Beginner Beekeeping - April

by Flow Hive 22 min read

It was a windy day here at Flow HQ as cedar answered more beginner beekeeping questions. The rain has been relentless in recent times, and the bees were taking the opportunity of the break in the rain to get out and get active. This topic was raised in the Q &A also, as we got a couple of questions about mould in the hive. A number of people asked questions relating to overwintering, and in contrast, we also had a question about keeping hives in very hot climates.




Video Transcription

Intro & harvest

Good morning. We're here at Flow Hive HQ, having a little bit of look at the hives, doing some beekeeping and answering questions today. I'm just taking off the window cover of this Flow Hive and wow! Look at the numbers of bees in here. We're in our autumn and these bees have decided to really, really build up and you can see that by the way you can hardly see the comb surface. So this hive is going to need either another box or we could take a split from it and start a brand new colony. 

And if you come around to the rear of the hive here, you can see our Flow frames. If you're unfamiliar with a Flow Hive, basically down here are wooden frames that the bees draw their own wax on. The queen lays eggs and young bees emerge from their cells. There are pollen and nectar stores, everything to keep a beehive going. And we come along and put the top box on, which in this case is my father and I's invention the Flow Hive Super

You can see the beautiful colours of honey they're bringing into these frames. You've got really dark honeys and you've got lighter ones and the taste will match those beautiful colours of honey as well. If you've got questions, put them in the comments below. Don't be afraid to ask any questions you like about beekeeping and we'll get into it and we'll answer those live. And the idea is where we're helping take away those barriers that might be blocking you from becoming a beekeeper. And if you know the answer to somebody else's question, by all means, chime in and help each other.

We might as well harvest a little bit of honey because I'm seeing quite a lot here. So how are we going to do that, is take out this little cover at the top and take out this cap here. We might choose a nice full frame like this one, where you can see the honey is full in the cells and it's capped all the way down. When they've capped it all the way down, it means that the bees have decided that the moisture content is low enough to keep it from fermenting. It's like putting the lid on a preserving jar.

We come along with our jar, we can put it right here. Take out this little cap at the bottom, have a quick look to make sure there's no debris inside the tube there, the trough area. And then we can put the two in like that. Bear in mind that there's a little tongue there that goes in that little slot. It’s important to push that all the way in, and then you're ready. 

Then turn this key. Now, if you want to harvest a little bit, you can just poke the key in a little way to give that a turn. If you want to harvest more, then you can put the key in further and keep turning it like that. And with any luck, the honey will come down the tube and into the jar. You can see it there now. Beautiful golden honey that doesn't need any processing, doesn't need any filtering. It's just perfect, ready for the table. Sometimes you get a couple of little flecks of wax that just float to the top, but mostly it's just ready to be put in the jar and put the lid on. 

So we're probably going to get some rain, but that's okay. You can harvest a Flow Hive in the rain if you want to. Which is quite different to conventional beekeeping where you certainly wouldn't be pulling the hive apart and taking all the frames out in the rain. The bees wouldn't be happy with that. But you can certainly harvest your Flow Hive in the rain. You'll need to cover the jar so no rain gets in. You can use a wax wrap or some kitchen wrap of some kind just to cover the top. Not a bad idea if you're going to walk away, to stop any bees going for the honey as well.

And you can see that honey pouring and because I can, I might just grab a little mint leaf from the garden, mainly to exercise my COVID-safe behaviour. So I'm just gonna put the mint leaf under and just taste that. Mint and honey is an incredible combination. Who needs a lolly shop when you have this in your yard? Your kids will be out here eating things from the garden, exploring the garden, getting away from those screens. It's a wonderful thing. 

Flow Hive 2+ ant caps

If you look around at this window, you can see there are lots of bees in that window. Also showing that they're very much full with bees and ready to either have another box or take a split. My favourite is to keep the hive in this kind of configuration, with the brood below and the honey super on top, and then take splits as they build up. That way, you're getting some more hives. And if you don't want another hive then somebody else surely will. 

This is our Flow Hive 2, but we have added the ant caps from the Flow Hive 2+ to it. And you can see a whole lot of ants trying to get up this foot here now, but they're having a little bit of trouble. If we spin this cap up, you can see what's going on. You can see the ant caps full of water there, and you can see the ants down here, wandering around wishing they could get across the barrier up to a nice, cosy, sweet home above. 

We do have the size for those people that have the Flow Hive 2, we've made this size as well as the Flow Hive 2. Further along the row here, you can see the Flow Hive 2+ with its new improved solid aluminium legs here. And there's also a tray inside that's been upgraded as well. 

Beekeeping Q & A

We’ve just installed a swarm and we didn't space the brood frames correctly, and the bees have bridged the frames. How do we deal with this without disturbing the brood? 

So what they're talking about is in the bottom box here, they didn't put all of the frames in. The frames are wooden frames that the bees naturally draw their own comb in. If you don't put them all in, the bees will enjoy making some random comb in the empty space. So that's why you must put all your frames in and that will give you nice straight frames that are then serviceable. 

But if for whatever reason, if you've forgotten to do that, you need to go through a process of reorganising them. If you’ve identified that there's just honey in there, then you can remove the frames with the wax bridges or random comb between them, take them out, get all the bees out and you can enjoy eating that honeycomb.

If there's brood in it, then there are a few things to do. You can pick up the frames that have the bridge, move them towards the edge of the box. Then hopefully, the brood will emerge and the comb will be refilled with honey. And then you can take those frames away. 

If there are big sheets of brood there, and it looks possible to cut those sections out and put them into frames, then that's another way to go. You can carefully cut apart the random comb between the frames. If you've got a section of brood like that, you can use some rubber bands right around your wooden frame to hold it in place and the bees will then connect it to the wooden frame. And that's how you can rectify the situation and get them building nice and straight again, it's a little bit fiddly, but once you've got them nice and straight on the frames, then they will follow suit after that.

How long should we wait to add a medium box after adding an initial five frame nuc to a full brood box?

So you get your five-frame nuc, it goes into the bottom box and you will then have either three or five extra frames you'll be adding to fit in your box, depending on what size you've got. The idea is you wait till they've built out all the comb in those frames, drawing them out and using them. And there are lots of bees in the box when you open the lid before adding the super on top. The reason why that's important is, it sizes the hive correctly for the number of bees. It makes it a bit easier for them to maintain their air conditioning and keep the temperature right for the brood and so on. If it’s added a bit early in a warm climate or temperate climate, it doesn't matter so much, but if you're getting really cold nights, then take the super off again, give them a smaller home until there are lots of bees. And then add the super again if there's a good flow on and it's time to collect some honey.

There has been so much rain here that I haven’t been able to do a full inspection this year. I can see a little bit of mould forming in the super, is this a problem?

So we have a very wet time at the moment. And if you find you've got mould issues, then see if you can identify whether there's any water getting into the hive. If there is, like through the shingles, the inner cover, you might need to do some extra worksealing the roof. If that's not the case, then it's just the moist environment. Then it's usually a sign that there's not quite enough bees really to get over all the surfaces and keep them clean, keep pathogens out and so on. So at that point, you'd just keep an eye on them, see if they do build up. If you find that there's a good flow on, other hives are building up but that one's not, then you might need to replace the queen to get some more egg-laying going. To increase the numbers in order to service the entire hive area. But if there are lots of bees and it's looking healthy then I would just keep an eye on it and make sure that the bees are eventually getting in there and cleaning it up.

I found some mould on the inner cover under the roof of my hive. Is this a problem?

If it's on the top, it doesn't really matter if it's on the outside of the box. The inner cove on the Flow Hive 2 is actually made out of Paulownia wood, it is susceptible to mould. It doesn't matter on that outside, but if it's all mouldy on the underside where the bees are coming into contact with it, then that might not be so good. And that's similar to the previous question. Just have a look at the bee numbers and make sure there is enough really to maintain the inside of your hive. 

My bees are not doing great, I have fed them sugar water, and I want to feed pollen substitute. Any suggestions?

Sugar water is okay if you want to give your bees a bit of a pep up. We don't really need to in this environment where we are, although we do get sometimes two or three months without a whole lot of foraging activity, we generally get enough to keep them going. So I don't feed my bees, but in other areas it's very common to. And you'll find bees can be quite hungry. And if you notice that they're really not storing much honey anywhere in the hive and the brood box is quite light, then feeding them some sugar water is not a bad idea. If you want to see how to make a quick feeder, you can have a look at our YouTube channel forhow to make a feeder. Pollen patties on the other hand, I actually don't have that much experience with. Other beekeepers will. Check in your local region, perhaps there are beekeepers that do a lot of feeding of pollen patties and might be able to give you advice. If you're on the thread and you know about pollen feeding and pollen patties, please tune in and help answer the question.

How do I install a nuc in my Flow Hive?

That's fantastic, well done. You're picking up your first nuc, you're getting started in beekeeping. You'll definitely need your suit and your smoker. You might be happy to watch our training material. You can tune in, which is the online course we've set up. Or you can have a look at our YouTube channel and have a look at those instructions ofhow to install the nuc into the box. And if you feel comfortable and confident, have a go, but it's always a good idea to get some help as well. If you've got an experienced beekeeper that can come, then great. Or even if you've got someone who's just started, sometimes it's useful just to have somebody else there as well as you go through that amazing process of pulling your frames out of your nuc box and transferring them to your brood box. Look after them and they'll grow from there.

Can you use Flow Frames in horizontal hives?

Horizontal hives is another way to go. There are lots of different beekeeping styles in the world. There are top bar hives that just have bars at the top and bees just hang their natural comb from. The Flow Hive is a version of the Langstroth hive where you've got vertically stacked boxes. Horizontal is another one where you've got horizontal boxes instead of vertical. And some people will adapt Flow Frames to all sorts of different styles of hives, whether they be observation hives, horizontal hives top, bar hives and so on. So they can enjoy tapping the honey straight out like this. So by all means get in there and experiment. It's all about trying things and seeing what works for you. 

I've tried horizontal hives a few times and in my experiences, I've had more luck with the vertical. I think it kinda mimics a tree hollow in some ways, a vertical stack. And you also get some nice convection happening where you've got warmth from the bottom going up and around in a nice cycle. And that keeps your honey warm for harvesting as well. So those sort of advantages. The advantage of going horizontal is you've got easy access to your entire instead of honey and brood frames when you open the lid. So that's probably one of the reasons why you would go horizontal if you wanted to experiment, but I haven't had that much luck with it.

Overwintering questions

I’m in an area where we sometimes get frost. Should I leave the queen excluder on during winter and does the queen still lay in the wintertime? (NSW, Australia)

In really cold areas, the queen will stop laying. What happens is, she'll lay what are called fat bees in those really cold times, which will last longer, and they have a bit more body mass and they're built to last to a cold winter, which could be up to six months in those really cold places. And so those bees aren't foraging and they can last longer. And the queen will actually stop laying because to raise a frame of brood will take a frame of honey and a frame of pollen, approximately. Knowing that they can't support that by bringing that in the door, the queen will stop laying. So they're clever at throttling to the environment, they're changing what they're doing compared to what's happening. And as soon as nectar starts coming in the door, they will ramp up again, more eggs will be laid.

And back to your question, I'm not exactly sure where you are just how cold it is. But I would say in your area, there's going to maybe be months where they can't get out and get a whole lot of forage. So I think the best thing to do would be to ask your local beekeepers, whether they take the honey supers off for winter or not. If you do find that people are taking their honey supers off and taking queen excluders out, then you might like to follow suit with that. Take the queen excluder out, as you allow the queen to go up through the hive, follow the ball as it moves through the hive and consumes the honey. It could be the case if you don't take the excluder out, that the ball moves up to eat honey further up in the hive and leaves the queen behind and she might perish in the cold. So that's the reason you might need to take the excluder away. Again, ask your local beekeepers whether they would be removing the queen excluder for the winter.

In the winter, do you move the hives out of the way of the wind?

So we just leave the hives where they are. They're getting an incredible amount of wind here, but they really do bring a lot more honey when they've got a view like this. That's a joke.

It is advisable to put your hive where they get a bit less wind than this. We do get extreme winds up the slope. However, bees are so incredible and resilient that they will handle windy conditions, rainy conditions, hot conditions, snow, et cetera. There are an incredible species that are capable of air conditioning their hive to a good degree, be it hot or cold. So you can really put them in windy areas if you want to.


We have 2 brood boxes on our hive. The bees were doing well, but since we added the honey super the bees have not been using it much. Should we remove it because winter is coming, or leave it on?

So you could, certainly if they haven't used it yet and winter's coming then yeah, certainly you could take it off for the winter, downsize their hive a little bit. That’s probably a good idea. And they will keep maintaining the brood box and store as much as they can in there. And hopefully come springtime, you’ll be ready to put your super back on again.

We have long and snowy winters. We had 2 Flow Hives this year and one the previous year. We lost our colonies over both winters. The hives are along a tree-lined fence, sheltered along three sides, not the East/South side. We insulated the hive with styrofoam, put a tarp over the top for rain, had a  sugar layer for food, a burlap layer in the roof to help with condensation and a mouse guard. Why are the bees not making it? (Ontario, Canada)

Well, it sounds like you're really doing a great job of looking after your bees and that's unfortunate that your colonies didn't make it through the winter and you've had to start again in the spring. As I understand it, the main issue is enough food to survive the winter. If you've got a really long, cold winter, honey is what fuels the hive. It's what they use. They disconnect their wing muscles and vibrate and need honey stores in order to keep the hive warm and survive the winter. 

I'm not an expert in overwintering. If you are, chime in on the thread, help answer the question. It'd be interesting to know how much honey stores you had prior to the winter and also in your area. There are other things like mites that come into play as well. So I think you're going to have to get some help from your local beekeepers and see what's going on. I understand in those extreme cold areas, there is a failure rate in terms of getting hives through the winter, which is a hard thing when a hive doesn't make it. 

And we also do, which is built to take you from square one, right through to having deep knowledge of all things beekeeping and on that is some experts showing tips and tricks of getting your hives through the wintertime. And that could be a great wealth of knowledge for you as well. So don't give up, is my encouragement. Well done for really giving it a good shot and I hope next time around, your hives happily get through the winter and you're ready to go again in spring. Otherwise, get some more bees in the hive and get them going again.

There are two supers on my hive. What is the best way to winter them?

So the best way to winter would be to reduce the size of your colony. That's if you've got a long, cold winter. Here, we don't. We can leave it on all year round. But if you've got a long, cold winter, many months of time and snow and so on, then most people will be suggesting that you take off at least one of those boxes to reduce the size of your hive and make it easier for them to keep cool over the wintertime. 

My brood box is very full. Is it too late to put a super on the hive, or should I prepare them for winter, or make a split? (Sydney, Australia)

So if your brood box is very full in this location, you will find that you might get some honey stores in it during the autumn. So if they are really full, I would go ahead, put on the super and see how they go. If you find that they really don't get around to storing anything, you could always take it off again for the winter. So with these rains, you just might find that you have some autumn flows. 

Can you have a Flow Hive in colder climates? (Sweden) 

You certainly can. There was this myth early on that the Flow Hive wouldn't work in our climate mainly coming out of Europe for whatever reason, even though our product hadn't been tried there yet. And so that still circulates as many things in beekeeping just go round and round. However, there are lots ofpeople keeping Flow Hives all throughout Europe, even up in Norway, as well as in North America, in Canada. So cold isn't an issue. 

The times you are harvesting are usually in the warmer times anyway. So you'll find it still flows out. If it is getting cold by the time you get around to harvesting, then you will find that it will be a bit slower to come out and you just might be waiting longer. I did some experiments before we launched back in 2013, 2014, just seeing what happened when it was really cold. And I had frames at near zero degrees Celsius on the edge of the hive, and I could still harvest. I'd just be waiting for an hour or two as the honey slowly came out and filled the jar. You're not doing hard work at that point. So it doesn't really matter with the time, as long as you can be around to collect your honey. Again, if you are waiting a long time, cover up your jar with some kind of kitchen wrap and make sure bees aren't going for the honey.

Do you need to buy bees or do they go into the hive by themselves?

So there are variousdifferent ways of getting started and it is very rare that the bees will go into your hive by themselves. However, there is a method called a bait hive, where you basically get your brood box and you put it in close proximity, say a few hundred metres away from existing hives,6-12 feet off the ground or so. And you put something in the hive, like a little bit of lemongrass oil, or there's a product called swarm commander, as a bit of a, an attractant. And in springtime, when there's a lot of swarms going on, you might just get bees moving into your hive by themselves, which is a bit of a win. However, it's a bit of a long shot. 

So you're better off purchasing some bees from a bee breeder. The easiest one is a nuc, which is basically enough frames that would take up half of this box down here, usually about five in a little beehive. They've already got a laying queen. They've already got honey stores. They've already got brood. They've already got pollen stores. And all you need to do is get in your beesuit, get out your smoker, transfer those frames into your bottom box and look after them and they'll grow. 

There are also other methods like taking a split from an existing beekeeper. That can be a good way to go. You can get a package or catch a swarm. So all of those methods, we've got detailed instructions, and you'll also findother videos and live streams of us showing you how to do various different methods of install, whichever way you start.

If your hive gets too big, can you add another brood box or a super, or do you have to do a split?

So you can add another brood box or super. We've got a few hives in the top row here that have a second super, and that's a fine way to go. Or you can keep it in this configuration and split, whichever way you want to go there. 

Side window view

I'm looking in the side window here and you can see quite clearly honeys drained out from beneath their feet. And they're starting to rip off that capping. And what they'll do is once I've reset the frame, they'll wax it all up and then the whole process will start again. So that's a beautiful look there. The comb was dark and now it's turned this lighter colour as the honey has drained out from beneath their feet.

We've got a bit of a situation with a jar overflow about to happen. So what are we going to do? It looks like my team here is backing us up and we have another jar to take the excess. So what I'm going to do is do a bit of a hot-swap here. So we'll collect a little bit more honey. We'll put a lid on this, and we have a beautiful jar of honey ready to take back to our office where plenty of people consume honey at such a rapid rate that the bees can hardly keep up.

What type of jeans or trousers do you wear with your bee jacket for protection and ease of movement?

I just wear whatever I've got on the shelf. I tend to steer away from black because black, maybe it comes from the black bears or something, but it tends to be a bit of a trigger for the bees. If you've got a grumpy hive and you've got two people there, one dressed in black and one not, they'll go for the person in black first. Many colonies won't go for you at all, but if they are a bit aggressive, then black is a bit of a no-no to wear. So I tend to stick to colours like this that the bees are less likely to attack.

How does a Flow hive work during very hot Summers? (Mexico)

Bees are incredible. They do well in extremes of hot and extremes of cold. So in really hot places, they'll be collecting water and using it with evaporative cooling by fanning that water and cooling down the hive. And it's only in crazy extremes that you get what's called a meltdown, where the temperature inside the hive exceeds the wax melt temperature of 63 degrees Celsius. And that's when you can have a puddle of honey and wax. I've never seen it, but apparently it can happen. And that's obviously the end of that colony if that happens, but it's pretty unusual. 

Bees will handle very hot temperatures as well. Here in Australia, we get lots of 40 degrees Celsius in summer, and the bees are fine with that. In some places in the world, you get different species of honeybee. We've even had Flow Frames work for other ones like the Asian honey bee, Japanese honeybee, and with a few modifications, you can even get them to use it with a completely different size. But in Mexico, you have lots of these same species,Apis mellifera, the European honeybee, and it'll be a great spot for harvesting beautiful honey from your surroundings.

What kind of bees do you use in the Flow Hive? 

So there are different breeds, but the one we're using is a European honeybee, Apis mellifera. Humans have dragged them all around the world wherever they go, because they're not only amazing honey producers, but extremely good pollinators. A colony like this could visit 50 million flowers in a day, which is absolutely extraordinary. There is no other insect on the planet that can do that. And that's why they're such amazing pollinators and such an integral part of our food chain. So you'll find them all around the world.

There are different breeds such as Carniolan, Italian, Caucasian and so on, which are said to have different traits, but they're pretty similar. Some are dark in colour, some are light, but they're actually the sameApis mellifera. And they'll all work with the Flow Hive.

We can see a lot of activity at the front of the hive. Is that because of the weather?

It's been days and days of rain here, to the point where we've had mild flooding and in fact, weeks of rain. What happens is you get a bit of a backlog of bees that are due for their orientation flight. This is where the young bees who need to become foragers are flying out and doing little circles around, taking some landmarks, checking their bearings and geo-locating to this spot. So they know where their hive is. They'll do that in batches. So what you'll find is if you've had a lot of rain, they'll harness the next opportunity, when it's clear enough to do those orientation flights. It's far from ideal right now, it's very windy, it's still grey, but because we've had so much rain, it looks like they're seizing the opportunity. 

A lot of our hives have got increased activity. They're getting excited and those new bees are doing their orientation flights. It’s really quite different to swarming. Orientation is where you just get a lot of activity buzzing around, and then back on the board again. Swarming will be a whole exodus in one direction. So this is pretty normal foraging activity. I wouldn't even say this is particularly a lot of orientating going on, they're just getting a bit excited because the weather's clearing up a little bit. There's even a little patch of sunshine down in the valley. It's fantastic to see some clear weather.


I think we're getting excited as well to see the clear

We are, yeah. We're getting a bit soggy, good weather for frogs, not so good for bees. However, down in the valley here, we've got lots of paperbarks, which the indigenous call the rain tree, and they're all springing into blossom now. And they'll blossom on and off following the rains all through the autumn and winter. And we'll get that beautiful paperbark honey coming into the hives as well. 

Drone bee

Have a look at this, a drone bee has just got excited and landed on me. Now, you can tell a drone because it's got those bigger eyes that touch in the middle. They also don't have stingers so they're a great one to pick up and show the kids, but do make sure it is a drone. Worker bees will give you a sting if you hold them like this. Drones are a bit bigger in their body and they're a kind of a round, teddy-bear shape. They're the males in the hive. They don’t have stingers, and they don't do any work foraging either. It looks like a fairly new drone bee the way it's glistening and quite furry here, it hasn't worn the hair off its back yet. 

Okay. So thank you very much for all your questions. If you do want to get started in beekeeping, there's a wealth of knowledge here, lots of people to answer questions. You can also have a look where we've got an in-depth beekeeping course. It's also a fundraiser for habitat regeneration and protection with experts from all over the world putting beautiful content, great training material into that course. Thank you very much for watching. Let us know what you'd like us to cover next week and tune in again.

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