Your first brood inspection

by Flow Hive 31 min read

In today’s beekeeping livestream, Cedar demonstrated a brood inspection, while focusing on the steps and questions about doing so for the first time. He explained how to open the hive, remove the frames and check for diseases. He answered a lot of questions on doing inspections, including ones about safety and using the smoker, how often you should inspect and how many bees are in a hive. Other questions covered topics such as beekeeping in cold climates and harvesting honey.


Video transcription

Brood Inspection

What I thought we'd do is go through a brood inspection, showing you actually how to do it while we talk about it. Last week, we talked about it, but it's nice to have a practical example. So one of the first things we're going to do is get your smoker going with nice, cool smoke. We've set fire to the hay in here. It's important that you respect any fire danger issues. At some times of the year, or if it's been particularly dry, you might be allowed to light a smoker at all. Here it’s been nice and wet, so we're not too concerned, but do bear that in mind. And it's a nice idea to rest this on a metal lid if it's dry, like a garbage bin lid in front of the hive.

So once you've lit it, you can keep puffing it till it's blowing nice, cool smoke. Bear in mind that this can get quite hot as well as you close the lid. Now, once you've got it going expelling nice, cool smoke, you can actually put a little bit on your hands too. Although you're probably going to be wearing your gloves for your first brood inspection. You can add a little bit more fuel, top it up. You don't want it running out. I'm just using the garden mulch that I have available here. 

What we want to do is put three good puffs into the entrance of the hive. You don't just want to go kind of out here. Make sure you get the nozzle of the smoker right in the gap there, give three good puffs, and then just leave it a minute or so. And you can then rest the smoker somewhere near the entrance of the hive. So as the bees return, they're getting the wafts of smoke, which will help calm them down. 

Now, if it's your first brood inspection, you probably don't have the super on yet, but that depends a bit on how you've started. Perhaps you started by swapping from a conventional hive into a Flow Hive. In which case you might have the super on straight away if you have a big colony. This one, the super has been on for some time and they’ve been working on it, but you can't see any honey in the windows yet. 

So the first thing to do is just get a bit of an appraisal of your hive. Actually, the first thing before going near the entrance to the hive is to make sure you protect yourself. It's worth really protecting yourself and making sure that you're staying nice and calm. So you don't need to be a hero and go and try and do it with no bee suit. Like you see some beekeepers doing, you want to make sure you're protected from stings.

So the two zips go across in the middle. The first one goes up, the two zips go across and then the flap goes down. And that just means it's unlikely that any bees can get through that joint there. Next, you've got your glance. I'm not going to wear these, but if it's your first inspection, do wear your gloves. And as you get more comfortable, start to know your colony, you can experiment with not wearing gloves. 

Opening the hive

The next thing to do, if you've got a Flow Hive, is unscrew these little wing screws here.  They may be done up and may be holding your roof on. There we go. So we might as well take the roof off. That'll make it a little bit lighter to lift this box. Now we've already established that there is not a lot of honey in this box. I'm not too worried, but if you've got a box full of honey and it's really heavy, you might need to get some help to actually lift the super off the hive.

You can see there’s no honey showing yet, but the bees are working down the cells, joining up all the parts. Another tip is to take this piece off because it creates a nice handle here to lift the hive, put that aside. You've got another handle on the other side and just prepare yourself for the lift. It's much easier to lift if you're standing beside the hive because the weight isn't so far out. So if you're standing this way and you can use this point as a lift point as well, then the weight is further out and it's just a bit heavier. 

Next you're going to want somewhere to put it because underneath you've got a whole lot of bees clinging to the bottom and you don't want to squash them. So I've just lined up the garden edge here where I can then put the hive down on an edge so the bees won't get squashed on the ground. but if you don't have that, then a brick or up against the lid or anything like that, just to lift it a bit off the ground. 

Next, we're going to take the whole super off in one go, which means I'll leave this inner cover on. I could take this off and start inspecting theFlow Frames as well. But today we're going straight for the brood inspection. So you've got your chisel end of the tool. And that goes right under here like this. And it doesn't matter whether you're going above or below, but choose and do the same all the way around. What I meant by that is there's a black excluder here and it sometimes will stay with this box and sometimes will stay with this box. I'm going to go underneath it and see if I can get it to stay with the top box. But I can already see along here that it's wanting to cling to the bottom, so I’ll change tactics and go above the excluder. There we go. I'm just levering up, going around and doing that on each corner. 

So again, let me go above the excluder and lever that up like that. And what you're doing is just cracking some of the propolis that the bees have used to stick it all together. Now, once you've done that again, keep the weight towards you, grab here and here and just rock back like this. Okay, there’s a bit of weight there. And let me just move that stand a little bit. The actual bottom box is coming up. So that's what's happened. I haven't loosened the queen excluder enough. It's still quite stuck. So that can happen. And you need to go around again and this time I'm going to go underneath it. That's it. Now it's coming off. Yeah. The longer it's left, the more stuck it'll be. Sometimes you can get the frames stuck to the excluder. You can see that here, and you actually need to lever it. 

Now, pull it back towards you like this and find yourself a nice edge to put the box down on. And we'll just leave that. There'll be a lot of bees that are staying in there, which will be less bees that'll be bothering you while you're doing your brood inspection. 

Coming back to the hive, the next thing is to peel off the excluder. Bearing in mind that the queen could be on the underside of it. So as we pull this off, we'll have a look for the queen. We don't want to orphan her from the hive.

You can see why it was stuck together. They've gotten busy and they've been building honeycomb between the excluder and the frames. That's a good sign that the colony is nice and healthy. Look at that. Beautiful yellow wax. Okay, a quick look for the queen. Can't see her, but just in case, we just lean the excluder up against the hive so that she can walk back in. Sometimes she can't fly when she's in egg-laying mode, but I definitely have seen her fly in egg-laying mode. Some of the things you read in the bee books aren't actually true all the time.

Removing frames

Add a little smoke and choose a frame to pull out. Now, you don't want to go for a really waxed-in frame first because the first frame has to come directly upwards. And when it comes upwards, you don't want it dragging all the bees between the comb surfaces. It’s called rolling the bees. So I'm going to choose one that looks easy enough to get out, which is this one here. And once we get the first one out, the rest is easy. 

So a little bit of smoke and the bees will move away from that area. Look, we've got a big boy bee, big drone there. Drones are nice ones to pick up and give to the children to play with because they don't have a stinger. Their eyes touch together in the middle, you can see there. They’re just bigger and Teddy bear looking. 

Next I'm going to scrape away some of this burr comb because I don't want the burr comb to scratch the frame surface. as I lift it up. To do that you can use the chisel end of your tool and just scrape it away. We can even use the J end of the tool as well, just making some space so that the frame can come up without getting disturbed. Next we wiggle it sideways a little bit, it’s already nice and free, which is good. And the J end goes under here. You lever it up. I'm going to hold that and lever it up.

Let's see. I'm going to come up nice and slow on the first frame. That's it. You're looking in watching this beautiful world appear before your eyes. I can see some drones and see a whole lot of worker bees. I can see some beautiful honeycomb. Look at that. If you did want to take some honeycomb home, you could definitely take some from this edge frame here. Beautiful, beautiful honeycomb. You can actually shake the bees off and just cut a piece out, take some away. And the bees will refill it again, with the comb really quickly. It's one of the benefits of naturally drawn comb like this. There's no wires or foundation in there, so you can just cut some comb out if you want to.

Now that I've got one frame out, I'm just going to lean that up against the hive. If you had your shelf brackets on the side, you could use that as a nice frame rest. Now we can go sideways. It's your first brood inspection, so you don't need to do everything at once. Just keep it nice and slow and gentle. And if you're unsure of what's going on, don't try and do everything at once. Just slowly put it all back together again, do some research, get some help and try again would be my tip. So the next one is coming up. Notice I didn't need to cut the brood comb away anymore. I'm going to leave that there. 

We’ve spotted the queen. Look at that. Beautiful. Just in front of my finger. There is the queen bee. She's got bigger strides as she walks. Nice, healthy looking queen. She's gotten a bit camera shy and looks like she's dived around the other side here. 

Some nice pollen bags on some of the bees. I'm seeing some drone brood, worker brood and young larvae so at first glance, it's all looking pretty healthy. And I'm also seeing a bee just emerging from its cell. Just about to take its first steps inside the hive. And it's a worker bee, I can tell by the eyes. There it is just chewing its way right out. 

Now one tip with naturally drawn comb is not to tip it over too far sideways. This frame is nicely developed, nice and stuck to the edges. So I can actually tilt this over sideways, but when they're fresh and weak still, and there's a lot of weight of honey, you don't want to do that. Beautiful. 

So what I might do is leave that frame in the hive. It's got the queen on it. I don't want to orphan her from the hive. She is a very important bee and there's usually only one laying queen in the hive. You want to look after her, make sure she stays in the hive. 

Topping up the smoker

If you tune in, we've also got a very extensive bee course, if you're really wanting to sink your teeth into, into beekeeping and, and get a deep scientific and practical knowledge of beekeeping, you can have a look at that online course with experts from all around the world contributing. 

Okay, so let's keep going here. We were cleaning a bit of burr comb. We were looking at the frames. Now this video is titled your first brood inspection. Don't feel like you have to do it all at once. But after the hive has been open for say a half an hour or so, you're going to want to just to start the process of closing it back up here. Here, the bees still seem fine. We're going to keep going, keep answering questions, topping up your smoker is a good idea. And when it goes out, it can be a bit disruptive to the process of doing your inspections. So what I'm going to do is just grab a bit more mulch felt right in here. Bear in mind that the metal of the smoker will be hot.

Identifying brood

Here you can see some beautiful brood, if you want to see what that looks like. If I give these bees a little bit of a nudge, you can see what brood looks like. The capping is less transparent. And it's nice when you get a lot of brood like this, because every one is a new bee waiting to emerge in the hive. They spent 11 days in that cocoon phase with their capping on. And so in the next 11 days, all of those cells that you see will be new bees in the hive. So we should see a nice population in this hive as all of this brood emerges, it's beautiful. 

Up here is the honeycomb, just to get your eye in and it takes a little while. That's honeycomb there, a little bit more transparent on the capping and that's the brood there. That's the worker brood where as the drone brood sticks out a little bit like bullet shapes. Let me see if I can find any to show you. It sticks out because the bees are a little bit bigger. I think perhaps back on this previous frame we had. 

Now nice and gentle, so first-time beekeeping doing your brood inspection, it's really slow, slow movements, try and stay calm. If you find yourself getting a bit flustered, just walk away for a little bit, get your smoker out, give them some more smoke and come back again.

Here's the queen here. She's jumped across to this frame and she is there. Look at that. She's got a longer abdomen. She's usually not so striped and she takes bigger strides and that's often the way you see her is by her movements. A bit bigger strides than the rest of the bees. She's a bit bit skitty, sometimes she'll just go about her business laying and things, but this queen is a little bit camera shy. 

Now I was looking for some drone brood. Let's see if we can find any to show you. I'm not seeing any here. There's a queen cup and you'll find them on the bottom. And they're doing that in case they need to raise a new queen and you can have a look inside. It's just an empty queen cup. So there is no larva inside that. Some beekeepers knock them off, they don't want a new queen to be raised and swarming activity to happen. And it's something they do in the spring time as a swarm prevention technique. The best thing I find is just to give them some new area to lay in. 

Waggle dance and checking for disease

Here's another frame of brood. That's somewaggle dances on the comb surface too, which is super cool. It's amazing that bees in a dark hive, in amongst 50,000 bees they can communicate to the point of telling really accurate information of where to go, to get the flowers, to get the pollen and the nectar, it's extraordinary. And you can actually learn to decode that, If you look up the waggle dance, you will be able to learn by watching the bees, how far they're going and in which direction, which is amazing. And we've got so much more to learn of as well. 

As you get more experience, you're really looking at the frame, trying to check for anomalies. If I was seeing a really patchy brood pattern, if we had not much brood here, I'd start to worry that the queen was failing a bit or they had some disease issues. You'd be shaking some bees off the frames and having a really good look at it. To shake bees off a frame, you give it a short, sharp shake like this, right above the hive. Because if the queen's there, you want her to go back into the box. Now you can get a good look at the surface of the comb.

And what you're looking for is sunken, dark capping with a piercing in it. If you see that you might have an issue such as AFB or EFB. Always be on the lookout for it. In some areas it's quite prevalent and you want to make sure that it's not getting away in your apiary. 

Here's a very young baby bee. You can see that she has just emerged by the way she's just waddling and a kind of furry white color as well, lots of hairs. She hasn't taken any flights yet. Probably hasn't done much at all apart from wander out and take a few steps and go “wow, what's this massive mammal staring at me?”

Beautiful. We actually got one just emerging here. You can see they're chewing away. Just chewing away, chewing away. In 10 minutes or so she will have emerged into the hive, ready to do some of her first chores, which is cleaning the cells the bees come out of, preparing them for new eggs. And then there's a myriad of things to do inside the hive, building comb, feeding the larvae is one of the first jobs, to undertakers pulling out the dead. And eventually in the last half of their life, if it's foraging season, they'll get to go out of the hive, do their orientation flats, lock onto where the hive is with amazing accuracy and then fly up to 10 kilometres to get flowers. After watching a dance inside the hive, telling them where to go, it’s incredible.

No rest for the bees. So the minute they're born, they are sent to work. They are busy bees. That's where the term comes from. I see some pollen down in these cells as well. It's amazing. We get to marvel in this world. There’s another bee chewing her way out, you can see her antennae sticking out, getting run over by a million bees. It’s all happening. 

Closing the hive

We're going to slide this frame back in and I'm going to try and do it in the same fashion that it came out. Because what you want to avoid is areas where the bees can't actually get to the service the comb. So I'm looking at this going, “if I put it in this way, this comb surface and that comb surface are bulged out.” And we don't want that because if this comb touches that comb, the bees can't service it and the hive beetles could choose that area to lay eggs and the bees couldn't stop them. 

So let's go the other way around. Sometimes the burr comb helps you work that out too. I can see this little bit of burr comb goes with that little bit there, and that's a neat way to work out which way they comb goes back in. There's an argument for not scraping off all the burr comb. 

Sliding it back down, gently making sure that last drop, where it goes into the hive that there isn't a bee under the end bar. There you have it, the frames are all back in, make sure they're all pressed close together and any spare space is on the edges of the hive. That way you'll get less random comb being built between the frames. Because bees are very specific about their distance. And they want the frames to be spaced correctly so you can push them together. 

Next, we're going to put the queen excluder back on which we left over here. You could give that a clean if you wanted to, and that might make it easier next time. So to do that, it's best if you can rest that on a surface where you can really give it a scrape. But let's have a go here, let this, and we'll just scrape it off. And you can keep that wax for making candles with your kids.

Okay. So what I'm going to do is add a little smoke around the edge, because I want to choose a moment here where there aren't any bees around the edge to put this excluder on. Well, there's no bees on that edge, the smoke just moves them away. And then before the bees really get up and populate the area of the excluder, I'm going to lift up this hive up here, which they’re starting to realise is missing. Make sure there's no bees in the way. Line that up, drop that on and there we have it. You've got your super back in place. Don't forget to put the covers back on.

You can leave any bees on the outside of the hive just to work their way around to the entrance. It’s important to make sure you keep your window covers on. You don't want the sun shining into your hive, heating it up too much.

Then your roof for a bit more protection, a bit more insulation stopping that heat beating down on your hive. Don't forget to clean up the honey you've left on the ground. It's really not a good idea to leave any honeycomb around or you will be promoting robbing and sharing your pathogens. So be responsible. Take the wax away in case.

Thank you very much for watching and all of your great questions. If you'd like us to cover something in particular, put it in the comments below. Otherwise we'll be back next week with another interesting episode. 

Brood inspection questions

What are good weather conditions for inspecting the hive? Can you leave the hive open for too long? 

Today is probably picture perfect as far as a day to inspect your brood. Well, it’s a little bit too hot for me. I've got sweat dripping off my face. But it's a nice warm day. And what the ideal situation for bees and doing a brood inspection is mid-morning to mid-afternoon on a nice warm, sunny day. It's not too windy. Obviously you can't do that all the time and you have to pick and choose, but that's when the bees will be the calmest. 

In terms of leaving the brood open, here it's a very warm day and we could leave it open for hours and it doesn't really matter. If you're in a cold area or perhaps it's a really cold day, then be careful with the open broods. So when I say open brood, I mean the cells that are with larvae down the cells that you can see. That brood can get chilled if they're left out for too long. So if it is cold, when you're doing a brood inspection, just make sure that those frames aren’t left out of the hive for too long. You can still do your brood inspections, but just be mindful of how long you would leave the frames out like this. Or you might choose the honey frame just to leave out of the hive and make sure the rest of the frame stays in for the majority of the time.

Will you clean off the wax on the frames and the queen excluder or will you leave it there?

It does make it a bit easier to clean the wax off. It means next time it may not stick to the excluder. However, you can just leave it there. Some schools of thought say the burr comb is a bit of a reservoir for the bees. Don't bother yourself by trying to clean it all the time. Just leave it there for the bees. 

So you could go either way, but if you do want it a bit easier to pop up next time, this is how you clean it. You add a bit of smoke until the bees have vacated the area, and you don't need big bellows of smoke, just a few little puffs. Then you can go along there with your chisel end and just scrape it off like this. If it's got honey in it, you don't want to leave it outside the hive. If it's got no honey like that, you can, you can scrape it off or you can keep that for, for candle making. But you want to be careful if you scrape off some of these bits like this bit here with honey in it to not leave it behind on the ground, or bees will get a taste for honey and may start robbing. 

That one there, see how that wax has got honey, make sure you keep that to chew on. Don’t leave it around for bees to suck on because who knows, this hive could have pathogens. Other hives could suck on that. And then you're spreading them around.

How can you inspect without gloves?

Look, I'm not immune to bees, but I've been around them a lot. And I've learned to tell when they're starting to get a bit grumpy. And when they're getting a bit grumpy, I will put my gloves on because I don't enjoy stings that much. But it is much nicer to work just with your hands, with no gloves on. So as you progress as a beekeeper, you'll probably progress to the point where you're experimenting with not having your gloves on. Having said that, just make sure that you're okay with bee stings before you go and get a lot of them. You don't want to suddenly realize you've got severe allergic reactions when you're getting a lot of stings. We’ve gotfirst aid links on our website that you should have a look at. So be careful, wear your gloves in the beginning, get used to your hive, get used to beekeeping and get used to bee stings before you start going gloveless.

What fuel are you using in the smoker?

It’s actually a sugar cane mulch that we mulch the garden with here and it works fine. But just use whatever you have on hand, bark from a tree, pine needles work really good. Any old hay, just something that's dry. You can add a bit of grass on top if you want to cool down the smoke as it comes out, some people do that. Add a bit of green grass and get your smoker going again. And now that it's all very hot I’ll use my J-tool to close the lid and push it down.

Is there anything that you shouldn't use in your smoker?

I wouldn't use anything that's going to have chemical smells to it. So you don't want to use a magazine paper for instance, because it's got a whole lot of toxic chemicals to make the print. So just bear in mind with that sort of thing. You just want to keep it nice and organic, some grass mulch, some leaves, pine needles, anything like that. Some people even use dried cow dung. I guess that's kind of grass mulch anyway.

Why are my bees agitated when I do an inspection? 

If they're really upset, don't be afraid to use the smoker a lot, give them a lot of smoke. If they're really, really upset bees and they're just too aggressive to work with at all, there's even tricks you hear of people doing where they where they actually close the hive up and whack the side of the hive and the bees get all agitated and they repeat that process over an hour or so. And the bees kind of, they lose their agitation after a while, and then you can open them up again and that's supposedly calming. However, I haven't tried that firsthand, so I don’t suggest whacking before inspecting. But ultimately it's genetics that cause that, so if you want a really calm hive like this, then you might think about buying a queen from a queen breeder and swapping it out.

If that feels too daunting, then get somebody experienced with bees to help you do that process. And then a month later you'll have nice calm bees because the queen holds the genetics from herself and the drone she has mated with. And she only mates at the start of her life, in the first week. She's got the genetic material, which will determine the temperament of the hive for the life of that queen, which could be up to six years. So it could be an idea to change the queen if you don't want the aggression. However, if you can handle it and you can put up with it, and they're not causing any bothers to neighbors and things like that, then by all means just keep going and wear your gloves, wear your suit, and look after yourself and decide whether it's necessary to requeen it.

What is the name of your online course? - it's an initiative that we started, getting experts from all over the world to share their knowledge. And it's also a fundraiser raising funds for habitat regeneration and protection and advocacy for bees. So it's a great thing. And there's some amazing pieces on there, amazing video content, very high quality training material. And actually somebody asked the question on Facebook the other day, “you know, what's this course, is it worthwhile doing?” And I was so happy that there was a mile long thread of people saying how wonderful the course was and they would highly recommend it. It was really hard to find any negative comments at all, which is so unusual online. Usually online, you get ripped apart, no matter what you do. So the course must be okay.

I've got a few frames of drone comb. Will the bees recycle the comb to make more workers in the future or will it always be drone comb?

Generally it'll stay as that size for quite some time till the bees tear it down for some reason. So it's not a bad thing to have drone comb and bees also make drone cells to store honey. If you have a look at some of these cells here, these are actually drone sized cells, about 6mm millimeters instead of the 5.3 millimeters of worker comb. So when they're deciding to use it for honey only, and not brood, they will make the bigger cells too. 

So as you cycle that comb out towards the edge of the hive, which is a good thing to do as the seasons go on. Get some of the older comb from the center, move it out to the edges, let the brood emerge, let it all become honey. And then you can take it out of the hive altogether. So I wouldn't worry about it too much. I'd let the bees decide what they want to do. And if you do want to cycle it out, move it towards the edge in preparation for that.

I received a nucleus with old frames. Should I swap them out or just keep them? 

So just put them in your hive, work with them. It'll be typical for them to be a bit old because they were split off of a hive that actually has some age to it. Could be a big hive. They might have multiple brood boxes and they've taken some of the frames out. So that's pretty normal. What you'll be doing is adding more frames to that. So if you've got the Flow Hive 6, which has eight brood frames, there's usually five frames in the nuc, and you’ll be adding three more to it. So they'll have plenty of fresh ones to work with. And then over time you can cycle out those dark ones by moving them towards the edges of the hive. And then out of the hive altogether, replacing them with fresh ones. Or if they're foundationless, you can cut the old comb out right in the field and put the frame straight back in.

How many bees are in the hive?

My guess in this one, it's not a super busy hive, this is about 20,000 bees in here. Which is an extraordinary number, but a really pumping beehive can have 50,000 bees in it. But if you think about what they need to do in terms of honey production and really storing, each bee might only bring in a quarter of a teaspoon of honey, but a hive with 50,000 bees. If half of them go out to the flowers and visit a couple of thousand flowers, there's 50 million flowers that could be visited in one day. So it's the sheer numbers and the amazing hard workers that they are to enable that incredible honey production that you see. When things align, they can fill up boxes in a week. And that's just incredible. You also get some seasons, you don't get any honey at all. So it's all a bit of a spectrum. 

Why is there brood in my Flow Frames? 

There's a couple of reasons why that could happen. The most common one is you don't have a queen below and the workers are starting to lay eggs all around the hive. So check that, get down below and check if you've got brood. If you haven't got any brood below, you may not have a queen. 

The other one is, a young virgin queen can slip through the excluder sometimes and end up in the honey super. And then she's stuck in that area and she can't get back down. And if that's the case where you've got worker brood emerging from your Flow Frames, in any case, just to make sure to shake all the bees downstairs, back down to the brood box. Put your excluder on and put your Flow Frames back on. 

So you'll be pulling out each Flow Frame, shaking and brushing with some foliage. Brush the bees off to make sure if there is a queen on the top, that she's being moved down to the bottom. Put your excluder back on, you need to get back in there and make sure you do have a laying queen though. Sometimes the workers will be laying drones as said all around the hive and your hive will slowly die out. If that's the case, you'll need to rectify that by giving them a new queen or the resources to do so with some eggs and brood from another hive.

How often would you inspect your brood box once you've put your super on?

The requirements differ across the world of what you need to do. And as a new beekeeper, I recommend really getting in there each month and just checking it out and learning a lot. Because that's what it's all about. You don't want to become a beekeeper that is too scared to work with your bees. One, you're missing out on the amazing adventures of exploring their world from your own backyard. But you’re also potentially going to miss if the bees have an issue and you won't get the chance to rectify that. 

So I would get in there, start learning and start inspecting your brood. Now at the minimum would be in this country, you'd want to be doing a proper brood inspection, shaking all the bees off, looking for AFB and things at least a couple of times a year. But it's good to do it more than that.

In other areas of the world, we've got things like Varroa mite, which might need a management solution. It might mean pulling apart the hive and doing sugar shakes and so on. So there you will need to find out from your local beekeepers, what the requirements are for you. Both from a legal point of view, and also from a point of view of just looking after your bees. But it's not like chickens where you have to be there every day to lock the door and make sure they're happy and safe. You can go away for months at a time and you'll be okay.

My brood frames are going black, should I swap them out?

Generally it's advised to start swapping them out after they've been in for a couple of seasons. So you want to get rid of the pathogen load a bit and give them some nice, fresh wax. And generally you do that by your swarm prevention in spring by giving them some extra space to lay in. So what you do is just cycle some out from the edge and put some fresh ones back in the center. And if you do that each spring, you're recycling a few frames each season, giving them some nice fresh ones. 

Can you cut out honeycomb from the frames?

Absolutely. So it's quite a nice thing to do. So here's a frame here. The bees have mainly vacated it by themselves, which is lovely. All you'd have to do is flick off the last little bees like this, and then you could cut out some beautiful honeycomb. We could do it now if we had a knife and a plate. The bees would actually just fill that back in again quite quickly. So it's a fine thing to do. 

Typically the frames on the edge of the hive are for the honey. If you want some honeycomb then get in there and get some. The bees will hardly miss a section out of here and you can enjoy that, put it on a cheese plate with some blueberries and things like that and take it to the next party and you'll be very popular.

More beekeeping questions

Does the Flow Hive work in very cold climates such as Canada?

Isn't it amazing. You've got beekeepers all around the world. Some are knee deep in snow, other ones are just dripping in sweat. And here we are just all tuning in and learning about bees together. It's fantastic. So we have hives in the cold climates. In Canada we have them, even in Norway. We have them in Europe and the hives are fine. These are European honey bees that are these amazing little pollinators that humans have dragged around the world with them. So they're really used to that cold, long winter. And as long as they've got enough honey stores, they've got a really good chance of surviving the winter, whether it be a Flow Hive or conventional hive. But it's all the same as far as looking after your bees and getting them through thatwinter time

Then in the summer, it's a warm time. So you find harvesting the honey from your Flow Frames will be, might not be as warm as this, but it will be pretty warm and the honey will flow nicely. And even when it's really cold, around zero degrees, you can still get the honey to flow because the bees keep the hive warm. They keep the brood nest at about 35 degrees Celsius. And that warmth flows up and keeps the honey warm as well. 

So yes, Flow Hives work in cold climates. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. We've got plenty of examples of beekeepers who have their hives in snow and are harvesting beautiful Flow Hive honey as the season progresses.

Do I need to emergency feed my bees in very cold weather?

Emergency feeding, okay. I did make avideo once called how to make a quick DIY feeder. Which basically was a few different styles of feeders you can put right under the lid of your hive. Now, if you have a look down here, there's an area where you can create a feeder. You can take that cap out. You can put an upside-down jar with some sugar syrup in it. If you want them to store, then you could go with a 2:1 ratio. You can make a fairly thick syrup, which is two parts sugar to one part water. Cook that up on the stove, let it cool down, put it in a jar, put some holes in the middle of the jar and place it upside down on here with that cap out and that will provide a feed for the bees to start storing.

If they're getting really hungry in an emergency, you can also do dry sugar feeding, which is where you pull out a comb and just sprinkle some dry sugar go right into the honeycomb. And the bees can also use that. Another method is a Ziploc bag with sugar syrup in it, you place it on top here and put some pinholes in it. And the bees will come up and suck the syrup out of the pinholes of the Ziploc bag. And that works quite well as well. 

So there's a few ways you can make a quick feeder. You can either put the lid right on top of that, or if you're using a tall jar, another brood box, and then the lid on top of that again.

Why aren’t the bees filling my super?

Okay. The recipe for action in the super is a lot of bees and a lot of nectar available. And when those two things align, you'll get a quite quick activity in the super, as your bees really build up and start to store. You can get the case where it's really slow. Like this super actually went on some months ago and it's not full yet. They've waxed it up and they’ve prepared it, but they haven't actually stored any, simply because there hasn't been enough available really to store much honey in that super. 

If they're not starting at all and you're getting a bit impatient, then think getting a bit of this burr comb like this, is a perfect thing to do. It doesn't need to have any honey in it, just the wax, and just press that into the Flow Frame surface, do it in the window where you can watch it. You'll be able to watch the bees recycle that wax and start their work on the Flow Frames. And that can be a way just to get a little bit of action a little bit quicker. 

That's the way I'd recommend. If you want to speed things up, people talk about putting sugar water and things. I haven't found that to help at all. The bees just lick it off and get back to what they were doing. But wax, they'll see that and go “that's in the wrong spot. I’d better redistribute that in a nice comb pattern.” So that's a good tip there.

Can you have more than one queen bee in a hive?

It certainly happens where you get more than one queen bee and I've seen it before, but it's a bit unusual. It's when they're in a bit of a changeover that that's happening. But generally there's one laying queen per hive. Unless you're trying to do a multi-queen hive, which is a fun thing to experiment with. Some beekeepers on a commercial level do multi-queen hives to get more production out of each hive. So to do a multi-queen hive, what you need to do is have a brood box with the queen in it, a queen excluder then one or more honey supers, which is the box for collecting honey, then another queen excluder and then another brood box on top. So you end up with these tall stacks and what can happen is the pheromones aren't strong enough in the top and the bottom for the bees to knock off the queen. So what happens is you get common honey supers, where there's bees from two different queens, all meshing together and working the same supers. So that can be a cool thing to experiment with, but generally it's one queen per hive.

Should the Flow Hive always be at a slope, or only for harvesting honey?

This actually is on a lean, it's got a 3° slope backwards, but once you're out of your hive and you've got it away from square things, you don't really notice anymore. And if you have a look at this level here, that level bubble is set in the middle and that level bubble on the side, when it's in the center is the good honey harvesting angle of about three degrees backwards. And we did that because people were having trouble getting the hives set up on the right slope. So that's another little feature of the Flow Hive 2. There’s a level at the back also, which gives you the sideways level, which you actually want totally level for building natural comb.

Can I prevent honey from spilling into my tray?

The answer is not really. If you're harvesting all your frames at once, some of them are probably pretty likely to have a bit of a spill just depending on how the bees have capped their honey and the dynamics and viscosities of honey across the frame as well. The bees will lick up any inside the hive. If there's too much at all, go through, as you say to the tray, which is outside the hive. So you can just clean it up and put the tray back in again. 

How much honey do you leave for your bees over the winter?

That question is best answered by your local bee club or your local bee experts. Try to get more than one opinion. I have been in a very Southern area here in Australia and Tasmania where one beekeeper would swear that if you didn't have 10 frames of honey to survive the winter, your bees would die. Around the corner, somebody was set up exactly like this with just an eight frame, a hive and a single super saying “no problem they'll survive through the winter.” 

So you get different schools of thought, different types of management, different experiences, and everybody's answer is correct for the experience they had. And it's up to you to gain a few opinions and make up your mind on what you need to do. But generally in those cold places where you even get snow, you're going to need at least a box of honey for them to survive through what could be up to six months of very cold weather with no flowers.

So if they don't have enough stores you'll need to feed them. Preferably prior to winter to build up some stores and you'd be feeding them a thick syrup, a 2:1 ratio. Two parts sugar, one part water, and they will store that in the cells as if it were honey. Honey is better from flowers, obviously, but if, if it's a case of starvation, then feed your bees.

If you've missed the boat and it's halfway through winter and you realize the boxes are out, then you also need to feed them. So a few tips there, we're lucky here in the subtropics there’s flowers all winter, we don't really have that issue at all. We do get months, sometimes a couple of months of very low nectar flow, but there's always something for the bees. So we don't have to worry about that.


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