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Running Small/Medium sized flow colonies- do-able? Or swarm issues?

I have just put up some pics of my ‘totem’ hive on the forum- so far my colony inside is doing very well. However it has me wondering about running small/medium sized colonies. Effectively my colony is around 15 frames size in total- despite being 4 stories tall. My idea with this hive is that I can manage it by draining the flow frames regularly (assuming they fill regularly)- and I am hoping that despite it only having 3 flow frames- in practice by harvesting more often- I will be able to get a similar production to a hive with more flow frames.

However- am I more likely to run into issues with overcrowding and swarming running a hive system like this? I can’t see going much higher than 5 stories- and ideally I would have it as just 3- two five frame brood boxes and the one 3 frame flow box on top.

Even should it prove to be more swarm prone- I am hoping a hive can be maintained at this small size by making splits when it becomes to full? Does that sound feasible?


Yes, it certainly does. :wink:

@Dawn_SD say for instance a regular 5 frame nucleus hive- if you leave it alone in spring will it generally be much more likely to swarm than a larger hive? Being constrained? My guess: the answer is yes?

I had though this design could make a good compact urban hive- but I am worried it would require more beekeeping skills to manage it? What do you think?

I would guess so. In my hands, nuclei are very good at getting honey bound in spring, and if you don’t intervene they will make swarm preparations. Of course you can add another box, or checkerboard, or even take a frame of brood or food out and replace with an empty frame. But you will need to intervene.

Personally, I wouldn’t choose a nucleus box for a long term urban hive - 8-frames is as low as I would go. Others may have different experience, and I look forward to reading their thoughts. Having said that, your hives are just gorgeous, and I will now have to wipe my (and my husband’s) drool off my keyboard! :grin:

P.S. Happy Cake Day!!! Yours Jack, or your Mum’s? Best wishes to both of you anyway!

Yes @Dawn_SD I noticed the cake too. A little investigative work revealed… Happy forum joining day @Semaphore !

Your hive looks great! It is so tall and skinny, how stable is it?

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“Personally, I wouldn’t choose a nucleus box for a long term urban hive”,

sorry - I was a biy confusing: I am not thinking of running 5 frame Nucs- but two five frame (nuc sized) boxes with a three frame flow super- so around the space of 14 deep frames in total when supered… and maybe 10 frames overwinter.

I too wondered what the cake meant- I thought maybe it was because it’s my mums birthday this month? The cake is gone- so it must be as you say forum joining day. I have pretty much taken over mum’s account- she is always lurking there reading the forum though… hi mum.

@skeggley “Your hive looks great! It is so tall and skinny, how stable is it?”

I am a little worried about it tipping over- but the two lower boxes probably weigh around 35kg’s or more- the roof is also heavy and all together it feels very stable- though it is a bit worryingly sail-like. A few weeks ago we had a huge storm- I panicked at 2 am and went into the rain to put bricks onto the hives. They all stood up fine despite many large potted plants being knocked over. I was soaked in about 10 seconds- it was interesting to see many drenched bees bearding out the front in the full force of the storm in the middle of the night… the next day all seemed back to normal.

I plan to use those spring clips to lock all the hive parts together- and then to make a broader heavy base that they lock onto. Also in general I would take off the top-most observation box keeping it at three stories.

Nice timing on this topic, I have been building 5 frame nuc boxes and intended to do some measuring this afternoon to investigate building a box to hold 3 flow frames.
I think 2x5 frame nuc with 3 flow frames could be quite productive.

G’day Jack, I think your idea has merit, I’m sure it was thought of many years ago. I think through a lot of trial & error, they must have worked out that 8-10 frame boxes are ideal. I think I’d prefer 2x 10 frame boxes rather than 4x 5 frame boxes.

Cheers jeff,

I agree: One thing I do not enjoy in beekeeping is having to remove one box to have a look at the one below- having four boxes is twice as much trouble as 2- except for the weight factor.

However I am not trying to re-invent the wheel- and I have seen other people running multiple 5 frame nuc box hives on the net. I am just trying to make a small- 3 frame flow hive for urban use. Ideally it would just be the three boxes so total volume of around 14 deep frames.

I am very pleased to say the bees have taken to the flow frames like I have never seen before: after just one day they have filled in most of the little cracks that divide the cells- and the long crack that runs along behind each vertical row of cells. By the looks of it they will be storing honey in a matter of days. Currently I have no queen excluder in- I couldn’t find a 5 frame excluder- I will have to cut down a 10 frame one. I hope the queen doesn’t go up and start laying in there- though I doubt she would do that very quickly.

My main concern about the idea is that 14 frames would not be large enough to maintain a healthy hive without it swarming more often than a larger hive. I am hoping that regular draining of the flow frames will keep the colony busy- and stop it from getting too large and swarming too often. Anyhow: whatever the case I will be testing the theory for this season- and so soon will have my own results to ponder over.

The only concerns I have seen around running narrower (and indeed shorter) boxes is that it doesn’t give enough space for the brood ball. If you imagine the way the brood is layed in a box as a basketball, in a narrower box the sides are ‘cut off’ so the ball that fits inside the box can’t be as big.

What real world impact this has, I’m not sure. I received some criticism when I suggested running a hive completely in ‘Ideal’ sized boxes and frames, which suffered the same reduced ball size issue… but horizontally rather than vertically as in your case.

I’ve done it with Ideals and it worked… but I didn’t do any quantitative analysis on productivity or number of bees/swarming etc.

I still feel there may be some impact cutting height or width down with a better approach to target a more cube like shape (but in doing this you lose any Langstroth compatibility).


Thermal properties should probably also be mentioned. If you run 3 x 8 frame boxes you have 6 frames on the outside edges of the boxes which are more likely to be impacted by environmental conditions. If you run 5 x 5 you have essentially the same number of frames, but you now have 10 exposed on the edges of the boxes.

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Well done Jack, I just want to remind you that taking the honey is no guarantee that bees wont swarm. You’ll need to do preemptive swarm control to try to prevent bees from swarming.

Ten deep frames for brood will never be enough to prevent bees from preparing to swarm. Especially if you have a good young queen with ideal conditions for swarming. That is what I find.

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