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Almost swarm / Flow Hive configuration question


#1

I am new to Flow Hives, but in my fourth year of beekeeping. I have a Classic Araucaria hive that I ordered and started using in April. Yesterday they thought about swarming, but then ended up staying. I’ve been meaning to post a question about configuration and avoiding crowding, but I realized yesterday that the situation is more urgent than I imagined. Here’s the background:

  • I started this year from a package that I got from our local beekeepers guild on April 18. I started with 5 new deep frames, and built up to 8 over the following couple weeks. Things seemed to start out well.

  • I put an inside feeder with 1:1 sugar water on top for the first two weeks. In the past I’ve always started from nucs and didn’t always use a feeder, but this was my first time starting from a package so I decided to feed them at the start just to be safe.

  • Things seemed to go well the first two weeks, except that they started building comb a couple times inside the feeder. I removed the comb each time I noticed it, and eventually removed the feeder after two weeks.

  • At the end of the third week I noticed that they were building big clumps of comb on the bottom of some of the frames, even though the outer frames were not completely drawn out. I removed the extra clumps, noticing that some of the comb had brood in them. At that point I went up to 8 frames, making the brood box full (though not fully drawn out).

  • The following week I added the queen excluder and the flow super on top. They didn’t seem to take to it right away, but I’ve had that same experience with traditional supers before. Sometimes it takes time, was my thought. I did see a few bees exploring in the flow super over the next week.

  • We’re now in week 6, and yesterday at about 10:30am they started making the familiar tornado in front of the hive, as if they were about to swarm (one of my traditional hives did swarm in March of their second year, so I know what it looks like). I took the roof off to expose the vent hole on the top cover, but otherwise just watched and waited. Eventually they calmed down, and went back in the hive. As far as I could tell, they didn’t actually form a swarm, and I didn’t lose any bees yet.

So my question is, what now, and more generally what configuration would you expect to have with a flow hive at this time of year in my climate, and what would you have in the fall and winter? The reason I ask is that with a traditional hive here in northern California we would let the bees fill two deep brood boxes before even putting the first super on. We also winter the bees typically with two brood boxes, though with less frames - maybe 10 -12 total in winter.

Also, my extra brood boxes from my previous hives are all 10 frame wide, and I use them with 8 frames and a follower board. So if I were to add another brood box (is that recommended with Flow Hives), I’d need to buy one that is narrower for it to fit.

Thanks for any advice.


#2

If I had an 8 frame box, I would always put 8 frames in it. If it was a 10 frame box, 10 frames would go in, especially in a brood box. Empty space is an open invitation to my bees to make crazy comb. I also prefer to alternate foundation and foundationless frames if I am using foundationless at all. That way, the bees have a better “comb guide”.

I know that you have been beekeeping for a while. My husband and I have been beekeeping for a few decades. So I would like to let you know a few golden rules that we use for adding a box, be it a second brood box, or a honey super. Only add the new box (filled with frames) when all of the following are true:

  1. Every frame has fully drawn comb, or at least 90% drawn comb - no huge gaps, and
  2. Every frame is 80% full of honey, pollen or brood, and
  3. Every frame is completely covered with bees.

If you add any box before those are true, the best that will happen is that the bees will not use it. The worst is that they become overrun with robbers or pests (such as wax moths, wasps/hornets, ants and small hive beetles).

So, I have some questions. I am in San Diego, CA. We generally use 2 brood boxes. It seems that you do that too in your own traditional hives. If you usually use 2 brood boxes, you should do the same with the Flow hive - only the honey extraction process is different, not the number of brood boxes. However, I have never heard of using so many fewer frames in 10-frame brood boxes, only in honey supers. Does everyone in your area do this? If you use fewer frames, you will mess up the bee space, get more drones and honey and fewer workers in the new season. Perhaps you know something that I am not understanding. Or maybe your follower boards help reduce the space, but I am not clear on the gaps between your frames. So, was your first box completely full, as I described above, before you added the Flow super? I would guess not, but only you know for sure.

The first thing I would do is inspect for queen cells. If none, add a second brood box, preferably with at least 50% foundation frames, alternating with foundationless, unless you have drawn comb. If you have queen cells, you need to consider an artificial swarm/split.

The next comment I would make is that many Flow super users have discovered that bees treat the plastic frames as “home” much more easily if you either apply melted wax, or smear some burr comb from an inspection onto the plastic frame faces. It may be that your bees feel they are short of space, because they don’t recognize the smell of the Flow super as part of the hive. Hard to tell without photos or being there to inspect with you. :blush:

In summary, I would inspect for swarm cells ASAP. If found, take swarm prevention action. If not, add a second 10-frame super from Mann Lake, Brushy Mountain or your favorite Langstroth supplier (they will fit) and let them fill it. If they fill this according to the criteria in my second response in this post, add the Flow super. However, I think it would be more likely to put the super on next year, unless you have a superb nectar flow at the moment.

Hope that helps. Sorry I went on at length. Please ask if anything is not clear. :wink:


#3

Yes yes yes…dawn is spot on
You MUST look inside. From your post it is not clear whether you have been inspecting, though I can’t imagine you haven’t as you have some years of experience.


#4

Brother Beekeeper Art,

I’m up here in Puget Sound region near Seattle but just a few more degrees UP in the Northern Hemisphere. Dawn has truely given you a wealth of general n specific info on beekeeping n Dee has second the motion.

I am rather puzzled by your change of tactic in beekeeping just because it’s a Fliw-hive 8 frame deep. I have several 10 frame Langstroth n several 8 frame Langstroth hives up here. I have both a 6 n a 7 Flow-super setup… All my hives are double deeps here, even my starter 5 frame Nuc’s are double to even Quad deeps because a Nuc has to Keep Climbing for the stars or they will BUZZ-OFF (swarm).

I understand the inside feeder (a good move on your part) even though I I prefer top-feeders because these larger capacity feeders don’t require refilling as often. But what I’m am perplexed is not adding the two frames to fill the empty area as you transferred Nuc frames to the waiting Classic Araucaria Flow-Huve. Have you used this method in all your other start-ups over the last several years of beekeeping. Not being critical (just trying to get your logic) so all of us can better answer your questions)… Not filling this extra space is inviting a lrue mess n allowing your wonderful “Girls” such open areas in that pretty hive box to get quickly creative with comb building (especially if you went foundation less) …

Now ! As for the Swarming Sound !?! Your sure that was a almost Swarm ? Did you find swarm queen cells ?! No swarm cells normally no swarming (unless you’ve been pruning the queen cells off) but I do not see that in your orderly notes n description. My sometimes will get a Buzz-on … But it’s a new group/hatch out orienting no a swarm.

As Dawn has wisely written, treat this hive exactly as your other hive(s)… Order an extra 8 frame deep n get it in that hive just like your other hives. Oooooh ! Get that that Q.E. and Flow-Super off ASAP n add another 8 framer :smile:… The Flow-Super part is just your new Harvest method not a total new game plan at rearing n taking care of bees. If you don’t inspect much I might taking a peak n inspect more. You follow Dawns notes you’ll be on track ( she n her hubby are pretty sauvy OLE Beeks :+1::exclamation:

Good luck n don’t sweat the small stiuff. Enjoy that new box n system… Thankz for allowing us to help !!

Cheers from Puget Sound,
Gerald.


#5

Thank you everyone for the very helpful suggestions!

I opened it up this weekend, and here is what I found. There were two cells that looked to me like queen cells, hanging off the bottom of two of the frames. I scraped them both off. One of the frames had quite a lot of comb that looked like they were drawn out for drones. About a third of the comb on this is deeper than usual, but they weren’t capped yet, and no eggs that I noticed.

On Friday I ordered another 8 frame brood box from Dadant, so I should have that in a couple days. Hopefully I can add that this week and take the Flow super off until the second deep is full. I suspect it will take the rest of the summer to fill the second brood box so I may not get any honey this year, but that’s ok. I like the idea of rubbing wax/extra comb on the flow frames, so I’ll do that while I’m waiting for the second brood box to fill.

As far as the questions people asked:

  • The place I bought my original equipment from (Beekind in Sebastopol) sells 10 frame boxes with two follower boards. You can put up to 8 frames in each box with a follower board on both sides. The idea is that you keep the frames squished together with just bee space between them, and then the bees like to stay in the middle and recognize that the follower boards on the outside are the end of their space, and they don’t build comb on the outside of the follower boards. I’ve never seen the bees build comb outside of the follower boards, even this year (it was above and below the frames that was the problem).

  • I was trying to be patient and did not add the super until the 8 frames were mostly full. But I don’t think I met your third criteria, Dawn. The last two frames weren’t really full with bees.

So, they seem in pretty good shape now, but wish me luck that I can get the second brood box on before they get impatient and try to swarm again.

Thanks all for your support!
Art


#6

Can you just clarify?

You saw no eggs. Did you see your queen?
Why did you take the queen cells down?


#7

What I meant was that I saw no eggs in the comb that was deeper and looked like it was drawn for drones. The queen is still there, and she is young and has done well so far these last six weeks, so I would rather she didn’t swarm. That’s also why I removed the queen cells. I thought about doing a split, but was not really set up and prepared to do that yet. Basically I’d just like to get this one hive going and healthy enough to get through the winter, so they can enjoy a happy and productive year next year in my new flow hive, if that makes sense.

Also, I meant to ask all of you experts about the theory behind when to use two deep brood boxes, when to use three medium brood box (some people do that here), and when you might only use one deep brood box. Does that depend on the climate in your area? In Australia do they only use one brood box? I realize now that I should have known better, but all the photos on honeyflow.com of one brood box and one flow super confused me, I guess.


#8

In the US, if you have a definite winter, or a period with a long nectar dearth, you should probably use 2 brood boxes. The commercial guys only use one, but they feed all winter. Feeding is fine, but it is much better for the bees to overwinter on their own honey.

If you don’t want to lift the weight of a full deep, you can keep your brood in mediums instead. Three mediums have approximately the same storage/brood space as 2 deeps.

Tropical and subtropical climates are mild enough to keep a colony in one deep for brood. That is because there is never a big gap in the nectar flow in these climates, so the bees do not need a lot of storage space. The Flow hive was developed in a subtropical climate. All clear now? :blush:


#9

I get the feeling that the ‘tornados’ of bees you are referring to were just orienting bees. The tornados that I have seen were literally the size of my front yard and the windscreen of my car got covered in yellow poo!

Were the QCs that you tore down full or empty (just queen cells)? If empty, not full of beautiful white royal jelly, it doesn’t mean they are going to swarm.


#10

Nope. I still have a lot to learn about beekeeping, but I know enough to say with confidence that the “event” outside my hive on on Thursday was not orienting bees :slight_smile: I don’t know exactly why they were preparing to swarm, or why they decided not to, but I still think “almost swarm” is a good term for it. In the previous swarm that I saw the bees ultimately formed a football-size clump on a tree about 20 feet from the hive. The behavior this time (and the sound and sheer number of bees) was exactly the same for the first 5-10 minutes. The only difference this time was that instead of forming a football, they eventually started going back into the hive without forming a full cluster. One of my mentors from our beekeeping guild here told me this sometimes happens, so at least I don’t feel totally alone.


#11

That makes total sense. Thanks!


#12

Im certainly no expert but here generally speaking in Western Australia, I believe most folks run 1 brood and 1or2 supers.

I personally run 2 supers, u need to remember we (Perth) dont have the cold climates of other states and countries and our cold weather runs for a short period. Do what is generally accepted practice for y area.

Just do what the locals do, as thats what I’ve done.

Any bee clubs in yr area Art