Honey Harvest Q & A

by Flow Hive 21 min read

Cedar is back in the Flow hive apiary, harvesting honey and answering your beekeeping questions. We got some questions on making splits and requeening, seasonal and climate questions and some examples of unusual bee behaviour. Happy beekeeping!




Video Transcription

Thank you for tuning in today. We're in the garden here and we're going to harvest some honey and answer your questions. I'm just gonna put these little shelf brackets on while you think up your questions. And if you have a look at this hive, you can see that there's not a whole lot of honey, but there are still two frames we haven't harvested recently. So you can see there that these ones are full, but a little bit patchy, showing the bees are a bit hungry. So we'll just harvest one frame today and leave anything else in the hive for the bees.

You can see in the side window here that that one is nice and full, so I'm going to harvest that one. When you see the bees are a bit hungry, there is a chance they could eat some honey out of the centre, right above the brood nest. They don't tend to do that on the edges so much, but the pattern in the back really lets you know what's going on in the hive, if you tune in. And after a while, you get the feel of what this looks like, and what's going on inside and you'll know when to harvest your hive. So we're just going to put a jar under there. We're just gonna turn this key here and it's often good to do it in segments, or you might just decide to harvest half the frame and leave the rest for the bees. The Flow Frames are quite versatile like that. You could just harvest one single cell line if you wanted to. You can see it flowing down this cell line now. And what's happening is the honey's flowing down through the honeycomb matrix and into the bottom now.

When I turn the key, half of every cell is moving upwards, creating zigzagging channels, allowing the honey to flow down through the comb, into the trough at the bottom and out. Which is my father and I's invention that really created waves back in 2015. And it's we're now happy that we've got beehives all over the world and a lot of you out there are really, really enjoying it. I'm just gonna turn this key once more, just the rest of the frame like that. And all that I've gotta do now is swap over these jars. Now, if the bees were hungry and they started to come for the honey, then we could cover this up with a bit of kitchen wrap or a honeybee wrap, those nice cloth ones.

Beekeeping Questions

How does honey get crystallised and what can we do about it?

All honey will crystallise eventually, provided it's honey that is ready. The question is, how long will it take? Now crystallising is a normal thing. If you've got honey that never crystallises, then it's possible that it's from the supermarket that's been pasteurised. So it's been heated to the point where it will not crystallise. And to me, that's not a good thing because you lose all of those precious qualities, those life-enriching qualities of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients get compromised and the enzymes and medicinal qualities by that heating pasteurisation process. So you're best off leaving it raw. This is basically a saturated solution of sugars and it starts off quite liquid and then the bees take away the moisture through various techniques. And what that does is get you to this saturated solution and it's a mixture of different sugars. Depending on the ratios of sugars and the temperature and the moisture content, all these sorts of things, you will get different candying times. So typically if it's colder, it will candy earlier. Some honeys will candy a lot earlier. For instance, we've got the paperbark honey in the valley below, it comes in in the wintertime. The wintertime also happens to be a cool time and the honey will candy in your jar, usually in weeks after you've harvested it. And sometimes even in the hive, you'll get candied or partially candied honey as well. So it's a normal process of honey. Don't be scared of it. My kids love what they call the crispy honey, the candied honey, they'll eat over the liquid honey. It's still good, it's just changed its texture. And in some colder places, beekeepers will purposefully go for the fine candies where they will seed their honey with a nice, fine candy. About 10% of a nice honey that you like the crystalline structure. You put that into your jar or vat. And it would then take on that crystalline structure and become a nice, fine candy, which is a delicacy.

Is it better to give bees salt water or tap water?

So bees need minerals. And Fred Dunn did some greatexperiments with this and he got water with a teaspoon of salt in it and some water without. And he was showing that they really do prefer to have some minerals in their water. And that's why they'll go for swimming pools that are salt pools. And that's why they'll go for mud over freshwater. So yes, a little bit of salt in there will increase the likelihood of the bees using that as a water source.

When is the best time to make a split in a subtropical zone? And how many times a year should you split?

Subtropical zones are interesting because all the beekeeping books, they pretty much talk about winter and summer. Whereas in the tropical zone, it's kind of the same all year round as far as the bees are concerned, they can forage all year round. But what you do have is a big wet season often in those tropical zones. And that can be the time when the bees don't have any flowers to forage on. So it really depends on the flowers around. So if your bees are building up, you can see they're bringing in plenty of nectar from local knowledge you know that there's some more coming, then by all means you can go ahead and keep taking splits.

While making a split, is there a preference to where the original queen should be? And should she be in the original box or should she go into the new one? How long until a new queen emerges?

So taking a split means you're taking some frames out of this hive and putting it into a new box, typically right beside it. And typically we shift the original hive over a little bit. So the flight path of the returning bees can go to the little new one. It's up to you, which one you want to put the queen in. It doesn't actually matter, but which one you put the queen in will have a headstart. So we normally will try not to hamper too much our nice going hive that's producing honey. And we let the split raise its own queen, or perhaps that's the one we're going to put the new queen in and leave the old queen. If you've got a really thriving, good hive, then you don't wanna mess with it too much by changing it all around.

If you're letting them raise their own queen, then you'll need to check back often and make sure indeed they have raised their own queen. So the queen's cycle is a 16-day gestation compared to 21 of a worker bee. So after a queen is laid then the larva will be fed royal jelly for its entire larval stage. And that's something that the bees secrete, it's kind of like mother's milk if you like. As soon as they start feeding plant proteins to larvae, usually on about day three, they'll turn into workers.

So the queen will get fed exclusively on the royal jelly. And that will not only speed up the process of that queen going through its metamorphosis, but it will also supersize her. So she'll get her longer abdomen, bigger legs and everything she needs to be a laying queen. Isn't that amazing? You've got this situation where exactly the same genetics, one gets fed one thing, one gets fed another, and one turns into a queen and one doesn't. So it's this incredible display of epigenetics there. And so 16 days is the cycle. So if you are letting them raise their own queen, then they need eggs to start with. So you would've pulled out some frames with some eggs on them and put them into your split. And so 16 days later you should see a queen cell either just emerged into the hive or ready to emerge. So that's about the timeframe. And then it might take another couple of weeks for her to mate, because that is weather dependent. She might mate straight away, or she might mate on the next good sunny day. Depends who she finds on Bumble.

I'm requeening this weekend for the first time. Do you recommend waiting eight hours after removing the old queen before introducing the new one? What's your experience with not waiting the eight hours?

So it is quite a discussed topic and most people will wait a day, just come back the next day and put it in. However, some people do what's called walking the queen in, where they just put the queen on their hand and put it in the entrance and either walk it in straight away or a day later. And that saves that process of coming back and taking the box off again. However, the success rate of techniques like that is disputed. So probably the most common one is wait a day and open up the hive again and put your queen in its little queen cage right between the top bars of the brood frames. Put your hive back together and fingers crossed, the hive will accept that queen. She comes in a little cage and that cage has a block of candy at the end and the bees will chew away at that candy and she'll be released a day or two later into the hive. And that delay tactic is simply so the hive can get used to her pheromones. Sometimes if you just introduce a queen without that delay, then the colony is more likely to kill the new queen.

Do bees in Flow Hives still make comb, or do they just seal over the honey?

So in the bottom box, it's the same as it has been for forever almost, since Langstroth designed this kind of hive anyway. And pretty much the same as in a natural cavity, because all we're giving them in the bottom box is wooden sticks and they hang theirnatural comb from it. You can put foundation or you can put plastic comb in the bottom if you want to, but we just to leave it perfectly natural for the bees down there. They can size the cells for themselves. And it's just a bit less work than putting in foundation as well. And I find in order of preference, the bees, the preference would go empty space they build comb in first, then it would go wax foundation, then it goes plastic foundation.

So by giving them just empty space, as in just a frame to fill in, they really get in there quite quickly and start building the comb. It does come with a con though, and that's that sometimes they go a bit wonky when you are doing perfectly natural drawn comb in the brood box. So sometimes you do need to fix it up, straighten them out so they can still service the brood nest. In the top box where our invention is, we've given them a partially formed honeycomb cell, as you say, and the bees will then complete all the gaps between the cells and then draw their natural comb out further and fill it with nectar, go through that process of dewatering that nectar. And then eventually when they're happy with the moisture content, they'll seal it off, ready for you to harvest.

What do you do with all the honey? And do you have an online or a shop for it?

We don't, we have done some collaborations. We made a honey beer with stone and wood. But the bulk of the honey actually gets eaten by all of the hungry hive here. Everybody takes it home. Most of the staff have a hive at home, but it's surprising how quickly it disappears when you put a whole box of jars on the bench, you turn around and it's gone. And also I give a lot of it away. Honey's a beautiful gift and people just love it. We have thought a lot about whether we open up a storefront, but we're too busy making hives at the moment.

There is a little bit of space underneath my Flow Frames where the bees can just get through. I had trouble getting the box completely square when I put it together. Is that why this is happening?

Okay. you probably have the Auracaria wood. The western red cedar is the most stable wood, but other woods do change size a little bit. You notice in your own house, the door will start scraping on the floor when the rains come, because the door's actually gotten a little bit bigger. And the same thing can happen to these side panels. So what you might find if it's a wetter time where you are, the side panels will actually grow in size a little bit and a gap can open up under the frames. Typically the bees will propolis that up after a while, which is perfect because they're filling it with a flexible substance that will take up that space. But you can easily fix that quickly by just putting something right under the frames.

One of our comb guides, something like that, you can just cut to length and put in that place. If you need to block up that gap or anything really. And the bees will quickly get onto that and add propolis and will block up that area. Not ideal, but it's a quick solution because you don't really the bees escaping from underneath the frames here. The other thing to do of course is make sure your frames are pushed all the way this way. Sometimes you can get into a situation where the frames are pushed far back that way. And that's creating a gap between this metal strip here and the bottom of the frames. So that's part of the setup process is to push the frames this way. And there's a little adjustment screw on the back of the frames to make sure they're pushed up against this face here. And we've got a nice flat window. So I hope that helps, but by all means,get in touch with our customer support if you need a bit of a hand to get that sorted.

I caught a small swarm yesterday and put them in the Flow Hive. Should I feed them sugar syrup to help them get established? There's not a great deal of nectar around here at the moment. (Victoria, NSW)

That's not a bad idea. I would always suggest feeding bees if they're starving. Ideally, they collect their own nectar, that's more healthy for them. But if it's a choice between starving and possibly dying out, or living on and thriving, then go ahead and feed them some sugar syrup. So in this case, you'll be feeding them a thin syrup, a stimulating nectar, and that would be a one to one ratio of sugar to water.

My Flow Hive is ready and I'll be getting bees in March. When my brood box begins to fill up, would it be best to move a frame or two up to the super or just let them naturally find their way to the top?

I tend to advise no. What you get usually is beekeepers who aren't used to the Flow Hive thinking, that's what you should do. And you end up with the situation where they've moved a few frames up here and you open the window and bees are coming out everywhere and so on, and it doesn't really tend to speed up anything that I've noticed. So you're better off just leaving it in this configuration. And that's what most people do. And it works just fine. And it's a bit of a game of patience. When the bee numbers are really increasing, there are lots of bees in the window and there's a good nectar flow, it'll start happening quite quickly. But until then, they'll probably just use the comb in the bottom box.

Do you have much of a nectar flow in your area now? Have you noticed a change in the brood laying patterns now that the season is changing?

What's happening now in this locale is it's a little bit short on nectar. So that's why we're just harvesting a frame and we're gonna leave the rest. As far as the brood pattern goes, what you find when they're a little bit hungry, is the queen will start to lay fewer eggs. And that's their natural process of throttling the size of the hive to the availability of nectar. And that's what they do so that they can survive because there's no point in having a massive colony and nothing to feed them all.

I set up my Flow Hive in November in Sydney, and last month I added the super. There are quite a few inside, but I can't see them making any honey. Because we've had all this rain, should I take the super off for a little while to give them a chance to just fill out the brood and get strong again, after having such a bad weather patch?

It's nice and warm here. I wouldn't take it off again. I would just exercise a bit of patience and wait till they get up there. If you get most of the way through and they haven't really used them, then you take them off again and reduce the size of the hive down to something that's more suitable for the size of the colony for the winter. But if you've got the Flow super on there and it was a good time to put it on, then just leave it on there. It's a nice warm time of year in the Southern hemisphere. So it won't hamper them.

Would it be possible for me to keep a hive on my patio in Las Vegas, Nevada, or would the temperature be too hot?

If it's a patio, it means you've probably got a covered roof over it, which is quite a nice thing in a really hot time. Here in Australia it gets quite hot, gets up to 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit) here in summer and the bees are fine. So I dare say, it'll be fine in Nevada. And we do have a lot of customers there as well. So ask around about whether there is a temperature issue. But generally, you find that bees are very resourceful. They can handle extremes of hot and extremes of cold, and they do that through various air conditioning techniques. So they will look for water when it's really hot. They'll bring that back to the hive. It's one of the last jobs bees get to do in their short life. And they'll use evaporative cooling techniques by fanning that water and lowering the temperature in the hive because they need to keep this about our body temperature for the brood nest to survive. 

Similarly in the cold, they have a technique where they disconnect their wing muscles and vibrate, and that creates heat. And they're able to keep the hive warm enough. Now in extreme cold, they will actually stop laying brood because they might not be able to keep it warm enough. And they also know that there's not much nectar around in those times. So they'll just be doing their thing and warming their hive and keeping their brood chamber warm enough for the bees to survive.

Do the bees tend to eat more honey in times of colder weather? (Portugal)

I certainly noticed that when there's no honey coming in, they will really start to use honey. But in the times of colder weather, what they tend to do is throttle themselves right down, and the queen can even stop laying eggs altogether, which means that they don't have babies to feed. Now it takes a frame of honey and a frame of pollen to raise a frame of brood. So it really does use a lot of honey, that process of building up the hive and maintaining it at strong numbers. So in the colder times, there'll be less honey consumed by the bees because the colony is getting smaller and is no longer feeding the brood. And they will also raise what's called fat bees. And that's bees that have a fatter body. They're still worker bees and they're built to last through the winter. So that's an interesting little twist. So the forager bees typically only last say four to six weeks, but the fat bees, where they're built to last and they're not going out foraging. They can last six months or perhaps even longer in those extreme cold places where you get snow for that long. And that's an amazing part of evolution as well.

The bees are going well in my super, but I need to remove it to apply a Varroa treatment in the next few weeks. The super needs to be removed so the treatment doesn't get in the honey in the Flow Frames. There is lots of uncapped honey in the Flow Frames. How do you recommend storing this for winter? Or what should we do?

The best thing to store frames, if they've still got a bit of honey and nectar in them is tokeep them cold. So in a climate like this, that's in a deep freeze and that would keep it perfectly good for next time you want to put it back on again. If you're in a really cold climate, perhaps you don't need a deep freeze because it's freezing anyway. But you'll probably need to keep it away from vermin and things that might find a nice little home in your Flow Hive box. And then come spring again, you can put it back onto your hive. If you're not in a cold area and you don't want to use a deep freeze, then the best thing you could do is let the bees eat all of the honey.

So you might harvest and then let them eat the last remaining bits of honey and put them away when they're dry. If you're in a warm climate and you have nectar left on your frames, then fermentation and mould and things will set in and it would just be a bit more of a mess for you and the bees to clean up next season. So as far as the Varroa treatment goes, then I'm no expert in that because we don't have those pesky mites here in Australia. But if you have a look atTheBeekeeper.org, we do have training videos on that. And you'll also find lots of information out there on different methods to deal with mites.

Can honey be graded or not? And if yes, how can we grade it? (Fiji)

People really are cherishing the Flow Hive honey because you're going single frames straight to the jar. And that means one frame might be this kind of colour and another might be really light yellow, and another one might be almost black. And through that process, you're really isolating different flavours. And that's a wonderful thing to be able to share. And some people are telling that story when they're marketing their honey as well. And people are really appreciating, that it's had zero processing and it's a single frame honey, so each flavour is a bit unique to each frame. As far as grading goes, there is some taste testing literature that we have that helps you go through the process of learning to taste, test and appreciate the fine nuances of honey and the viscosities and so on. Like they do when they're doing honey competitions.

I just set up my new Flow Hive and had some bees put in by a local beekeeper. The beekeeper recommended closing the entrance up so it's only a quarter of the size. Is that good practice?

It's something that some people do. We have an entrance reducer that can close it up, but you can just use anything. It really depends, if it's a hive on its own and you're in a warm climate then I wouldn't bother because the likelihood of another hive coming to steal its honey, as it's getting on its feet is pretty low. And they need ventilation in this hot time of year, if you are indeed in a hot place. So I'd just leave it open, but it doesn't hurt to close it as well. One thing you can do, which is interesting, is you can get some straw from the garden and poke it in the entrance and the bees will pull that out if they don't want it there and open up the entrance. That's a technique you can use if there's robbing as well. You can poke straw in there all the way down to just one bee wide and that'll give them a much easier hive to defend if there are robber bees around. And they'll just clean that out again. So you don't necessarily have to go back to that hive again. The bees will deal with it and take away the entrance as needed.

My bees are working the Flow Frame really well. However, they aren't putting any honey in the back couple of cells. So it looks like there isn't any honey ready to harvest when looking in the back view. But I've pulled the frames out and they are pretty full and capped. What might be going on there?

That's super interesting. We had one hive in amongst 20 that would never fill the back cells. And so there could be a genetic thing there. Light getting in can also do that. Sometimes you'll find if you leave your cover off accidentally, they'll actually move all the honey away from the window. So light getting in could be a factor. So if you're seeing honey in the side windows and it's nice and capped, you can sort of look down between the frames and see the capping. And as you said, you've pulled some frames out and had a little look then you're good to harvest, even though they didn't fill those last cells.

Is it normal for bees to fill up the middle brood frames with honey?

The middle brood frames with honey is unusual. Typically, they'll start their colony in the centre and move out towards the extremities. But sometimes it's lopsided and you'll find that the brood nest is all over to one side and the honey is on the other side. Just depends a little bit where they have started, but they usually will strive to have the honey on the edges because it's a thermal mass and acts as a bit of insulation that helps them keep the centre at the temperature they want to. So that is unusual. If you're seeing that, check that you have indeed got larvae and brood in your hive. Sometimes you can get a situation where the queen has died or is no longer laying. And the bees just fill all the frames with honey down the bottom and the colony is slowly dwindling at that point.

What does it mean to see aggressive bees? What is an example of aggressive behaviour?

So you will get hives that are aggressive, that's their natural thing. And sometimes your queen will go and mate and get some aggressive traits from drones and bring those genetics back into the hive. And what you get is a hive that's more territorial. And if that's bothering you, then you might need to do something about it. But if it's not, then you can just let them go on doing their thing. Aggressive behaviour typically starts when you get close to the hive and a bee will come and be really quite erratic like this around your face.

You get a few different patterns. Some bees are sort of sting first, ask questions later, but a lot will tend to give you a bit of a warning by really this kind of aggressive movement around your face, saying back off, get out of here. And that's typical aggressive behaviour of bees. They'll tend to be more territorial on the entrance side of the hive. So there are the extremes of bees that get aggressive when you even go near the hive and others that you can pull right apart and they're so gentle. But the process, if you do have aggression that you don't want in your hive, is to replace the queen with a mated queen with known genetics. That will change the genetics in the hive after about three or four weeks when all of the foragers and guard bees have moved on.

Do you need two hives to prevent swarms? I'm about to buy a Flow Hive and I'm wondering if I need one or two. (United Kingdom)

I would always say two is better than one. I might be a bit biased there because I love bees and beekeeping and honey. But the reason why I say that is because for one you can benchmark. You'll typically get, if you get two hives, one that's doing great one season and the other one, not so much. So it means you're more likely to get some produce as well. But also if you run into trouble where one hive loses its queen, you can get some brood from this hive with some eggs down the cells and put it into the other one. They can raise their own queen from it. So it makes you more self-sufficient in your beekeeping. It might take you some time to rectify that situation if you've got to get a mail-order queen, or you've got to get a frame from somebody else, whereas if you can fix it right then and there it's much better. So a couple of hives is better than one, but having said that if you want to tiptoe into it, then get one and build up from there.

Our harvest is just about finished. Thank you much for tuning in and all your great questions. You could wait for this jar to fill up, if you had the time or at this stage, you can just let the rest go back into the hive for the bees. We designed a leak-back point for that to happen. We are taking this key out and we're putting it into the top slot. There are two slots here. This is an important stage. And if you forget to do this, then the cap won't fit in the top and that's a little reminder. Leave your key like that for a minute or so, if you can, because wax and propolis kind of resist movement, it's slow-moving stuff.

And that will help push all those parts back to where they should be. Now taking this tube out and putting this cap in, the remaining drops are going back into the hive. And after a while, you'll even see the bees' tongues licking away and licking up that remaining honey there.

They can lick about seven millimetres through a gap. They poke their heads through a little bit and their tongue pokes out. It's covered in kind of these branched hairs and they're able to mop it up. Now, sometimes the bees will block that up when it's dried out and you'll need to unblock that. So it's one little piece of maintenance you can do from time to time. You can unblock it with the key here or the tube automatically unblocks it each time you insert that tube.

Thanks so much for your wonderful questions. Have a look atTheBeekeeper.org if you really want to get some training material that's quite in-depth. It's made to take you from square one, right through to deep even scientific knowledge of beekeeping. There are experts from all around the world providing amazing content for that. It's getting rave reviews. Same time next week. We'll have something interesting to show you. Thanks for tuning in.

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