Honey harvest at Seed & Sprout HQ

by Flow Hive 13 min read

Seed & Sprout is a business that specialises in eco-friendly, sustainable products. Our livestream today comes from their Byron Bay office, where Cedar harvested honey from a Flow Hive. The beekeeping questions today included what are the best flowersfor bees and where to get bees.  


Video Transcription

Good morning. We're here atSeed and Sprout, which is an amazing local business that specialises in making things to help families go plastic-free and really great stuff to put on your table, to get the kids off to school in stuff that's not using a whole lot of plastic. So we're happy to be here in their garden today. And what we're going to do is harvest some honey from their Flow Hive, which they've set up not too long ago. Look at how it's going, it's absolutely beautiful with the honey filling in these frames here. You can see how they're putting the wax capping on the cells. That's to say, the honey is ready. The moisture content is nice and low soo it'll keep. And it's a good time for us to share some too. So it's going to be easy to choose a frame to harvest. Let's have a little look in the side window and see what's going on in there and just gauge what's happening in this hive. So thanks to Seed and Sprout for having us here.

Would anyone like to do the honours here? So all we're going to do is take this little point out of the top here and choose a nice full frame of honey. This will go on here. This comes out and you see this little tongue goes into the bottom there. So if you turn that, what you're doing is actually creating channels inside the comb for the honey to come out.

Now, that was nice and easy. So we can probably go a little bit more, by putting the key in a bit further, do it again, and you can already see the honey starting to come out. Look at that, honey, it's flowing right out. Give it some muscle now, because what you're doing is actually breaking a whole lot of wax and propolis that the bees have used to create those cell shapes in there to create channels for the honey. So that pattern you're seeing there is the pattern that happens right through the frame. So you can see it pulling in from the edges, draining down the middle and out the bottom. So that's a repeated pattern through every cell line.

Wow, I can't wait to taste that on some of the beautiful things you've got here for breakfast. We might as well choose another frame and free up some space. It's springtime here, the bees are really busy so we can keep harvesting it.

Beekeeping Questions

How do you know that the frame in the middle is full, and not that it's just full at one end?

Well, you don't necessarily, but as you get better at gauging what's going on in your hive, by looking in the windows. You can see here that there they're on a filling pattern. This pattern means that they're filling. So when you see that, they're full out to the edges and they're putting the wax capping all the way down, that's a pretty good idea that's full all the way through. You can get into the situation where it's full at the back, but they've eaten some out of the middle. You can realise what's going on just by watching what's going on in this observation window. You could see them starting to uncap and pinch honey out of every other cell here. So you get this real chequered pattern, completely empty, full, completely empty, full, which we're not seeing here. Then you could start to guess that they might be eating some out of the centre of the comb as well.

And also the side windows give you a pretty good idea. If you harvest too early and it's a bit liquid, no drama, you can just either consume it or refrigerate it so it will keep longer. But if you want to keep it on the shelf for a long time, you do need to make sure that it's capped and ready before you harvest.

What will happen if the honey sets or crystallises in the Flow Frames?

So the best thing to do, if you get candied honey in your frames is harvest and get what you can out of that frame. Often it'll be partially candy and then leave the rest for the bees to use. No matter what harvesting method you're using, candied honey is hard to get out of comb. So you can just leave that for the bees to reuse.

Let's get another frame going. Does anyone want to come and harvest another frame here? We're going to need another tube there and another jar. And let's get another one going, simply because the bees are really bringing the honey, and it's a good idea to free up some of that space so they can fill it.

How do you know if the bees are going to be aggressive and what can you do about it?

The bees will let you know if they're an aggressive type and they'll start buzzing in an erratic pattern around your face. It's not ideal if you've got bees like that. So what you can do about it, if your hive gets a bit aggressive, is change the genetics to genetics that a more gentle. You can do that by taking the old queen away and putting in a queen from a bee breeder that's bred for known genetics.

How many bees are in that hive?

Now. So a hive like this could get up to 50,000 bees. My guess is in this hive here, we've got about 30,000 bees, which is an incredible number. And what's even more interesting is a hive like this, if you start calculating the number of bees, 30 million flowers could be pollinated by your hive here, which is incredible. It's absolutely amazing that we have a honeybee that is capable of such hard work. And it's why humans have dragged them all around the world, wherever they go because they’re such great little pollinators. So there's one queen, maybe 600 or so drones and the rest are the worker bees, which are also female.

What kind of honey is that?

So this is Australian Eucalypt, I'm not sure exactly which one. I don't have this species, I don't think. It's a beautiful flavour. There are as many flavours of honey as there are flowers that produce nectar. So here, it's definitely the Australian Eucalypts, probably over on the hills here, that have burst into flower and produced this beautiful honey. And if you haven't tasted it, jump in there and have a taste.

Do you have any recommendations on where to place the Flow Hive in the garden?

So when you situate your hive, there are a few things to think about. If you ask commercial beekeepers, they'll be saying you need to face it so it gets some sun in the hive to get them up working early in the morning. For us as home beekeepers, we don't need that extra 5% of production. So other things will come into play when you decide how and where to put your hive. You want to make sure that at the entrance there's not a path where people might walk or pets or things right there where they're likely to get stung. That's one of the main things. And if you had a choice, I would go sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. But bees are incredibly versatile, they will be fine in shade, they will be fine in the sun. And it's more about positioning them where is good for you and the people and pets that walk around it.

What are the best flowers for bees?

So the best flowers for bees at ones that produce nectar. Now, having said that, the bees can be a bit choosy and you can find flowers that have a lot of nectar and they're not so interested. Don't know why. But generally everything that flowers is good for bees. If you're going to plant flowering plants, it will also attract the native pollinators, which is a great thing to do. Because we not only need the European honeybees, but we need the almost 20,000 native bee species in the world that do a lot of pollinating as well. So if you're going to plant a garden to attract them, then often the purple flowers really attract a lot of the native species for some reason. So they can be a good idea if you're planning a little garden. But otherwise, anything that flowers is good.

How much hands-on work is involved in looking after bees?

You do need to get in there and inspect the brood nest, and here you're going to be getting in there at least twice a year to go through every frame for pests and disease. Now, other countries have things like Varroa mite, which need a lot more attention than that. So ask your local beekeepers what is going to be needed to look after your bees. So to do that, you're getting in your bee suit, you've got your smoker. It's a fun learning journey. We've got a great online course at TheBeekeeper.org. You can really find out all about what's involved in how to actually do your brood inspections and look after your bees. Some people like to have it in the garden, harvest their honey, and actually get a beekeeper in to service their bees. So it's not set and forget. You do need to either get somebody to service your bees or go through the learning process yourself. We find most people really enjoy learning about the bees and pulling apart the hive and staring in at the amazing architecture they build down here in the brood nest.

How do you get the old queen out? Do queens sting?

So queens do have stingers. They rarely sting and they don't have a barb on them, which means they can sting and not die, unlike the worker bees. They have the barb, when they sting often the stinger rips out of them and they die. To replace the queen is a bit of a task. So if you're a new beekeeper, get an experienced beekeeper to help. If you're replacing a queen because they're a little aggressive, then you'll have an aggressive hive to pull apart and work with. So you're really going to want to look after yourself, make sure you're well protected and have some experienced help to do that. Find the queen and take her away. And usually, 24 hours later, you introduce a new queen, which is typically packaged in a little cage with a block of candy at the end. Now the bees will then chew away that block of candy. And that gives them time to get used to new pheromones. If you just put her straight in, she's more likely to get killed by the bees as an intruder. There's so much to learn. And the more we read, the more we learn about bees, the more we realise there is to learn.

Where do you source bees from?

So to get bees, the best place to source them from is locally because they're the bees that are used to your surrounding area. So go to your local breeders, your local beekeepers, and ask to buy what's called a nuc, which is just half a box. So about four or five frames from this bottom box, put into a temporary box for you to take with you. And it'll have a queen, it'll have pollen, it'll have honey, it'll have eggs, it's a going little hive. And it's the easiest way to get started. Otherwise, you can take a split. It's a great thing to do in springtime. Often you'll find people's bees are really breeding up and it's a helpful thing to go and take some of the frames out of their brood nest to start your colony. We've got videos to show you how to take a split. And that's a fun thing to do. I'm having a look at this hive. There is quite a lot of bees in here. You can see there's quite a lot at the entrance too which looks perfect. But if they started to get more and more all coming up the front, I think you could possibly take another split from this hive, judging by the numbers of bees in here. Which is great because then you get another hive. If you don't want another hive, somebody else really will.

I have added a new queen to my hive. How long before I should check to see if she's laying?

If you've purchased a mated queen from a queen breeder, then you will expect eggs to be laid pretty quickly, within days. So you can get in there say a week later and just have a look for eggs down the cells, tiny grains of rice or young larvae, which looks like a little grub down the bottom of the cells. So you'll need to do your brood inspection to do that. And if you didn't add a mated queen, let's say you had another hive and it had a queen cell on it that was just about to emerge. And you put that in and started as a new split. Then there's a mating process that needs to happen, which might take a couple of weeks, weather depending before she will start laying. So you might want to wait three or four weeks before checking a non-mated queen to see whether she's laying in your brood frames.

How long is the lifespan of a bee?

Worker bees actually don't live very long. They fly hard, they work hard and they wear their wings out. After perhaps only four or five weeks they're actually at the end of their life. One of the last jobs they do is collecting water. So you might've seen a bee by the waterside that looking a bit slow, looking a bit at the end of its life. And that's because collecting water is one of the last jobs they do to bring back and help cool the hive. The queen, however, can last up to six years and the drones might last six months. The drones are the boy bees. So there's a bit of variation there and one more anomaly. And that's when it's really cold. And the bees are bunkering down. If you've got snow in your area, the worker bees might last six months or so. And they call them fat bees. Their bodies actually bulk up a little bit to last that long winter, where they're basically just hibernating in the hive and consuming honey to stay alive.

Do you have to do to get permission to have a beehive in your front yard?

It is allowed in most places. However, there are a few places that have brought in restrictions. So generally you're allowed to have bees in your backyard, in your front yard, on your rooftop, on your balcony in the city which is amazing. And you can get beautiful honeys from those places because people plant a lot of flowering species. It's a good idea to look up local regulations and make sure there are no restrictions on the number of hives you can keep in your area.

What type of beekeeping suit would you recommend for a beginner?

I'll definitely go with the mesh bee suit. It's just nice to have the air cooling.

How long after installing a swarm will you be able to harvest?

Installing a swarm is a bit of a wild card. You can get small little swarm balls, you can get really huge ones. Often swarms can build up incredibly quickly, especially if you've got a big one. I've even seen them fill a whole brood box with comb in two days. So that's a lot of building that they do. When they leave, they load up with nectar, they fill their honey stomachs with hydrocarbons to create wax from their wax glands, and away they go producing comb. So it could be weeks, but it's more likely to be months. And don't be concerned if you don't get honey in your first season.

What's the best way to store honey?

Although it's beautiful to have your honey jars shining on the shelf, ff you have the honey in a darker environment, then the flavour is said to retain a little bit more. Sunlight can destroy some of the really fine floral flavours you get. And Flow Hive honey is now getting well-known for tasting better than conventional honey. And that's for a few reasons. One is zero processing straight from the hive, it hasn't touched any machinery, hasn't had that extra oxygen exposure of the honey to a jar. And that way you can really enjoy the different flavours that come out of your hive. The jar should be closed airtight, it's important to the moisture content doesn't get too high. Honey will absorb moisture if you leave the lid off, then fermentation will occur and it'll start turning into honey mead.

How often can you harvest?

So I think in this area, you could harvest this a couple of times in spring through to halfway through summer. So all of these frames twice probably would be pretty normal for this area. Now we've only harvested two frames today, and we've got a beautiful amount of honey for people to take home here at Seed & Sprout. So you could then go next week and harvest another two frames and the next week and harvest another two frames. And that's quite a nice way to do it. It's less of a shock for the bees in terms of all the honey disappearing at once.

For small hive beetle, what control methods would you recommend on a Flow Hive Classic? (NSW, Australia)

So on a Flow Hive Classic, you don't have the pest management tray down here. You'll need to make your own hive beetle trap down there. We havea video showing you how to make one out of one that material you can get in at a textile store. That fabric that's vinyl on one side and fluffy on the back. If you stick that with double-sided tape to your Corflute slider and make sure it's well stuck down. You could also make a trap out of perhaps the lid of a Tupperware container and catch some beetles if you've got some oil in that container, you slide it under the screen. There are all sorts of other hive beetle traps you can get as well that actually go inside the hive. But that's a bit more effort because you've got to pull the hive apart to inspect those traps.

We're here atSeed & Sprout, which is a local eco company, making all sorts of great wares. Some of which you see on the table here, some have been filling up with honey. They've got a Flow Hive here going in their front garden and the staff can come and harvest their own honey, which is a fantastic thing. And it's a great excuse to get out in the garden, have a bit of a break from work and see what's going on and get some inspiration happening in this space where there's the lunch table. So thank you, Seed and Sprout for having us and well done on getting your Flow Hives are doing amazingly well. 

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