How to inspect your Flow Frames

by Flow Hive 15 min read

Today Cedar ran through a Flow Frame inspection. He also introduced our new bee suit veil and answered questions on when to add the super and the easiest way to split a hive.

Video Transcription

Today we’re going to open up the hive, not because we need to, but because we want to show you how to inspect the Flow Frames. So you can see the bees doing their amazing work down the cells. They're depositing nectar with their tongues. They're drying out that honey, they're going through that amazing process to make that liquid gold. And if you have a look, some of the cells are capped and some of them aren't. What "capped" means is they're putting their wax capping on top of the cell to say, it's ready to keep in the larder for later. Now, if you've got questions, put them in the comments below and we'll answer them live. It's all about learning. And if you've got answers to other people's questions, then chime in and help people learn. It's all about sharing the knowledge of this beautiful thing we call beekeeping.

So I'm just going to add a bit of smoke to the front of the hive because we are going to be taking the hive apart for this. We just want to calm the bees a little bit. Now I've just got my smoker going. I might even add a little bit here, just bear in mind that this can be hot, if you're new to beekeeping, wear your gloves, protect yourself. Okay, there we go, the smoke is going nicely. I'm going to put that right in the entrance and give it a couple of squeezes like that. There's not much activity here this morning because it's still early here in wintertime. I'm going to leave that smoker just right there to give a whiff of smoke as the bees return home to their hive. And that way it'll have an effect of calming where it's said to mask the alarm pheromone, which is the pheromone the bees do to say, "Hey, there's a problem. We need to attack." 

Now, before I get right into this hive, I better put my beesuit on. And we've got something new for you this morning and that is a clear-view hood. So this is a new innovation of ours, where instead of having mesh all the way down, we've got this nice clear view. And it kind of has the effect of thinking that you don't have a bee suit on at all, which is quite neat. I'll do that up now. Just make sure you're doing your middle zip up first. Then the other ones.

So next, you'll notice that this has a clear view. That's something new for us, which is very cool. It means you can see much more clearly without looking through that mesh. There's a little adjuster here so you can pull it back against your face a bit more, so you don't get reflections inside as you're working. And a bit of ventilation here to limit the fogging. But what we've done is we've put a zip all the way around the edge, which means that you can swap it out for the mesh, if you want to. So you've got a choice with our bee suits now, whether to have it clear or mesh. It's also a little bit handy to have an opening here just below the mesh, in case you want to eat a little bit of honeycomb. 

Let's get back to our hive and pop the lid open. Now, if you have a look in the side window, there's a lot of bees in here this morning and they haven't really gone out to forage yet. So that means we're expecting the hive to be a little bit more alarmed than usual. Usually mid-morning to mid-afternoon is the best time to go beekeeping. And that means a lot of the foragers are out to play. The next thing we're going to do is just pry the lid off with our hive tool, this is the one that comes with the suits and jackets kit. And remove that one as well. And I'm just going to lift that on the corners with this chisel and away we go into the hive. Now we've got an excluder in place, so the queen's not going to be on the inner cover this time. And we're just going to lean that up against the hive for those bees to come home. Today, what we're doing is inspecting the Flow Frames. It's not something you need to do regularly, because when you are doing your inspections of your hive, what you're focusing on is the brood chamber downstairs, where you're looking for signs of pests and disease. Up here, we're just checking in on the Flow Frame for fun and a bit of learning.

Now, they're designed so you can get a good idea of how full they are from the end window. And you usually don't harvest until you see a lot of capping here, or you see that they're all capped in the side window here. You can see it's not quite capped at this end, there's a bit missing in the middle as well. So you're learning about what's going on in your hive by using the windows. And usually that's quite adequate to tell when to harvest. But it's a nice idea to learn by having a look at what the windows mean. And also what is actually going on in the hive once you pull it apart. And that just helps you to know when to harvest. I'm going to add a little bit of smoke here because I noticed they were starting to get a bit defensive. So I'm also tuning in with the bees to know whether I should be putting my gloves on or not. If you're new to beekeeping, do put your gloves on, look after yourself, make it a more enjoyable learning journey than getting lots of stings straight away.

So to remove a frame from the hive, what we're going to do is lift at the lift point under here, there's a lift point at the back and there's also one at the very bottom. I'll show you those lift points now, the chisel goes under the front like that and what you're doing is just levering the frame up. So that's one, the other one is under here. You can get your hive tool and you can also lift there. But the one to start with is this end here because the J-tool goes right under there and gives you plenty of leverage to lift that up like that. Once you've loosened that, come back to this lift point and you should be able to lift that up okay. Then I can put my fingers there on the one end and slowly lift that Flow Frame up. And let's have a look at what is going on in this Flow Frame.

That's looking pretty good. There was a bit of burr comb, so we've ripped a bit of honey. Burr comb is where they put their wax and honeycomb adjoining between one frame and another. So that's unusual with the Flow Frames. They usually behave and don't do that. But sometimes, depending on your bees, you can get a bit of adjoining comb. So what I'm going to do with my hive tool, is just cut that away. So hopefully next time they won't bother joining one frame to the next. So looking at this, we've got a nice full frame of honey. So that's fantastic news. It's nice and full in the middle. It's almost full at the end, and we're pretty well ready to harvest this one. And I'm looking at the neighbouring frames, they're also nearly ready to harvest as well. It's not far away from them filling the remaining cells. And then most of these frames will be ready to go.

Beekeeping questions

If you've just got a medium size backyard, is that okay to have a Flow Hive in?

There are people keeping bees on rooftops, in backyards, in urban areas, out on farms, on balconies in cities, all sorts of things. So the great thing is, it's a very small footprint to be able to get a real amount of produce and to be able to really have your own little farm here and to be able to fill up those honey jars. So the great news is yes, you can. There are some places, not very many, that have some restrictions on beekeeping. But usually, you can go ahead and have a number of hives inthe backyard. One of the things you need to pay attention to is not positioning your hive where it might annoy others. For instance, the entrance is where the bees fly in and out. So you've got to be careful if there's a walkway, for instance, right in front of your hive, that you're not increasing the likelihood of stings of people passing by or your neighbours. It's always a good idea to go to your neighbours with a jar of honey and it should keep everything sweet.

We had a lot of capping in the front window of the Flow Frames and the cells were half full, but now there’s less honey. Do the bees eat the honey or store it somewhere else in the hive?

The answer could be both. Bees are constantly moving around honey. If you look at this end window view here, then you actually see this pattern change throughout the day. And when they get on the flow it's quite exciting. You'll actually see them splashing nectar around all of these cells, little droplets. And by the afternoon it will have disappeared because they've used that area to dry it out and then moved that nectar further in to fill up some other cells that are almost full. Or perhaps they've just condensed it down from being a whole lot of distributed nectar to a number of cells that they're filling. And they keep doing that until they've filled the entire frame. And then from there they go on and continue filling to the extremities. And then they're putting on the wax capping to say that the honey is ready and they've reduced that moisture content. And you've got a beautiful Flow Frame full of honey.

Can you tell us about the new veil?

Okay, so this is something new for us and yes, to answer your question, it is a retrofit. You can add it to your existing Flow beesuit. The idea is, you've got a lot clearer view, which means that you're not looking through the mesh. Often, you're looking through the mesh and you just want to get it away from your eyes eventually because it's playing with your eyes a bit. Now the clear view helps by not having that mesh right in the way. And sometimes you can get a sting on your nose through the mesh, whereas bees can't sting through this. So a couple of little advantages there. But if you don't like the clear view, both options are with our beesuits. And simply there's a zip-out piece and you can go back to the mesh. So play around, see which one you like and let us know your feedback.

How do you know when to add the Flow Frames to your brood box? 

So to add Flow Frames to a brood box, it's always good to wait until the brood box, which is the one down here, is full of bees and they've drawn out all the comb. So you want all the comb completed. You want a functioning, colony, busy with bees before you add the super. And that's a super of any type, whether it be a Flow super or a conventional one. I'm just going to add a little bit of smoke to my hands and into the hive. The reason why I'm doing that is I noticed a couple of bees are just starting to get a bit more territorial, after all I am pulling apart their home.

Does using the smoker make the honey taste smoky?

It does. So if it's capped like this, it won't. But if you've got a whole lot of uncapped honey and you're using the smoker, it does get quite a smoky flavour. So that's something to be aware of when you're pouring smoke into your hive.

I’m 12 years old. Do you think that I could look after a Flow Hive? (Sydney, Australia)

It's a wonderful thing for young and old. We find that when a family starts beekeeping, everybody gets into it and it becomes this fascinating topic. And the more you learn about bees, the more you realise there is to learn. So I think it's always good to get help though. So in the beginning as you're learning, get some help from some local beekeeper, and that will really make the learning curve a lot easier. Unless you're the type that really likes to jump into things and get going without the help. But if that's the case, you should do lots of learning online with our online training videos. And watch things like thisFacebook live. If you go, we've got a course there which has experts from all over the world contributing and it's also a fundraiser. And that can be a wonderful way to learn quickly. But assuming you're at home with your parents, so perhaps you want their buy-in to get a beehive and get going and they can help you with it.

Is it difficult to remove the super when it is getting full of honey? 

If you dialback a few videos, you'll see us removing the super to inspect. If it is a bit heavy, then just get some help as you lift that off. You don't want to strain your back and they can be quite heavy when they're full of honey because here, we've got about 18 kilogrammes of honey here in this box, plus the weight of the box and the frames. So it depends how strong you are if you're a bit concerned, then they get some help just to lift it better.

We are getting huge amounts of rain at the moment. Apart from slowing down honey production for the bees, are there any other issues excessive rain may cause? (Louisiana, USA)

So rain can cause some issues. If you've got your hive in a shady area at a very wet time of year, then you can get into the issue where pathogens like chalkbrood can become more prevalent. And one of the fixes for that is moving your hive into a more sunny location and just try and get it out of the damp. Otherwise, we get a lot of rain here as well at times, and bees can survive as long as they've got some honey stores. Even if it's raining for many months and they can't forage, then they will be able to survive on the honey stores.

What is the easiest method to make a split with a Flow Hive? (Australia)

So to split with a Flow Hive, the easiest method is what's called a walkaway split where you don't buy a new queen, you just let them raise a new one. And the reason why it's easier is because you don't need to find the queen in the hive. It takes some learning and skills to be able to find her easily in among 50,000 bees. So if you go or go to ourYouTube channel, you'll be able to find videos showing you the walkaway split. It basically involves taking some frames out of the bottom box and putting them into another box. And you just need to make sure both hives have eggs in the bottom of the cells. And from that, they will usually raise another queen in the hive that doesn't have one. You just take out half of the frames in here, replace them with fresh new ones, put them into a box beside it, add some fresh new ones, and they should go ahead and make a new queen. There's a little bit more to it so do watch those videos and that will show you how to do it. Cedar, can you use

Can you use the Flow Hive with thicker consistency honey, like Manuka or Jellybush?

So Jellybush, or Manuka honey from New Zealand, has a property called thixotropic, which is a really interesting property. You can put it in a jar and stir it around, and when you stir it, it becomes liquid. And when you leave it for a bit, it sets like jelly. And if you get 100% thixotropic honey in your Flow frames, then it won't flow out. But if you get a mixture, then you'll often see us harvesting and you'll see globules coming out. So typically it's a mixture unless you happen to live in an area that's got an amazing flow of those medicinal honeys. So typically what they beekeepers do, if they've got thixotropic honey in a conventional hive, they also can't spin it out very easily. So no matter what hive type you've got, it's pretty hard to get it out of the frame.

So what they end up doing is pricking the cells with these prickers, which does the job of kind of stirring up the honey. Then they put it in a centrifuge to spin it out and they also do it in a hot room. So all of that is pretty advanced. If you've got a situation where you've got some of your frames full of that honey, and it won't come out, then you can just leave it for your bees. And next time they'll replace that honey with something else and away they go again. Usually the process of opening and closing it will actually trigger them to get in there and rebuild those cells. And next time they'll probably replace it with liquid honey. It's not a problem we hear about often um because it's kind of hard to get 100% medicinal honey flow in your hive. Having said that, there are people that have reported the thixotropic honey, like the Jellybush and Manuka, not coming out of a number of their frames. So you can do nothing about it and they'll replace it with liquid next time. Or you can go to the trouble of trying to get that honey out by pricking them and spinning them and so on.

Should I harvest the Flow Frames before winter and then replace them with traditional frames or just leave the Flow Frames on the hive?

You might want to get some local advice on that, and it depends on how long your winters are and so on. Some beekeepers like to run in those colder climates with another brood box full with mainly honey and that's their stores for the winter. And then they'll take the Flow super off for the wintertime. Others will remove the excluder just to allow the queen to travel with the ball of bees up into the Flow Frames for the winter. And they'll consume the honey in the Flow Frames to survive over the wintertime. So it's a little bit up to you, but get advice from your local beekeepers, whether you should be removing your Flow supers and reducing the size of your colony for winter.

Is it possible to collect pollen and mix it with one-to-one to make patties or do you need to use a pollen substitute? 

I have not that much experience in pollen substitutes. It's not something I need have ever needed to do in this area. Normally there's enough forage around to keep our bees happy and healthy. But if you live in an area or you've got advice that you should be feeding supplements such as pollen patties, then you need to get in touch with those local suppliers and they'll help you with information on what you should do to feed that particular pollen source to your bees.

Can you recommend what to paint or protect the Flow Hive with? I used linseed oil, but it's starting to weather. (Melbourne Australia)

So if you're trying to keep it looking like natural wood outdoors, you're always going to be battling against nature a little bit. She wants to turn it back to grey, turn it back to the earth eventually. So it does takesome TLC in order to keep that beautiful wooden look. Alternatively, you can paint it. You can get carried away with the paint and have fun painting your hive and getting it looking beautiful. And that'll be a longer-lasting finish if you like. If you come up here, you can see with a little bit of TLC, you can keep the hive looking beautiful. So you can give that a rub back with either some sandpaper or a scrubber and reapply your oil to keep it looking nice like these panels are. There's a product called oxygen bleach which will help strip off mildew from wood and once you've stripped off the mildew you can then go and your coat of oil again. Decking products are designed to protect cedar outdoors in the harshest conditions, so they're the ones that can give the longest protection while retaining the natural wood look. There are all sorts of different products available in your local hardware store.

Why have you painted all the rooves of your hives?

It's basically for weather protection, the roof gets most of the harsh weather. The sun's beating down on it, the debris is landing on it, the rain is hitting it, the birds are pooing on it. It's best to paint that if you want it to maintain a good weather seal.

Do you need to protect the hive with eco-friendly products or do you need to leave them a few days before you put the bees in the hive?

So if you've got an established colony, it's very hard to get it to move away no matter what you put on your box. If you're putting a swarm into the box, you need to be careful because that might put them off. You want to wait a few days before dropping a new swarm into it.

What can you do if you haven't got enough space for more than one hive? 

So two hives are always better than one, and three hives are better than two. Simply because then you can experience the joy of watching the honey flow in and also learn what it takes and what a healthy colony looks like, and what a colony looks like when it's struggling and so on. You can also use the resources in one hive to create another hive or fix a problem in another hive. If one hive is queenless you can get a frame from another with eggs in it, put it into the queenless hive and let them raise a new queen. So it's always better to have more than one hive. If space is an issue, maybe you can find a solution by putting one on a rooftop or something like that.

Thank you very much for tuning in. If you want to get your learning curve really happening in a fast way, take a look It's also a fundraiser, raising funds for habitat protection and regeneration.

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