Monthly Archives: March 2016

Flow Hive: First Impressions

There’s so much talk on the web about the Flow Hive that it’s difficult to find data. Do a search for Flow Hive anything, and the results are full of doubters, nay-sayers, and haters, but very little helpful information. I haven’t been bogging myself down with all the nay-saying because I notice most of it is coming from those who haven’t tried and never intend to, so they have no personal experience to share, just their opinions on why it’s “bad.”

Even people who have never kept bees and know nothing about bees are telling me how bad it is:

“It destroys their home!”

Last I checked, bees don’t live in their honey. Do you live in YOUR pantry? And how exactly do they think I harvest the honey now?

“It makes beekeeping TOO easy so people who don’t care about beekeeping will want to try it.”

It may make HARVESTING easier (which remains to be seen), but the labor and heavy lifting of beekeeping hasn’t gone away. The beekeeper still has to know how to set up and start a hive, if their hive is queenright, if she’s laying well, if there are pests and how to treat them, and how to manage the hive for swarm prevention. That fancy box of frames doesn’t change any of that.

On the other hand, I have seen a handful of blog posts and videos from people who HAVE bought one, and most of them seem pretty pleased with it. Truthfully, I didn’t buy one to make harvesting easier. I actually enjoy smelling the honey-filled wax as I’m working with it, watching it drip and drizzle through the strainer, and filling jars and bottles. I bought one to support innovators who are trying to share their ideas and excitement for beekeeping. They put years of trial and error into their work and were hoping to find a handful of people who would help get their production started. I hope they do well and inspire new beekeepers and maybe a few old ones, too.

I didn’t buy a full set up, just the Flow Hive light, which is a deep with four Flow frames. The Flow Hive guys made a big to-do about upgrading early buyers to some fancy cedar, and it is pretty, but the material splits easily so has to be handled with care.

First impressions of the equipment:

The jig they’ve used to create the finger joints need some tweaking as they don’t fit properly and need to be either cut a little more or, in my case, hammered harder until some of the wood peels away (My father always says, “if it doesn’t fit, get a bigger hammer and paint it to match.”) It’s a snug fit now, that’s for sure. They have an instructional video demonstrating how to assemble the body and I noticed the guide’s box all fit perfectly.

The perimeter of the body isn’t exactly that of a standard 10-frame Langstroth body. It’s about 1/4 inch shy of standard dimensions. Maybe not a big deal for most set-ups, but it’s annoying that it wasn’t designed with a little more exactitude.

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However, this lack of precision is hardly limited to Flow Hive. I have standard frames that were bowed, entrance reducers that are either too long or too short, leaky Boardman feeders, and one screened bottom board that is a different height and takes a different tray than the rest.

The knobs on the upper door, through which the key slot is accessed, prevents either a telescoping cover or a migratory cover from being directly on the box because they’re so close to the top. I tried finding useful information on what type of cover to use, but back to the issue of searching for anything with the term “Flow Hive.” It appears that either a special cover is required or another super must go on in order to use a standard cover.

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One of my frames was missing the upper port that covers the key slot. The bees can’t get to it, so it didn’t prevent me from using it. I contacted customer service and they responded promptly and promised to send one to me right away. Wonder how long that will take coming from Australia?

The super is a deep box, which means to do inspections I have to remove a box of honey that could potentially weigh up to 90 pounds.

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The frames are interesting: partially formed hexies that shift when the key is turned. I turned the key several times to see how it shifted and really wondered if this can work. Only one way to find out.

 

There is a window on one side of the box so you can peek at their progress. And there’s an access door on the back of the box through which you can see the Flow frames without actually opening the hive. I must admit I’ve enjoyed peeking.

Since I’m feeling experimental this spring, I’ve put my Flow super on my double-queen hive. That should keep them busy for a while. I put in a frame feeder with 1:1 to help them draw the comb. I also moved the super already on the hive above the Flow super.

Just a few days after adding it, I can see the bees deep in the cells, beginning to wax in the bottoms and sides of the extra-deep cells. That’s promising.

A particular quirk of it is the need for a 2-4 degree tilt towards the back. Of course when I put a level on mine there is a good tilt, but it’s to the front. So when I’m ready to harvest, I’ll have to put a wedge under the front edge of the super. I believe the ramifications of failing to do so will be honey draining out the front rather than out the tubes in the back.

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Wild Swarm

Sunday afternoon on the way home from church, I got a message from a friend and law enforcement officer asking if I ever catch wild swarms. He had spotted one in the parking lot of a furniture store in Austin and was worried it would end up getting sprayed when the business opened the next day. As soon as we got home, we grabbed a few tools and an empty hive box and headed there to see if we could catch it.

It was a tiny swarm, with maybe 500 bees (compared to a swarm I caught from one of my own hives a few years ago). I trimmed away some little stems from around it so I could reach the main branch. With an empty hive box under the tree, Hial held the branch while I slowly cut through it with my loppers.

 

Most of the bees stayed in the cluster and we placed it in the box, then strapped it closed with a moving screen in the entrance.

When we got home, we put them on a stand I’d already built and left them for the night.

Monday afternoon, I prepared another hive box with several frames of drawn comb and a feeder. Then I took a frame of capped brood from another hive and added it. The ready-to-use comb with a feeder of sugar water encourages them to stay, but even better is a frame of unhatched bees. That makes them feel at home and will boost their numbers in a few days when those bees begin to hatch out of their cells.

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Donor brood from another hive.

I had planned to set the new box on the one they were in and let them crawl up, but when I removed the lid, they were clustered on the underside. New plan… Instead I removed the box with the branch and set the new box in its place, then gently tapped the lid over the frames to shake the bees down.

Almost as soon as they were in the hive, several bees started flying around orienting themselves to their new homes and one even flew straight out to a flowering weed near the hive, checked it out, and flew back to the hive.

Tuesday morning I walked out to see what activity was going on and bees were flying in with pollen, which means they’ve decided to stay and I’ve successfully hived a swarm.

Other than treating them for Varroa mites Wednesday morning, which can be done with little disruption, I’ll wait a week before checking on their progress. At that point I’ll know if they had a mated queen with them or not. Also, I placed them farther from the house and garden than other hives because I don’t know what their demeanor will be for a few weeks. Hial said maybe I’ll be lucky and it’s a swarm from Round Rock Honey, which has hives in the area

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Double-Queen Hive: 10 Days Later

I set up my double-queen hive on March 16. I wish I’d counted the frames of brood in each first for comparison’s sake, but based on memory they each had about 4 deep frames of brood and 3 medium. When I combined them, I placed a medium super over the queen excluder which had 7 drawn but empty frames and 3 partial frames of uncapped honey.

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I peeked at the honey super around March 22 and was surprised to find honey in all 10 frames. They weren’t completely filled and none were capped yet, but it seemed a significant increase in just 8 days.

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The big surprise was in checking the brood boxes. In the first half, which was a fairly weak hive going into winter and one I was concerned about this spring, there were 5 deep frames of brood and 7 medium and since one wall was sheltered from weather, the queen was laying all the way to the end frame.

The other half was similarly populated, with 8 medium frames of brood.

Inspecting presented a logistical challenge. After removing the honey super, I needed to open one side of the hive at a time, while keeping the queens isolated to their sides. I had a half migratory cover ready, smoked the bees down, then quickly removed the excluder and put on the half cover. It worked pretty well.

After the inspection was finished, I added another honey super to provide sufficient space.

Things I’d wish I’d done:

If I set up another double-queen hive, I’ll want to attach the bottom boards together. It was challenging to get them perfectly level, and even now there is a little space, but not enough to allow queens to crawl through. But the biggest reason is the bottom boards slide on the stand a bit when nudged, which is inevitable when inspecting. I kept having to put them back in place.

It’s too late to put their bottom boards together, but I am going to drive a nail in at the outer edges to keep them from moving during inspections.

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Double Queen Hive

One of my favorite beekeeping blogs is Honey Bee Suite. The author, Rusty, writes how-tos, issues in beekeeping, scientific tidbits, and unusual methods. It’s one of the unusual methods that caught my attention last fall when she wrote about setting up a double-queen hive. After a little more reading, I decided to give it a try with two of my smaller hives.

Moving a Hive

First I needed to move a hive across the property, and I followed Honey Bee Suite’s suggestion on moving a hive since moving a hive more than three feet and less than three miles is often unsuccessful. This method worked very well.

Early this spring, I closed up the hive overnight with a moving screen. The following morning I recruited my husband to help me move it.

Moving Screem

It stayed closed for 72 hours, the idea being that after that amount of time the foragers will reorient themselves to the new location when the entrance is opened again. And it worked. I opened the hive and placed a leafy branch in front of the hive. In a short time I observed foragers returning with pollen. Only about 100 older foragers were stubborn and returned to the old location.

New Location

A leafy branch over the entrance encouraged foragers to reorient to their new location.

I placed the hive close to another hive, hoping the workers were drift between the two hives and become a little more familiar with their neighbor’s scent. After a couple of weeks, it was time for the big merge.

Double Queen Setup

I removed the covers from both hives and moved them to a new stand I’d made earlier in the week. The hives were pushed up snug next to one another, creating a double-wide hive.

side by side

 

I placed a queen excluder over the center, straddling the two hives. This allows the workers to move through, but prevents the queens from coming in contact with one another.

queen excluder

Last, a super was placed over the excluder.

The theory is the combined work force allows the two hives to create more honey than they would be able to accomplish individually. I decided on a deep brood chamber and medium hive body for this experiment.

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That was a lot of activity and disruption for these two hives, primarily because moving them to the stand required taking the top boxes off so I could lift and move the bottom. I’ll leave them alone for at least a week and then see if both hives are working together amicably. Since the comb in the super is all drawn, I expect to need another super very soon.

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