Flooded hives & winter prep

by Flow Hive 13 min read

Today’s Q & A took place inside Cedar’s house. We had some questions about dealing with flooded hives and preparing for winter. 

Video Transcription

Thank you for joining us here on our livestream. We're in my home today. We've got a bit of a rainy day out there. So we're just going to answer your questions here. It's been a beautiful time here with the rain setting off the paperbark. The smell is just amazing of that paperbark honey. All honey is sweet, but the paperbark is particularly sweet. It's almost overpowering when you get a lot of it coming in at once. And that smell is drifting through our home because we've got lots of beehives around here, and at the office as well. So it's great because we had a bit of a funny springtime here, the main species around my place, the ironbark didn't actually flower. So the bees have all been a little bit hungry and it's great to see something flowering and the honey coming in again. So any questions coming in?

Up around this area and lots of the east coast of Australia, there's been flooding and a few people have been asking this week about what should they do to inspect their hives? If the water looks like it's actually gone in their hives, but there's still bees buzzing around everywhere?

If you've actually had a flood that's come up past the bottom of the hive, then you need to really get in there and do an inspection, have a look straight away. The bees can look like they're active at the front, but they're trying to deal with a mess on the inside. So I was helping a beekeeper out recently whose hives got flooded all the way up to the excluder. And what that meant is a whole lot of the frame got sodden with water and the hives that were really busy could deal with it. They could clean all of that water out before it went kind of fermented. And also they had a lot of capped brood in there and that meant that the water wasn't actually going down into the cells. Whereas the hives that weren't as busy and had a lot of open cells. They filled up with water and the bees couldn't deal with it. Then the hive beetles latched onto that opportunistic moment there and created a hive beetle nest instead of a beehive, which is horrible to clean up, turns into a big slimy mess. So you want to get in there and check if you've got hive beetles a lot in your area, you want to make sure they're kept at bay. 

If you've got any comb that's sort of gone mouldy and rotten from the floodwater, then just chop that out. If you're using naturally drawn comb, you can just get a knife and chop those pieces out and let them draw again. And the idea is also to reduce the size of your hive. So if your colony is having trouble after being flooded, then you cut out all the rotten comb and even reduce the size and the numbers of frames in your brood box down to just like a nucleus where you've got four or so frames in the centre and either empty frames on the outside. Or even blank if you don't have time to get empties in there, if you're using foundation. So you've got a lot less for the bees to manage and get back on their feet and the queen to lay and so on, and you can take the super off as well. And that's how you can save a colony that's been flooded. 

So it's a bit unfortunate. We've had two floods here recently, and we do have a lot of beekeepers with flooded hives. One beekeeper I know had 50 hives and they just flooded away in the flood. So it's very sad. He managed to save a few colonies from boxes that were found like a mile down the road. Which was incredible that bees can be that resilient, but generally he lost all of those. So yeah. Good to keep the hives up out of flood zone if you can.

Is it alright to leave the brood frames in the hive if they've got a bit of mould on them?

If they've been flooded, I would just chop out those mouldy sections of it and let them draw it again. So with naturally drawn comb, you can do that. You just get your knife and chop it out. If you've got plastic foundation, you obviously can't, but you could scrape it back to the plastic foundation. If you are using wax and wire, you can still chop it out. You've just gotta be more careful that you don't chop those wires. So you could simply chop out the mouldy bits of frame and let them draw it again with some fresh new wax once they get back on their feet.

When should I remove the queen excluder? Before any frost or when the overnight temperatures drop to a certain level?

There's no harm in doing it earlier as you move into the wintery times, after the last honey flow. So when the bees are no longer bringing in much honey, you can go ahead and remove the excluder. The reason why you are removing the excluder is so the queen can travel with the bee ball. What happens is if you've got a lot of honey stores up top and the bees have consumed all the honey down the bottom, all the bees are clustered together and move up to the hive to where the honey is. Now, if you've got an excluder in place, the queen can be left behind while all the bees are up top and she may perish there. And then you start the next spring without a queen. So it's a good idea to remove that excluder as soon as the honey flows are over, and that way you are well prepared for the winter.

Now in Australia we are going into our colder months. What do you suggest people should do for overwintering?

So that depends on how cold it gets in your area. As you get further down south towards Sydney area, then you could still leave the super on all year round. And then when you get further south say down to Melbourne, or perhaps you're inland further with very cold winters or perhaps up on the Tablelands even then you will get very cold winters, snow, and a really long time without the flowers. There's two things. One is really cold and the other one is not many flowers. So if you know you're going to get four or five months without flowers, then you'll need to prepare your hive for that.

And what that means is making sure the colony has enough stores to last that amount of time. And that's the basic requirement. So ask around your local beekeepers, ask how much honey do I need to leave in this region for my bees to survive the winter? And ask a few beekeepers, because you get different responses. Some will say you need a full box of honey. Others will say you only need a small box or you bees will be fine just in a brood box with the honey stores they have on the edge. So ask around and form your opinion. But generally more stores is better than less to survive a long time with no flowers. So what people typically do, if there is no honey stores in their hive, they will feed their bees prior to the winter and let them build up stores.

And they'll do that using what's called a thick syrup, which is, is two parts sugar to one part water. And you take that to the boil until it's a nice liquid thick syrup. And you put that in a feeder. There's a few different types of feeders you can make, or you can purchase feeders as well. And that will allow the bees to collect that thick syrup and deposit it in the cells and give them some stores for the winter. There's also other things you can do like dry sugar feeding. Some people will just get an empty comb and pour dry sugar into it and put it back in. And that can be a way you can feed your bees if they're starving. Removing the excluder as we were talking about earlier is a good idea.

Another thing you might consider is reducing the size of your hive. Now it's typical to take one or more of the supers off in the cold areas. Some people leave the Flow Frames on all winter and let the bees consume the honey that's stored in them. Some beekeepers will take the Flow Frames off and reduce the size of their hive for winter. So ask around, a bit of local knowledge really helps here. We've also gotTheBeekeeper.org where there are people and experts from around the world telling you what you should do to prepare hives for winter and beekeepers from those snowy regions.

Do you need to remove the Flow super in winter because the cold damages Flow Frames?

No, you don't need to. So we've tested the Flow Frame parts in incredibly cold environments, it won't harm it. I've had tests going in deep freezers for six years now. It doesn't actually harm the parts. So it won't matter to leave the box on there over the winter if that's what you choose. So the reason why you would be taking it off would be to reduce the size of the colony for the winter. And many beekeepers will resize their hive for the amount of bees they've got in there, because that'll just help them keep a cosy home and survive the winter.

What happens to drones in the wintertime?

It's a bit of a sad, sorry, tale there for the drones. If there's not enough forage and there's a lot of drones in the hive, the drones don't do much around the hive at all, then the bees will sometimes rip their wings off and kick them out to die. But if there is enough stores, the bees will keep them and drones can last about six months. So they could be still good to go again in spring to do their mating flights. So the queen will naturally change the ratio of workers to drones to lay. She will decide each time she lays. And what that means is come springtime when that's the mating time, typically where there's a lot of new queens around for drones to mate with, she'll lay more drones. And she'll lay less drones throughout the rest of the season.

We've just installed two nucs into our Flow Hives. One is doing really well and probably could add the super. The other one's not doing so great. Would it be better to move some brood to the smaller hive or leave them alone and just add the super to one?

I would just add the super to the one and then have a look at the one that's not doing as well and just make sure they're happy and healthy. Have a look at the brood frames, make sure there's a lot of brood there. If you're only seeing very patchy amounts of brood and they're not really doing so well, then also have a look around for things like chalkbrood or AFB or EFB that might be affecting the colony. And then if none of those are present and you do have a nice amount of brood, then I would just wait and be patient. If there's really just sparse, patchy amounts of brood, then you might want to consider replacing the queen in the weaker hive. Or you can just wait and see if they get back on their feet, they might replace the queen themselves. You could put brood across from the other hive, but if you've got one that's ready for a super, I'd just focus on that, get that going and just monitor the other one until it gets up to speed as well. Sometimes patience is the key to everything in beekeeping.

I've just installed bees into my second Flow Hive. The brood box is about half full. If it fills with bees before winter, should I hold off putting the super on until spring? (Noosa, Queensland, Australia)

If you're in Noosa, you're close to the coast, you're definitely in a subtropical region. If bees are really full in the box, then I would just put the super on because you're in a warmer temperate climate. It won't be a problem for the bees in terms of keeping their home warm and what you might get is a nice honey flow over the winter. The east coast can often have quite good honey flows over the wintertime. So you might find that you'll actually get some honey stored even prior to spring.

We've got plenty of bees in the hive, but inside there's no new brood or honey. What could the problem be? Could the bees be starving?

No new brood or honey, so it's getting a bit lightweight in there. If bees are starving, it's a sad sight, but the way they usually die is with their heads down the cells. So if that's happening, you've definitely got a starving issue, but either way, if you've got no honey stores and you are worried about your colony, then feeding them will be a good idea. So although sugar's not the best thing for bees, it's a lot better than starving. So you can make a syrup. You could do a thick syrup to give them some stores, or thin, won't matter. At this point, you could even go dry sugar feeding by shaking some white sugar, make sure it's white sugar, not raw sugar. Raw sugar contains some things that aren't good for bees. So you want the more refined white sugar, and you can put some into the dry cells. You'll need to keep a lookout and see if you do have a queen who is laying. Perhaps you've got an issue where you'velost your queen as well. If you've got lots of hive beetles in your area, then make sure you're staying on top of that as well. Hive beetles will pick on a weak hive and lay their eggs. So if you've got a tray at the bottom, you could use that to catch the beetles or any other type of beetle trap.

I have a hive with two brood boxes. Now the super only has a few bees in it, but both the brood boxes are full. I want to take off one brood box to make a split and then add a super to that? Could I do it now or should I wait until spring? (Adelaide, Australia)

In Adelaide, I'd be waiting till spring to do your splits. You're gonna get a bit of a cold winter ahead. So you want to let them build up a bit of honey for that time and leave the split to the springtime. If you think you've got a nice autumn flow though, and you want to harvest with Flow Frames, then you could take one brood box off altogether and just reduce the size of your hive to the brood box and Flow super. And then you might get some stored honey in there to harvest again. You would need to leave the brood frames behind and just take the honey ones off. And the best way to store them would be in a deep freeze. The easiest thing to do would probably be just to leave it and wait for springtime. Now you might choose to take that Flow super off and reduce the size of your colony to those two brood boxes for the winter.

What's the best way to move a hive?

If you're only moving a short way then you can move it a metre or two at a time, and your bees will follow that. 

Would you recommend stacking super boxes on the Flow Hive?

So you can add more boxes if you want to. The way I like to do beekeeping is to keep it quite simple with one brood box and one super. That just means it's easy to manage in terms of, you just take one box off and then you have the brood box, and you've only got one brood box to go through if you're trying to find the queen. However, lots of people like to do things in all sorts of ways. And that is common in conventional beekeeping to do tall stacks of hives. It's often, often I guess in conventional ways, people are storing honey on the hive and then harvesting all at once. So they might just notice that one hive's already filled the super, so they'll put another box on another hive. They'll put another box on and they'll keep doing that. And then they'll process all of the honey at once. And that just makes it a bit more efficient to go through that conventional harvesting process. For Flow Hive beekeepers, you have a choice. You can just keep tapping off the honey and making more room for the bees to keep storing it. So if you're storing honey in jars on the shelf instead of boxes on the hive. And that's the way I like to run it. But if you want to add more supers or conventional supers to your hive, then by all means the bees won't mind. You can collect honeycomb if you want in those, or you could spin those in conventional ways, whatever you want to do.

What should I do about small hive beetles in the Flow super?

You will notice when you look in the windows of the Flow Hive, if you've got a lot of hive beetles, the bees will chase them around and corral them into the cells and they'll hold them there. That stops them running around the hive, laying eggs. Now whether you've got a conventional hive or a Flow Hive, the bees will do that. And the difference with the Flow Hive is you can see them doing that. So it's a good thing because your bees are really corralling the beetles and doing their job, stopping them from roaming free around the hive. But if you do want to trap them, then I would recommend using the tray down below, if you've got our Flow Hive 2. Put some oil in it and as the beetles get chased around the hive, they'll eventually be caught down there. If you have got just ridiculous amounts of beetles and you just want to get rid of some, then you can actually take the frames out. And I imagine they're empty at this point, the frames would be empty if you're having this issue and then you can tap them on a surface and the beetles run everywhere and you can then squash them or whatever you like. There are also other types of beetle traps you can put higher up in hives as well. So you could experiment with those.

Thank you very much for tuning in and all your great questions. Hopefully next week, we'll get a nice sunny day to do something out in the apiary and get inside a hive and do some brood inspecting. So tune in for that. Also let us know what you'd like us to cover.

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