Maintenance tips & tricks with Cedar

by Flow Hive 34 min read

Cedar was on hand today to share some useful tips on Flow Hive maintenance, including pest management, timber treatment and honey spillage. Then the questions came rolling in, on among other topics, Flow Frame storage, swarm management and hive inspections




Video Transcription

Good morning. We're here in the apiary, just having a look around and it's the weekly Q & A session. The topic of today is just tips and tricks, looking after your hive. We're not going to be pulling apart the hive today, but we're going to be looking at what you can do from the outside to maintain your hive and look after it. And if you've got any tips and tricks yourself, please put them in the comments. 

So just starting from a general observation, which is a good way to start. It is just looking at the hive and seeing what's going on. The first thing you'll notice is there's a healthy amount of bees coming in and out of the hive. And that's something you need to regularly keep an eye on is looking at the landing board, seeing what's going on and watching the bees come in and out. If you’re new to beekeeping, protect yourself and wear your beesuit. Some bees can get aggressive and guard their entrance. So generally it's a good idea not to be on the entrance side of a hive. That's where they're flying in and out. You might get accidental stings and also that's where the guard bees are. 

We’ll have a look here in the observation window. And as you can see here, we've got lots of bees in the super, which is a good sign, but they're not too packed. If you couldn't see the frame at all, then that would be a sign that they need more space. That looks nice and healthy. You can see them really doing their joins in between all of them Flow Frame parts and coating them in wax.

There’s a lovely smell of Paperbark in the apiary today. It gets called the rain tree by the indigenous people here, because as soon as it rains, it responds and flowers and you get this amazing pungent smell of nectar coming from the Paperbark forests. And you can smell that evaporating from the hives today. 

So next thing to do is to have a look at the honey levels. And then you might want to benchmark that with other hives and see what's going on. So what I'm seeing here is just a little bit of nectar coming in, but really not a whole lot in the window. So they are a little bit hungry at the moment. So that means you're not harvesting, you're just monitoring. And looking after your bees, you might be doing some brood inspections and really just allowing the bees to store some honey. And if you’re lucky, they’ll store some that you can share as well.

Ant guards

So I can see a few things and one is that there's ants. Now, ants can be annoying. They don't really affect the bees, but they're a bit of a cosmetic issue. And we've got the ant guards on. However, the ant guards have been bypassed. And if you look down here, I can see the problem straight away. So you see these ants coming straight over this leaf and on to the edge. If you have a close look there and you can watch, there's a bit of traffic of those ants bypassing the ant guard. So if you are using the ant guards, there's a few things you'll need to do to make sure the ants aren’t actually able to bypass them. And the first thing is just make sure there's no foliage that the ants can come up. 

Now, it would be better to elevate this hive. You can see how the feet have sunk into the dirt. And that puts the guard down closer to the ground. If we were to pick the hive up, put a paver or something underneath it, that would mean that this wouldn't be touching there as well. But for the moment, we'll just clear away the foliage and take away the pathways that the ants are using. 

The next tip with the ant guards is if you find that larger ants are bridging between the lower section and the upper section, you can just lift the lid a bit just by screwing it up. And that provides a bit more space between this section and that section. And hopefully that will help the problem. Ants can be quite persistent and you'll also need to remove them from the hive. Even if you put your ant guards on, they will actually hang around living in these areas like behind the key access and even under the roof here.

So what I'm going to do is take that right off and there we have it. So the ants in this wet weather, have taken advantage of this warm, sweet home. And you can see them laying their eggs here. So if you do want the ants to disappear from behind your window covers, you'll need to also take the roof off, take all the covers off, including the key access cover and give it a brush and just get rid of the ants like that. And after a little while you’ll manage to clear them off the hive, and if your ant guards are working effectively as a barrier without any bridges, then you'll find your ant problems will go away till next time. So we're getting rid of those, swiping them off. 

We need to go around and make sure there's no foliage bridging onto the hive. So we're going to need to clear around and make sure there's not a pathway there. 

Timber treatment

The next thing I'm noticing about this hive is the woods looking a little bit faded. If you're wanting to keep the wood looking beautiful and fresh, more like these tones where you've freshly oiled it, then you'll actually need to give it some TLC from time to time. So this is due for another coat.  Give it a little rub back with some sandpaper, give it another coat of your favourite oil from your hardware store. Choose one that is designed for outdoor wood protection, like the decking oils. Nature will always be trying to turn wood outdoors back into the earth. So if you do want to maintain that look, then that's something you will need to do. Alternatively, you can give it a good coat with some house paint and you'll get years out of that as a lasting finish on your hive. 

Pest management tray

If you look below there's the tray. So here you can see it’s got a few beetles in it, which is good. We have a lot of hive beetles in this area. This area will need a little bit of maintenance also.

Now bear in mind the bottom of  the hive is open when the tray is out for cleaning, so bees can get in at the bottom. Some of them might come around underneath and under the screen. And that can be an issue if you've got oil in there and you put the tray back in, there are bees stuck in between the mesh and the oil. So when you do put that tray back in after cleaning it out, have a little look under there. Make sure there's no bees that are going to get stuck in that area under the screen. 

And what you will find is moulds and things will build up in this area and you'll need to service it from time to time if you're using it to trap beetles like this. So I'm going to do that now, just to have a little look at the base here. I can't see any bees under the screen just before I slide that tray back in again. 

Next thing with the tray is to make sure you replace the cover when you insert the tray. And that will allow ventilation through these vent holes up under the screen and into the hive. But if I was a bit sloppy and I left it out like that, or even out just a little bit, you would find that the bees would have a pathway up under the screen and could potentially die in the oil that's designed to catch the beetles. So it’s really important to push that all the way in and use your L-screws to keep that in place, turn them around, make sure it's holding it. So you don't have that pathway for bees to get up and into your oil tray. 

Leak-back point

I can see that some of these points need a little bit of maintenance. So at the base of the frame, we've got what's called the leak-back point. This is designed so that if you do end up with any honey  in the trough area after you've been harvesting, it will go back to the bees for the bees to reuse. Now, bees will be bees and they'll block up that point. You can see that point here, if I pull this cap out, see how they've put a bit of propolis there. That little point between the area that's yellow and between the clear area is the point that needs to stay open if you want that to work effectively. 

One easy way is just use the tube. We've designed it so each time you harvest, it automatically cleans that area out for you. So you can just put the tube in, make sure it's in that area. And what that does is break that propolis and allow that pathway to work. Now, as you can see here, two out of six frames have some honey buildup. Sometimes the bees don't do a great job of sealing all the parts and you get a little bit of seepage going into the trough area, but the others are dry. So it really does depend on how your bees do that. Whether you get that issue of some buildup. 

I can see it here, just a tiny buildup. So I'm going to unblock that as well. There's a couple of different ways to unblock it. One is you can simply poke a stick or even your Flow key into that area to unblock it. I'll show you how to do that. Now, if you don't have the key with you, you can just poke this in here and unblock that area.  

Another one is sometimes you can just turn the cap around, and that's just me pulling that cap out, actually unblocked it. So sometimes that can work as well. The idea is that a bee's tongues, with these little ridges on the cap, can move between the yellow area. And you see the bees’ tongues there right now. You can see the little tongues licking, it's really quite cool. They're recycling that honey.

If a lot of honey had built up and it was a humid climate,  fermentation may occur in this area. If fermentation does occur, then you're better off discarding that honey than giving it back to the bees. And the way you do that is you take out the cap and quickly put in your tube and just drain that honey away. Now I'm tasting that honey, I can't taste any fermentation so I could let that honey go back to the bees after I've opened up that leak point there. So don't worry too much if you have honey filling up there, just check that it's not going to contaminate your jar with fermentation. And if it is, then you can drain that honey away simply by doing this and letting it fall into a jar. 

Prior to harvesting, you can clean out that trough area if you need to, simply by putting a cloth on this key. So if you get one of those thinner kitchen wipes and wrap it around here with a bit of water, you can just clean that area out. Or in an extreme situation where there was a lot of debris in there for some reason, you could actually swish some water up the tube. You do want the tube in place if you're doing that, don't connect a hose to it or water would flood into the hive, just swish it in and let it fall out again. So there's some tips and tricks. If you've got any more, put them into comments. 

Beekeeping Questions

I was told by a local beekeeper to make sure that the super should be totally emptied by July. Is that correct. (NSW, Australia)

Okay, beekeepers will have lots of opinions. I guess if you're going for production, then you might want to empty your super prior to the springtime coming. Here where we are, you will find that spring comes early usually. So the last month of winter can have quite a good honey flow. So that's probably the advice you're getting, is make some space for the bees, make some space for them to fill it with honey, because if it's still full and it's been full all winter, then they actually can't store any more of those beautiful blossoms that are going to be flowering during the springtime. 

But it's up to you. You do not have to harvest honey. You can leave it for the bees. The bees are storing it for a time that they may need it. So it's not something that you necessarily have to do, but if you're wanting to store some more honey on the shelf in jars and collect the new flavours that are coming in, it’s a nice idea to harvest them, if they're full prior to that spring flow.

What are your thoughts on using a mat on top of the Flow Frames to prevent burr comb and assist in keeping the hive warm during the cold winter months?

So a mat is something that does get used in conventional beekeeping, and it's usually a piece of vinyl that's cut roughly to the shape of the frames. Now it's normally used in what we call a migratory lid, which is a lid that has a lot of space. I used to use that method, putting a map on top of the frames. But we don’t use them in the Flow Hive, we’ve made it so they're unlikely to build a lot of comb under the lid because they won’t have the required amount of space between the Flow Frames and the inner cover. From one hive to the next it can be quite different. And you may find that one hive might do a lot of burr comb under the inner cover, but generally it doesn't seem to be a problem. So the inner cover is taking the place of the mat surface. So we're better off keeping the hive in such a way that the bees can service all the surface areas within the hive, if we can.

Is it possible to add another harvesting shelf bracket when harvesting from an extra super?

That is a great question. And yes, it can cause some issues. So you don't have as many choices is the answer. If you put the harvesting bracket right down here on this box and you're harvesting from right up here, then that will be suitable for big jars. So you can harvest from this hive into big jars, or if you're harvesting here, small jars. So if you've got a double surface like this, your choice with the harvesting shelf, unless you make a modification and put screws into some of these points, then you will find that you'll be limited to tiny jars or big full frame size jars. So those are really your options. But of course, if you wanted to put a screw in the end grain here you could. But if you are going to do that, drill a hole first because the grain can split quite easily if you just put a screw in without drilling a hole first.

What's the best way to store the Flow Frames over the winter? (Victoria, Australia)

So if you've taken this super off, the very best, if you have access to it, is to put it in a freezer. That will limit wax moth, vermin, fermentation, all these sorts of things that can make a mess of your Flow Frames during that window of time. If you're in a really cold place, then you might not need a freezer, you'll just need an outside area where the temperatures are really low and that will also limit the fermentation. And you might like to put it in a tub so that vermin and things can't get access to those frames. 

But then the next thing you could do, if you plan to take this super off for many months, is get to the point where the frames are dry and free from nectar. If there's still humidity in the air, nectar might ferment in the frames and make a mess of them. So to do that, you've got a few options. One is to wait until the bees have eaten all the nectar out of the frames. Another one is you could actually harvest the frames, leave the cells in the open position for two days, the bees will still be able to get their tongues down to clean out the nectar, and then they will be dry. 

If you can avoid storing frames that have nectar or honey in them if they're not in the freezer, because that could go a bit manky over time. If that happens, it’s not the end of the world. You need to wash them out with a warm hose and wash any fermented honey away. And then it would be a case of letting them dry. You'd have them in the open position to do that, letting water really flow through. And once they're dried and reset, you can put them back on in the springtime.

Can you get an oil tray for the Hybrid hive?

So our Classics and Hybrids don't come with the system to put a tray in. You could make your own by using the screen bottom board if you wanted to. Or you could change to the whole base section of a hive like this and swap your Classic to having a Flow Hive 2 base. So that's the other way to go.

My Flow Hive is full of honey and I want to harvest three or four frames. Does it matter which order I drain the honey out? 

It doesn't matter which order they're done in. So choose ones that are looking nice and capped at the back. Choose ones that have mostly capping on the frames and you'll get a good idea by watching them over time. And as you're learning, you could venture in there in your beesuit of course, and take out frames and justhave a look at what's going on from the outside as to what's going on in the inside. And that way, you know you're taking nice capped honey. 

But the concept of the Flow Frames is after a while you get a good idea of what's going on from the outside, and then you can harvest honey without having to pull apart the hive. And that works quite nicely. So I think it's a good way to go and much less of a disturbance for the bees just harvesting one, two or three frames. And there's also a little bit of an efficiency uptick where if you're harvesting every second frame, then the bees can use the resources of the next door frame. They can pull out any remaining honey in the frame after you've harvested and store it in the frame next door and will also cycle the wax from one frame to the next.

How much sunlight should the hive get during the day? Is it okay for the hive to be in a shaded area all day?

So the answer is bees will be able to do either. They will handle full sun and they will handle full shade. But if you had a choice over full sun and full shade, I would go full sun. The reason being is in a damp dank environment, if you've got a lot of wet weather then pathogens like chalkbrood can build up in the hive. So one recipe, if that's happened is to move the hive into the sun and that may alleviate that problem.  

But often you don't have a choice and bees will be able to handle being in full sun or full shade. The absolute ideal situation is some sun in the morning. It'll get your bees up earlier, get them foraging. And then some shade during the summertime, especially in the afternoons where you've got that baking afternoon sun really heating up your bees. So for us here in the Southern hemisphere, that means if you've got a tree line, then you'd put your hives on the North of the tree line. So that as the sun's overhead in summer, they're getting that shade. In the Northern hemisphere, of course it's the opposite way around

Do bees use the pollen of gymnosperms or pine trees, as those trees are also loaded with pollen?

Interesting. A lot of pine trees are wind pollinated. However, I've definitely noticed the bees going for the pollen regardless. So even species of grass that are predominantly wind pollinated, the bees are very happy to collect pollen from as well. And they'll also collect the sap from trees like that to make the propolis. So bees will certainly be resourceful where they can.

I’m feeding the bees a pollen substitute for extra food. They are still gathering pollen, and they love the patties. Do you recommend this? 

So the idea with the pollen substitute is if your hive isn't getting a whole lot of pollen coming in and your bees are hungry because there's been what's called a dearth, which is where the flowers aren't producing nectar and pollen for your bees to bring back. And that's the food of the hive, that’s what they need to survive. And if you are in an area where that happens and you get many months of that, it is common for beekeepers to feed both pollen substitutes and nectar substitutes to their hive. We're lucky here, we generally have some flowers at least all year round. We do have at times a few months where there's nothing, but generally there's no need for us in this location to do any kind of pollen feeding or sugar syrup feeding. However, ask your local beekeepers. They're the ones that have the knowledge. And if it is normal to feed pollen substitutes to your hive, then look into that. I'm no expert on it. 

Should I put a pollen pad on top of the queen when placing the queen into the brood box?

That's another question that will be best for your local beekeepers here. We don't have to do anything like that. We can insert a new queen and away they go. But it's really interesting to learn different techniques from beekeepers in your local region. They're the ones that will know what works and what doesn't, and be able to guide you when it comes to things like that. So by all means, reach out to them.

Does the Flow Hive overwork your bees?

The Flow Hive can't specifically overwork bees. It's only humans that can do that. So no matter what method you’re using, if you're harvesting all of the honey right before there's no nectar flow coming up and they don't have any stores, then that could be considered overworking your bees. One nice thing about the Flow Hive is that you can look in here, decide whether the bees look hungry or not. And if you're really not sure, then you can simply just harvest a little bit of honey by harvesting either just one frame or even part of a frame. So I'd say it's the opposite. 

In the conventional fashion, once you're in there, you may as well harvest all the honey. It's such a mission to take all of the frames out and take them for processing. You're not going to do it for just one single frame. Whereas the Flow Hive really does allow that versatility of just tapping a small jar of honey for your family and leaving the rest for your bees. So I would say it's the opposite. Flow Hive beekeepers are maybe less likely to overwork their bees. 

If you've got a thriving Flow Hive, do you recommend adding an additional super for more honey or a brood box for honeycomb?

You could go either way. If it was me, I would add another super. I find the concept of having two brood boxes to look through in order to find the queen takes a lot more time. If you need to find the queen to go through your routine inspections, inspecting for pests and diseases, you don't want to have to go through twice as many frames. And I find there's enough cells in a single box for the queen to lay. If you add them all up, you can have a huge colony with this amount of comb area in the bottom box. So for me, I would go for two supers over two broods. 

However it is very common, especially in the colder regions to have two brood boxes. And the theory behind that is you get this level of expansion where in a really cold climate, the season of everything flowering is compressed into just several months. So what you find is there's so much forage available that your bees will expand very quickly. And in those areas people like to run bigger hives. So your colony can expand into a bigger size and therefore forage harder forage further and collect a lot more stores. And in places like Canada, you'll find that they'll be stacking them up with boxes, and that's definitely one way to go. 

Alternatively, with a Flow Hive you can certainly run a smaller colony and just keep tapping the honey off and storing it in jars on the shelf rather than storing it in boxes on the hive. And that's less equipment you need to run, less equipment you need to look after, less equipment you need to buy for each hive. So there's advantages and disadvantages. One disadvantage of running smaller hives like this is you might find that the bees build up really quite quickly and swarm. So you need to keep an eye on it more so in the springtime. And the best thing to do I find, is to take a split when the bees are building up and that will alleviate the pressure for the hive to swarm, and also give you another colony. If you don't want one, somebody else surely will.

Is Tung oil alright for treating the wood on a new Flow Hive?

In the beginning we were recommending tung oil. And what we were finding is neat tung oil actually will attract the mildew over time. So for that reason, we don't recommend it as a choice of finish. However, there are lots of products on the market that contain tung oil and also contain solvents and things that might limit the mildew. But of course you have to decide what you want to do. And whether you're comfortable using products that have other additives in them as well. But we found the neat tung oil in our very humid, warm, wet climate would attract the mildew on the outside of the hive.

If you don't want to expand your hive and you know that your bees are maybe going to swarm once a year, what should you do?

You are going to have to do something, you don't want to just leave your hive in this configuration with the bees swarming and going over the neighbor's fence. So the choice is you have to take a split or expand the side of your hive. And there is one more choice, and some beekeepers do this, and manage the swarming tendencies just by taking away the queen cells as they build them. So in the springtime, they're going to be building a whole lot of queen cells and some beekeepers will get in there, knock them off, or transfer them to two other hives in order to limit their swarming tendencies. 

The other thing of course you can do to limit swarming tendencies is make sure you're harvesting the honey in the springtime, give them work to do. Also take out some of the frames from the edge, which are typically just honey and put in some fresh ones, but move those fresh ones towards the centre of the brood nest. And that will alleviate the main trigger for swarming, which is overcrowding in the egg-laying department.

What type of bees do you keep?

So this is the European honeybee, and that's this species that have been dragged all around the world, wherever humans have travelled, because they're such extraordinary pollinators and such extraordinary honey producers, and they’re now completely intertwined with our agriculture. However there are different breeds of them. So here, it's a whole mix depending on what we've introduced in the first place. So when we purchase queens there's options like Caucasians, Italians, Carniolans, and they're just breeds of bees that queen breeders will swear by for different kinds of properties. The Italians are supposed to be a nice friendly bee, it's not always the case. The Caucasians are supposed to be better at throttling the size of their hive for the nectar that's available. And that could be an advantage if you've got a really spiky nectar season. So there's all these different kinds of traits. In the end, the one that you want when you're starting out is a nice gentle colony. You don't necessarily go for maximum honey production. You want something that's easy to work with and easy to be around.

Is it okay to overwinter with Flow Frames on top of your brood box? (Australia)

Depending on where you are and your strategy, the answer is yes. The advantages of doing that is you can let the bees consume the remaining honey in the Flow Frames. However, if you're in an area that has a long, cold winter, you're going to need to take out the queen excluder. The reason why is the colony will form a ball to keep warm in winter in the brood box. As they consume the honey in the extremities they now tend to move up through the hive. If you've got the queen excluder in place, then the queen and the drones will be left behind in the bottom box and they will perish from the cold and you may start the season without a laying queen. So for that reason, in those colder areas where you get a long cold winter, and you're planning to leave the honey box on with the stores in it for them to consume, then you will need to remove the queen excluder prior to that winter.

I have 2 brood boxes on my hive. I added the second when the first one was full, but the second is only about 25% full. Is this a problem to add the super now?

The answer is, it depends a bit. If you're in a warm climate, then it's not such an issue to give the bees a lot of space and you could add it earlier. One of the reasons why we say wait till the brood box is completely full before putting on the honey super is you don't want to create this large amount of space for the bees to look after if the weather's cold, you want the area warm. You want them to be able to look after all that surfaces inside the hive as well. The other reason is you might get quite impatient and it might take a while for them to build up to the point. And sometimes they don't even build up to that point in the season to actually occupy the Flow super. And what you want is lots of bees in the super, in order for them to start working on it. If you don't have enough bees to really occupy the space, then it will take a lot of time. So for that reason, it's best to leave it off until there's lots of bees in those two boxes. I always find it better to start in this configuration where you start with the brood box, wait till it's full, put your super on, and that will get you much faster results than putting it a couple of boxes up.

The bees are starting to fill the gaps in the Flow Frames, but haven't started to store any honey yet. It's been about two weeks. Does this sound normal?

That sounds completely normal. And in some cases, they will get in there and join the parts together. If you have a look in this window, it's exactly what they're doing here is they've joined all the parts together and there's not a whole lot of honey storage going on. And there won't be until we have a good nectar flow that the bees can really go and take advantage of. So it's sort of coming in dribs and drabs in our area at the moment with the Paperbark pulsing, responding to the rain. We're not expecting this to fill up any time soon. However, the bees have gotten in there and started the process of making it their own, covering all the Flow Frame parts in wax and joining the pieces together.

Are the ant guards available for the Flow Hive 2? How do you put them on if the hive is full of bees and honey?

We do have them for the Flow Hive 2 and they're slightly different size, so it's important not to get the wrong ones. The Flow Hive 2+ has a larger leg bolt down here and the Flow Hive 2 has a smaller one. So if you wanted to retrofit the ant guards to your existing Flow Hive 2, then what you'd need to do is actually pivot the hive, chock it up, give yourself enough space to to unscrew these leg bolts completely. Get some help if you need to, bee hives can be quite heavy. Don't hurt yourself. 

So the concept would be lifting up the hive like this, pivoting it on its front legs, jacking it up, and then winding out those leg bolts and putting the guard on and winding them back in and repeating the process for the front of the hive. Now, bear in mind that the front of the hive is where your bees are. You'll need to be in your bee suit, use your smoker. Be sensible and make sure you're looking after yourself and those around you.

When you set up your hive and you sit the hive straight, according to the level, does it mean that your hive is constantly sloping a couple of degrees towards the back? And is that a problem?

It does mean that. And why that's important is it means that if honey dribbled through, like at the start we were talking about that, it will come back to this leak-back point here where you can actually watch the bees recycling that honey. You can still see them here licking up that nectar with the tongue. If the hive is facing the other way facing forward, which is how you conventionally do beekeeping, then you'll find that that won't work. The honey will build up at the other end and you'll need to lift the front of the hive in order to harvest. And at that moment, there could be honey that's built up at the other end, it's coming back and it might have fermented by then. And it makes the whole process a bit more messy to deal with when you're harvesting. I would always set your hive with the three degrees slope to the back of the hive. 

Some beekeepers switched it around. They prefer the slope that way, for reasons of water coming in the entrance. But that means you're harvesting right over where all the bees are, which is obviously a lot more of a challenge, keeping the bees out of the jars and keeping them off yourself as well. 

So speaking of water, we have a screened bottom board on all of our hive types and that's so that if water does come in the entrance, then it will flow through the screen and not actually pour inside the hive where the bees are. However, it can pool in your tray and you might need to tip that out after it's been raining. If you've got a Flow Hive 2 or 2+, a model with the tray at the bottom, we have put some effort into sloping the landing board and sloping the entrance, but rain will come down hard and especially if it's a bit windy, will splash into the entrance and come in regardless.

Is it normal for the roof to not fit quite right on the Flow Hive 2+?

Sometimes you can get into that situation. Let me take off this roof here, where this roof is made out of square, and that can make it quite hard to fit it on to your hive. And so in the assembly instructions, if you have a look atthat video, we suggest building it around the inner cover because that's something square and it's also the thing that it will be fitting over. How you do that is you fit the base of the roof around the inner cover, and your wind in one of these wing screws. And what that does, if you wind it in all the way, is press that inner cover into the corner. You want to make sure it's nice and square before you fit your roof shingles. 

Now, if you've found you've assembled it and it's not quite square, it's not the end of the world, but what you'll need to do is take out these roof screws, then re-square it for fitting the inner cover. Follow our assembly video guide. And so that the screws don't follow the holes previously, get a matchstick or a small twig and put it down the hole and snap it off. And that will allow your screw to find a new pathway, and you can re square your roof without too much trouble like that. And that way it should then fit over your inner cover. Another thing that can happen is if the inner cover has been subjected to a lot of water, it can swell. So keep an eye out for that as well. If this is swollen and sticking out the side here, you may need to shave some of that wood off for your roof to fit on.

We have an 8 frame brood box, and on the last inspection everything looked good, but the brood box still has three empty frames. When should we add the super? (Melbourne, Australia)

It's probably unlikely at this time of year to get enough nectar flow on to warrant putting the super on because we're coming up now to our colder time of year and the flowers will be flowering less in that Southern region of Australia. So what you may need to do in fact is provide a little bit of feed for your bees. And we do have some videos showing you how to do that and how tomake a quick feeder under the roof to let them build up stores in that brood box. So it could be a helpful thing for them to have some honey stores at the edge of their brood box for that hive to survive through the winter. So if you find they're unlikely to fill it up so they can store it in the brood frames and give them something to survive on during those colder months.

How much honey is harvested from a Flow Hive in a single season?

The answer, like many things in beekeeping, is it depends. The two major factors are the presence of flowers that are producing nectar and the strength of your colony. You need lots of bees and lots of nectar in order to store lots of honey. Now, often the bees would just be keeping up with their own needs and you won't get stores during that season. But if those two things coincide when you've got the bees and a lot of flowers producing nectar, then it gets very exciting. You even hear stories of a box filling up in a day, which is pretty hard to believe. I've definitely seen them fill up in a week and you get in scenarios, particularly in the springtime, if you have a really good spring where you harvest all of the frames and a week later, they're all full again.

And that's really exciting when that's happening. Typically in our area, we can harvest all the frames a couple of times a year. So in that case if you've seen our videosharvesting those jars, you get about 50 of those jars per harvest. So it might be a hundred jars of honey from this hive, or close to 40 kilogrammes of honey. So quite a lot of honey from a hive. 

Nice to ask some local beekeepers, you do get beekeepers that say they've got a drum this big by this round of a single colony in a season. So that is a beekeeper that really knows what they're doing. They're chasing the flowers down, they're moving their hives. They're really trying to get maximum production out of their hives. So bees are capable of producing an incredible amount of honey given the right circumstances. For most of you, you're probably just keeping a hive or two at home, and in that case, you're not going to be expecting anything like that. In some cases, you won't get any honey at all. Perhaps there's been a drought, perhaps has been bushfires, perhaps that the trees and the flowers were reticent to flower because of the conditions that were around, or perhaps there's a problem that your hive is struggling with. And there's just not a healthy enough colony to be able to store a lot of honey. So like anything in farming, it really depends on the season. And also how you look after your hive and also the genetics of your hive. I'd always recommend having more than one hive so that you can increase the chances of getting that amazing experience of filling up all of your jars of honey and getting to fill it up again in a week or a month later.

How long should a thorough beehive inspection take?

So if you're going through your brood box and particularly in the beginning, you want to allow yourself a couple of hours from start to finish. As you're learning, you want to go slow. If you're feeling nervous, great idea to get someone else along with you. If you can't find anyone super experienced, then it's also nice to find another person that's beginning. Just having somebody else there will really help as you do your first brood inspections. Now as beekeepers get more experienced and get quicker and quicker, they can get through a hive quite quickly and they can get through multiple hives in an hour. But that's as your experience grows, you can then do your brood inspections in shorter amounts of time.

There is some mould on the inside of my roof. Is that harmful for the bees? (Florida, US)

If you are getting mould on the inside, it might be the case that this area under the roof is getting a little bit wet with rain coming through the roof. So you might like to give your roof a bit of TLC. You can see this roof actually needs a bit of TLC, and this topic is some hive maintenance. So this roof here has been painted with a paint that's not suitable for outdoors. And you can tell by the way it's really starting to peel off early, after a year or two. A good quality outdoor house paint should last longer than that. So this roof is going to need another good coat. It’s the roof that really gets the weather, it gets the sunshine and also gets the debris falling on it and so on. And that's why we really recommend painting the roof and getting a lot of paint or sealant in to the joints in your roof as well. Otherwise you can get water ingress going into the hive and onto your inner cover. And as you say, creating some mould issues. Now it's not inside the hive. If you've got the plug in it's just on here, but it can damage the inner cover. 

We’ve got condensation on one side of the super, where the window is. Is this a problem? (Victoria, Australia)

So condensation is a normal thing in a hive. Now you don't want it to get to levels where it's dripping from the inner cover onto the bees. But a bit of condensation on the walls of the hive in the colder times is quite normal and actually can be a water source for the bees. In a Flow Hive, you're going to notice it more for two reasons, and that is you have windows on your hive, so you can see it. And the other reason is because you've got a window here, you're going to get a little bit cooler on this window face. Now, cooler air can't hold as much moisture. So you're fine. Just like the cold parts of your air conditioning module or the cold parts of a fridge. If the outer edges are getting cold, you'll get moisture condensing out of the more humid air as the air cools around those surfaces. So that's the reason you get condensation. 

Typically you only see it if there's not many bees in that area. If you have a lot of bees in your hive, you won't see that so much, the bees will be keeping that area well serviced. So that's the other thing to look out for is if your hive is quite weakened as you're opening the windows and not seeing any bees you might want to get in there, have a look, make sure you've got a laying queen, make sure the colony is on the way. If you find the bees aren't actually using it and there isn't likely to be a nectar flow coming up, you might want to remove the super.

I want to start beekeeping. Can you recommend any sources such as books, videos or websites?

Absolutely. So there's a lot of great material out there that you can sink your teeth into. One of the places I would recommend And it's an effort by ourselves and lots of people from around the globe to put together really high quality training material made to take you from square one all the way to scientific knowledge in beekeeping. So that's a way you can fast-track your learning if you want to. And it's also a fundraiser raising funds for habitat regeneration and protection and advocacy for bees. So go and check out that. 

There's also a wealth of information on ourYouTube channel, also this Facebook live stream. Go along, find a local bee course if you want some hands-on experience. People learn in all sorts of different ways. Some people just like to start and learn as they go. Others like to really set themselves a solid foundation of knowledge before they're starting. There's no right way or wrong way to go, but see what works for you and get into it. It's a fascinating learning journey.

What's the minimum outside temperature for doing inspections? Especially in places that don't get really cold freezing winter seasons.

So it really depends on what you're doing. If you can avoid it, then don't pull apart your brood nest on really cold days where you're wearing your polar fleeces and so on. Because it's really the uncapped brood that can suffer from cold shock and die. So that's another thing to keep in mind if you do have to, for whatever reason, inspect your brood on one of those bitter cold days, just pull it out and have a quick look and put it back in. Don't leave a frame out with uncapped brood for any long length of time, because it could suffer from cold shock. If you can do your brood inspections mid-morning to mid-afternoon on a warmer sunny day, that'll be the best for the bees and also the easiest for you, because a lot of the bees out foraging and not bothering you as you do the brood inspection.

I just received the new Flow Hive and want to transfer my colony into the new hive.Are there any special concerns or any tips on moving the old hive into the Flow Hive?

The first thing you'll probably come across is whether you got the same size or not. So if you've got a 10 frame Langstroth hive and you're converting it to an 8 frame Langstroth size hive, which is this brood box also called the Flow Hive 6, because Flow Frames are wider, then you will end up with some frames left over. So in that case, you would choose the frames that have just honey in them on the edge and you could then take that away, crush and strain, eat the honeycomb, whatever you want to do with them and reduce the size of the colony. If you find there is brood on the edge on one of the sides for instance, you could actually put a brood frame temporarily under the lid with the plug out, you prop it up so that it's not hard against this face and that, and if you wait a week or two, then any remaining brood will be able to emerge in that area. So there's a little tip there if you do have a leftover frame with some brood in it. 

But otherwise it's just a case of setting up your hive in the same location. So the first thing you would do is move the hive across a bit. If you've only got one hive, it doesn't matter so much. You could set up your hive right beside it, and that would be close enough. So you're setting up your Flow Hive right beside it. And you just take off your conventional super, transfer the brood frames over to the other box. You'd be in your beekeeper suit and also have your smoker, get someone to help you if you're feeling nervous about it, and you'd be transferring those frames across to your new Flow Hive brood box. Then if you've got a booming colony already, put your super straight on, so you don't need to wait, put your super straight on that will give your bees room and also they'll move straight up.

Now, what you'll find is you're going to end up with a lot of frames left over from your conventional honey super, and you'll need to choose what to do with them. You can either harvest them in conventional ways or, or you could turn one hive into two Flow Hives by mixing up a brood box and a conventional super and putting honey stores into two Flow Hive brood boxes, and taking a split of the brood at the same time. Probably getting a little bit advanced now, but that could be another option for you. But the bottom line is you'll need to work out what to do with the remaining frames. If you're not sure you could buy yourself some time just by putting the conventional honey super and turning it into a double brood, temporarily, or a double super hive temporarily. But if I were you, I would aim to get it towards this configuration where you'll get a much faster results of the bees storing honey in the Flow Frames.

Is it safe to polyurethane the Flow Hive and the brood box after I have stained it? (New Hampshire, US)

You certainly can. Beekeepers conventionally will do all sorts of things to their woodware to make it last and the bees will be okay. Now, if you're talking about painting the hive while the bees are in it, yes, that can be done. It's up to you. You'll need to get in your bee suit and so on, protect yourself. And you also want to choose the time of day when the bees are nice and quiet, especially if you're painting the front of the hive where there's a lot of bee activity.

Thank you very much for tuning in. Also let us know what you'd like us to cover next week. Tune in same time next week, then we'll have some more answers for you.


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