Beekeeping For Dummies
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The Flow hive, shown in the figure, is an award-winning invention of Australian father-and-son team Stuart and Cedar Anderson. It’s basically an 8-frame Langstroth hive, but they invented a patented way of harvesting the surplus honey from the hive without having to smoke the bees and remove the honey supers.

There is no slicing cappings off the comb, no spinning the frames, nor is there a need for an extractor. A significant amount of labor has been eliminated from the process of harvesting honey.

Flow beehive Courtesy of Flow Hive

The Flow hive introduces a new way to harvest honey, by simply turning a lever on the hive.

The secret is in the Flow Frames, which have been specially engineered to surrender the capped honey with just a turn of a lever called the Flow Key. The key opens a channel within the honeycomb, and the honey drains to a pipe and directly into your container of choice. Meanwhile, back in the hive, the bees are virtually undisturbed as the honey drains from under their feet. When you finish draining, you just turn the lever back and the cells are reset and ready to be refilled.

The technology is clearly a breakthrough from the way we have been traditionally harvesting honey for centuries. This has created enormous interest across social media and stimulated the sale of thousands of these hives. It’s only been on the market since 2015, so as of this writing, there has only been a handful of seasons of widespread use.

What seems critical to me (a point which the company stresses) is that new beekeepers understand that the Flow hive is not a shortcut to responsible beekeeping. Yes, it provides a fun and really easy way to harvest honey, but it does not mean you can just pop this in your yard and simply wait to turn a lever and harvest honey. You must manage and care for your bees just as you would with any other hive. You must routinely inspect the colony and take action when your help is needed. There are no shortcuts to being a good beekeeper, but with the Flow hive, you may just have a bit of fun and save some time when it comes to harvesting your honey!

Here are the pros and cons of using the Flow hive, starting with some pros:
  • The technology can greatly simplify the honey harvesting process and reduce much of the labor associated with conventional honey harvesting.
  • The design means you don’t have to smoke and open your hives, remove heavy honey supers, and otherwise expose yourself to the possibility of retaliatory stings.
  • The Flow Frames are designed to fit Langstroth-style deep boxes (although they will adapt to fit other hive types). The Flow Frames are inserted in much the same way as standard conventional frames. The deep box is modified slightly to facilitate the Flow Frames operation. You can modify your own Langstroth deep-hive box or purchase an already-modified box from the company.
  • To its credit, the company’s website has a tremendous amount of information and helpful videos about the Flow hive and its setup, operation, problem-solving, and use in a wide variety of hive types.
  • The honey extracted from the Flow Frames is “cleaner” than honey extracted the traditional way, meaning there is less debris (wax bits) to be filtered from the honey.
  • Different nectar is available at different times, so each Flow Frame tends to fill up from a single nectar source. This results in individual frames storing different honeys (from different nectars). Because the frames are clear plastic, you can see the different colors of honey from frame to frame. And since you can harvest and bottle the honey one frame at a time, the Flow hive allows for the tasting of different honey varietals. Yummy.
  • The wooden hive components are precision laser cut, making assembly very easy to fit together. In fact, all components of the Flow hive are very high quality, thoughtfully engineered, and designed with great attention to detail. In that sense, it’s the Cadillac of bee hives.
And with this design come a few cons:
  • The Flow hive is considerably more expensive that conventional hives, although you must consider you really don’t need to invest in an expensive extractor or other traditional honey harvesting equipment. By the way, other than the honey super with these special frames, the other deeps (for brood) use conventional deep frames and foundation (or conventional plastic frames and foundation if that’s your preference).
  • You will not be able to harvest the wax capping from these honey frames.
  • Granulated honey cannot be extracted from the Flow Frames. But then again, granulated honey can’t be extracted using traditional harvesting methods.
  • If you don’t follow the precautions stipulated on the Flow website, you can inadvertently set off a robbing frenzy or attract opportunistic pests, such as ants, skunks, raccoons, and so on.
  • New beekeepers must understand that this new invention is not an excuse to bypass the responsibilities of a good beekeeper. You must still perform all the other tasks of stewardship. This point is not a criticism of this hive, but more of a warning that as easy as this hive makes honey harvesting, it does not mean it is any easier when it comes to your other tasks.
  • The one “complaint” I hear from users is that the bees can be slow to accept and fill the plastic Flow frames with nectar. Bees generally don’t like using plastic frames. The conditions have to be just right: a robust colony of bees and a very strong nectar flow. As a result of this problem, the company’s website has posted a number of workarounds to encourage bees to accept and use the plastic Flow frames.
Here are the basic stats for the Flow hive:
  • Capacity: You can add extra Flow Frames and supers as the colony grows and honey production increases. Capacity is virtually unlimited.
  • Frames: The Flow Frames are what make the honey-harvesting technology work. These are specially engineered plastic frames only available from the manufacturer. The “magic” won’t happen unless you use these frames. As mentioned before, the frames readily fit in a modified Langstroth deep box, and other hive types too (see the Flow website for more detail regarding compatibility with other hive types).
  • Universality: Although you can place both standard deep frames and foundation and Flow Frames in the same hive box, only the Flow Frames will allow you to harvest honey with a turn of the key. With the commercial success of this hive, there are now at least one or two Asian-made copies of this hive being sold on the internet.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

C. Marina Marchese is an author, beekeeper, and honey sensory expert. She is also the founder of the American Honey Tasting Society and the Red Bee ® brand.

Howland Blackiston is the bestselling author of Beekeeping For Dummies and Building Beehives For Dummies, and founding board member and past president of Con­necticut’s Back Yard Beekeepers Association.

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