Cedar is here to answer your beekeeping questions again. Topics ranged from telling the difference between swarming and orientation flights, to honey-bound hives, to what size hive is best for your climate.
Good morning and thank you for joining us here on the live Q& A. So this morning, we'll just be answering questions, anything to do with Flow Hives and beekeeping to help you get started in beekeeping. So if you've got questions, put them in those comments below and Trace, our office manager who keeps the wheels on, will read those questions out and we'll try and answer all your questions. Now, I was wondering if we could harvest a little bit of honey this morning, but I'm looking here going no, the bees are too hungry and I can tell that because of the way they are chewing out some of the cells. If I look at the back of the hive here, my suspicions are confirmed with the cells were all full like that, but they've eaten some of the honey away. So right now we're going to leave the honey for the bees.
This is interesting. What's happening right here. We observed that there wasn't much honey, and right here, I just observed a worker bee trying to tear the wings off a drone. So it's a bit brutal, but a hive when it comes to the scarce forage, the drone bees don't do any kind of service inside the hive that we know of. So they're the first ones to go if they need to downsize the number of hungry mouths in the hive. So the worker bees will actually kick 'em out and they'll jump on their backs and they'll try and pull on their wings and so on. So that also confirms what I'm seeing in the observation windows of the bees aren't storing any honey, they're actually consuming it at the moment. So that's why we're not doing any harvesting here today.
I'm a new beekeeper and installed a package in late April. Every so often, usually about the same time of day, I see a swirl of bees flying around the hive. How can I tell whether this is an orientation flight, robbing, or a swarm? (Northern California, USA)
So often orientation gets confused for swarming. Now they are a bit different. If you start to observe them up close, now, orientation will be less of a frenzy. And typically the pattern that the bees do when they're orientating is, if you've had a, a few days, perhaps it's been raining, perhaps it's been a bit grey and cold, and there's meanwhile, a whole lot of bees that are emerging from the cells inside the hive. They're starting to do their chores and they will wait like good little bees for an appropriate time to do their orientation. And they'll do it in a group as a mass. So you might find that it's the first sunny patch after rain. You'll see a whole lot of bees sort of flying aimlessly around the entrance, which can look like a swarm if there's a lot of them. So they're all flying around here in a big cloud. And what they're doing is they're just taking off, flying around and coming back again to the hive. And they're taking in landmarks and that's their first flight. They're testing out their wings, they're orientating to this spot here and they really do kind of GPS locate this spot using landmarks and who knows what, they're quite intelligent like that. Swarming, on the other hand, you'll see this kind of mass exodus when they swarm where there's literally a moving carpet of bees coming out of the hive continuously, and they'll typically start flying around in a group somewhere in the air and consolidating themselves into a swarm. So that's the start of a swarm.
Why do you use single brood boxes? Are there any advantages?
Okay, so it's a choice as a beekeeper to how you configure your hive. I like to do it like this because it's simple. If you're looking for the queen, there's only one box to look through, less boxes to lift off when you go to do your brood inspections and so on. So just keeps it simple. I guess one of the drawbacks is you'll need to manage swarming a bit more if your colony is actually smaller and to do that, it's a nice idea to do splits. So I prefer to run smaller colonies, split them in spring than I do to run large colonies and try not to let them swarm. But if you want to add extra brood boxes or extra supers, by all means, go and do that. A lot of beekeepers do. And that will increase the size of that colony. And in some places where you've got long, cold winters that the bees have to bunker down in, it is a good idea to add either another brood box so they've got honey storage up the edges of the hive. They typically store honey on their edge frames. So that'll give them a bit more storage or you might add another super for a bit more storage of honey as well to get them through that long snowy cold time.
Would a Flow Hive work in South America?
The answer is yes, we have, we have Flow Hives in South America and it's a good area. A lot of honey does get produced in South America. It's one of the larger honey-producing areas in the world and they actually have a lot of our eucalypt trees from Australia here. Beautiful honey. You'll be in a more subtropical or tropical region depending on where you are. Climate might be similar to here where you can actually get honey flows going all year round, great place to keep bees.
Where do you put your beehive number on your hives?
We usually just write them down in the corner of the brood box, because we're doing a lot of show and tells we don't have them big and loud and proud. But if you have a look on our boxes, you'll see we've got our number just written down in the corner there. And that's a requirement here in Australia to have your hives numbered with your identification number and to register your hives. And there's a little donation there to help keep bees healthy in this country and keep away the varroa mites from coming in and all sorts of good things. So make sure you do register, we do send out reminder emails for that, but if you haven't yet registered your hive, then go to the DPI and register and you'll get a number to write on your hive. And you also get things like access to AFB tests and things if you've identified some possibly problematic cells in your hive.
Does colour matter at all when painting the hive?
The answer is no, bees don't care. But have a little think about if you do really have hot summers and your hives are in the sun, then you might want to use some lighter colours so the hive doesn't get too hot in that summer sunshine.
Why do you paint the roof on your Western Red Cedar hives?
The roof really does get the weather. It's got the sun beating down on it. It's got the dust and things collecting on it. It's got the birds that poop on it and so on. And if you don't paint it, you'll find it will be more susceptible to cracks and things and water coming in and so on. So what you wanna do is give it a good weather seal with some outdoor house paint and get that paint in any cracks and crevices to provide yourself a weather seal on top of your hive.
With the change of seasons and lots of trees in our yard, our hive isn't really getting any direct sunlight. Should we move it to get more sun? (Gold Coast, Australia)
Not a bad idea. This hive here, we actually did the myth-busting with the chalkbrood, and chalkbrood is more susceptible in a hive that has dampness and cold. So moving into that sun, it's not a bad idea. The ideal situation is a bit of sun in the winter and in summer, you've got some shade, especially in the afternoon as that sun really beats down on your hive. Now this hive here, it's still got the chalkbrood issue and we've worked out what our next step is. We tried the banana skins, didn't work. And the next thing we're actually gonna do is take away all the brood comb. So we're gonna add another brood box, let the brood emerge from here and have an excluder underneath. And they'll start building down below in another box, so they'll have fresh comb. And then we'll also replace the queen for some more hygienic genetics, and I think that'll sort it out and kick out that pathogen. You can see here, we're still having a bit of trouble in the tray with a couple of these chalkbrood mummies here. So you can see them there. If you see them in the tray, these chalkbrood things, then that's a sign that your hive is struggling with that fungus, but sunshine helps.
The bees in my brood box have been storing nectar in the cells. And as soon as the bee is born, there is nowhere for the queen to lay. They haven't been going up to the Flow Frames to store nectar. So I added a second brood box with foundation and the bees used all the nectar to make wax for the new frames. And now they are back-filling with pollen. I still don't have room for the queen to lay eggs. What do you recommend? (Queensland, Australia)
Okay, so that's that's a great question and well done for being so involved and noticing so much in your hive. Generally the bees will sort that out. So if you're not seeing any brood at all, and I'm not sure whether you are or you aren't, then you've probably got a problem, perhaps your queen isn't laying. If you're only seeing a tiny bit of brood and there is a lot of nectar around, then perhaps the queen isn't laying enough and you might need to change her for a new one that can lay a lot more eggs. So generally you don't have to manipulate to allow space for the queen. The bees will do that. If they need space, they'll just shift the honey upstairs and make room for the queen to lay.
There is something called honey-bound, though, where if you've got a hive and there is no space to move it, then the queen might struggle to find enough places to lay. So it sounds like perhaps you did have a honey-bound issue. You put more boxes on, but they're still not moving it. And my answer there would be, they will move it when they're ready to. If you want to get more activity on your Flow Frames, then I would take the other box off and just reduce to this configuration, let them get started on the Flow Frames and then put the other one back on. But of course you've possibly got brood in there, or maybe you've got all honey. You can either store some honey in the full frames in a freezer, or temporarily for a couple of weeks, you could leave them off the hive, but longer than that, and you might get issues with fermentation and the beetles might find it and so on. The short answer is if the bees need room to lay and there's empty space in your hive, they'll move it when they're ready.
I often see a lot of bees hanging outside the hive at nightime. Just wondering why do they do that? (Southeast Oklahoma, USA)
They're just enjoying the evening air really, but they need to make room in the hive to ventilate. If you are in your season where the bees are really building up, then you can notice that if they they're not all fitting inside the hive or even if they are and the day's been warm, a whole lot of them will have to come outta the hive to allow room for the bees to get the ventilation going, get the airflow going and maintain the hive, particularly the brood nest at about body temperature. So the bees are busy trying to manage that and too many bees in the hive means they can't. So they're literally just vacating to allow ventilation. So it's a perfectly normal thing on hot days, if your colony is healthy and there's been some good nectar flows to see a lot of bees at the front, often hanging down a bit, sometimes spreading right up the front of your hive means you've got a good strong colony. If you've got that many bees in your hive, you might consider taking a split and getting another colony going or you could add another brood box or super. If you don't do anything, it's potential that the hive will swarm. If you open the side windows and you can't see the frames because of so many bees and it's in that season where there's a lot of nectar, they may gear up and half the hive will leave for a new home. So you really wanna avoid that.
What is your opinion on ventilation in hives?
It's quite a topic, ventilation. And it's the old, if you ask two beekeepers, you'll get five answers. But basically the vents here on these hives are designed for you to control it if you want to. So we've got vents down here. We've got cooler nights at the moment. And what that means is, this piece of wood rests up against this here and stops the airflow going up under the screen and up into the hive. So it makes it a bit more cosy for the bees. In the warmer months we turn it around this way. Having said that, I spoke to a very experienced beekeeper in Europe recently, and he said that they use a mesh bottom board, like we have a screen bottom board and no ventilation stopper all winter and it's fine. And they've got snow, they've got really cold times and they don't even bother with any kind of ventilation control. They just allow it fully open at the bottom. I guess the answer is I wouldn't be too worried about cold, but when it comes time to your bees getting a bit hot and they're really bearding out the front and trying to fan and cool, then perhaps give them some more ventilation, if you haven't already, or you can even take the tray out altogether and give them a lot more airflow into the hive.
I recently read that raising European honey bees can be detrimental to native bees. Just curious on your thoughts on that? (Florida, USA)
So that question's been coming up quite a bit lately and I keep some native beehives as well, the little stingless bees and I often see them foraging on flowers together without animosity. And it's my personal opinion that the nectar flow ebbs and flows, there'll be plenty for everybody. And then there'll be times where there's not much for anybody. So I think that it's also important that we really think about this topic carefully. There's so many parts to it. So this will be a long answer, but yes, here in Australia, the European honeybee is not our native bee, but it's become an essential part of our food chain. It's now vitally important. One third of the things we eat wouldn't be there on the supermarket shelf if we didn't have pollination by the European honeybees. A hive like this can pollinate 50 million flowers a day, there is no other insect or thing on the planet that can do that.
So they ship hives from Queensland to South Australia to do pollination. And if they don't then the almonds won't set, for instance. So we've got an agricultural system that relies on the European honeybee, on beekeepers, on an intact pollination network. So that's an important piece to the puzzle. So if you go, well, let's not keep the European honeybee, then we're in trouble. And the other bit is I think it's an important thing not to in-fight. People who are sticking up for the European honeybee and people are sticking up from the native bees are both after the same thing and that's safe habitat for bees to forage on. And that's really the thing we need to be focused on is not whether this is better than that. It's let's get some habitat going. Let's get more safe flowers for bees to feed on. Let's support our native bees, let's support our butterflies, our bats and everything that is nectar feeding. And that's why we started our Billions of Blossoms programme. And that's being funded by TheBeekeeper.org. If you haven't checked out that, have a look. It's an online course, experts from all over the world take you from square one, right through to even a deep, scientific knowledge in beekeeping. And this year, we're really happy to be planting a million trees from the funds fromTheBeekeeper.org. And we're doing that because we recognise that habitat is the key here. And habitat is what we all need to be doing, whether it be in our backyard or on a mass scale, because without that habitat, then the native bees will go extinct. The European honey bees will have more and more trouble. And eventually won't survive. There are places in the world where bees of any type won't survive simply because the habitat isn't there for them. There isn't the biodiversity, there isn't the balanced diet and people are climbing up trees with feathers to pollinate the apples. So 420 million hectares since 1990 of forest has been destroyed. We need to start putting that back. And that's why we're planting a million trees this year. And hopefully we'll be doing the same thing next year.
We have really cold winters here. Is it okay to keep the Flow Frames with the honey in it, on the brood box and remove the queen excluder? Can it break the Flow Frames if they freeze over winter? (Northeeast Canada)
No, I've done extensive testing in cold and I've still got frames sitting at minus 18 degrees for the last six years and that they're still fine. So you know, it does get colder than that in Canada, but your frames will be fine in the cold. If you do have any problems, do let us know. If you choose to do that, get some local advice on whether you should be leaving your super on in your area, but I don't see why you shouldn't. If you remove that queen excluder, the bees can get up there and consume that honey, the queen's not going to be laying at that time. So you're unlikely to get any eggs in your Flow Frames. But come back to springtime then you will need to shake all the bees down to the bottom box and put your excluded back in place to then make sure your queen is then laying in your brood frames. Some queens will lay in Flow Frames and some won't. So it's luck of the draw. Some people choose to run with no excluder. I've got some hives like that, but it's very queen-specific.
We are getting a little bit of water in our bottom tray. Why do you think that's happening?
Rain can drive into the entrance of your hive. So if you've got driving rain here, if we had an easterly wind and a lot of rain, then it's pretty hard to stop water coming into the entrance, despite our efforts of putting slopes there and so on at the front. And what you'll find is water will build up in the tray. So if you've had a bit of rain and especially wind and rain, then pull your tray out and just empty it out and clean it out.
You often recommend people in colder climates use seven-frame Flow Hives. Why should people in colder climates use a bigger hive?
So this is what we call a 6-frame, and this is a 7-frame Flow Hive. And the difference is this one's 52 millimetres wider, or one Flow Frame wider. In the bottom box, we've got eight frames here and 10 frames in the bottom box. So that's an 8-frame Langstroth brood box and that's a 10 frame Langstroth brood box down the bottom. So they're the two most common hive sizes in the world. And that's why we went for those sizes. So you could match what people already have. And the reason why in colder climates, the larger one is preferred is because you typically get honey storage on the edges of your brood box and they use it as a thermal mass. And that allows them to have a bit more storage in their hive. Now, typically if you've got a double brood box, there'll be a lot of honey in that next box up. So it's really just about storage and a slightly larger colony, which will help survive a long, cold snowy winter. Having said that, a lot of people do keep bees in the smaller size in the cold places as well.
Does it also mean if you're in a hot climate, can you still use a seven-frame Flow Hive?
Yes, absolutely. It's a very common size here in Australia and New Zealand and the USA is this 10-frame size. There's been a bit of a migration towards the smaller size by beekeepers, simply because the boxes are a bit lighter to lift when they're full of honey. So that makes them a bit easier to manage.
When I look in the rear access cover of my super it looks like there's not much honey, but I have done an inspection and realise the Flow Frames are full of honey, except for the Flow Frame cells at the front which don't look full. Can I still harvest, even though it looks like there's no honey in my rear excess cover?
Genetics plays a little bit of a role in whether the bees will fill the frame to the edge and you can get situations where all of the hives except for one of them is filling that to the edge, and one won't. You could have genetics at play, or you also could just have the bees haven't had quite enough nectar to fill to the edges. But if you have gotten in there and had a look and you can see plenty of honey, then by all means, go ahead and harvest. You want it to be at least 70% capped with their capping on there. So that moisture content will be down below that 20% range and will keep in the jar on the shelf. So your honey won't ferment.
What's your preferred method of keeping track of the hives and the inspections in your apiary? Do you use an app? Do you write it down?
I think this would be a good one to shout out to the audience, to ask what everybody's using. Some people use a book, some people use an app. I have to say that I struggle with running a company and a family and everything and keeping track of everything. So I've actually got other people that do that for me, that keep track of which is what in the apiary now. And one person uses an app and another person uses a notebook. But it's a good idea to keep track, especially if you are moving things around. So if you do have an outbreak of AFB or EFB, for instance, you can know where that equipment was shared to. Flow Hives are great in the regard that you can just keep the equipment with that hive. You're not taking all of the boxes off the top, going to a processing shed and trying to bring them all back to the same hive, which almost never happens. So it does limit the spread like that, but because we're doing all sorts of wonderful things with bees, we do move things around sometimes. So we do keep a track of that just in case. Pete, who lots of people would've seen on Facebook live, who does a lot of the apiary stuff. He keeps pretty intensive notes, and then he puts them onto this big spreadsheet. He uses his phone a lot for notes, that's what he's doing.
I get asked about package bees a lot. Most people don't realise your population drops significantly in the first three weeks before growing. Do you agree with that?
On a package, that makes a lot of sense because it's not something we do much here. We have orderedpackages here just to see what that's like. Some places in the world that's a popular way to get started. It's basically an artificial swarm where a beekeeper or breeder has shaken a lot of bees into a box. And they put in a mated queen in a little cage with a box of candy at the end, and they've shipped it to you in the mail. And what you'll then do is shake them into your box and they'll start from that, basically like a swarm. A few days later, the queen will emerge from her cage after the candy's been eaten away and away they go. Now you can expect a bit of a dip, as you say, because if you think about what they need to do, they need to create enough comb to do all of the jobs in a hive. So they need to create comb for the queen to lay in. And that's something she'll start, but no young can be raised until they've also got some nectar and some pollen stores to feed the young. So it's a bit of a dicey spot in, in the starting of a colony where they don't have the framework to do everything they need to survive. But they need to build that before all of the forager bees actually come to the end of their life, which might be four or six weeks. So they, hopefully fingers crossed, will get it together. They usually do. And you'll have a thriving colony in the months to come.
Do I need to have safety equipment as beginner?
Absolutely. So if you haven't ordered them with your purchase, you will get a reminder email about that. It's important to make sure you have your safety equipment. You have your bee suit. Some people also have allergies like they do to peanuts and things from stings. So be aware of that as well. You need your gloves, you need your smoker, you'll need your hive tool.
Do bees prefer a variety of flowers or is it okay to just have one type of flowers dominating for the bees?
Basically bees do need a variety, but often you'll find one flower does dominate. So if you've got a situation where you've got, say all canola or rapeseed around you, and that's the only thing that's flowering bees will eventually possibly get sick because they don't have enough variety of pollen bees need a balanced diet, just like we do. And if they're always on one thing, then they will get sick. So typically there are enough other things flowering around to keep them going. And farmers are learning now. Bee friendly farming is something that's picking up pace in the USA and here in Australia where farmers are now allowing hedgerows of flowers for not only the European honeybee, but all the native bee species to allow basically a more balanced diet, which is important for the bees. But you will get big pulses of things and that's okay, where maybe it'll be all ironbark flowering on the ridge and that's what they're going for. But next month you might find it’s something else and so on. So you get those pollen stores coming into the hives and providing that balanced diet.
Thank you very much for all your great questions for tuning in today. Let us know some of the things you'd like us to cover, and we will put together some nice live streams and Q & A for you same time next week. Thank you very much.
Want more? Watch past videos, and get notified of livestreams as they stream on Facebook here.