Victorian Bee help please - Am I expecting too much?

Hello fellow bee keepers. I am a 2nd year beekeeper. Last year, we got our nuc in January, had a small but respectable harvest just before the weather cooled and then early in Spring, added a super with 3 flow frames and 4 regular frames which we were able to harvest in November and got 7.5kg from the 3 flow frames. I thought this might be too early for a harvest but ALL frames were full in the brood boxes of honey and brood. (we left the traditional honey frames for the bees). A decision was made to split the hive in late November as the hive was very very full so we now have two hives. Both flow - 1 with a brood box and super of flow frames and the original one with a two brood boxes plus the flow hybrid on top.

I’ve heard from people that its been a slow year for honey with very little honey flow… and now in mid March we did an inspection to see how the honey was coming along. (Hoping to do a harvest before the weather cools). The original hive has lots of brood in both brood boxes (more drone brood than I’d like) and only a couple of honey frames that are full. The super has 4 completely empty traditional frames and the 3 flow frames have some honey in the centre of each of the 3 flow frames but that’s all. The newer hive has lots of brood and some honey in the lower box, lots of brood in the top box and hardly any honey.

I had been told to expect 2-3 harvests in the 6 months from Spring to Autumn but we are nowhere near ready to harvest either hive and its been 4 months since the last one. Did we perhaps split the hive too early and put too much pressure on the bees to build up a colony and also put down honey, or has it just been a slow season all round? Both hives seem to be health, no bugs, a good laying queen in each, lots of activity but certainly not what I’d call productive… I’d really welcome some advice from experienced Victorian bee keepers who are experiencing similar conditions.

Thanks so much :slight_smile:

Hi Tamara

I’m not in Victoria but we do have a fantastic Flow Ambassador just down the road from you, Jananta Dwipa. You can find his contact info on the Reseller/Ambassador map under Ambassador.

I’d like to recommend consolidating the hive where you can, i.e. avoid harbouring empty boxes, particularly if conditions aren’t aligned for an expanding colony. This will support the colony in many ways such as more numbers on the brood frames to police SHB, thermoregulation, keeping on top of potential moisture issues. This is a general rule regardless of the location - only add extra boxes as the bees need them. Maintaining this practice will provide better chances for any opportunities for more honey harvests as energy would have been saved and thus, less honey consumed.

We’ve had a shockingly wet season up the east coast so perhaps you are down there too.

It’s great to refine an acute observation of your bees too as they will always teach you more than any other beekeeper :slight_smile:

Hi Tamara,
I’m across the bay and here it’s been a good season for honey. Having said that, I still wouldn’t necessarily expect 2-3 harvests a year. I also wouldn’t expect much from a split. I try to let the (split) colony build for the next season. I just put ideals over the brood boxes to give them good stores for winter. Having said that, I merged a queenless swarm with a spring split and it’s close to my most productive hive. I’m also on a farm and don’t have endless back gardens for the bees to feast on. I do have hundreds of gums for them that flower on and off throughout the year (a la feast or famine).
If you take a smaller split from your hive, you might get more of a harvest from the original too.
Hope this helps and I thoroughly agree with Bianca too. All the best

Thanks so much for your response. When we decided to take a small split from the main hive last September, it was because the hive which had a brood box and super was so bursting full of bees, honey and brood that there was nowhere for the queen to lay or for the bees to put down more honey. We took a small split (one frame each of young bees, brood and honey and put these in a 5 frame nuc box. This 2nd hive seems to be doing well and I didn’t really expect a harvest from this hive at this time. The original hive was given 3 new frames for honey and brood and we then also added the new flow hive super with a mix of flow frames and foundationess frames. We did this because it was early Spring and we imagined that once all those brood hatched into bees, they would once again need more space and also space for spring nectar flow.

The problem seems to be a distinct lack of pollen and nectar flow here on the Mornington Peninsula. We have a large ‘bee garden’ and the bees seemed to have plenty of food in Spring but everyone here is saying its been a bad year for honey with a cool and wet Spring and then rain which apparently washed the pollen and flowers away.

In preparing for Winter, I’ve been thinking of removing the Super with the flow frames, given there are 4 reasonably untouched foundationless frames but that would leave the two existing other boxes quite full. Would this be a risk of swarming over winter?
What would you recommend?

Thanks so much in advance for your guidance.


Hi Tamara,

From what you write, it sounds like you put the hybrid super on too early. The brood box (es) need to be full before you add your super (see Dawn’s and others) posts about when to add your flow super). It’s also worth adding melted wax to your flow frames if they’re new to encourage the bees up there. I also would probably add the full flow (6 frame) super to the two brood boxes and leave the hybrid to the new colony (but that’s just me).

I can’t think why there would be such a difference in honey seasons between us, but I too had a cool wet spring (not a good start) but had a late winter - early spring (blue gum) honey flow which got them through spring really well. The wet spring was a boon for all the eucalypts with excellent flowering and strong nectar - red, yellow gums, then messmates and manna gums (amongst others). If you’re in a more urban setting, you may not have benefitted so much.

As far as preparing for winter goes, it’s worth doing a little reading on packing down your hive. The queen slows down her laying and the colony will shrink considerably in the lead up to winter. You therefore shouldn’t have to worry about winter swarms. You will need to manage your bee space though so the bees can keep warm over winter (as mentioned by Bianca). Here, my larger hives will be packed down to one brood box plus an ideal box (for honey stores) remembering you’ll need to take out the QX in autumn. I also take off the flow supers, extract the honey, let the bees clean them up then remove and store for winter. If there’s any uncapped honey in the flow super, feed it back to the bees. Given you say there’s not much there at all, I’d probably give it all back to them. There’s a video on the flow website about jar feeding bees via the hole in the inner cover. My first-year colonies will just be reduced to the single brood box (depending on how strong each hive is). I suspect your climate is slightly milder than mine meaning the bees will still be out and about on sunny days over winter.

If there are few stores for your bees, as you indicate, you may need to feed your bees to give them enough stores for winter. This is best done after the flow supers are off and using a 2:1 sugar syrup.
If they’re not using the supers and it’s all just space, then take them off early and start feeding your bees.

It might also be worth checking why you have so much drone brood now. Have you seen the queen lately?

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Hi @Outbeck , I picked up on the drone issue also. It’s important to observe what cells the drone brood occupies.

If the drone brood is in drone comb only, that would indicate that the queen laid the eggs, especially if worker brood is also present.

If there is drone brood mixed with worker brood in worker comb, to me that indicated a failing queen.

If there is only drone brood in worker comb, with no other worker brood anywhere to be seen, to me that indicates a queenless hive, with a laying worker.

Therefore with that in mind, one can make an assessment without actually spotting the queen.

I prefer to find a failing queen to a laying worker because it’s easier to remedy.

If one feels that there is an excess in drones in a queen-rite hive, the best thing to do is to remove the excess drone comb & replace it with worker comb.

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Having recently experienced a laying worker, I wholeheartedly agree.

Well done Beck, they can be a pain to deal with. However last week I found one & was able to rectify the problem with my first attempt with 2 frames of bias.

Thanks Jeff and Beck, I have attached the photos below which show 3 frames with what I believe are drone brood- one on a honey frame with a little worker brood, another with what I believe are drone brood in a honey frame and a third one with a mix of brood - mostly drone I think. Plus an image of a frame of made up of entirely uniform worker brood which looks to me like the queen seems to be doing a good job. There was also fresh young brood so I do think we have a queen present even though I am terrible at finding her.

I’d really appreciate your thoughts as to whether we need to do something or leave it as is…

You’re welcome Tamara. Going by that bottom photo, you have no problems at all, queen wise. Unless things have changed over the past fortnight or so.

It’s important to be able to recognize the difference between worker comb & drone comb. You’ll notice that drone comb has larger cells than worker comb. Therefore look for drone brood in large cells & worker brood in small cells. It’s when you see drone brood in small cells, that things aren’t right.

Thanks Jeff,

So given the drone in the first photo seem to be raised but in regular cells, there is nothing to worry about? And yes, the photo of the nicely laid brood was taken in the last few days at our most recent inspection.

Really appreciate your insight and guidance. :slight_smile: