you might want to have a little check and see if you've got a good seal on the roof and your inner cover to keep your bees dry.

I need to move my Flow Hive 10 metres. How far should I move it in a day?

10 metres is a short move. So what I would do is just move it, say a metre and a half at a time, maximum two metres. So a one or two metre move means your bees will follow each time. If you move further than that, they'll probably land and ball up where the hive was, so a great idea to just slowly move your hive. And sometimes you could do like a metre in the morning and a metre in the afternoon. But basically if you keep doing that, your bees will follow and then reorientate to the new spot.

I hope to buy one of the hives soon. We just don't know where to start and it feels intimidating.

It can be a bit intimidating. After all, you've got this box of stinging insects and you've got to work out how to look after them. I'd suggest a great place to start would We're getting rave reviews on that. It's a course we put together in collaboration with world experts in beekeeping. It's also a fundraiser for habitat regeneration and protection. This year from that course, we're planting a million trees, which we're pretty excited about, which means a lot more habitat and flowers for the bees to forage on. So have a look at, if you do really want to get a start from ground zero to being quite well educated at even a scientific level in beekeeping.

We have had our first harvest. How often do we need to inspect the brood box from now on without disturbing the bees too much? (Southwestern Australia)

Excellent. Glad to hear you've had a nice harvest. So the differences in the honey flavour from the east coast to the west coast is amazing. I was in WA a few years back and it's just incredible to taste those flavours from that dry area compared to what they are around here and also the beautiful medicinal honeys you get. See if you can describe some of the flavours that come in. Often, you'll get more one flavour in your box. So brood box needs the same attention that brood boxes of bees always have. So the best knowledge will be from your local beekeepers as to how often you'll need to inspect. Now around here, typically the commercial beekeepers will make sure they go through every single frame in every hive, at least a couple of times a year, and also on an as-needed basis where if the numbers drop compared to other hives, they might get in and see what's going on.

So it's a bit like that, do your routine brood inspections, but also just have a look if they get thin on the ground, for some reason, then get in your bees suit, get your smoker out, take off the top and just marvel at their world and make sure they have a laying queen and that everything looks okay in there.

Thank you very much for all of your great questions and we'll see you again, same time next week. Make sure that if you know the answers to people with questions, chime in, that's what it's all about. It's about helping each other learn and also let us know what you'd like us to cover. We're here each week to answer questions and as said, there's a natural disaster in our area. So our hive production is up and running again.

There might be slight delays here in Australia, just a week or two. But otherwise everything should run fine. Our customer support is thin on the ground. So if you've got questions that aren't dire, then perhaps don't send them in. We've got people that are still isolated, still flooded in, have had their house flood up to their ceiling and have a big cleanup project on hand. So a bit of patience with us would be great. But hopefully we'll be fully back on board in the coming weeks. Thank you very much for tuning in.

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