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Slow progress on flow frames, full brood box

Hi folks,

I have an 8 frame flow classic. Hived from a strong nuc on 23/Sep. The hive has made great progress filling the brood box, and was ready for the flow super which I added on 17/Oct. During the inspection on 17/Oct the brood box was full of bees, had around 5 solid frames of brood (lots capped), and 3 very solid frames of resources. There were no queen cells seen during this inspection.

Since adding the super, progress on the flow frames has been slow even though there are plenty of resources about and the hive is extremely packed. I prewaxed the flow frames to encourage the bees to work the frames. They have sealed most of the splits in the flow frames and are processing some nectar.

I am planning a brood inspectionin the next few days to check for swarm preparations.

My concern is that with the brood box so full, and resources so abundant, the hive may decide to swarm. Is this likely even if the flow frame space is available to the hive?

Thanks,
Keith

To definitively answer my own question:

YES a swarm is possible.

My hive swarmed. Robbed out what nectar was in the flow frames almost completely and a least half the hive left.

Unfortunately due to the terrain, I was unable to capture the swarm.

My best guess as to what happened based on a post-swarm inspection of the hive:

  • abundant resources caused the foraging bees to store in the brood box
  • hive workers were unable (unwilling) to wax/work the flow frames to keep up with incoming resources
  • hive population was high
  • queen ran out of room to lay and the hive decided to swarm out

On inspection, there are some partially formed queen cups mid-frame, and a couple of partially formed swarm cells on one frame. There are no capped queen cells, so it seems like the decision was made hastily.

In the brood box there are a few solid frames of capped honey and pollen (either side)
There are 2-3 solid frames of capped brood, some uncapped brood varying stages, and a small number of eggs. In the middle of the brood (frames 3 and 4 in the 8 frame brood) there are big patches of open nectar and pollen with a little bit of uncapped young larvae around the edges.

I’m not sure yet what the lesson from all this is. It’ll take some time to process I guess.

Would I have spotted a problem if I’d opened the hive a few days ago (as I was thinking of doing)?

What could I have done to avoid this situation? Remove some full frames at the last inspection from the brood to keep the brood space more open for the queen? But at that stage the super had only just gone on, and the hive had only just started working in it. I had no idea they would be slow in the super!

Could/Should I put on and ideal/deep super with foundation frames on top to free up space used by resources in the brood?

What’s to stop the same problem occuring again once I have a new queen and the hive population is growing again? Is there anything else I can do to encourage the bees to work the flow frames? Or will this just happen again in 5-6 weeks?

My mentor gave me generally sound advice (I think). “There’s space, let them be bees and do their thing. They are not likely to swarm.” I trusted that advice, but I think it is perhaps less valid for a flow hive if there’s evidence that the hive is very slow on working the flow frames.

I’d really love to hear the Flow community’s collective wisdom here. I realise that every hive/situation is subtly different, but I feel there’s learning to be had here and I’m keen to learn if I can.

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Hi Keith and welcome. I think you hit the nail on the head with your assessment. It’s a very tricky balance to achieve when placing a new Flow super on during early to mid spring. Your colony built up faster than the frames could be fully waxed and ready for all that nectar coming in. Sorry you weren’t able to catch your swarm - it’s hard to watch one get away :pleading_face:

I was more successful with my timing of splitting my colonies this past season, and was able to put two Flow supers on strong colonies in May (mid-spring). And, my Flow frames had been fully waxed and in use during the previous two seasons. One of these still swarmed and I was fortunate to catch it.

I haven’t tried this myself but I wonder if replacing two of your outer Flow frames with full honey frames from your brood box - and putting empty new frames in to replace them - could have helped? There’d be some rigging to do with space in the super, but I think you’d promote work upstairs and downstairs, plus the bees might even move the honey from the regular frames into the Flow frames.

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I also think your assessment is correct.

It’s been my experience that crowding the broodnest during prime brooding conditions…especially under a queen excluder…results in a greater chance of the hive swarming.

Whenever I see frames like this in the brood chamber during this buildup time, trouble is brewing…I typically remove them (saving them for later in the season when the pollen flow has shutdown).

When ever I see a frame like this in the brood box(s) going into winter, I smile.

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Thanks Eva!

It hurt to see the swarm get away - a lot of my bees and a productive queen!

Your suggestion is appreciated. Similar to advice I received last night from a local bee breeder. Thanks!

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Thanks Doug,

That frame looks almost a copy of one I saw in my brood box yesterday. Lesson (painfully) learned!

Thanks for replying. Much appreciated!

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Update:

I have now requeened the flow hive and opened up the brood box by removing a couple of frames and replacing with foundation frames.

Hopefully they progress and the new queen settles things down a bit.

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Hi Keith,

I am not sure about advice that bees are ‘not likely to swarm’. Not in spring. My experience says the opposite. Bees want to swarm- and must be stopped!

this year I have been trying my hardest to stop hives from swarming. I don’t think it matters what type of super you have- if conditions for swarming are present bees will swarm. I think with an 8 frame flow box and just one super though- you need to be extra careful as it can easily become very crowded early in spring leading to a huge primary swarm. A 10 frame hive- with at least two supers- is less likely to swarm in my experience…

to stop them one needs to add space in the brood box more than anything- not just add supers. Adding supers does help for sure- but is no guarantee. When you see wall to wall capped brood in the brood box in early spring conditions are right for the colony to swarm. The queen must slow her laying as she waits for the existing brood to develop- the population is exploding. Nurse bees have little to do when most of the brood is capped already- the stage is set for a swarm. Idle bees think they have won at life and want to celebrate by swarming.

My management involved going in early just before spring and removing any of the outer frames which were all honey. Then going back in again at regular intervals and doing whatever I can to create more space in the brood box and removing queen cells as they appeared. In some hives that meant splitting- in others it meant moving brood up into the super above the QX (not really feasible if you only have a flow super)- and removing any more frames of all honey/all pollen that appear- moving them into supers or harvesting them. We also used brood from strong hives to strengthen weak ones- and ones that swarmed.

This year we managed to get swarming down to less that 20% of our 25 hives- which we considered a success over previous years. Now the swarming impulse is starting to pass and the bees are getting down to the business of putting in the honey. Jacaranda has just started to flower heavily and we hope this will be a good season.

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Hi Jack, would be interested in your take on removing Queen Cups, there is a lot for and against removing them. A lot of opinion is that it makes no differences taking them off as they will just get replaced straight away. With some even saying it is worse to take them off than leave them.
Cheers Brent

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sure- I agree that the bees just keep building more- that’s what I have been seeing over the last two months. But if you look inside every ten days or less- and check every frame and remove every queen cell- the hive won’t swarm- which is the name of the game. You must continue this process until the urge to swarm passes- which is what I am seeing right now. Of course this is not the solution to swarm prevention all on it’s own. In fact- if you need to do it- arguably you are already behind on your swarm prevention strategy… You need to address the underlying issues that are making the bees want to swarm. But this year we have had good results checking every ten days during the height of swarm season- removing queen cells- making splits, moving brood upstairs, donating brood to weak hives, removing excess honey and/or pollen frames, adding supers, harvesting honey as soon as it is ready.

Some of our hives have had as many as 80% of their frames switched out over spring.

My favorite flow forum beekeeper (now sadly gone) Jeff- called this ‘weakening out’ strong hives. It seems counter intuitive but the way to end up with a very strong hive is often to weaken it out at the right time/s.

at the start of this year my strongest hive of them all got away from me and swarmed- a huge primary swarm. It is now one of my weakest hives. The swarm was so big it drew out a ten frame brood box in less than two weeks.

recently I watched a very very good video from a great NSW beekeeper, Bruce White that covers a lot of the methods I already use to stop swarms- and also had a few tricks that were new to me as well:

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Agree with what you have said, but to be clear I am referring to play or dummy cups. i was told by a mentor to remove these, however, there is a lot of opinion not to remove them. It would seem that a lot of the popular opinion is to leave them as they could be there as an emergency or supersedure cell. I am familiar with and have watched Bruce’s video on this, in it he discusses dummy cells and does not say to remove them. That was what i was referring to with Queen cups and whether those are what you are removing? Obviously what is on the frames in the way of Queen cups or cells is only part of the overall picture.

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well- same for play cups- - if I am there and it’s swarm season I’ll break them down. They could be supercedure cells I guess- but during peak swarm time they are more likely to be swarm cells. At other times I of the year I just leave them mostly. During swarm time the difference between a play cup and a charged queen cell could be just a day or two. I haven’t really thought about it before- but if a hive was contemplating supercedure- chances are it would have some brood/queen issues already- generally when I am doing at swarm prevention I am looking at hives that have massive frames of capped brood and big populations- where the queen is going good as far as I can tell.

If somehow a hive need to make an emergency queen and failed because I wrecked all the cups- in a month or so I would see that the hive had issues and could remedy it then. In spring my main focus is dealing with hives that are doing very well- too well.

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Yep, get the point if there is heaps of brood/eggs shouldn’t be a Queen issue.

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What frequency are you inspecting during Spring? Apologies for bombarding you with questions.

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no worries.

during the peak of the swarming time I try to inspect at least once every 10 days. Especially so for the hives that showed signs of crowding etc. Not so many times for small splits, new swarms, weak hives, etc.

Didn’t always happen though- and we had a few swarms. You snooze: you lose.

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I was doing 7 but am trying to do 10, it’s a bit hard working that around weekends though. Although someone had a go the other day saying that is way too often. trouble with this game is every second person has a different opinion. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Hi Keith,
This is exactly what happenend to me, but fortunately I caught the swarm. I had hoped putting the flow super on would give them the space they needed, but no.

A week later, I had a quick look inside, having read the hive should be left alone for the new queen to emerge and do her thing. I found capped swarm cells and got totally confused. I didn’t know whether another swarm was imminent or the new queen was yet to emerge. I quickly closed up the hive and have left them undisturbed. No sign of further swarms and weather providing, I’ll go back in tomorrow.

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if I have a hive that has swarmed I go in that day if I can. I go through the entire brood box and tear down all the queen cells except the best one or two. Often I will find many queen cells- and some of them may be emerging right then and there. This year I had one hive that had swarmed and while I was going through the brood box 3 virgin queen emerged right before my eyes. In addition there were 20 or so queen cells in various stages. In that case I kept the nicest looking emerged queen and I tore down every queen cell. I released her and that hive has bounced back very fast.

If you don’t go into a hive after it has warmed there is a possibility that it will swarm again- even as many as 3 times. Especially so with a large powerful colony. Each swarm is smaller than the last and at the end the hive can be thoroughly depleted. It can take an entire season to recover.

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As always there are so many different ways and varying opinions. Each situation is different and requires compromises and circumstantial choices. But the discussion here has been enlightening!

I’ve learned a lot and really appreciate the insights.

Thanks for all the valuable commentary folks!!!

Update on my hive: I purchased a queen and requeened the flow hive. During that process I split out 3 frames into a NUC (full honey/pollen frame, full brood frame, mixed brood/honey/pollen frame, plus 2 foundation frames). One of the frames had 1 capped swarm cell. I did an artificial swarm split, so the NUC picked up the foragers and the flow hive was moved to a new location. Both hives have plenty of resources and open space to build, and both now seem to be doing okay. The NUC queen should emerge tomorrow or day after. I’ll check both hives in a week or so for progress to see if that was the right thing to do.

Regards,
Keith

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Hi Jack, thanks for mentioning my quote as well as the kind words :slight_smile:

There is one thing I do to help buy more time, which works well & allows 3-4 weeks between inspections during a heavy swarm season. What I do: whether I’m removing brood only or brood including bees is to take all the sealed brood away. That puts a temporary halt to the population growth. In fact, for the next 10-12 days, the population should decrease, until such times as the brood you left behind starts to emerge.

I’m starting to think that the colony takes the amount of sealed brood into consideration, along with the size of the population, available forage, lengthening daylight hours, available space etc. when deciding to make swarm preparations.

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