If you’re looking to invest in a new hive, you may be wondering which is best. Two hives that often pop up in beekeeper conversation are the Langstroth and the Flow Hive. Langstroths are the most popular option – they’re well-established, trusted, and effective; the challenger is new and innovative.
Would you like to know which beehive is right for you? We’ve created this handy guide comparing the Flow hive and Langstroth. It’ll dive into strengths, weaknesses, and who they’re suited to.
If you’re short on time skip down the page to our handy summary table of the Flow Hive vs. Langstroth. It sums up all the main points.
What’s the difference between Flow Hives and Langstroth hives?
A Flow Hive is a modern type of hive that uses standard Langstroth frames. Beekeepers can harvest honey by inserting and turning a key that splits the honeycomb cells and releases honey through a tube. It is easier to manage than a Langstroth and no heavy lifting is required.
You can get lots more detail on Flow Hives here.
The Langstroth is a more hands-on style of vertical hive that has separate modular boxes for the honey bees’ brood and honeycomb. In comparison to the Flow Hive, honey production requires a lot more work and additional extraction equipment that can get expensive. Removing a super disturbs the bees routine, unlike a Flow Hive.
Check out our guide to Langstroths here.
Is a Flow Hive or Langstroth best?
The Flow Hive is best for hobbyist beekeepers interested in natural beekeeping and looking to avoid heavy lifting. If you want a hands-off style of hive that makes honey harvesting a simple, low-cost job then Flow Hives are an excellent option.
The Langstroth is an excellent choice for beekeepers who want to maximize honey production. More work is involved so it will appeal to people who like to roll their sleeves up and get busy. Langstroths offer more flexibility than Flow Hives and their lower cost make them a better hive for commercial apiaries.
The above explanation is a quick overview of the two hives. Let’s take a closer look at how they differ in more detail.
The biggest difference between the two hives is how honey gets removed during harvest. If your main reason for investing in a hive is honey production then don’t skip this section.
The Langstroth has been around since the mid-1800s so there are no fancy gadgets on the hive to remove honey. Instead, whole frames of honeycomb are removed from the hive, which is much more work and also disruptive to the bees.
But Langstroths are popular for good reason, they’re extremely effective. Anyone looking to maximize honey output should consider a Langstroth. There’s more work, but the rewards are also higher.
Once the frames are removed from the Langstroth, the honey is usually extracted. This is done using equipment that can get quite expensive. One common method of separating honey from the comb is centrifugal force. Using this technique, you get a lot of honey and the frames can be returned to the hive undamaged.
The main selling point of a Flow Hive is the ease with which honey can be produced. Natural beekeepers will appreciate how unintrusive the honey collection process is compared to the Langstroth.
Instead of moving entire boxes and removing frames, the hive isn’t opened up. The bees continue about their work and there are no concerns about crushing bees under heavy boxes.
By turning a key, the beekeeper can fill their jar or container directly from the hive. No expensive extraction equipment is needed so, while the up-front cost of a Flow Hive is expensive, there are significant cost savings during harvest time.
During honey production in a Flow Hive, the cells are split, allowing the honey to run down into a tube. Fixing the broken cells is relatively easy for the colony, so there is minimal interruption to their work.
TLDR: Flow Hives are a no-fuss option for producing honey on a small scale. Langstroths take more work and are intrusive, but they’re ideal for beekeepers looking to maximize honey production.
Hive bodies, or boxes, are where the colony live, raise their brood, and store food resources. The Langstroth and Flow Hive have a similar vertical design with brood boxes on the bottom and supers for the honeycomb above.
Each rectangular box is built to standardized measurements to allow frames to fit neatly inside. The Flow Hive was designed to match the Langstroth body measurements. That means it is possible to use Flow Hive frames inside Langstroth boxes.
Beekeepers considering a Flow Hive may want to use their existing Lang bodies to help reduce setup costs. Keep in mind that Flow Hive frames are wider, so a 10-frame Langstroth box will only fit 7 Flow Frames.
Both hives are designed to easily expand as the hive swells in numbers. This feature provides a massive advantage for beekeepers, reducing the chance of the hive swarming and producing large quantities of honey.
The frames of a Flow Hive are partially formed and are made using food-grade plastic. This material isn’t to everyone’s taste though, and natural beekeepers may not want to use them for this reason.
Langstroth frames can be made of wood or plastic while the foundations are manufactured from plastic or wax.
Both hives require regular inspections for small hive beetle, varroa mites, and other disease and parasites. Brood inspection is carried out the same way, whatever hive you operate. You’ll need to lift off boxes and remove frames.
To check the honey supers in a Langstroth, the box needs to be removed like you would a brood box. It’s fairly invasive for the bees and the boxes can get quite heavy to lift, especially when laden with honey.
Inspecting Honey Flow supers is much easier and less intrusive. A viewing window allows the beekeeper to check honey stores at a glance.
Flow Hives have only been available since 2015 so they’re not as easy to find in stores. Used parts are also not readily available, so you’ll need to fork out for new ones or use Langstroth components instead.
If you want to buy a new Flow Hive then it’s possible to buy them online from their official store. We checked their support page and they ship to most parts of the world.
Langstroths are sold practically everywhere. Getting the right kit from the start is easy and spare parts are readily available.
Learning resources and support
The Langstroth is used by a huge number of beekeepers around the world. If you have a problem, chances are you’ll get answers fast, whether that’s from local clubs or online.
The Flow Hive doesn’t have as many experienced users ready to offer advice. But don’t let that stop you from investing in a Flow Hive if that’s what suits you better. The inventors of this product have done an impressive job of answering every conceivable question about their hive. They have also released a range of handy videos that take you through the basics in an easy-to-follow way.
Making price comparisons isn’t easy as Langstroth prices vary considerably, depending on the wood used and who makes it. In saying that, the up-front cost of a Flow Hive is considerably more than a basic Langstroth.
Remember to factor in honey production costs. With a Flow Hive, you’ll save money not having to buy honey extractors or similar harvesting equipment used with a Langstroth.
Interesting reading: Layens vs. Langstroth – how do they differ?
Summary Table: Flow Hive vs. Langstroth
|Honey production||Turn a key to break the comb and pour out honey without opening the hive.||Open hive and remove frames, extract honey, then return the comb to the hive.|
|Impact of honey harvesting||Non-intrusive, bees can easily rebuild broken comb cells.||Intrusive, but comb can be returned to the hive without damage.|
|Hive bodies||Large rectangular boxes that nest vertically.||Large rectangular boxes that nest vertically.|
|Frames||Frames and foundations made from plastic||Frames made from wood or plastic.|
|Inspections||Remove brood frames to inspect but supers can mostly be checked using a viewing window.||Individually remove frames of brood and honeycomb during inspections.|
|Hive availability||Moderately easy to source.||Extremely easy to source.|
|Support||Less advice on offer, but in-depth learning resources provided by the manufacturer.||More resources from experienced users to glean information from.|
|Cost||High up-front, but less cost to harvest.||Lower up-front cost, but more expensive harvesting tools.|
The Flow Hive and Langstroth are both excellent hives that have their own set of pros and cons. Most fit and healthy beekeepers who are excited by the challenge of managing hives will do well to choose a Langstroth. It is a flexible hive that will provide lots of honey if you play your cards right.
The Langstroth takes more work when it comes time to harvest honey. But if you’re looking to get serious about your beekeeping with multiple hives, they’re the way to go. Commercial apiaries also choose them for their price, flexibility, and quality of honey.
The Flow Hive is a great option for hobbyist beekeepers looking to produce honey for themselves, friends, and family. Inspections are still required, but the honey is much easier to harvest. It’s also less intrusive, allowing the colony to keep working as the honey flows from the hive.