There’s much more to beekeeping than just harvesting honey. Flow Hive beekeeper Hilary Kearney looks at what newbees should do when their Flow Hive arrives.
Once word gets out that you are keeping bees, everyone you know will begin to pester you about honey. This is because of the misconception that a beehive is made entirely of honeycomb.
Outsiders envisage a shining palace of honey from which honey flows effortlessly. Of course, with the advent of the Flow Hive, this particular function is now possible! However, it’s important to understand how much work goes into the production of honey prior to it being in sufficient amounts and ready to harvest.
Before the bees can make honey, they must build comb, raise young and visit a whole lot of flowers! As beekeepers, it’s our job to foster and monitor their progress.
In beekeeping, like with any animal husbandry, there’s a lot of learning to do but here's some of the basics to help you get started.
Composition of a beehive
A beehive is made up of more than honey. The bees build hexagonal beeswax structures called combs and they are used to house both honey and developing bees (brood).
Building new combs requires tremendous energy and is fuelled by pollen and honey consumption.
There’s a lot of variation depending on where the hive is situated, but for many, tapping pounds and pounds of honey right away is not a realistic expectation. In their first year, bees will spend a significant amount of their honey on drawing out combs and these combs will make up their brood nest.
The brood nest
Bees build their brood nest in the bottom box of a Flow Hive or other Langstroth set-up. The brood is critical for the survival and health of your colony. Without constant regeneration, the hive will falter and fail as its population ages.
The brood nest is the very first thing your bees create. Even before the worker bees finish building their first piece of comb, the queen will begin to lay eggs in it. In most places, flowers are only available during a short window of time. The bees must build up their infrastructure and workforce quickly if they wish to capitalise on this fleeting resource. Only after they have established their brood nest will they begin to store honey in large amounts.
It is common for there to be a strip of capped honey at the top of each frame in the brood nest and sometimes a full frame of honey on either end. The honey is stored this way because the bees are using it to insulate their brood nest. Any honey you find in your brood nest should be left alone for this reason.
Since bees will need time to establish their brood nest and they cannot begin to store harvestable honey until they do this, you should install your new bees in just a single box.
For Flow Hive beekeepers, this means you should leave your Flow Super in the garage until your bees have filled their brood box. Bees like to stay a warm and cozy 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) inside their cluster. When you give them more space than necessary they have to work much harder to maintain these conditions and the energy they expend doing so may result in less honey stores — not to mention stressed out bees!
After your bees have filled their first box with brood, you have the choice of adding another brood box or adding your Flow Super. Although you may be eager to see your Flow Super in action, adding a second brood box will make for a stronger and more stable colony. The second brood box often contains more honey than brood, but will fluctuate based on your colony’s needs. It gives your bees the flexibility to expand and contract their population as needed and this may result in better honey yields in the long term.
Installing nucs and packages
If you are installing a nucleus ‘nuc’ colony, make sure you transfer the frames in the original order. It doesn’t matter whether you put them in the middle of the box or to one side as long as you do not interrupt the sequence with empty frames. The drawn frames must be next to each other in order for the bees to cluster and maintain their core temperature.
If you are installing a package of bees your colony will not have comb, so you don’t have to worry about how to order it. Just hang your queen cage from the centre frame, shake the bees in, put on the roof and leave them alone for one week. If you disturb a newly installed package before they have had adequate time to start their brood nest, they may abscond from your hive. After one week they will have begun to raise larvae. Even if you do annoy them at this point, they won’t want to abandon their young.
When the bees begin to use the super, they will fill the centre frames first and expand outward. So, by the time you see honey through the windows, your super is close to full. How full the frames are with capped cells full of honey is the only information you will need to gather in the honey super. The same cannot be said of the brood nest. There is a myriad of vital information to collect from an inspection of your colony’s brood and it cannot be done by peeking through a window.
There are many different approaches to beekeeping which have bearing on when inspections are performed. I recommend that new beekeepers inspect more frequently (once every 2-4 weeks) because it aids the learning process and prevents cross-comb. Once a colony is established and the beekeeper seasoned, it can be beneficial to inspect less often as frequent disruption causes stress. When inspecting the brood some basics you should look for include:
Eggs to confirm the presence of a laying queen
A healthy brood pattern
Learning how to properly inspect your hives will take time and effort. If possible, you should seek guidance through local classes, beekeeping groups or by seeking out a mentor.
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About the Author
Hilary Kearney is a full-time beekeeper in her home town of epers each year. Her beekeeping exploits and unique business model have inspired people all around the world. She is the author of the beekeeping blog Beekeeping Like A Girl and maintains a popular Instagram account. When she’s not rescuing bees, teaching about bees, photographing bees or managing one of her sixty colonies, she’s sleeping and dreaming of bees.
The views expressed here are the beekeeper’s own and not necessarily endorsed by Flow. Every hive is different. We recommend consulting with local beekeepers, taking courses and reading widely, including this Flow sponsored pamphlet on beekeeping safety.