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Packing down a flow hive (or not) for winter, Porongurups, Western Australia


#1

Hi Everyone!

Starting to get ready for my first winter with my flow hive here in the Porongurups in Western Australia and the official Flow Hive video on packing down a hive for winter (see https://www.honeyflow.com/faqs/wintering-your-flow-hive/p/206) was horrible. I was expecting to see the process, but it went from a brood box and a flow super and then suddenly there was just the brood box.

From reading the article it seems that it is a good idea to remove the flow super over winter to prevent the queen needing access to it for the honey stores and possibly ending up with brood in the flow frames come spring activity. I checked my flow super today (first day without rain that also was a Saturday for a long while) and (as I am running a hybrid) I had three frames of fully capped honey on standard frames plus three fully capped flow frames and the forth flow frame being worked on as I harvested just that one two weeks ago.

I pulled the three full flow frames, one of the full standard frames and brushed the bees back into the honey super and added some foundation frames in to replace the flow frames to give the bees something to play with while I ask some questions here :slight_smile:.

My hive appears to be very healthy as every frame in the honey super was covered in bees… they were not all that happy with me pulling the flow frames :wink:. I’ll be checking the brood box tomorrow, but I’m fairly sure all will be well there too.

So here are my questions if anyone can help with advice.

Option1: Single Brood Box

Q1: If I do this, there are seriously a lot of bees in the honey super as well as the brood box. If I remove the honey super to pack down to a single brood box, what do I do with all those bees? Do I just shake them into the brood box? It looks full in there and I’m sure the bees would not all fit…

Q2: If I do this, I read somewhere that one frame of honey to each frame of brood should get them through the winter. Is this about right?

Option 2: Honey Super and Brood Box

Q3: Would it be better to just remove the flow frames and replace with the foundation frames (as I have already done) and then just remove the queen excluder and let 'em go for it?

I can see this as being not a bad idea as then when Spring comes around I can shake all the bees into the brood box and pop the queen excluder back on, pull the weakest standard frames out and replace with the flow frames and things are off and running again.

Option 3: Leave it alone

Q4: Or, would it be better to just leave the three standard frames of honey there alongside the empty flow frames and then monitor the brood box over winter, moving the honey frames in as needed?

I would hate to trap the queen down in the brood box on the other side of the queen excluder and for her to starve and die as the rest of the hive moved up into the honey super :(.

Thanks for any advice in advance! Too many possibilities and not enough experience :wink:.


#2

I am in a similar situation here in SA. And a first time beekeeper as well. I think the normal rules do not apply to our situations, using flow frames in a temperate climate, with few pests. We will need to use common sense, local knowledge and a bit of risk taking to see what works in our environments.

Not many others have experience the best way to over winter a flow frame hive in our temperate climate. Experience from even the most experienced of beekeepers does not really count here. My opinion.

My ‘newbee’ take on things…

Will your bees have forage over the winter and what are the temperatures you’re dealing with? Mine will have lots of native gum and weeds with temperatures not going below freezing and not a lot of rain. But, plenty of overcast, drizzly cold days.

I plan to leave my flow super on so that the bees have access to the honey stores.

I plan to leave the QEx in place since I don’t want the queen laying in the flow frames, but I want the bees to have access to their honey in the flow frames. A risk I know. But I don’t see that there is any choice with flow frames otherwise, since I don’t have a medium super as an insurance policy.

I am gambling on mild temps to keep the bees in the brood box. I really don’t think they would abandon their queen. I am hedging bets, but really where is the data on this one?

I plan to insulate the roof with an insulative batt over the flow super in the roof.

A gamble. I am sure beeks elsewhere will disagree. But nobody knows your environment and climate better than you. I reckon you just have to give it a go with your best guess. Then tell everyone else what worked or did not work for you. As I will as well.

Good luck,

Susie


#3

Hi Susie. Thanks for the comments. I love talking to other beeks, but most do not have flow frames :cry:. I was down at the local honey supplier earlier in the week getting a spare super for frame swapping and storage and one of the workers used to have a thousand hives! Yikes! Unfortunately he’s only lived her for a few months so he had no advice to give about wintering in the area… and now he wants to come and have a look at my flow frames :slight_smile:. Temps here in winter do get down to 2 degrees C, but not often… but once it starts raining, it rains fairly steadily for months… so my bees will be relying on storage more! I’m planning the same with an insulated batt into the roof.


#4

Is there any way you could get hold of an ideal or WSP box? From what I have read on here, quite a few guys in Australia pack down to a deep with an ideal on top over winter. Perhaps @Rodderick @Rmcpb or one of the other experienced Aussie keepers could comment.

I would say that may not be enough. Our climate is very slightly warmer than yours, and my bees need at least 40lb (18kg) of honey for over winter. That would be about 8 deep frames. If they don’t have that much, I know I will nave to feed.

You could do that, but they may not have enough of the season left to draw and fill all of the foundation. They might have more of a chance with an ideal box.

Having seen what my bees do with propolis enthusiasm in the autumn and winter, I would not leave any Flow frames on the hive over winter. They may become extremely difficult to crack open for harvesting the next year, if they get significantly gummed up with propolis.


#5

Dawn, couldn’t he put another deep or medium, preferably with drawn comb, UNDER the FLOW, and then crack the FLOW frames slowly, and one at a time, but let the honey flow into the hive, and let the bees recover the honey and repack it in the regular type frames just above the brood box?


#6

Then he could remove the FLOW super for the winter, I was going to add…


#7

Thanks for your comments. Sounds very much like the standard flow hive that Honey Flow send out (brood plus flow super) work best if a second ideal honey super added over the top. In that way the bees can fill both the honey flow and the ideal at the same time while the flow is on and then as winter comes the flow super could just be removed, the queen excluder removed and then everyone is happy! What do you think?

It might be a bit late for me now… but there is still pollen and nectar going in so perhaps they will be able to build up some more stores before it gets really cold. I’ve got six full frames of honey in there now… so this winter sounds like I’ll have to keep and eye on things so the hive remains viable.


#8

Hi Nick, that would be my train of thought too but the bees might not go along with it. For instance, you might find, for whatever reason, that they don’t put honey in the ideal that you put over the flow super. The nectar flow might not be as good as expected or the extra room in the ideal could be too much for the bees to heat and you could get issues with that. You might also have needed to put more than one deep brood under the flow super to allow room for the queen to lay so they don’t swarm. I have tried to do the deep brood plus one full ideal super of honey over the top for winter but am not convinced that I have achieved my aim due to many surprises every time I look in the hives. I am in Tasmania. We are having a warmer than usual autumn (20 degrees today for example) but I really think there is little nectar out there at the moment.


#9

Hi Nick, you are correct about the many possibilities. You would be amazed at how all those bees will fit into one box. There is a few things to consider: The bees constrict the brood during winter. Also more bees will be required to keep the brood warm. You will find a lot less bees in the honey super on a cold morning because more bees are needed to maintain the brood temp. As the day warms up, you’ll see more bees in the honey super.

Another thing to consider if you are packing down to one super would be a migratory lid with a deep rise. Use that in conjunction with a vinyl mat that has bee space all around it. The deep rise lid will have plenty of room for bees if they need it.

The fact that bees constrict the brood during winter means that there will be plenty of honey surrounding the brood in one box.

I agree with @WillungaRange in relation to keeping bees in a temperate climate.

I find that in my sub-tropical climate, some colonies constrict the brood during winter while others just carry on as if we weren’t even in winter, or only slightly constrict the brood.

Good luck with your decision. Monitor your bees, you’ll be right, cheers


#10

Thanks Dan and Jeff. Well I figure the ideal super mixed with a flow super might be the way to go for next season. I’m trying to come up with a better system than having to remove all the flow frames and replace them, too many annoyed bees everywhere :smile:. Perhaps a slight modification that may work better. If the ideal super is put below the flow super, then a frame of brood taken from the brood box and put into the flow super then the bees will migrate into the flow super to look after the brood and as they cross the ideal super populate that as well.


#11

I’m just 25km from you and the weather is much the same. Maybe not as wet, but just as cold.
Kendenup.

I’ve got mine positioned north facing and sheltered from any westerly winds and rain. They catch the first morning sunshine and are active pretty early in the day.

I’ve harvested the last of my honey and will leave the bees 3 full flow frames for the winter. I have 3 full depth Langstroth hives, all with a 7 flow frames. 21 frames in total.
I notice some white gum, spotted gum and plenty of hakea flowering. Now the bees are still bringing back lots of food so they should easily manage the short winter.
In a couple of weeks will inspect all the brood boxes and clean them up in case of bugs.

Last season I left the supers on over the winter as well.

I notice the local professionals all run brood and super over the winter.


#12

Hi OneHiveHoney. Great to have a local response :grinning:. Its raining like mad right now on us. Did you find that the three full frames plus the brood box stores worked out for you over the last winter then? If so, that is exactly what I have done. I’ve got three fully capped standard frames of honey in the flow hive and the last of the honey from the flow frames was harvested yesterday.

Also a question just presented itself, if anyone else can comment as well. What is the view of empty space in the honey super over winter? Is it better to keep the space populated with frames even if empty / does it even make any difference?


#13

Here its only a strong drizzle.
Bees are still flying around.
Especially after I placed a new ant proof stand underneath.

You must get near double the rain than we do.


#14

Hi Nick
I think the bees can escape around a standard frame in a flow super because of the design can’t they?


#15

This is a very complicated question, and I don’t think that there is a scientifically proven answer. However, I would say that if you look at a natural bee colony, they empty what they need from combs over winter, and move stores around if they are warm enough to do so. If you have a super on top of a hive to feed it, and the bees are eating the stores, I would leave it there. If it is empty, take it off and compress the space. But I wouldn’t mess too much with the hive body in a cold winter.


#16

I am also considering this question as the days shorten. I am in SA- and last year at the end of Autumn we removed the flow super from my mothers hive. I shook all the bees off into the one 8 frame brood box. We drained the flow frames- some were fully capped- a few were unripe nectar. A Month later we inspected the hive and found a few hundred dead bees in the roof. I think this was partly because I accidentally left the QX in place- and also partly caused by the severe overcrowding when we removed the super and shook all the bees down.

This year- the plan is to leave the flow supers in place- in Adelaide there are a lot of warm (ish) days, little or no frost, and plenty of forage in the diverse suburban environment. We won’t know if it was a good idea until next spring. But at this stage I am planning to do this with all my hives. I feel pretty confident everything will be fine.

I will however insulate all of my hive roofs over winter- and have them set up with no top ventilation- but reasonable bottom ventilation. I am hoping that even if the bees leave the flow super and all move down to the brood box- they will still be able to keep the overall hive temperature warm enough. If it all works I think there is even a chance that the bees will lay in some honey over winter. Last year coming out of winter we found mums brood box to have no empty comb and several fully capped frames of honey.


#17

Hi Semaphore. From what I’ve read / heard (any feel free to correct me here) the bees like to move upwards rather than downwards, i.e. from the brood box (which has less stores thanks to our lovely queens doing their thing) to the honey super. If the queen excluder is in place still, then the queen can get left behind. You would need to remove the excluder as well and this will expose the flow frames to your queen and you could end up with brood, pollen, eggs, etc in your flow frames come good weather and nectar flow. Honey Flow themselves recommend removing the flow frames over winter (https://www.honeyflow.com/faqs/wintering-your-flow-hive/p/206) and as Dawn said you could end up with heavily propolised flow frames and a fun cleaning job ahead of you. Hence the post here trying to figure out the best way to remove the flow frames whilst keeping the bees well fed :smile:. I can only hope that my bees can find nectar over winter and when I check the whole hive is packed with honey! I can dream…


#18

Hi OneHiveHoney. An ant-proof stand? Did you make that or is it something you can purchase? I have a bugger of a time with black ants when trying to harvest, they immediately know somethings up and come running up the hive and onto the flow frame being harvested. I have not tried the cinnamon powder trick yet, but if there is an ant-proof stand available then it would be most excellent.


#19

I think the bees can escape around a standard frame in a flow super because of the design?

Dan. they most assuredly can. I made the mistake when I first assembled the flow hive in alternating full frames with flow frames. My first harvest consisted of me trying to keep the bees away from the honey as they all come zooming out the back :scream:. Flow are now selling a hybrid super with a cut down arch at the rear so that you can put standard full frames either side of the flow frames and the bees can not escape out that way when harvesting. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Next season I’m going to try the ideal super idea and just fully populate the flow super with flow frames… or cut up a bit of plywood to block the arch a bit.


#20

I have also read and been warned about the prospect of the cluster moving up above a queen excluder in winter, leaving the queen alone to freeze and die. However- in general- this seems to be much more of an issue in very cold climates with freezing winters. I don’t think it poses such a risk in temperate and tropical climates. I also think the risk is further decreased when you run a single brood box in these types of climate. I have asked about this question on these forums- and I haven’t heard a definitive answer from anyone. But my guess is- in my climate- the cluster would not abandon the queen in winter. The bees do seem to like moving upwards- and storing honey upstairs- but they also have a strong desire to stay with the queen and cluster over the brood ball area.

In our own brood box going into winter last year- there were several fully capped frames of honey. Coming out of winter those frames were there- still fully capped. On many days throughout winter bees were foraging and bringing in nectar- I don’t even think queens completely stop laying brood in our winters?

Having said all of that- I am only a first year bee keeper- I have read a lot and ask a lot of questions- but I wouldn’t take my word for anything… My plan to insulate the top of the hive- and have bottom ventilation only- whilst leaving on the flow super- is loosely based on this theory of hive ventilation: