So after we extracted the FlowHive, I needed to do an inspection of the Yellow Hive because the last one was May 18, about 3 1/2 weeks ago. That’s a long time for an 8 frame western hive – they need to be done every two weeks (I’ll explain below).
But the FlowHive is so heavy when it has honey, I estimate about 65-70 pounds, that I actually could barely lift it off the hives and I can’t get it back on top of the hive. So I have not inspected, waiting until I could extract the FlowHive and get rid of some of the honey weight.
My Bro actually hefted the FlowHive off the hive and we set it aside and I did a quick 10-12 minute inspection of the hive. I actually found not only what I expected to find, but actually a worse version of what I expected to find.
Yellow Hive inspection
The queen had “chimneyed” all the way to the top, just under the queen excluder. The top box (beneath the FlowHive) had a good 5 frames full of capped brood and all the brood were in the top 3 boxes. The bottom box, as I thought it would be, was basically a bunch of empty frames.
There were probably 30-35 fully formed and capped queen cells, all lined up along the bottom of the frames of several of the frames in the top 3 boxes. These are swarm cells. I’ve never seen so many in any of my hives, ever. This is telling me they are really ready to swarm. Bees want to swarm when they feel crowded.
I saw a lot of teeny weeny larvae, like 2 days old, but I could only find a very few (half a dozen) brand new fresh eggs laid that day. That’s not always a sign, but just one of the signs of getting ready to swarm is stopping the queen from laying new brood. So this has me more concerned.
I managed the hive down by putting all the brood back down in the bottom two boxes, putting all the empty frames in the 3rd box up, then the 4th box has honey/food, then the queen excluder, then the FlowHive.
I did not remove any of the queen cells. If they are going to swarm, they’re going to swarm. I’m hoping that managing them back down will slow them down and make them not swarm. But that is an awful lot of queen cells they made.
I could split the hive right now to try to keep it from swarming, and that might do the trick. But if they have in their heads to swarm, it’s going to happen no matter what I do. So call I can do is wait a few days and see if they settle down or if they swarm.
So here’s what I had to think about the last two days.
First, a synopsis of beekeeping in 8 frame Western hives and why I use them.
It takes 2 8-frame western hives to equal 1 10-frame deep hive (the regular size boxes used by commercial beekeepers – all big burly men).
A 10 frame deep box full of honey can weigh anywhere from 85-95 pounds.
An 8 frame western box full of honey weighs about 35-40 pounds.
I started beekeeping from the beginning with 8 frame western boxes because I want to do this a long time and I can handle 35-40 pounds. All the OF’s in beekeeping constantly brag about how you know a beekeeper by their bent back, how they all have bad backs, etc. I don’t find that funny. I want to keep my back in good shape. Over the past 6 years, the local bee supplier has gone from keeping nearly no 8 frame western equipment to a very huge supply of 8 frame western equipment, because a large majority of the backyard beekeepers are women and they want the lighter weight boxes. It’s no longer exclusively a man’s world in beekeeping (move over, drones).
The only “problem” (if you want to call it a problem) with keeping 8 frame western hives is that the bees, more than in any other of the hive types (10 frame western, 8 and 10 frame deeps), tend to “chimney” – which means that the queen quickly moves straight up the middle of the hive as she lays, to the top, ignoring the side frames, and as the bottom frames hatch out, she does not go down to lay there but just keeps going up to the top. So she gets to the top, thinks she’s run out of room, and instead of going back down, she wants to swarm to find more room.
That means that you have to “manage the hive down” constantly. That means, moving all the brood back to the bottom of the hive, the food to the top of the hive, and the empty frames/expansion frames above the brood and below the food. You put the open brood in the bottom, then the capped brood, then empties, then food. It’s just a cycle that you get in and each time you inspect, you also have to manage.
I’ve found over my very few 6 years in beekeeping that the perfect inspection/management cycle is 2 weeks. Last year I tried waiting 3 weeks instead and found that they started building queen cells and were crammed along the top of the hive. But at two weeks, the queen will have just laid some fresh eggs in one frame in the top of the hive and I can easily manage them down again and get her back on track.
This “managing down” issue would not be an issue if I kept larger boxes – 10 frame westerns would be less managing and of course 8 or 10 frame deeps would be less of a problem. I could wait 3-5 weeks between inspections.
But I can’t comfortably lift 50-85 pound boxes, and it would limit my lifespan of being able to beekeep. So the answer is NOT to move to bigger boxes.
The Pros and Cons of the FlowHive for me
- way less work and way less time extracting honey (note: I kind of like the old fashioned process of putting the frames in the extractor, cranking away and filling the bucket with the honey)
- only pre-clean and sterilize jars, not equipment (note: it took about 20 minutes to extract into clean jars. On regular extracting day I need to clean and sterilize the equipment the day before so it can dry, then spend anywhere from 2-3 hours extracting, then wash all the equipment again)
- much less waste – honey goes in jars, any left over honey stays in the hive. During regular extraction there is a lot of honey you just can’t get off the sides of the stainless steel tank and it gets wasted as you wash out the tank
- don’t have to brush angry bees off honey frames as you remove them from the hive
- bees didn’t engage or even seem to know extraction was happening (at least from the outsiders view)
- not necessary to wait for the honey to “filter” because there are no exploded bee body parts or chunks of wax thrown from the centrifuge of the extracting machine. Regular extraction spins the combs fast, throwing both honey, bee parts and wax chunks out, which go into the honey bucket. You then have to filter out the big bee parts and wax chunks
- The FlowHive 8 frame deep box empty weighs in at 18.5 pounds. Full of honey, it weighs in at about 78 pounds according to FlowHive
- I can’t inspect the hive at all while the bees are making honey in the FlowHive, prior to it being cured and ready for extraction, because the FlowHive box is so heavy, I have to get a big, burly man over here to move the FlowHive off the top of the hive. If this takes longer than 2 weeks, I risk my queen feeling cramped and the bees swarming
So that’s really the only con. However, it is such a big, unworkable con that I’ve decided, regretfully, that it can’t work for me.
I can’t risk my bees swarming or having to hire some guy every 2 weeks to come over and move the FlowHive box off the hive, then back on again after I’ve inspected.
My wonderful HB is a big, burly man. He has built the bee deck, built all my equipment, built my hive stands, built my custom bee shed, built the protective see-through screen fence around my beeyard, carted countless equipment around for me. But from the beginning he did not want to be actually suited up and out in the bees – which is just fine with me. He does all the work, I get all the pleasure. He’s a little freaked out about being in the bees. I’d be freaked out completely if he started keeping spiders as pets. So to each their own.
Until FlowHive manufactures FlowHive honey boxes that weigh in full of honey at about 35-40 pounds, this is not the method for me and possibly for a large amount of women beekeepers the world over.
So I’m going to sell my FlowHive to my Bro and let him use these for his hives. He already has an entire FlowHive package of one hive and now he can have the equipment to have two hives next year.