I have a large flower-filled garden and have been contemplating keeping bees for years. I was finally persuaded by a friend who said “Just do it” and the concept of the Flowhive. I’ve done lots of reading, a beginners’ TAFE course and joined our local Beekeepers’ Society. I decided early to get two Flowhives and colonies.
My first colony is in residence. A friend kindly donated a swarm they captured about 6 km from here, and in the two weeks since, they seem to have adopted their new Flowhive 2 brood box and the garden, and have filled the remaining three foundationless frames with a reasonable amount of comb, pollen and a bit of honey. It’s been unseasonably cold here so I’ve only managed one inspection at the 2-week mark on a 25-degree day, but was able to see plenty of larvae, perhaps some eggs (decided I needed glasses for those), and plenty of what I considered fairly grumpy bees (going by bee behaviour in videos, but there is nothing like reality I know!). I moved slowly and gently, tried not to use too much smoke, and really looked for the queen, but no luck despite having a good long look. I decided not to be too ambitious on the first go.
The hive has morning sun, and shade from about 1 pm, but I’ve already realised that I will have to protect it a bit better from morning sun on days when the forecast is 42 degrees (about 15 days in our SA summer). The plan is for a cut-down garden arch covered in 70% shade cloth over the hive (both hives in the end) that doesn’t impede the flight path.
It’s really hard to position a hive perfectly for both summer and winter in our weather - mainly due to the summer extreme heat. I will be reading as much as possible on the forum about other people’s solutions in the other hot states here in Australia (and hot US states too).
I have a great water source - about 400 litres, with pondweed on top, in the shade and not far away, which they are using happily.
Looking forward to reading more of all the extremely useful posts.
Hello Shona, and welcome to the Flow forum! You seem to be very well-prepared and well-read, even though you are a new beekeeper. I am sure that you will do very well with your bees. If there is anything we can help with, don’t hesitate to ask.
I am in adelaide as well. You say the bees were grumpy: was the weather cool when you were loking inside? We have had a lot of overcast weather recently I and I have observed that the bees have been unhappy if you open any hive when the temps are below 20c and it is overcast. If you open them on a warmer day they are much more relaxed.
when we have heat waves here in adelaide it is important to shade hives. Especially if it is just a single brood box. I put shadecloth over all my hives during the hottest time of the year. It is not really an issue until temps go over 40c. Over 45c the bees can get into real trouble. With shadecloth they can be fine- just make sure they have a good water source nearby- which you say you have so that’s all good.
as long as you see eggs or small larvae you don’t really need to find the queen- sometimes they can be tricky to locate and it takes a while to ‘get your eye in’ as they say.
Thank you, Dawn. There are so many bee resources that it’s hard to know where to start, but interestingly most of them agree on the most important things, even though I hear that beekeepers can have all sorts of different opinions. Steering a middle road seems to be the best idea!
I inspected on a day when it was over 20 degrees (at 11.20 am) - it was 21 degrees at the time I inspected, but II think official temperatures are measured in shade, and the hive was in sun, so it would have been several degrees hotter. The bees were very active and quite loud and would not move from the frame ends much, even with a little smoke. It was very hard to get my thumb and finger on the opposite end from the J-tool because of their density. It’s tricky to work out whether they were grumpy or normal, when you haven’t done too many inspections.
I would have preferred to do it in even warmer conditions, but for all I knew the weekend after was going to be 18-20 degrees again, and the general advice in books etc is for newbies not to delay inspections for too long…
Thank you for the advice re shading, and the relevant temperatures - very useful. I had a feeling that shadecloth was crucial. I’ve bought two small garden arches online - the height is adjustable because they screw together - and they will be ideal to cable-tie some shadecloth over.
I could see small larvae, so was happy that the queen was there not too long ago. The eggs are a matter of trying to convince yourself there is a tiny speck in the bottom of the cell!
it takes a while to be able to ‘see’ eggs. Sometime a reflection at the base of the cell can trick the mind. It took me over 6 months of beekeeping before I was really confident of seeing an egg.
Here in Adelaide I almost always wear gloves- as in my experience our local bees are too aggressive to get away with working without gloves (unless you have a good tolerance for stings). However I have been doing beekeeping in Sydney with a skilled urban beekeeper and she almost always works without gloves. I had a go and it is SO much nicer. I worked on 20 hives over a few days and didn’t get a single sting. You have so much more feel and when you go to grab a frame at the ends you can kind of work your fingers between the bees without bothering them. I find with gloves on and a reduced sense of touch you can half squash a bee and anger it. Once angered things spiral- more bees get angered.
as you get more experience you start to be able to read bees. To me an angry hive is a hive where as soon as you open it a bunch of bees fly up out of the frames and start buzzing at your face and/or stinging the gloves. That’s a hive that is angry before you do anything at all really. That same hive might be quite passive when you open it on a different day. Another hive might be passive as you start but then become angry when you roll some bees on a frame- or move too quickly. A hive can calm down as you calm down- another hive is just ANGRY! Some days it is better to just give in and close up the hive.
Many beginner beekeepers think their hive is angry- but it isn’t really. It just gets angry when they inspect imperfectly. One of the biggest mistakes is to pull out frames too quickly. It is important to lit the frame out slowly- all the way- even after you get past the halfway mark where it becomes easier. I had a tendency to pull the frame slowly until the ‘lugs’ or shoulders were clear and then to yank it quicker. That angers bees. Bees cannot see slow moving things very well at all. So if you move slow and steady you can be almost invisible to them. The paradox is to move both slow- and yet still fast. You don’t want to have the hive opened up for longer than necessary. It’s important to know exactly what it is you are trying to achieve in a given inspection- and to stay focused on that objective.
As I mentioned before it is my belief the darker colored bees that are most common in Adelaide are more aggressive that the lighter yellow bees that are more common in NSW. Occasionally we have bought yellow (Italian? Ligurian?) queens from interstate and those hives are so much more passive- really great to work with. Some people say they are not quite as productive here though so perhaps it’s a trade-off.
Thank you, Semaphore. That was an incredibly useful post. It’s the details that really help.
From what you said, I can tell that my hive wasn’t that angry and that it was simply them not particularly wanting to be disturbed. And you’re right, I was a bit ‘up tight’ due to it being the very first inspection.
The gloves do make me feel so clumsy, even though I have the right size - it’s the fingertips that aren’t really moulded to my fingers. It is very difficult not to squash the bees. I am considering trying nitrile (non-latex) gloves instead - two pairs, because I know they can sting through one pair for sure. The reason I have resisted so far is that they don’t go past the wrist, which would be vulnerable!
So it’s very interesting to hear what you say about both the difference in using gloves and not using them, and the difference in the NSW bee genetics/behaviour. And reassuring.
I decided yesterday to inspect again, because it was a much warmer day. My aim was to work out whether it was time to put my super on. With hindsight I should have known it was unlikely, but I also wanted to see the progress in a set time period (a week). It was much better this time. I did go very slowly, more slowly than last time. It was midday. The bees were much calmer and tended to not get in the way when I picked up the frames as much. In fact I hardly used any smoke, because I didn’t feel it was particularly needed - just a few puffs at the start. I also decided I just wanted to inspect the outermost 4 frames (two at each end) to see their progress.
To my great delight I spotted the queen on the second frame from the inside. It was probably because there were fewer bees on those frames. Now I know what colour her body is (I know they vary a bit - I don’t mean paint spot because she is wild). I saw enough larvae and capped brood to be happy, as well as pollen and honey stores and significantly more comb than last time.
I’ve also bought two small garden arches and cable-tied them together, and covered them in 70% shade cloth, ready for the hot days. They will fit over the hive nicely (even when the super eventually goes on).
Thank you very much for the detailed reply. I hope more beginners than me will also read it!
Getting your first colony through a swarm donation is a sweet way to kick things off. It’s impressive how they’ve settled in and started building comb and gathering pollen in such a short time. I get what you mean about the ““grumpy bees”” – nothing beats the real deal when it comes to bee behavior!You’ve got a good plan with the shade cloth for those scorching SA summer days. Finding that perfect spot for hives can be a puzzle, especially with our unpredictable weather. But it sounds like you’re on the right track.I’ve been all about outdoor amusement parks lately. There’s something magical about the combination of thrills and nature.
Getting your first colony through a swarm donation is a sweet way to kick things off. It’s impressive how they’ve settled in and started building comb and gathering pollen in such a short time. I get what you mean about the “grumpy bees” – nothing beats the real deal when it comes to bee behavior!
You’ve got a good plan with the shade cloth for those scorching SA summer days. Finding that perfect spot for hives can be a puzzle, especially with our unpredictable weather. But it sounds like you’re on the right track.
I’ve been all about outdoor amusement parks lately. There’s something magical about the combination of thrills and nature.