Beginner Beekeeping April

by Flow Hive 21 min read

This week’s beginner beekeeping covered topics ranging from swarm prevention to the difference between pollen & nectar to disease prevention

Video Transcription

Good morning and thank you for joining us here for live Q & A. This week is beginner beekeeping, so it's all about asking those questions that you might feel a bit afraid of to ask. Unfortunately, there is a bit of a scene out there where people sometimes treated not the best when they're just learning and asking questions, but here ask anything you like, and that's okay. We all started off as new beekeepers once. So it's really not a problem to ask any ridiculous question and we will answer those live on camera. And if you have the answer to somebody else's question by all means, chime in. That's what it's all about. It's just about helping each other, sharing the knowledge. It's up to us as more experienced beekeepers to pass the knowledge down to the new beekeepers. And that's the way we've all learned. And that's the way we'll pass it on down the chain and make sure our bees are getting looked after.

So what I'm doing here is just having a look in the window of this Flow Hive and I can see there's some nice capped honey, which is beautiful. Which means the bees have done their amazing work, collecting the nectar, reducing it down, creating their honey. And now they're just closing the capping in. You can see there's still a few cells open with glistening nectar in them as they top the 'em up with the final bits and make sure the moisture content is down below that 20% range. They'll then wax over the top, like a preserving jar to say that honey is going to keep, and we'll keep that for later. Lucky for us, they store more than they need often. And we can share some too. So while we are going to do is have a look at the rear window view as well, and identify a frame to harvest. Now, this is a bit of an interesting view because we can tell a lot about what's going on in the hive. And we can see that some of these frames are looking nice and capped. And when I say capped, I mean, they've put their wax capping over the top, filled all of the cells up. And some of them are looking not quite full yet. So you can see there's a few cells missing and over here it's nice and full. And interestingly enough, the bees have been putting their propolis, which they block all the gaps around the hive with and make sure it's airtight. And you can scrape that off and you can even chew on that stuff. If you've got a bit of a cold or something. The propolis is a great medicine really, it gets used a lot in medicine.

So what I'm gonna do is I've just used this window cover as a shelf, and I'm going to get a tube here and let's go for this frame because it's looking nice. It is a bit of a patchy time of year, so they may have eaten some of the honey out from the middle, but it should be fairly full and capped enough for us to harvest. So the tube goes in and then we get a nice big jar this time. You can harvest with small jars or big jars, depending on what you want to do at the time, just by moving this shelf up and down on these screws here.

I'm gonna put this key in here and then turn it. And what you should see is honey starting to flow down and out of the hive here, and it's already starting. You can see it coming down the tube. So the honey is pouring out of the tube and into the jar. It's a really hot day, so it's moving quite quickly today. Ah, interesting. I thought it was going to be the paperbark, but it's not. So I'm just trying to recognise that flavour. It's just a beautiful, sweet honey flavour. I'm not getting strong tones showing that's any particular type of nectar. Sometimes you can really connect the flower to the taste of the honey, just by simply smelling the flowers and connecting that scent with the taste of the honey. Look at that. It's absolutely pouring out. It's a hot sweaty day here in the Southern hemisphere. And the honey is flowing. Any questions?

Beekeeping Questions

What's the best hive to start with if you you're a beginner?

So a setup like this is the best, I think. This is our Flow Hive 2+, and it's got all the features that we've included to make things easier for you. Number one is the Flow Frames that saves that whole palaver of extracting in the conventional method. When we were inventing this, we went, hang on, how how come we are pulling apart the hive and taking all the frames and annoying the bees and taking them back to a processing shed and going through that long sticky, messy, hard work that extracting in conventional is. And we came up with this design where we can turn a handle and the honey flows directly into the jar, made it sound easy, but it did take 10 years of work to do. So across all our flow hives, we have these frames that that's the number one feature. But then this Flow Hive 2+ has extra features like down here, we've got the ant guards and then these steady cast aluminium legs that are adjustable on each corner, we've got levels built into the side to help you set it up. There's also one at the back. We've got a management tray under here. And we still sell the Classic we started with and people still love that model as well. But the Flow Hive 2 and Flow Hive 2+ have these extra features including more windows and brass details and so on.

What about other equipment for beginner beekeepers?

You will need a bee suit. And sometimes when you're harvesting honey, especially if you're just beginning, it’s a good idea to be in your bee suit. As you can see, there's a few bees buzzing around and they might start to get a little aggressive. You'll need them for your brood inspections as well. And then we have a smoker and that comes with a tool for manipulating the frames as well and gloves. So bee gloves, smoker and hive is all you need to get going. Then you need to choose your favourite finish and you'll need to get your bees locally to add to your hive and get them started. Look after them and they'll grow. We also have an online learning course If you really wanna sink your teeth deep into, from square one, right through to a deep scientific knowledge of beekeeping. So that's been getting really great feedback there. If you're the type of person who wants to really get into the knowledge and do a lot of learning.

What finish has been put on that hive? Why do you paint the roof?

We paint the roofs because that gets the most wear and tear from the elements. The sun beats down on it, rain falls on it, and the paint actually lessens the way it expands and contracts as well. So it provides a better weather seal. You might need to do a few good coats and also get it in all of the cracks and things in order to get a good weather seal on top. Then on the body, we tend to just paint the outside and leave the inside perfectly natural for the bees. Now, this is a decking coat. This one's got a stain in it. I prefer it when it's a clear coat, because you get all the natural tones of the Western Red Cedar, if you've chosen that wood.

So anything that's made for decking, then it's made for really outdoors, highly durable finish. So they're the ones we tend to tell people to use because they'll get a longer-lasting finish that way. You can oil them, but the oils will dry out pretty quickly. You have to reapply every six months or so. And you can also paint them. You can see a nice hive down here. If you've got the Auracaria then we recommend a good house paint on it.

Can you harvest honey from the brood box?

In the brood box you typically have the brood nest in the middle, which is where a lot of eggs are being laid by the queen. The larvae is going through its development stage, the bees are feeding them. And then at about 11 days in, if they're a worker bee they then get their capping on and they spin a silk cocoon around themselves, and that's the bees making their babies. And that typically happens more in the centre. Out towards the edge is usually the outer frame is just honey storage. So you can get in there and take some honeycomb from there. I was doing that the other day with my son, who's just turned seven and taking some of the frames from the edge and cutting a big chunk of honeycomb. And it was beautiful just to take it to a dinner party we went to and say, this is Jarli's honeycomb.

You can also add an extra box just for honeycomb collection, or you can collect honeycomb under the roof. If you take the plug out in the inner cover, you can either confine them to a small space by putting, say a glass baking dish over the top, or you can let them just go crazy in the roof, but that's a, a little bit of a mess to clean up later. So I tend to either just keep the cap in or confine them to a smaller space to do their wild honeycomb thing in the roof.

What's the difference between nectar and pollen and how are they collected by the bees?

So that's a great one. Let's have a look at the front of the hive here and see if we can see any pollen coming in. So bees, when they fly to the flowers, they're statically charged and they're covered in these fine hairs, even on their eyeballs. And as they approach, the pollen grains actually jump off the flower onto the body and then they move all of that pollen by combining it down themselves to their hind legs. And let's see if any is coming in. I just saw one come in with big yellow pollen balls on its back legs. So let's see if there's any more that's going to come in here. You can sit here and watch and see how much pollen they're bringing. I can see white pollen coming in on the other side.

It's pretty cool to see the different colours. Then they take that pollen, they dislodge it from their hind leg and they push it down a cell with their head. But they don't eat pollen. They eat bee bread, right? And they use that to feed to their young larvae. Now just like us, it's good to make a good sourdough. So when they're making their bread, they add their special sauce, their enzymes, and they top it with a little bit of honey and they let it ferment. And once it's soured, it's already predigested for them. And that makes good food for their young. Honey, on the other hand, they're collecting nectar. They're sucking it up. It's very liquid and they're filling their honey stomach. So when they come back, they might have pollen loaded to the point where it's almost their entire body weight. And this little bee might have to travel four to six miles back to the hive. It's incredible that they can actually do it and they do get tired on the way home.

And they'll actually tap off a little bit of nectar into their main digestive track to feed them on the way home. They come back and they pass that to a receiver bee by regurgitating it from their honey stomach. And then that receiver bee will start splashing it around the cell walls. And sometimes you'll come here particularly in the evening after a day when they've been foraging. And you'll see all of this nectar being splashed around empty cells and that's them drying it out, starting that de-watering process. It's an incredible thing. So there's a bit of a rundown on nectar and pollen. Pollen gets used for bee bread. Nectar gets used to make honey. That was the short answer.

Can you stop a harvest halfway through?

It's best not to because it'll just keep flowing down, right? And it'll spill into the hive then. So what you can do if you don't want this much honey, because this is quite a lot of honey, it's only one of the frames, but it's still a lot of honey, is just harvest part of the frame. And you do that just by putting the key halfway and turning it. And then you would have just half a jar of honey, half of one of these jars. If you’re using little 280 mil jars, you'll have three or four of them for half a frame. You have about two litres of honey or about three kilogrammes of honey per frame. It does vary a bit depending on what the bees are up to on that particular frame. 

Now I can see a bee has jumped in the jar. Now this is a common question. It's like, how do you stop bees going into the jar? So you can do that pretty easily just with a bit of bit of wax wrap. If the bees start to do that, it's good to not let them eat that honey. I'm just gonna use this key and let's see if I can put her right back on the landing board. The other bees will clean it up. If I just put it here, she should fall off onto the landing board. There it is. And straight away you can see the other bees will come in and start cleaning her.

So it's really not a problem to get one or two bees. You can deal with that. But if lots start going for the jar, then cover it up by getting a wax wrap like this it's nice and reusable, or you can use some plastic kitchen wrap or even your mesh from your veil. And it's just a case of sealing it off like that. That's all you need to do. And bees won't get in the jar. You could then walk away and let the last remaining bits fill the jar, not having to monitor it. 

What is the best way to get the bees to make a propolis envelope? I don't want to damage the Flow box, but I plan to take a wire brush to the interior of a standard brood box to rough it up.

So there's been some great research by Seeley and others showing that in natural tree hollows, the interior is rough and the bees coat it all in propolis. And that provides this antibacterial coating that has health benefits for the hive. Like this is propolis and beeswax. So it would smell a bit like this on the inside and be this nice coating. If you rough up the interior of your box, you can sometimes get the bees to do that coating on the inside of your hive. And that might have health benefits for your bees. Now I've tried it and I didn't have great success, but I have to admit I haven't tried it a lot. So let us know how you go with that technique. And I guess there's lots of different ways to rough it up. Some people make lots of little short cuts, so it's grooved. But I haven't tried the wire brush method. So I'd be interested to know how it works for you.

What are your tips for swarm prevention?

Come springtime, it's the natural thing for the bees to build up and get really busy. There's a lot of resources coming in, a lot of nectar and pollen and their natural thing is to divide. And half the colony will leave and start a new colony. Now that's called a swarm. So what you can do to prevent that, because you do lose half your bees at that point and your productivity drops. And if you're in suburbia, it might not be an ideal way to meet your neighbours. If this swarm of bees is on their washing line or whatever. Having said that jars of honey go a long way. So swarm prevention in the springtime, my favourite method is to take splits. 

So as you see the hive building up, you take a few frames or half the frames out of this bottom box. You put them into a new one. If there's eggs on those frames, they can raise their own queen. If there's not then you'll need to add a queen from a queen breeder to that split. We've got videos, or you'll also find videos on our YouTube and Facebook channels showing youhow to take splits. And what that does is provide a whole lot of fresh real estate in the bottom box for the bees to draw new comb and for the queen to lay. The primary trigger for swarming is not enough room for the bees to do their thing and raise their young. So harvesting the honey is another good one for in the springtime. If you've got lots of honey, make sure you're harvesting some because that'll keep your bees busy. That's one of the secondary swarm triggers as well.

Genetics plays a big role in swarming. You'll find some bees are just really swarmy and others aren't. I've got a hive outside my door for going on five years now and it hasn't swarmed. I've had other hives that swarm multiple times in a season. And if that gets annoying, it's not suitable and you're not around to catch the swarms, then what you'll need to do is get in there and replace the queen with some known genetics from a queen breeder. They usually try to breed ultra swarming traits out because it becomes annoying for the beekeepers. You can also do some spring management by taking some of the combs from the edge, which are typically taking them out and putting some fresh ones back in the middle and they'll get alleviate that congestion as well. So if you don't wanna take a split, that could be something you might like to do eat some honeycomb from the edge and put some fresh ones back towards the centre of the brood nest.

There were a lot of bees out the front of my hives. Is that normal?

It is. That's a very healthy, normal hive where you've got a lot of bees there and it's also healthy for them to build up even more than that and cover sometimes the entire front of the hive, especially on a hot day when they need to vacate a bit to get their ventilation going. You'll find there'll be a massive bee beard hanging down off the landing board and bees all over the front that is healthy as well. And when you see them really hard pack in the window in the side here where you can't even see the comb, then it's time to take a split or add another box. That's another thing you could do for swarm prevention is add another box and give them some more space. So yeah, it's normal to see a lot of bees at the front.

If your neighbour is a beekeeper, will the Flow Hive bees interfere with the neighbour's hive?

No, you can have, as you can see a lot of hives here and it's not really a problem. So around here commercial be keepers will go a hundred or so in one spot. And then a hundred in another spot, just to make sure they're not maxing out the flowers in the zone. So just a few beehives next door won't make much difference at all to your honey levels that are coming in. The only interference that could cause is if your neighbour or yourself hasn't been looking out for their bees and they die out for some reason. Then you could get robbing from one hive to the other and pathogen spread. So make sure you're looking after your bees, keep an eye out. If the numbers are dropping, get in there and do yourbrood inspections, see what's going on and get them back to being healthy and happy.

Is there a minimum distance in between hives if you want to have multiple hives?

There isn't. Commercial beekeepers will keep them right up against each other, sometimes four to a pallet, just wall to wall. In Europe, they've got honey houses where they're wall to wall with each other for an entire side of a building. So bees are clever, they know their own hive. You do get a bit of drift. If you don't want drift from bees from one hive to the next, then you wanna be 10 metres apart. And then you’re unlikely to get any drift, the studies show. So we have these hives this far apart just simply because it's a bit easier to work. If I'm here, I can stand here, pull the hive apart. I'm not running into the other hive. And also the windows on the side. You need enough room to get in there and open the windows as well.

I added a super a few weeks ago and added a small blob of bur home on the outside frame to watch the bees work. Once all the burr comb was distributed in the small area, they seem to now be using propolis to join the cells together and not wax for the frames. Is this normal? (Queensland, Australia)

It depends on what the bees have at the ready. So if they’re not getting a whole lot of nectar coming in, they won't produce that white, new virgin wax. They'll actually recycle wax around the hive, which often has a high propolis content and is quite brown. So they will quite often use the brown, old wax to get started while they're waiting for more resources to come in. As the nectar flow picks up, they'll start using virgin wax, which will be white or yellow.

I found one of my queen’s this morning and I know that she is three years old, because I marked her red and now she's going into her fourth year. I am pretty pleased about that.

Excellent. Yeah, my philosophy is I don't of need the extra 10% of production because I'm not a commercial beekeeper relying on the honey coming in. So if I've got a good queen and she's performing well, then I'll just leave her and let her go. Whereas commercial beekeepers will typically replace their queens every couple of years because they do need a strong thriving colony really to bring in the honey. So yeah, that's great, having a colour on it. It's typical to mark queens with a paint marker just on the back on their thorax and use a particular colour for each year. So then you can identify how old the queen is. So that's neat.

What sort of bees have you got there?

These are Italians. There are all sorts of different breeds, but these lighter golden ones are typically Italian bees. Here from local breeders, we can get Carnolian bees, Caucasian bees - Caucasians are actually the dark ones. So if you get dark black bees, they’re probably Caucasian. And then beekeepers will come up with different names for their own special breeds. They might call them golden Italians and so on. And each queen breeder will give you a bit of a low down of what the great traits of their bees are. The Caucasians are supposed to go a bit further to find flowers. It's supposed to be a bit better at throttling the size of their colony to the nectar flow. But bees will be bees and they'll do all sorts of different things. And often they're a mix in one hive, because the queen might mate with 30 or more drones. So you've got the genetic material from a lot of hives coming in, and that's why you'll see quite a mixed bag. Sometimes when you look in the window you’ll see dark bees, light bees and so on, but they're allApis mellifera, which is the European honeybee that people have taken all around the world with them, because they're such amazing pollinators.

How do you protect your bees from diseases and pests?

The best defence is actually keeping your hive strong. So typically like something like chalkbrood or hive beetles will take hold when the colony is weak. So it's about getting in there and if your queen's lagging and the colonies really reducing in numbers, having a look and seeing whether she's laying well. And perhaps you need a new queen to pick up the numbers or perhaps there's another reason and they swarmed and you just need to really monitor your hive as they build back up again. You might put some oil in the pest management tray down here. Varroa is something that other continents have. We don't have it here in Australia, luckily. So those mites will need treating depending on the numbers. And there's all sorts of different strategies and theories about how to do that, how to deal with them. Have a look for that, or get the information from beekeepers. There's also AFB and EFB, spore-producing bacteria that get into the brood. And that's a nasty one. EFB you can nurse your colony back to back to go to health. With AFB you can't,you will have to destroy your colony in most countries, some countries allow you to treat for it, but mostly it's a destroy one. So brood inspections, number one - learn about your bees, get in there and check for pests and diseases, monitor your entrance, look in the windows, just check on the bee numbers, trap beetles, things like that. 

If I take the online beekeeping course, would you still recommend starting a hive with a local mentor?

It's up to you which way you want to learn. So some people like to dive in and they're happy learning with online material and books and things, and other people really want to get a mentor to come and help. And both ways are fine. As long as you are learning, as long as you are doing your brood inspections and learning as you go. If you're feeling a bit nervous, then get some help from a mentor or even another beginning beekeeper. Sometimes it's nice just to have somebody there with you as you pull apart your bees for the first time or instal your bees for the first time. But yes, if you can find a mentor then that's great, that'll fast track your learning. 

I have a big colony that is doing well, but it’s hard to inspect because the bees are quite aggressive. Is there anything I can do about this?

So if you've got aggressive traits like that it makes it really hard, the first thing you do is try a lot more smoke and try on a warm sunny day, mid-morning to mid-afternoon. If they're still really aggressive and hard to work with and you do want to change that, then it'd be a process of changing the queen

If you harvest honey from the Flow Frames and it's not completely capped can you still eat it?

You can certainly eat it and you should eat it quickly because if the moisture content is too high, say above that 18-20% range, then it's likely to ferment. A month later you might find little bubbles forming and it's starting to get this fermented taste to it. Keep it in the fridge it'll last longer. You could also make honey mead with it and you can also mix it with another honey that's really thick and even it out. You can buy a thing called a refractometer where you can actually check the moisture content, make sure it's down around that 18% range. And then it will keep on the shelf for almost eternity. 

If you remove the queen excluder over winter to let the queen move up into the super with the colony and she starts laying eggs in the super, does that impact future harvests?

It doesn't actually, I've had that happen where perhaps the queen has gotten through the excluder when she's small and she started laying in the Flow Frames. Now some won't it's, it's a bit of a gamble there on genetics. But if you do find some brood laid in the Flow Frame, then the thing to do is shake all the bees off the frames and put your excluder back in place and put your Flow Frames back on. And that way your queen will be down underneath again in the correct area for laying. And what you've probably identified is those cells where the queen has been laying and brood has emerged. There's a brown coating on them and that's the silk cocoon of the bee. But it doesn't seem to affect it. Your Flow Frames will act at as normal even after they've had the little silk cocoons. 

I’ve got one thriving hive, but one hive seems to have a chalkbrood issue. How far should I move the weaker one away so that it does not infect the healthy hive?

That's a good question. So chalkbrood is a fungus and they'll get it off leaves and trees and things. Normally colonies are well enough for the genetics are good enough to deal with it. But you certainly don't want to mix up your equipment from one hive to the other, or you'll put a spore load to your other hive to deal with. To stop drift between hives then 10 metres, they say, but I'm not sure that it'll make a whole lot of difference in a chalkbrood case.

Is it okay to have a Russian hive next to an Italian hive?

There isn't a whole lot of issues with keeping different strains next to each other. They'll even be a mix inside the hive.

What's a good surface to place your hive on?

Here we've just used a lightweight cement block. And that was just to get it up out of these weeds a little bit. But you can it on anything as long as it's stable. So if you're on really soft soil and it starts to rain, sometimes your hive can fall over as it really starts to get heavy with honey. So putting a paver or something or block of wood under each leg will stop that from happening. If you have got a Classic hive, then you'll need to level a surface. Whereas if you have these nice adjustable legs, then you won't need to go through that step of making sure your surface is level to start with.

Nice. A nice jar of honey here. Yeah. Take back to the office. It's beautiful. Look at the colour. Oh my God. It's got these reddish tones from the heathland down here.

What's the biggest problem you think beginners might have?

The biggest problem might be just getting started. You find that some beekeepers will take a while, they go on a bit of a journey of learning and at some stage, they take the plunge and getting bees is one. So it can take a little while. So you might wanna start lining up that now if you're getting started. Phone around to see who's got some bees you can purchase, there's different ways to get started. You can take a split from somebody else's hive, or you can order what's called a nucleus from a queen breeder or a package that comes in the mail, which is like an artificial swarm where you might get lucky and catch a swarm in the springtime. But yeah, just getting, taking that plunge to get your bees and put them in is probably the first hurdle for a beginner.

Thank you very much for all your great questions. And if you want an online course, have a look It's also a fundraiser, we’re really happy to be planting a million trees this year from funds, from the online course. It’s got my father and I and lots of other amazing expert beekeepers from around the world contributing to it. Check that out. And let us know also what you'd like us to cover next week and hopefully have something interesting to show you. Thank you very much for tuning in.

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