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Native bee hive split - FROTH design

We have been playing with native bees for a while now and have both Tetragonula Hockingsii and Tetragonula Carbonarii. Our Carbonarii are housed in a standard OATH hive (Original Australian Tetragonula Hive) which are now an industry standard - and our Hockingsii bees were housed in the Felhaber hive (named after the inventor, Les Felhaber). However, my husband decided that the long hives had some real complications, one of them being how to put them out in the garden and keep them stable and so he played around with a design and he came up with the FROTH  (Froggy's 'Riginal Other Type Hive) hive design.

We did a transfer into this new design from a traditional Felhaber last year (link here) and this year it seemed full and so we decided to have a go at splitting it.

Nick from Australian Native Bees came to have a look and give us a hand.

Here's what we did...

This is an empty FROTH design Hockingsii hive. It has the same split design as the Felhaber - ie vertical rather than the horizontal split of the OATH hive - but incorporates OATH design elements such as the vertical size, width, and volume. It has the same type of honey box as the OATH. It's also painted white like the traditional OATH hives.

You can see the mesh on the inside to give stability to the brood when it is cut and to stop it from falling when you do a transfer or have to transport the hive from one location to another. The plastic inserts are to make the split easy and to encourage the bees to build above and below the plastic so there is less damage when you take the honey box off to harvest or inspect. It has also been built out of two planks of Cypress pine as the long thick pieces of Cypress seem to be warped when we get them making it harder to make hives that fit together tightly. 

This is the front of the FROTH hive. It is attached the floor of the hive and the hive entrance is on the front just above the landing board. The plastic insert stops the bees from building up into the honey box.

 Nick suggested that we add a plastic tube to the entrance for the first few weeks to allow the bees some protection from predators while they deal with the rebuild and any spilt honey which often attracts all sorts of unwanted visitors for the bees.

Nick sealed it in with softened wax from another hive on the inside and the outside. The long downward curving pipe stops phorid flies from entering the hive as they don't like to fly upwards in the dark. Note that these hives are painted white like other native Australian bee hives to help keep them cool in our tropical summers...

First the honey box is lifted off the box - it takes a bit of force. Those bees might be small, but they sure know how to protect themselves!

Then comes the main split of the FROTH hive. See how the bees have gummed up the area between the plastic on the top of the hive and where the bit on the bottom of the honey box has been removed? This hive got wet on one side and has warped a but - that's why there is an uneven sticky-out part at the top there. John has reinforced the new ones in the hope of stopping the warping in future.

Like I said earlier - they don't muck around those bees. Giving up on my best kitchen knife - he resorted to the chisel and mallet system of getting into a hive!

Wow! Checking out the results!

The split is very neat and the brood gently gave way at the stress points as we had hoped. the mesh keeps the brood in place very securely and allows a very neat break in the brood mass. Hockingsii is normally split vertically - this is just a lot more mass to get through than the smaller Felhaber hive design.

Nick pointed out a queen cell for us and we made sure it went in with the weakest side (the newest half) when we put them with their new halves.

Here we are scraping a bit of the wax and resin off the edges to make sure the hive fits neatly on to its new half. This was where the hive got wet on one side and warped and expanded a bit.

Here is the brand new empty half going onto the back of the original front. Note the plastic on the bottom to allow an easy split next time as the knife will go between the wooden floor and the plastic without damaging any bee structures.

The new back fits neatly onto the old front. We weigh all our empty hive halves and note that on the hive so that we can weigh a full box and determine if there is enough mass inside to do a split without having to open them.

And on goes the honey box and tropical lid. Another advantage of the FROTH design is that the tropical lids and honey boxes are interchangeable with the OATH hive. The hive dimensions are the same. The hole at the back is a small escape hatch for the bees in case something goes horribly wrong inside the hive for them. They can also use it for an air conditioning duct. If they don't need it they can block it up with resin. It looks like these guys were using it!

The hive is then taped up to ensure the bees have as much protection as possible from marauding predators that will be attracted to the spilt honey and bee casualties.

Some nice close up pictures of the Hockingsii brood structure.

Parts of the internal roadways, air-conditioning and other bee infrastructure: Pretty amazing really!

Can you see the recently hatched bee in the middle of the picture? She is a much lighter colour and can't fly yet. Poor little critter - what a start to the world!

You can see the swarm of bees that was forming around the hives original site as they came back from foraging or escaped the hive when we opened it and came home to find there was no hive. Within minutes of putting the hive back the swarm was heading straight inside - for a well deserved cuppa I imagine!!

A quick pic before the hive was lifted back into its original position and you can see the bees have found it already and are crawling all over it checking on their home. We repeated the same putting back together process with the other hive halves and taped up the entrance and took it a friend's place more than 5km away to settle for 6-8 weeks over summer.

As you can see, it looks like a traditional OATH hive at first glance. It's a lot easier to put in a temporary position as it sits nicely and is in no danger of splitting inadvertently across the middle in transit or on site due to its length.

 These guys will sit here until the New Year sorting themselves out and replenishing their stores. (Thanks Kassy and Dallas!) As these bees only have a six to eight week life span, the new generation will not know about the other hive and when we move this hive back into our back yard they will not migrate back to the original hive and we can have all our hives on site.

We happen to live quite close to a large nature reserve that has acres and acres of gumtrees that these guys will be harvesting all their resources from. If we lived in the middle of a big city there may not be enough resources nearby to have a large number of hives on site.

If you are interested in Native Bees there are some great websites around.
If you are interested in splitting bees the best time to be doing it here in Brisbane is between October 1st and December 31st. That gives the bees enough time to prepare for winter and repair their hive over the summer when resins and pollen is abundant. Splitting native hives in Winter could result in the loss of both hives...

If you have any bee splitting experience or know of resources for others to use - post 'em in the comments!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for helping increase the population of native bees! 
Frugal-ness: 2/5 Hmmmm, Native bee keeping is not very frugal at all...
Time cost: 15 minutes to split the hive and another 15 to drive to our friends place.
Skill level: Bee keeping is much easier than a lot of things you could do!
Fun-ness: Amazing amount of fun! You can waste a huge amount of time watching bees zooming in and out of their home.


David Z said…
Hi Kara & John,

Your blog i found after being instructed by the BOSS (Dear Wife) that it was time to give our native bees another home to spread out into.
We originally got our hives from the guy in Ipswich. With the OATH boxes. We have the Carbonaria verity i think, going by the grey fuzzy sides they have.
We bought a book, Australian Stingless Bees and liked the way Les Felhaber uses the long horizontal box because it can be split easier than the OATH box. (i thought) Although i dont see a super used there.
Then i found your blog and see you use those boxes too but have now developed the FROTH design.
I have old hardwood Step treads. Do you think these would be suitable? They are 38mm thick ish. IM wondering if they would heat up too much in summer. The box we have now has 20mm polystyrene glued to the sides and im finding they dig under and seem to be starting small nests on the outside of the box.
Id rather just add shade somehow and keep the boxes cool that way.
With the Felhaber box i was wondering how to put a super onto that to gather honey. Has anyone done that?
Maybe i should try your design as it has a super on the top.
The tropical lid looks like a good idea, but thinking of overhanging the sides a lot more to create shade. Any thoughts on that idea?

It would be great to have contact with someone like yourselves to give guidance, as i really dont have a clue about what native bees like.

Practical Frog said…
Hi David, Thanks for your comment - Sorry, I have been a bit slack over Christmas with the Blog - all that food, socialising and sleeping got in the way as it does at this time of the year! :) I will get my husband to write to you as he gets right into the design side of bee hives but I can tell you that if you are going to spit a hive, the best time is between October 1 and Christmas so you need to do it very soon. If you have carbonari bees then an Oath hive is the one they prefer. The horizontal split works well for the way they make their brood. The hockingsii make their brood a totally different way and so a vertical split works better. If you have a Felhaber Hive, the honey supers will be in the ends. We have harvested from them. It is time consuming and labour intensive though (as is all native bee honey collection)Have a look at this link to see how we did it. I have a few posts about bees, have a look in my index and see if any of them help. You can email me on practicalfrog at g mail dot com if you like and we can get in touch that way if it suits you. Enjoy your bees! Best of luck - Kara x
Practical Frog said…
Hi David - sorry about the long time to get back to you - my Boss (;-) ) only saw your comment just today.

I'll cheerfully admit I've only been working with native bees for a few years myself, so I'm pretty new at this as well.

With Les Felhaber's design, the honey stores are at the ends of the box, with the idea that the bees will build their brood in the middle of the hive and store honey in the extremities.

It's not clear from the photos, but the honey supers are built into the ends of the hive, and the lid is removable in two pieces per side, so either the hive can be opened or the super for honey collection.

I've never tried this with a Felhaber hive, so I don't know how
practical this is. To be honest, honey is a secondary consideration for us; yes, it can be sold for a good price, but there's at best 1kg/year,
so you'll need a lot of hives to make enough to live on. Also, due to its higher water content, it's the only type of honey that will spoil.
Finally, actually harvesting the honey tends to kill an awful lot of bees, and they'll starve if their food source disappears too close to winter.

For me I prefer just to split and propagate hives, and sell one every now and then to pay for more timber.

The FROTH (dumb name, but the best we could dream up :-) ) has the
advantage of vertical splitting, although I'm coming to suspect it's only any good with T. Hockingsi, as the brood structure is different to T. Carbonaria. So far I've only tried it with Hocks, and it does seem to work ok. There's an internal mesh close to the cutting plane to hopefully) stop the hive from collapsing as you cut it.

I don't know if you've tried splitting your hive so far, but a full hive is surprisingly tough - about the same consistency as a Mars bar the of the same size. Be prepared to use a bit of force to cut through it.

I'd think your step treads would be ok, although the hardwood isn't as good an insulator as softwood, but then it lasts longer. I'd expect the polystyrene to help with this, but in any case it's probably a good idea to paint the hive white. I do this before the bees are moved in as I'm concerned that the paint fumes might kill the little guys off.

I reckon your overhanging tropical lid would be a great idea, as the shade is built in to the hive. I've tried putting hives all over the place and still think the best bet is a shady spot under a tree where they can see the morning sun. I've seen hives put out in the afternoon sun though, and they still seem to be going very well.

I suspect that bees are much like everything else and will do as they want :-)

Happy to offer any suggestions I can; there's a new book just out by Tim Heard, who's a big name in the native bee world, which I got for Christmas and haven't yet finished. Russell Zabel (the guy just past Marburg) has copies for sale.

Tim Heard does workshops every now and then, and charges $20 or $30 (I forget how much) per person: Kara and I went to one a couple of years ago and reckoned it was money very well spent. Highly recommend going if you want information and demonstration.

Hope that lot hasn't put you to sleep -

All the best,

David Z said…
Hi Kara & John,

Thanks for the replies.

I was wondering if the FROTH design has certain sizes to build to?
Like internal dimensions that the bees like.
Also are there particular design requirements and sizes for the horizontal box?

I think the bees we have are Carbonaria, as they have grey looking fuzzy patches on their sides.
If this is the case i suppose id better stick to the old Oath design, when i try a split. Doing it horizontally.

Is it possible to tell what breed the bees are by looking at the top of the brood when i take the perspex lid off and have a proper look inside?

I have done a split using the eduction method quite successfully last year as we left it too late for splitting.
The reason we had to do something was because the bees were kind of swarming outside the hive and killing each other.
We figured that there were too many bees in the hive and needed to reduce numbers.. Is this what they do when the hive is too full. Im still not too sure if im correct on that one.

The box was then fitted to a wheeled trolley and moved slowly (about 1 meter per day) to my Sister in Laws next door, as her hive died when we had that heat wave. Luckily we had ours under thicker shade at the time. Her new hive is now sitting happily on a sturdy shelf under her front veranda roof.

I made a box with out any way of splitting it in those days. Just a box with a perspex lid that i could add a super to at a later stage.

The bees were doing it again a couple of weeks ago. The fighting etc. Hence the questions back then. So i took an old box that didnt work with the eduction last year and put that in front of the old hive, and moved the entrance block with the hole in it ( and wax etc) to the front of the new box. They are quite happy now and have started building on the mesh at the bottom already.

This will stay like this till after winter now. Or until i can see a queen in there on the new brood.

Ive attached a couple of fotos.

Ive gone off the polystyrene a bit as the cheeky buggers are digging into it at the corner joins and building a small nest in there i think.
I have glued the polystyrene onto the box as the geckos and spiders were under the poly box when it sat over the hive box.

So experimenting a lot still.

How do i find out when Tim Zabel (Lots of Zabels out Marberg way, LOL, They even have streets named after them.) is doing his next demo.
Should be good.
We went to a garden open day a while ago in Goodna, and a guy there had a box with all kinds of passages already built into the box.. Quite tecko i thought.
Unfortunately it was something id have to buy of the guy.

Good of you to get back in touch.


Looks like i cant post fotos here.
If the email reply works they are in that one.
Practical Frog said…
Hi David,
I've passed your message onto my husband and he will answer it when he gets home from work.
Try sending the photos to practicalfrog at gmail dot com (using the symbols instead of the words!)and see if that works - I couldn't see an email from you...
Cheers - Kara
kooger said…
Hi Kara,
There are a few questions for you Ms Kara.
Have you thought of using a detachable bottom board instead of fixed board ?
Why do you need to place the other split hive 5 KM away ? What about placing them ( two newly split hives ) side by side ?
Any guidelines on the net weight of the hives which are ready for splitting (without having to open the honey super to check ?
Thanks in advance
Native Bee Nick said…
This hive has provided me with some of the most interesting ideas seen in the native bee industry over the last few years.

Having seen it split I was amazed. When the brood is “torn over cutting” the collateral damage is minimal. The genius design takes principles of using the full spectrum of brood ages. This provides each half with what’s needed to proceed and restart a colony. It removes the problem of finding a queen cell because the advancing front allows the bees to modify many cells to queen cells. Minimal damage that becomes extremely easy for the bees to repair on an exposed front makes it great also. Airflow is not inhibited the bees have an anti-slump design to support their nest both before and post split.

Well done on creating something well beyond it’s time. Truely Magical!!!
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