Live swarm & harvest with Cedar

by Flow Hive 18 min read

It was an exciting day at Flow HQ! During the Q & A, one of the colonies began to swarm and left the hive. The bees soon returned to the hive, so it seems they were just doing a practice swarm. The bees were very busy, with some of the hives bursting with honey. Cedar harvested some, but the frames were so full that he ran out of space in the collecting jars! He also answered your questions on swarms and checking on a new queen.

Video transcription

We're here in the apiary, having a look at the honey today, and it's amazing how much honey is coming in. It's the springtime here in Australia now. And the bees are absolutely hauling in the nectar in order to fill up these frames here. So we're going to be making a little bit of space in this hive, but any space we make will be filled up quite quickly. So that's an exciting thing. It's a really exciting time of year. If you've got any questions, put them in the comments below. Flow Hives, beekeeping, ask away! And Bianca who's in my pocket will read out those questions and away we'll go. 

So the first thing I'm going to do is show you what these frames look like when they're nice and full. You can say this beautiful capping the bees are putting on the frames when they're full. The bees are walking on the capping, which is super cool. And that means they've decided the honey is ready to harvest. So when you see it looking like that, it's certainly time for harvest. You can harvest a lot earlier when you've just got a few in the middle that are full. But at the moment, we've got a full rack here of honey, ready to harvest. And if we look in the side windows, you can see there's a lot of bees and beneath their feet are the capped cells. So this hive is gearing up in springtime. We'll need to do a split soon. As the numbers grow, they will overflow this hive. If you have a look at the front here, you can see they're not spilling out the front yet, but what typically happens is the bees will build up and build up and then eventually be covering the whole front of the hive and hanging down and so on. And it's a good idea to take a split before they swarm. So springtime is perfect for that.

So back to where we were, harvesting some honey. I'll just put this phone down, I'm just on my own today, so that we can harvest some honey. So I've got this key and all we're going to do is take the cap out of the top, then put the key in a little way and turn it. Now, if you just want to harvest a little bit of honey, you might just decide to only put the key in that far and then you'll be harvesting just a small part of the frame. Today, we're going to go ahead and harvest all of the frames because we want to fill up these big jars. So that's a case of just putting it in like that, turning it and leaving it in that 90-degree position. And pretty soon, you'll see that honey coming down into the jar. You can see the honey coming down the tube already, which is a beautiful thing. It's and what's even more beautiful is when it's happening in your own backyard, from the flowers around you.

Beekeeping Questions

My bees filled out most of the frames, but then they started eating the honey. What does that mean?

The bees will ebb and flow. Whether they're bringing in more nectar than they need, or whether they bring in not enough. And that'll always change depending on what's going on in the environment around you. So if you watch this window here, over the day it will change as they're filling. It'll fill up and then retract again. It'll fill up and retract again. And it just means if you notice the bees are eating some of the honey out that they had stored, then it might be a good idea to leave the rest for the bees and or perhaps just harvest one frame or two and leave the rest. So one of the things with the Flow Hive is you don't have to take all the honey. In the conventional way, you didn't have to take all the honey either, but you tended to because it was such an ordeal to get that honey out of the hive. Pulling all the frames out and setting up your extractor and so on, you tended to do the whole lot while you were there. So now you can easily just harvest one frame or a part of a frame, or a couple of frames, whatever you like. It's a nice way to do it, actually, because it's less disturbance for the bees. Taking a couple of frames at a time.

How long does it usually take to harvest a frame?

You'll see how long it takes here, but it's typically half an hour to harvest a frame and you can harvest multiple at the same time if you want to. And in colder times, you might need to wait a lot longer. It doesn't hurt to wait for the last dribbles to fill the jar either. So you can leave it there for an hour if you want to.

I've installed a new queen and I was wondering how long I should leave the hive before checking on her?

Okay. New queen. If you've just installed a new one, I would wait a week or so before checking on her. That's what they say will lessen the chance of her being knocked off by the hive. Just wait a week before you get in there and look at your queen and hopefully you've got some nice little grains of rice, little bee eggs down the bottom of the cells. If you wear glasses, take your glasses because they're quite hard to see.

Should I do a split or add a second brood box?

My favourite thing to do is to do a split, simply because once you start adding second brood boxes and things, it's just a bit harder to find the queen next time and. And then if you've got a really tall hive with lots of boxes and then the colony gets small again, then you have to start taking boxes off again. So my management strategy is just to multiply, where you take a split in the springtime when they're breeding up and that way you've got more colonies. And if you don't want one, somebody else surely will, but you can also add another super if you like, or another brood box. Both of those tactics will limit the swarming tendencies as well.

Do you typically inspect your Flow Frames before harvesting, or do you just go by visual through the front window?

I go by visual. That's what we designed it for. The whole idea was you don't have to take apart your hive to do the harvesting process. Now having said that, if you want to inspect them and learn about what this means as to what's going on inside, that's a great thing to do. But as you learn, you'll start to get a feel for what means what. And you'll be able to look through the side windows and see what's going on in the hive and really gauge whether it's a good time to harvest or not. So you certainly don't have to, but go ahead and do some learning at some stage. Beekeepers generally will harvest honey if it's mostly capped. So every now and then you get it wrong and you harvest some honey and it's too liquid. Not the end of the world, just means you'll have to consume it before it starts to ferment. Or you can mix it with some honey that's got a low moisture content and average it out, which is what the commercial beekeepers do.

Is there supposed to be a gap between the roof shingles and the side rails of the Flow roof?

There shouldn't really be a huge gap here. It doesn't really matter if there are gaps in here if you've got the plug under the roof in, because if you've got that plug in, the bees aren't up in there using that area. If you don't have the plug in the inner cover and the roof is an area that the bees are getting up and doing their thing and potentially building comb, then they will actually seal up any gaps in the roof, including along the edge. If you've got a panel like this that's really warped like it's gone into quite a big curve, that can happen, after all, it's woodenware, it's outdoors and there's moisture changes and so on. So if that does happen, then what you could do is either just block the gap up under there, or you could potentially put screws down through here into the side rail, and that would hold this down as well.

What do you recommend as a complete kit? (Northern California, USA)

The most popular thing in that area is exactly what this hive is here, which is our six frame Flow Hive. So in the more temperate areas, people tend to go for a slightly smaller size one. Whereas this one here is the seven frame, slightly bigger. You can certainly go either, but I'd recommend a Flow Hive 2+, which is this hive here. It's your choice, whether you want to go with Western Red Cedar or Auracaria. And it's got the extra bells and whistles like these solid legs, ant guards even levels to help you level your hive, a pest management tray down the bottom here that you can use to catch beetles in this area. And yeah, I'd recommend just going for the best one. But having said that, if the financials are an issue, we have more economical models as well for you. In the colder regions, people tend to go for the larger size. Commercial beekeepers are often advising on the larger size because you've just got a bit more honey stores in there for bees to survive a long, cold winter. In the temperate regions, the smallest size, which we call the Flow Hive 6 is perfect as well.

Live swarm

We've got something interesting going on here. I've just noticed a bit more activity in the sky. We're going to keep an eye on that, just in case the hive over here is about to swarm. It is that time of year where you do get lots of swarms, despite getting in there and taking splits and so on.

Look at this. So someone asked earlier how long it takes to fill the jar of honey. Now we are 14 minutes in and look, we've got a full jar of honey, and that's not a full frame worth. Now I might be in trouble here. This frame may overflow this jar. It's such a pumping time of year with so much honey coming in. Now, we've got an interesting event happening here. Look there's a swarm building in the sky. We can even see what hive it's coming from, so this hive over here. This is what it looks like when a colony is starting to swarm. They pour out of the hive, they race out like this and it's quite a lot of activity. So we've set up swarm traps around the place, like that little hive down the bottom there. But nevertheless, I'm lucky I'm here because I'll be able to watch this and just put it straight in the swarm trap to make sure we get this one.

Look at that, beautiful. it's amazing. So what's happening now is the old queen's being kicked out of the hive by about half of the bees. And what's going to happen is they'll temporarily land somewhere close by, and that's an opportune moment to actually put them in a box and give them a home if they like it. That's amazing.

What do you do if the bees start to swarm and you only have one hive?

If they start to swarm and you don't have a hive, then make a makeshift swarm-catching box out of a cardboard box. And then as quick as you can, find some beekeeping equipment. Because they will start building comb in a big box.

My bees swarmed. I captured the swarm and put them into a nuc box. Two days later, they left the box. Any idea why?

So sometimes the scout bees have already gone out and found a beautiful home. So if that happens, that's a bit of bad luck. If you can find them again, you can put them back in. But yeah, if a scout bee gets out there and has already found a new home by the time you get tocatch the swarm, then they might decide just to go and find that new home rather than staying in yours. Normally it doesn't happen, I find, but it can.

Have you used bee pheromones to attract a swarm to an empty hive?

So we used that recently at my place in a swarm catching box. And it looked like there was a lot of activity in there, but it turned out that there wasn't a swarm in there yet. So, but it does seem to attract the bees and people do praise it. There's one called swarm commander. Other people get lemongrass and put it in a little zip lock bag and put a pinhole in it, which has a similar effect. But I haven't used it a whole lot.

How does the queen excluder work?

A queen excluder is this piece in here, you can see a little black line in between these two boxes. It's simply a grid that the queen can't get through, but the worker bees can. And what that means is it just ensures that the queen isn't up in your honey collection area, laying eggs in that section. Now with the Flow Hive, you can run without a queen excluder, but you'll have to check whether your queen likes to lay in Flow Frames. Some queens, do some queens don't, you've probably got a 50:50 chance there. So if you are deciding to run without the queen excluder, just make sure she's not laying in your Flow Frames.

Can you put an ideal super in between the Flow super and the brood box for honeycomb?

You can. You can either put it there or you can put it on top of your Flow Frames, either one and do some honeycomb collection. On top would make it easier to inspect them later.

The capping on my Flow Frames is not flat. On some cells, the capping is raised and it's flatter on other frames. Is this okay?

That's absolutely okay. Bees will do that. So if the nectar flow suddenly stopped, they might decide to cap it even quite indented. And if the nectar flow is continuing to go, they might really draw it out a bit further out the Flow Frame and cap it further out. So it really just depends what's going on.

When is the latest you can purchase a nuc for next year?

So it's a good idea to get organised with nucs. It really just depends on your local bee breeders. In the subtropical region, some will be able to give you nucs all year round. Other areas will have a season they do nucs in. So make some inquiries. The easiest way is to purchase in a nuc.

Now I'm just going to watch these bees and see where they temporarily land. Okay. It's all going on here today.

Has anyone studied whether the fog used in mite treatments will accumulate in the Flow Frames?

I don't have the answer to mite treatments. If anyone has got the answer to that, please chime in. We don't have those mites in Australia, which is nice for us. So I imagine you don't have your Flow Frames on or any honey supers on when you're doing the mite treatment, but please chime in if you've got experience with that.

How do you know if the cells in the centre of the frames are capped and that you're not chopping any worker bees in the Flow Frame cells?

That's a great question. My father and I spent a decade really making sure that themechanism we were building wasn't going to chop up any bees. And we did that by putting gaps in between the parts when they move and the bees bridge those gaps with their wax. So as the parts come back together, they're not a chopper, there's a gap and it can only be wax. And at worst, if you have harvested with a whole lot of bees down the cell in a frame that's not ready yet. Then there could be a couple of bees that get stuck in the wax and the other bees will help them out.

Now I've got a bit of a situation here where this frame is going to overflow. So what I'm going to do is just swap these jars. I don't usually like to mix the flavours between the two, but in this case, I don't have much of a choice because I'm here with no one to help me. I don't have any extra jars. So here we go. I'm just going to swap these two over. I'm going to turn this one off now because this jar is full and that one's filling up. Now I'm going to put the little cap back in as part of the finishing harvesting process. This jar is just about to overflow.

Do you take the queen excluder off during winter?

We don't here, where we are in the subtropics, we can certainly just leave it on year-round. In the colder regions where you've got a bee ball that's clustering together inside the hive, you can get into the situation where the ball moves up through the hive consuming honey. And the queen is left behind because she can't get through the queen excluder. And then you arrive in spring without a queen because she perished below the queen excluder. So if you're in those really cold climates, then seek advice from your local beekeepers. But it's a good idea to remove that queen excluder to limit that happening.

Do the brood box and super need to be secured to each other, or just sit on top of each other?

They just sit on top of each other, which is neat. The bees glue them together quite fine. Sometimes you get a little bit of drift, but usually not. And your bees will just stick your boxes together.

My first Flow harvest is coming soon. Should I get a strainer for the honey? I'm planning to sell some. (Melbourne, Australia)

Usually, you can just skim anything off the top of the jar. There could be a little bit of debris sometimes, but mostly not. And if that's the case, then you can then just pop the lid on. So you can just use a settling technique rather than a strainer. You can use a strainer if you want, basically, but I don't. You just let gravity do the work. And if anything floats to the top, you can skim that off. I'm a little bit distracted here by this swarm.

When is a good time to use an entrance reducer? We are going into fall soon and I'm wondering about robber bees stealing honey. (Niagra Falls, Canada)

A good time is, exactly as you say, when you've got what's called a dearth, where there's not a whole lot of honey in your hive and the bees will seek opportunities to rob out other hives. Especially if there's been honey left around and they've got a taste for honey instead of nectar. So as you say, now is a good time to put on the entrance reducer and just give them a better chance to defend their own hive.

Can the bees just go in and out?

Yes, absolutely. So the bees are free to come and go, if that's what the question is. So the bees go in and out of the entrance as they like. And in some cases, they might decide to leave altogether. So it's not like you're keeping them really. They're deciding that it's a good home and staying of their own accord. So we're really bee-havers rather than beekeepers.

Where do you get bees from?

There's usually beekeepers in your local area that would be willing to supply bees. If not, then finding a beekeeper, that's already got a hive, especially this time of year, it's a good time to go and take a split. And we've gotgreat videos showing you exactly how to do that. There are a few ways to get started, but buying bees is probably the easiest. Taking a split is the next one. And catching a swarm is just an adventurous thing that if you're lucky to get to do, then it's a great adventure.

Do you have any advice on leaving the Flow super on during winter in cold climates? (USA)

I think it's worth getting local advice for that. Some people do, some people don't. In the extreme cold, they usually really reduce the size of their hive. But in other cases, they will leave the super on for the bees to consume any remaining honey. So it's a little bit up to you. But ask for advice from your locals on that one.

What type of flowers should I plant?

They love purple flowers. Like if you have a look at these flowers here, especially some of the native bees. Now, planting flowers around your hive, won't actually change your honey crop much. You have to plant acres and acres of flowers in order to really get a honey crop from your hive. But these types of flowers that are purple tend to attract more beautiful native bee species into your garden, which is why we love to plant them. And that's a wonderful thing because you might even find you save some species from the brink of extinction, just giving them stepping stones across the urban landscape.

This jar's about full as well. So here we go, one bee has jumped into the jar. Everyone thought when we got our invention that you're just going to get up a jar full of bees, but usually, it takes them a while to work it out. And we find we can harvest like this most of the time. However, you shouldn't leave open jars of honey out longer than the harvesting process, because you do not want to start that robbing frenzy. All I'm going to do is get that key and I'm going to fish that bee right out of there and put it back on the landing board. And the other bees will clean her up. There we go. Won't take them long.

We've got time for a couple more questions and then I'm going to have to get up and catch that swarm. It looks like they're up on top of the roof somewhere.

I forgot to tilt my Flow Hive when harvesting last year after moving it. Do I need to clean out the bottom of the Flow Frames before I harvest again?

Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. So that's this area down here. These are nice and clear, but sometimes you can get into the case where there's quite a big buildup and if it's left there too long, it can start to ferment. So it's a good idea periodically if you notice some honey building up to let that honey out. Now, if it's all fermented, then put your tube in and just drain that away and discard it. And then clean out that point there, which you can do with this tool here or a stick or the end of the Flow tube cleans it out for you each time you harvest with a little tag on the end. But if it looks like this, which is the frame I've just harvested and it's all built up like that, then make sure that leak-back point is clear. And discard it if it's gone fermented. I can see the bees licking that honey. We did stop a little bit early, so that's nice and full, but the bees will reuse that to refill the frames.

There is a lot of mould in my Flow Super. I have removed it from the hive. What is the best way to clean it?

Okay. So you removed it for now. So mould on the Flow Frames. The bees do the best job, but you can give them a headstart by using a bit of hot water. You set the frame to the open position and give them a good blast and then let the bees do the rest of the work after letting it dry.

Swarm returns

I’m a bit distracted here by what's going on. So that swarm has taken to the air again, they're coming home. So we've got the reverse of a swarm here now, where you can see they're not leaving, but they're coming home again. So we've got all of these bees coming home and going back into the entrance, which is something they can do.

And look, they're falling all over the ground. They're in quite a frenzy here. But basically, here they are, the swarm is back and going back into the hive. So that saves me climbing up under the roof, which is great. And we can seize the moment and split this hive. What we'll probably do is take the old queen out and put her in the new split and leave the queen cells they're making in this hive. Which they would be if they're swarming to requeen the hive itself. There are absolutely piles of bees coming home. It's an incredible thing to witness here. So they were just doing a practice swarm, which sometimes they do.

Here, they all are. There's so many of them that they're just landing on the ground in front of the hive. It's really quite an interesting thing to witness this homecoming of the swarm. They're pouring in the entrance.

It's an amazing thing. And a good reminder to get ahead of the curve and take your hive splits. Or make some room in your brood nest by cutting out some of the honeycomb and moving those frames inwards a bit, which is another good thing to do. Or you can add more boxes to your hive. They're about the three things people do. Other beekeepers will get in there and they'll remove any queen cells they find to limit the swarming tendencies as well. It's a beautiful thing. 

Thank you so much for tuning in. It's all going on here in the apiary today. It's an amazing thing to witness all the things that bees do throughout the season. And we've been harvesting a beautiful amount of honey over here, too. You can see this jar, it filled up in 15 minutes. We've got another jar here and it's amazing. This hive is nice and calm compared to the one we've just been looking at. They're just chilling in there and you can see the fresh white capping just beneath their feet. It's such a marvel to be able to look in on this world and what the bees are doing. Tune in again, same time next week.


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